Interview with Aliona Leonova.
Aliona: At the end of August, I was at the training camp in Andorra, Surya Bonaly also led the training camp there. Her boyfriend recognized me and said that I’m the second veteran in the history of Russian skating, only Butyrskaya skated longer.
I don’t like the word “veteran”, I prefer “experienced”.
Figure skating 7-8 years ago was a different sport. Now it is moving forward due to technical elements, mostly by multi-rotational jumps. Girls at the age of 12-13 jump triple axels, although this is more of a man’s jump; before only few could do that, now it is the norm. Now there’re many who are capable of quad lutz – the most difficult jump.
In my memory it was like this: everyone does about the same things, you skate cleanly and win, or at least take a high place. There was no need to do something extra, to improvise, do a series of triple-quadruple jumps; the main thing was clean skate. Not so long ago, girls won the medals at Worlds, not even having the whole set of jumps – not five triples, but only three.
The technical part became more complicated so the methods of trainings became more complicated too; coaches are also different now – tougher and more demanding.
The main reason for the breakthrough in our women’s skating is Eteri Tutberidze. She set the pace. She makes girls samurai – there is a line in her group, a conveyor. As long as jumps are in demand, her students will win – perhaps it will last even several generations.
The fierce competition in the Tutberidze’s group is good. Every day in training they seem to have a competition. Therefore, the girls are so strong, disciplined, they are accustomed to constant stress. But not all survive this, only those who have strong character remain. I look at Trusov, falling from her quadruple: it hurts, it is dangerous, but she immediately tries again. This is the character. Previously, not all seniors could decide on this, now you see it at junior competitions.
It seems to me that Tutberidze is not my coach. She is cool, productive, but her work format does not suit me at all; we would not get along in characters, styles.
Figure skating 10 years ago was smoother, more feminine. It was a real woman skating. Now it is more about physics, strength training: who will jump more. Skating itself has faded into the background, sometimes I call it figure jumping.
Of course, those rules are closer to me, that spirit. My skating has not gone anywhere: I give all of myself on the ice, I do it sincerely – people always loved me for artistry, for my dedication. But I understand that now skaters need more than just graceful skating and emotions.
It’s too late for me to learn the quad. It would have been real in 20-22 years, later – it’s already difficult for any girl. I had triple axel attempts — often unsuccessful, but at least it looked like a triple axel.
In general, quadruple jumps are a matter of predisposition and some mental qualities. If an athlete is not afraid, if he risks, feels strength – why not? I think I have such a predisposition – I am fearless, for sure I could. But the times were different, nothing forced you to learn such jumps.
I am for increasing the junior age: children’s skating is not quite our sport. For example skates Carolina Costner, and then a 15-year-old girl – it’s obvious to everyone how their skating is different. A woman understands what exactly she skates, she has experienced these emotions and feelings. A 15-year-old skates about love – what is it like? She still does not know what love is, she hasn’t experienced it yet.
But even now girls have progress – not everyone skates like children anymore. In September, there was Lombardia Trophy – Sofia Samodurova skated very well, she just moved from juniors. She’s a student of Alexei Mishin. Her skating is not childish, she has developed as a girl, skates maturely, in an adult way.
New rules should return a balance: now you can do only 3 jumps in the second part of your free program, but not all, as Zagitova did. Last season, this has already gone to an extreme: two minutes of skating, then seven jumps in a row – the program is unbalanced. Everyone just waited when the skater starts to jump.
I understand that I will not beat the young. One time I was told: if you do your content, you will take high place. And so it was – even if not a year or two ago, but more.
Now my content is not enough, in technical terms it is impossible to fight. Not that I put up with it, but I think objectively: I won’t learn quad till the Russian Nationals. But I learned not to pay attention to my rivals; I love figure skating. Therefore, I am still here – because I love our sport, my audience. With this approach, there is no burden of responsibility, last season I skated at the Grand Prix calmly and did not worry about anything.
I think my best image is Charlie Chaplin. We came up with it very quickly and by chance, the coaches and I decided that it would be very unusual – girls rarely take such artistic images. As for the costume, we also quickly agreed with the choreographers. The program was very successful and theatrical, the audience liked it.
I am not in the national team, but I still earn doing figure skating: on weekends I give lessons for those who wants, sometimes I am invited to training camps, sometimes to the show. At the end of last season, I traveled a lot with children and held master classes.
In general, after sport I see myself in the show. Although I have performed there not much, I think there will be some proposals. Now these are mainly long-term projects and it is clear that it makes no sense to invite those who haven’t finished their careers.
I performed twice in South Korea with Natalia Bestemyanova and Andrey Bukin. They have their own theater, and I was invited as a quest-star – with my own programs.
I also skated in Japan – at the invitation of Mao Asada, just after my World silver medal. There were three cities, quite a short tour, but with several performances per day: we skated our programs and group numbers. Very cool. In principle, this is a good income. But money for me here isn’t the most important thing. Of course you need to earn money somehow, but the main thing is that I really like figure skating.
Of those with whom I performed, the most talented is Miki Ando. She always stood out among Japanese women, I really like her skating style and airy jumps. In general, my idol is Irina Slutskaya, but I did not compete with her.