Alina Zagitova: “At the Olympics, I didn’t communicate with anyone except the coaches and lived with Tutberidze. Every time I was going to the gym she would ask, “Where are you going? Are you going to eat burgers?”
Interview with Alina Zagitova. About childhood and future children, family and sacrifices they had to make, haters, training and the most important victory in life.
source: podcast “Free Program” with Max Trankov dd. 23d July 2023
I know you had a very tough day today – tell me about it.
Alina Zagitova: Yesterday I was in Izhevsk (Alina’s hometown – ed.) with my grandparents. I haven’t been to this city for a long time. Not because I didn’t want to, but simply because I didn’t have the opportunity. And even if just for a day or two, I flew there, met everyone, and got charged with positive emotions.
And in the morning, I had an early flight. For some reason, I started having insomnia there. I don’t know, maybe because I got too nervous – I experienced so many emotions throughout the day that I just couldn’t fall asleep. I only slept for two hours, then I arrived and immediately went to the beauty salon to get ready for today’s interview. Then I almost got late for coming here.
I must give you credit – you arrived on time, just like for a training session. Sporting background, discipline…
Alina Zagitova: Not a background, sport never becomes the past. It’s always with us.
When was the last time you were on the ice?
Alina Zagitova: Two days ago.
So, you’re still training?
Alina Zagitova: Yes. We recently had a performance celebrating Moscow sports centenary, and a lot of people came, which was very pleasing.
Let’s go back to your childhood a bit.
Alina Zagitova: My dad used to be a hockey player in the past. He constantly traveled to different cities, played for different teams. I started figure skating in Almetyevsk. And in Izhevsk, almost all of my relatives live. So it’s also like a second home city for me.
Is that where you do agricultural work?
Alina Zagitova: Yes, recently.
What’s your favorite tool?
Alina Zagitova: How do you call it…?
Alina Zagitova: Yes, a shovel. That’s it. For some reason, everyone started hating on me for it. Because I showed a shovel and how I work in the garden, digging potatoes. They said it was wrong! You need a hoe for that. And I was like: okay.
With a hoe, you hill the potatoes, and with a shovel, you dig them out.
Alina Zagitova: Yes. But any tool will do. You can also hill them with a shovel.
What do your grandparents plant?
Alina Zagitova: They have a variety of things there. They grow cucumbers, tomatoes, and potatoes. There are cherry trees too, so I had some cherries. They make delicious fruit compote. I love their compote – I always take several jars back to Moscow with me.c
Do you fly with your sister or alone?
Alina Zagitova: Right now, our whole family flew there. We had a family trip. It just worked out that way…
Spending time with family is priceless.
Alina Zagitova: 100%. I truly relaxed. Seriously. And there are our roots there. I strolled around Izhevsk and realized how small it actually is, although it seemed like a megacity when I was a child.
Do people recognize you on the streets of Izhevsk?
Alina Zagitova: That’s what I like about Izhevsk! People there are so down-to-earth. Even if they recognize me, they just calmly pass by. You can see that they are looking, but they act respectfully. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. You can peacefully walk around, even in the city center.
You travel a lot in general. What city has stood out for you recently?
Alina Zagitova: Well, I liked Ufa. Everything came together – the weather, the beautiful views, and the people. I would go back there again.
I’d go back to Ufa with you too because I remember it because of you – you gave me a beautiful bouquet of dandelions.
Alina Zagitova: Ah, yes, that’s right! Well, I have to tell this story! I don’t like being late, and as it turned out, Maxim doesn’t like it either. But this time, I was delayed for just a couple of minutes. We were all going to the ice rink together. I enter, and… What’s your patronymic name?
Alina Zagitova: And Maxim Leonidovich scolded me a bit. You can’t be late, this and that…
I was polite.
Alina Zagitova: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Just like an Olympic champion to an Olympic champion. We should set an example for the younger ones. And the next time, when Alina was running late for literally 30 seconds, she gave me a gorgeous bouquet of dandelions.
Alina Zagitova: I ran up these stairs at the speed of light. I thought, they’re going to scold me, I need to take something to soften Maxim Leonidovich. So I took this little bouquet.
What limitations do athletes have?
Alina Zagitova: Probably, it’s the daily training. I feel like I’m such a lazy person, and today I didn’t do anything. Although I had a lot of shooting, lots of negotiations, and planned things for the week. But in the evening, I feel like I haven’t done anything if there was no training on that day.
And if there was training, even if I didn’t do anything else that day, I feel calm and with a sense of accomplishment, I go to sleep.
Lately, there has been a huge variety of activities you’ve tried. What did you like the most? What would you do if not figure skating?
Alina Zagitova: I would dedicate my life to television. I don’t know in what role yet. But that’s why I try different things, to find myself, to find something I like, and that I would do for the rest of my life.
So you’re living a rich and interesting life.
Alina Zagitova: Yes. That’s why you need to try everything.
I agree with you. When they say that in sports you should skate until 30, not until 17 – I don’t support this opinion. Because if at 17 you won the Olympic Games, then you are a happy person, so many opportunities lie ahead of you. Your whole life is ahead, you can achieve anything.
Alina Zagitova: I think that everything will work out even after 30 if you try hard and really want it.
Well, then you need to do everything faster because you also want a family. Do you want to become a mother someday in the future?
Alina Zagitova: Of course. I think most girls want a family, want children.
And would you give your future children to sports?
Alina Zagitova: It’s hard for me to talk about it because… On the one hand, you want the child to choose the thing they like, something they will be passionate about. And on the other hand… I look at my childhood – I actually didn’t like figure skating at all.
My mom brought me – come on, go skate. That’s how it happened…
I was crying by the boards, “Take me out of here!” And then she made me do it. Then I started to get better, and I realized that I liked it.
I really don’t want my daughter to be an athlete.
Alina Zagitova: Why? That’s very strange.
Because I don’t want to live one more life and now as a parent of a figure skater.
Alina Zagitova: Of course, I don’t want that either. Well, you can think and talk a lot about it, but you need to approach this matter very consciously and think it over thoroughly.
And if you have a boy – would he become a hockey player?
Alina Zagitova: I think my dad would want that. But I won’t guess. Just like in sports, I don’t like to make guesses. They asked me – what are your plans for the season?
Well, yes, in sports, making plans is generally a thankless task.
Alina Zagitova: Yes, because anything can happen at any moment. I used to say, “I don’t know what will happen in 10 minutes.” You just go, twist your foot, and that’s it – you’re out for several months. And then you’ll have to recover.
You said that you didn’t like figure skating as a child. Do you remember that moment when you realized: wow, it’s so cool that I’m a figure skater, I really like it! Was it on the podium in Pyeongchang?
Alina Zagitova: Haha! I could joke and say “yes.” But as a child, I was always third or fourth, that is, near the podium. I was always missing a few hundredths of a point to climb that third step – for me, it would have been like “wow,” I would have been bursting with emotions. I would have taken that medal to school and just bragged to everyone. But there was always something missing.
But then I became third, then second. I think I started to take first places only with Eteri Georgievna. And there was always something to strive for, and there was great competition. And for all the medals, they always… My mom asked, “What do you want?” Do you want a hamster, then a rabbit, then a dog, then a cat. So, I always chose animals.
And did you ever get to ponies?
Alina Zagitova: There was nowhere to keep ponies. We had a small apartment and there were enough animals. That’s it. Then there was a phone. So, they always motivated me somehow.
So, in that moment, you fell in love with figure skating when you felt that you were earning something?
Alina Zagitova: Yes. I mean, it was something like 50 rubles… But I didn’t think that I would pursue figure skating my whole life. Back then, I watched the Grand Prix with skaters like Elena Radionova and Elizaveta (Tuktamysheva). I looked at them and thought – those are major competitions, I will never reach them.
What do they feel in that moment? They are such superstars, and I also wanted that, but most likely, I’m from Izhevsk, and I don’t have the opportunity. All the time, in general, I justified myself, felt sorry for myself.
Did you not think that you are from Izhevsk, and for example, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva is from Glazov?
Alina Zagitova: I thought they were all from St. Petersburg or Moscow.
Do you remember your first salary?
Alina Zagitova: Of course, I do. It was in juniors, I competed in France, somewhere in the mountains. I got my equipment there. It was significant for me back then, an achievement. I wore that outfit with pride. It was a momentous day, and afterward, I was on a salary.
What did you buy with your first earned money? Or did your grandmother take it all?
Alina Zagitova: Well, it’s more like that. My grandmother was like that. She was always asking me in my childhood: what should I make for you to eat? Let’s make pastries, tea with milk and sugar, all of that. And then when we moved to Moscow… In general, Moscow changed her. I understood why she did it. I thanked her for it.
And I just saved the money. For something significant, something big.
Do you still save?
Alina Zagitova: Yes.
Do you remember how the idea of moving to Moscow came up in your family?
Alina Zagitova: It’s a very interesting story. There were some competitions in Moscow – they were my first competitions in this city. It was also a significant event for me.
I thought: Moscow, wow! I always wanted to go there, maybe like… as a regular person, just to walk around. And here, I had competitions. And my whole life… Well, not my whole life, but the last two or three years, I wanted to join Eteri Georgievna’s group.
And why specifically her? Did you know any of the girls?
Alina Zagitova: Yulia Lipnitskaya. I think everyone said that after Sochi. Many wanted to join her group.
Did you watch the Olympics on TV?
Alina Zagitova: I didn’t. I wasn’t interested in figure skating. I just casually watched some competitive moments, picked out something for myself.
So, Alina Zagitova didn’t see my victories…
Alina Zagitova: I saw! I even rewatched some moments. Those emotions you had at the end… I wanted to have exactly like that if I ever made it to the Olympics. And I did it.
How did you end up in Moscow with Eteri Georgievna?
Alina Zagitova: For three years, I kept telling my mom: “Come on, let’s go, let’s go.”
So, you yourself planted this idea in your mom’s mind?
Alina Zagitova: Yes. But most likely, she thought it was just some childish prank and that it would pass. Although she believed in it very much, she was also afraid. We lived our whole lives first in Almetyevsk, then in Izhevsk. These were small towns, not even millionaires. It was a serious step even for a conscious person. For me, it was unconsciously, just a desire. I think my parents were afraid.
They took a loan for me to live in Moscow. I still went there for competitions, performed not very well, frankly. I was probably around twentieth place. Then we had a short break between the performance and the train. And I said, “Mom, come on, come on.” And she said, “Alright.”
We gathered, went to the subway – it was so big there, we had to figure out where to go. We found out the schedule. My mom went to the coaches, talked to them. Eteri Georgievna asked: “What place did you take? What’s your name?” She watched my performance right there and said, “Are you serious?”
Now I understand that it’s embarrassing to approach such a coach with those results. Because you need to have something behind you. But back then, I thought, “I’m twentieth now, but what should I do, I really want it…” There were so many thoughts.
But in the end, I convinced her. She said, “Let’s see you on the ice.” I came to the warm-up, everything is pounding, my heart is constricting. There were a lot of people, and I’m shy. And there are all the stars! Julia Lipnitskaya, Polina, Zhenya, Adian Pitkeev, Tarasenko, Voronov.
I skated for 30-40 minutes, jumped, did some spins. Eteri Georgievna said, “Let’s take you for a try-out after the New Year.” I was so happy, as if I were already skating there. And my mom and I almost missed the train. We were already throwing our suitcases, getting on the train in a hurry.
So, that train you and your mom jumped into was essentially your lucky ticket. To then come back and start the career of a great champion in Moscow.
Tell the story of your Olympic medal. Do you often look at it, sleep with it?
Alina Zagitova: Actually, no. It’s hanging on the medal stand that fans gave me. It’s very beautiful, just two medals hanging there – one silver, the other gold. I hardly touched them. I used to wear it, sleep with it…
In the Olympic Village, when I won the silver, I have a video: I just took it, and we didn’t have boxes for the medals yet. I intentionally placed it like that in the video, to check in the morning: wasn’t it a dream?
Your coaches still admire how hard you worked during the Olympic season. You already understood that there was a chance, and you put everything on the altar of your Olympic dream.
Alina Zagitova: Now I can tell this. I had training at 8 a.m. So, at 7 sharp, I would come to the rink, the first one there. My mom would wake me up, and I’d be like: “Huh? Okay.” I took my skates and went. Then I had an additional warm-up, then I went to school, studied until 4 p.m. Then again to the rink, physical training, ice – an hour and a half.
Of course, it wasn’t as intense, maybe I slacked off somewhere, but… Sorry, I was 8 years old. Then I had extra classes in physical training, for flexibility, where I was just crying and ended up with a runny nose.
Then I used to go to the ice rink for additional training with the coach separately. I kept going to training camps in Agryz, to a coach who taught jumps properly. And from Izhevsk to Agryz, it’s an hour’s drive, and my mom used to drive me back and forth every time.
There was a moment when my mom and I skidded off the road into a ditch, and the car flipped over because there was heavy rain, we couldn’t see anything, and the roads were terrible and narrow. My mom was scared. A truck was coming towards us, and she probably lost control, and we flipped over… So, you can say, I was born under a lucky star.
And there were training camps, and after each day, we had line-ups. We lined up, and then we were given gifts. Someone would stand out that day, jumped well, trained well – they would get a little present. Some got watches, others got bags.
And they gave me a rubber band (or scrunchy) – I was so happy with it! You can’t imagine. It meant that after that line-up, I wouldn’t have to run around the rink 30 laps, then 100 pistols on one leg, 100 on the other, jump on a skipping rope. Then I’d come back, and everyone would already be asleep, and I’d quietly go to bed.
If they didn’t give me something, even this little rubber band, I would keep running all the time.
Did you feel the responsibility that your parents did so much, and you shouldn’t show any weakness during training? They took a loan, invested everything in you…
Alina Zagitova: At that time, I didn’t have such thoughts. When Eteri Georgievna kicked me out, she said that I was kind of slacking off, not working hard enough. But a girl who came from Izhevsk, they don’t teach us how to do things properly there.
At that time, it seemed to me that I was doing it properly. I was without arms, without legs, with hematomas, lying down and falling asleep like that – in the metro or on the bus. I really had no strength. You need time to get used to this pace of work.
At that time, it seemed to me that I was giving my all. But I wasn’t. This is a moment when you need to work through it, and you need time to understand how to really work.
When you returned, what changed? Did you find new resources or realize what you needed to do to turn the coach’s anger into mercy?
Alina Zagitova: I just started training more in the gym, not paying attention to any little things. Like horses have those…
Alina Zagitova: Blinders, yes. I had them too. I didn’t pay attention to anyone, ran faster to the gym in the morning. I understood that if I worked at least a little bit, I was already one step ahead of my competitors. Then I worked in the evening – another step. That’s how I competed, set a bar, who I look up to, so I could surpass them.
Did you come to these realizations on your own? You talk about really cool things.
Alina Zagitova: Of course, I didn’t come to these realizations right away; my grandma and parents helped me. A child can’t come to these realizations on their own; it’s a rare case. They lead you to it through conversations. In the morning, we started talking, and I would plan my day. In the evening, I would discuss what I had accomplished.
Later, I understood why it was necessary. It’s related to not letting your parents down. At that time, I didn’t realize it because a lot was hidden from me. I behaved calmly. Then I heard some conversations and understood that I needed to take it more seriously.
The coaches would say: if you work now, you will have this, this, and this and you will be able to help so-and-so, so-and-so, so-and-so. I absorbed all of that and thought I had a chance, and I shouldn’t…
Alina Zagitova: Yes, to put it mildly. That motivated me. Later, when everything was back on track, the family was doing well…
And you discovered a new hobby – shopping!
Alina Zagitova: Now people think, and many haters say: look, she goes around wearing branded clothes, how can she afford that?
I afford what I’ve earned.
Alina Zagitova: Well, yes, but people don’t understand how hard it was. So sometimes, even wearing these branded clothes makes me a little embarrassed, I admit.
You constantly read envious comments about yourself on the internet, they always find something wrong with you. How do you cope with that?
Alina Zagitova: I don’t like it when they call me a star. I can’t even bring myself to say it now.
We are all humans, just like everyone else, visually: we have the same hands, the same legs. What sets us apart is that maybe we ended up in that line of work where we realized ourselves. But that’s largely a matter of luck.
Based on what you’re telling me, it’s not entirely like that, because hard work is also required.
Alina Zagitova: Of course, that’s true in any case. I know many athletes who worked very hard and dedicated their whole lives to it, but they simply weren’t lucky.
So, you’ve never felt offended, maybe because of the amount of hatred poured onto you on the internet?
Alina Zagitova: There are moments when you just laugh: pff, what nonsense? Another moment is the lack of understanding, what is it all for?
You’re just doing your job every day. And there is a person, a subhuman, who…
Alina Zagitova: Well, not a subhuman. It’s people who feel hurt about something, possibly. Maybe they are dissatisfied with themselves, have some complexes. Perhaps, they just don’t like me.
I think it’s a very philosophical conversation. Let’s say you don’t like me, but you wouldn’t write in the comments, “Trankov, go kill yourself, right?”
Alina Zagitova: In this regard, I admire Alexei Konstantinovich Yagudin, who can afford to respond to comments. It helps psychologically when you respond. You can objectively ask a person, “Why?” and figure it out.
As a person who likes to dig deep into myself and understand why someone behaves that way towards me, I always want to ask, “Why?” Or, come up to me and ask, and we’ll talk. I’m open and communicative. But for some reason, that hasn’t happened yet.
Because everyone is scared. But Alexei Konstantinovich Yagudin is 42 years old; he can respond to armchair critics. And when you are a little girl…
Alina Zagitova: I’m not a little girl now.
But you were once.
Alina Zagitova: I just closed myself off, didn’t talk much, hardly gave interviews.
Did you cry because of hurtful comments?
Alina Zagitova: I want to say no, as a strong girl, but yes.
Tell me about your triumphant Olympics. You were the youngest on the team. Were you like the team’s darling?
Alina Zagitova: At the Olympics, I didn’t communicate with anyone except the coaches. I didn’t talk to anyone, didn’t go anywhere, I lived with Eteri Georgievna. All the girls say, “How is that possible?” But that’s how it was. It was an interesting experience.
Eteri Georgievna lived near the entrance door, and I lived a little farther. There was a gym in the village, and I went downstairs. I had to open the door, and it would start beeping. And immediately Eteri Georgievna would ask, “Where are you going? Are you going to eat burgers?”
And I’d say, “No, I’m going to the gym.” I didn’t even go to the place where all the food was, to avoid temptation.
Did you ever think they put you there to control you?
Alina Zagitova: I don’t know. Even if it was like that, I’m grateful to the person who placed me there.
In 2018, you received Olympic uniform. You had a plane ticket to Korea, not a train ticket to Izhevsk. Do you remember what was in your heart?
Alina Zagitova: Those moments were very blurry. At that time, I didn’t think about the uniform or where I was going. Such thoughts flashed, but I tried to push them away and think only about training. I listened to the coaches, followed all their instructions, and thought about the plan. That’s it.
That’s wise. The euphoria I experienced interfered with me at my first Olympics.
Alina Zagitova: I tried to restrain myself. I think I was so tired that I didn’t have such thoughts. In any case, there was joy. My grandma said, “Imagine, the Olympic Games.” Or my mom started talking. I’d stop – I just went to my room, locked the door, and watched some series, comedies.
And after the Olympics, when you realized you had accomplished it?
Alina Zagitova: I didn’t have time to realize it. When they put the medal on me, I looked at it, and I realized it for a second.
Then there were events, interviews, and they all piled up on me. I walked the whole way being very closed off, but here I had to open up. How is that? You see new people, they want something from you.
And they don’t teach or train you for that.
Alina Zagitova: Yes, it’s all experience.
Have you changed since 2018?
Alina Zagitova: It’s better to ask the people who have been with me on this journey from beginning to end. Internally, whether you want it or not, your worldview changes. Life makes you a strong, wise person who must…
Overcome any obstacles with your head held high.
Alina Zagitova: I wouldn’t say “must.” I don’t like that word.
Alina Zagitova: Yes, who can. We don’t owe anything to anyone!
I owe it to my children, my family.
Alina Zagitova: No, you don’t owe it; you want to.
We are having a conversation, and I should make it as comfortable for you as possible.
Alina Zagitova: You want to.
I want to and feel that I should.
Alina Zagitova: Alright, I won’t argue with you.
Okay, I don’t owe anything to anyone.
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