Alena Kostornaia: “After I broke my second arm, Eteri Tutberidze said that it would probably be better for us to part.”
Big interview with Alena Kostornaia. About injuries, training and plans for the future.
source: russian.rt.com dd. 13 August 2022 by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya
The desire to do some element that did not work out in training from the first attempt sometimes turns into an obsession. Alena Kostornaia told this in an interview with RT. According to her, fractures of both hands were partly the result of this particular character trait. The 2020 European champion admitted that she would not want to be on the surgery table on her next birthday, remembered how she started figure skating, and said that she did not leave hopes for entering a medical university.
The 2020 European champion came to the meeting on crutches. She explained that she could move without them, but she felt discomfort. However, something else was more surprising: for an hour and a half of a conversation in a crowded place next to the skating rink of a large shopping center, not a single person approached the skater.
Alena, tell us finally what happened to you?
Alena Kostornaia: The leg bothered me from time to time, we just never carried out any examinations on this matter. And one day, when I was already skating at CSKA with Elena Germanovna Buyanova, it felt really painful. At first, I didn’t attach any importance to this – you never know, I could have landed unsuccessfully, you would’t run to the doctors because of every unpleasant sensation. I didn’t say anything to the coaches either. I didn’t want to look like a whiner. It all happened in the spring, when the season was already over for everyone and the shows were starting. Well, since the pain hasn’t gone away and it became harder and harder to jump, I told the coach. And suggested, since I couldn’t work on jumps, to start working on a free program so as not to waste time.
Then we had a short vacation, I didn’t load my leg much, and it seemed to me that everything healed by itself. But when I was back on the ice the discomfort returned. It became clear that everything is more serious than I thought.
Where is the line when it becomes clear that you should not endure the pain, but urgently have a medical consultation?
Alena Kostornaia: If something hurts in training, but does not hurt at rest, then the problem is not so big. But when it hurts constantly, it hurts a lot and it becomes unbearable to walk, you have to go for treatment. In early July, I had to perform in a show with Evgeni Viktorovich Plushenko, the day before I had injured my ankle, and my ankle was very swollen. And this is Sochi, it’s hot, my legs are swollen. I won’t say that the ankle became the size of a soccer ball, but the leg did not fit in the boot. In addition, I got very hot in the sun while lying on the beach. I had a fever – a nightmare, in general. I just didn’t know how to go on the ice in such a state.
Did you have to take painkillers again?
Alena Kostornaia: No. Liza Nugumanova helped me to tape my leg, together we somehow stuffed it into the boot. And so before each performance. Bad story, but it happens.
Was it impossible to cancel that performance?
Alena Kostornaia: How? People came to see me – what was I supposed to tell them? It only remained to endure. As for painkillers, it’s a dangerous story. If you overdo with them, they stop working.
Was there such an experience?
Alena Kostornaia: Of course. After all, I skated with a fracture for a whole year when I was in juniors. The tibia of the left leg was broken. At first, it could not be diagnosed for a long time. Accordingly, I trained as usual, and the coaches allowed me to reduce the load only before the junior world championship. This, however, could no longer affect the general situation: by that time I could not walk – I jumped on one leg to the gym.
The left leg is a toeloop and almost all combinations. I even tried to change these combinations, put loops instead of teoloops. But the coaches explained that it was pointless to do this. That it is better to endure once and skate your usual program. That’s when I experienced what it was like when you swallow handfuls of painkiller with zero effect. As a result, I still had to miss the competitions. It was very sad.
When the film crew of Channel One came to the skating rink in Novogorsk, did your leg hurt a lot?
Alena Kostornaia: Not really. We were filmed during the second training, and the leg started to ache on the third one. We were just making jumps. Well, then, at the insistence of Elena Germanovna, I had an MRI, and I realized that all our previous and rather large work was going down the tubes. Well, at least the programs have been choreographed.
What was the final diagnosis?
Alena Kostornaia: There were a lot of them. The main one to be surged on is a rupture of the articular lip (later Kostornaia clarified that it was a rupture of the acetabular lip. – RT ) and something else with complex names that I simply did not remember. According to the doctors who examined me, it will be necessary to make decisions on concomitant injuries during the surgery. Maybe everything will turn out to be easier than it seems now, but, it also can be on the contrary, more difficult. The only thing I really don’t want is to end up in the hospital on August 24, my birthday. Therefore, if it doesn’t work out to have a surgery before that day, I will ask to do it on August 25th.
Is there a period in your rather eventful life, remembering which, you want to say: “What a fool I was!”?
Alena Kostornaia: There are, of course, some moments, but they are mostly about some harsh statements, which then it is embarrassing to remember. But in general, I adhere to the principle of never regretting any events and actions, if at that moment you were happy.
Did you come up with this phrase yourself or did you hear it from someone?
Alena Kostornaia: I can not say. In general, phrases happen to me, some funny ones. Although in fact they are very, very correct.
Is it better to be fat but happy?
Alena Kostornaia: That’s what my mom once said.
Not so long ago, you noted that you feel much more comfortable working with a female coach. How does your transfer to Evgeni Plushenko Academy, into the purely male team fit in here? You followed Sergei Rozanov.
Alena Kostornaia: I followed Sergei Alexandrovich, because he worked with me a lot in the junior seasons. He corrected the wrong edge on the lutz, helped me a lot with the triple axel – he set it up for me in just one training session on the “Harness” after the first junior world championships. And when they used to punish me, leaving on children’s ice after training, Rozanov always controlled what and how I was doing.
It has never been a problem for me to find a common language with people. Talking my way out. But with Sergei Alexandrovich, such a number did not work. We always talked a lot, but he never let me leave the ice without finishing my work.
Did you and Rozanov once have the same coach, or am I mistaken?
Alena Kostornaia: Not exactly. Before joining Khrustalny, I skated with Elena Zhgun, and Sergei, when he graduated from college, worked on his thesis under her guidance. Therefore, we often found ourselves on the same ice – it was there where Rozanov began to drag both me and Dasha Pavliuchenko on the “Harness”. Helped us a lot.
Therefore, when I began to train with Eteri Georgievna, and then Sergei came to her team, he was not some new person for me. And the understanding that I was more comfortable working with women came when I returned to Khrustalny from Evgeni Viktorovich (Plushenko). This, in fact, became one of the main reasons for leaving: I lacked a feminine look and feminine opinion.
Women coaches are often much harsh at work than men.
Alena Kostornaia: Well, yes. Perhaps that is why our girls are stronger than boys. Many female coaches know how to put in place without any shouting and swearing … For example, Elena Vyacheslavovna did it brilliantly. In all the time we worked with her, I never heard a single rude word from her. She looks very small, thin, but if something went wrong, she skated up close and began, hovering over you, not even to speak, but to hiss. It was my worst childhood fear.
Have there been periods when you hated one of your coaches?
Alena Kostornaia: No. Rather, it was different. When I trained with Elena Vyacheslavovna, she always told me in great detail what we were doing and why. Even during the physical training between sets, she explained: we are doing this for this. And here you need to work on these muscles, so that later we can do this and that. That is, I have never faced a situation when a coach demanded that I do something just because he wants to. And I’m used to this kind of work.
Did you have to change your habits at Khrustalny?
Alena Kostornaia: Well, everyone has their own way of working. It cannot be said that they did not bring results. But it was hard to readjust, yes.
When one choreographer works with all the athletes, do you get offended by the feeling that someone’s program is more interesting than yours?
Alena Kostornaia: I had this once. I really wanted to skate the blues, and it was given to Maiia Khromykh and Sonya Akatieva. On the one hand, it was a shame that the blues was choreographed not for me, but for the other, but I understood that, apparently, there were reasons for such a decision.
Did the conflict with Daniil Gleikhengauz happen on this basis?
Alena Kostornaia: Well, there was no conflict, I don’t know why they think so. It’s just that, while training with Eteri Georgievna, I could occasionally mess up – it happens to everyone. After the skates, she usually expressed her opinion, but for the most part I kept my opinion to myself. But when, for some reason, Tutberidze was not at the rink, Daniil Markovich began to assess us, and for some reason I was very offended to hear all this from him. On this basis, we had conflicts from time to time.
Was it comfortable to skate your famous “Angel”, despite the fact that by nature you are not even close to an angel?
Alena Kostornaia: The first season yes, although then I got fed up with the music. As for the image, it was much easier than, say, not falling from a jump. I did not put any excessive energy into this image. All the gestures were so memorized and polished to such an extent that I just used to go on the ice and did the program like a machine.
And how was the work on programs this season at CSKA?
Alena Kostornaia: For me, it was extremely interesting. At first, Olga Orlova, Irina Tagaeva, and I set all the steps, and I was offered to do the arms myself. Irina Anvarovna explained that she did not need me to repeat the movements after her and, accordingly, interpret the music the way she does. And I need to try to express exactly what I feel myself. I was shocked by such an approach, to be honest. I skated and thought: “What, is it possible?” At the same time, I felt like Mark Kondratiuk, whose every performance is a “wow” every time – he is so different every time on the ice.
Figure skating is a sport where athletes are closely guarded by their parents on a daily basis. What made you want to live separately?
Alena Kostornaia: I was tired of being controlled, I wanted to try myself in adulthood, to see if I could handle it. And what can I do without outside help.
What was the experience like?
Alena Kostornaia: At first there was such euphoria from absolute freedom. But very quickly I realized that I didn’t even know how to calculate my own budget. I got used that my mother was buying groceries and cooking, and I used to spend all my money on whatever comes to mind. Shopping? Whoo! Let’s go!
By the way, who paid all your expenses before you got into the national team?
Alena Kostornaia: Dad and grandfather. Although my mother brought me to the rink. Interestingly, all of them are not very fond of figure skating. They were always against my training. First, because all this required very large investments and now – because I do not get out of my injuries.
Why, by the way, did you decide to enter the Institute of Physical Education, and not the medical one?
Alena Kostornaia: I really want to go to medical school as before, but it is very difficult, especially if you study at Sechenov University. And I don’t really want to go to other. But not it’s not possible to study normally. Think for yourself, what kind of doctor will I be if I start skipping lessons? What will I say to the patients? “Oh, you know, you definitely have something very serious, but when we learned this, it so happened that I flew to the competitions …”.
But I will still try to enter medical school. I even set approximate dates. I decided: if I don’t do it the first time, I will try to pass the exams both the second and the third time. But if three attempts are unsuccessful, then it’s not my fate…
Do you watch videos from your winning season?
Alena Kostornaia: Not too often. I often review triple axels, and not only mine.
Have you experienced an inferiority complex from the fact that the girls next to you are jumping quadruple jumps, but you are not?
Alena Kostornaia: I was just doing my job. And then, you know, I always looked at sports simply: we all have the same arms, legs, head. And the result depends only on what you want yourself. Any quality can be developed. Look at Sofa Titova: with Eteri Georgievna she jumped, as they say, without leaving the ground, and with Evgeni Viktorovich she jumps almost all quadruples now.
There are legends about the powerful general physical training at the Plushenko Academy.
Alena Kostornaia: Oh, yes, the physical training is at a very high level there. In Khrustalny, we also did pumping, but the main work in the gym was about practicing jumps on the floor. Tours, axels – everything in a row. At Plushenko’s Academy it is different. A lot devices, exercises. I remember that after the first workout I crawled out of the gym and for a week I could not move my arm or leg. Then I somehow adapted, but looked with admiration at those who, after the gym, went on the ice and started doing run-throughs.
In CSKA, too, a lot of time is devoted to physical training. If for some reason someone does not work on the ice, then the training is replaced by work in the gym.
While you were at CSKA on probation, did you try very hard to please the new coach?
Alena Kostornaia: I don’t like to do things to please someone. And it’s not that I was afraid of not making a proper impression, it’s just that there have already been many cases when athletes, already at, let’s say, not a young age, moved from one specialist to someone else. And then there was a series of injuries, and people just finished skating. It is clear that injuries have been accumulating for many years and the new coach may not have anything to do with them at all, but the situation hits precisely on his reputation. When this happens over and over again, naturally, you can come to the decision not to take athletes from a certain specialist at all.
This is the situation I feared. On the one hand, it still happened, but I’m not going to finish skating because of this for sure.
Now is a difficult time to set some goals and build far-reaching plans. What motivates you?
Alena Kostornaia: In this regard, it is somewhat easier for me than for those who are in good shape now: there is time to recover without forcing the process. As for the goals that I set for myself, they are very small for me: to survive until the surgery so that I don’t have to endure it again, go through a normal rehabilitation course, recover, then go on the ice, restore steps, make a step sequence, make a step sequence to the music … My whole life is now made up of such little steps.
Is there a global goal in this case?
Alena Kostornaia: Restore the condition to the level of good competitions.
Have you talked about the technical content of the competitive programs?
Alena Kostornaia: We always start with the bare minimum. That is, there is one triple axel in the short program and one in the free program. The first jump in the free program is a double axel now, and then there is a similar entry for lutz. And if you change these two jumps to triple axels, the entry will remain the same. That is, there is no such thing that for the sake of a jump you have to change the entire program.
Is the program with two triple axels hard?
Alena Kostornaia: For me, it’s better to jump a triple axel twice than a triple and a double. You can really crash on this combination of jumps, because the triple axel gives a different feeling of flying. When I jump a double, and I have a huge one, I immediately begin to think: I need to push weaker, I need to start the rotation more calmly … And this is where the problems begin.
Are you lazy in life?
Alena Kostornaia: It seems to me that people are generally a lazy creature. I can’t say that it somehow manifests itself in training, but I have one feature. If something doesn’t work out the first time, I never get hysterical, I calmly say to myself: it didn’t work out today, so it will work out tomorrow. But if I fail tomorrow, I will break to the last, like a kamikaze.
A broken arm after returning from Plushenko to Tutberidze – is it a consequence of this?
Alena Kostornaia: I worked on the triple axel, it didn’t work out for a long time, then I suddenly jumped it and I think: oh, how cool, now I’ll do it for the second time in a row. I even managed to shout to Kvitelashvili: “Morisi, look!” And I landed on my hand. It hurted so much – I even yelled. My hand swollen before my eyes, I couldn’t move my fingers, I took off my glove, and tears flowed.
We went to the emergency room, where it turned out that it was a fracture. The coaches gave me three days of rest – on Monday I returned to trainings, the plaster was from my fingertips to the elbow, the elbow did not bend … I didn’t know that plaster could be like that – nasty, cold, wet.
Well, when the plaster was removed after three weeks and I started jumping triples, I did salchow, loop in training, then I tried flip. And, despite the fact that I was in a small weight and did not lose my physical shape, I fell the same way as the first time, only on my left hand. My fingers immediately began to go numb, but I thought that I would have time to try this flip again. I did it – before going back to the emergency room. I realized that the hand was broken when I could not hold the dog with this hand.
I imagine what the coaches told you.
Alena Kostornaia: That day they were not at the rink, and when I came to the next training session after the day off, you should have seen how they looked at me. Like, “How do you do it?”
It was the end of February, Eteri Georgievna’s birthday was coming, and somehow she delayed me at the skating rink and said that it would probably be better for us to part.
Were you not afraid that after your aggravated hip injury, Buyanova might do the same?
Alena Kostornaia: By that time, I managed to study the character of Elena Germanovna well and was sure that she would not do that. Most likely, will support and help.
Do you feel your age on the ice?
Alena Kostornaia: Well, Liza Tuktamysheva does not feel it, why should I? Although this year I will have the sixth Russian senior Nationals. Sixth! When you think about it, the thought involuntarily comes to mind: “I’m damn old!!!”
And from what age do you remember yourself on the ice?
Alena Kostornaia: From the very first competitions. I don’t know how old I was, but I will remember the starting pose for the rest of my life. I stood with my face to a short board and showed a barrier with my hands. And when they told me that I had to get the second program, I burst into tears. For some reason, I was sure that with programs it’s like at school. Until one skated for A, they won’t give another.
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