Aliona Savchenko: “I would advise children who dream of great success never to chase after a momentary result”
Big interview with Aliona Savchenko. Aliona told about possibility to compete at her sixth Olympics, explained why modern skaters burn out quickly, and also advised Europe to follow Russia’s example in terms of figure skating development.
by Alexei Adamov for championat.com dd.17th November 2020
Aliona, your daughter Amilia recently turned one year old. How is she doing? How does she react when she sees mom in skates?
Aliona Savchenko: Amilia is growing and makes us happy every day. In Germany, due to coronavirus quarantine continues, but my daughter does not let us get bored. Thanks to her, we always have something to do (smiles). Now, due to safety measures, she is not allowed to attend my training sessions, but in general, we took her to the rink since three months old. Amilia likes to watch me skate, train girls. She often asks to go on the ice, but so far I have not put her on skates. Let’s see how it will be in the future.
Now you do not have the opportunity to take your daughter with you to training sessions. How does Amilia do these hours without mom?
Aliona Savchenko: My husband Liam plays her videos of our performances with Bruno. Amilia always watches with pleasure, recognizes me, shouts: “Mom, mom” (smiles). But in general, I try, if possible, not to leave my daughter for a long time.
What is the main change in your life connected with the birth of your daughter?
Aliona Savchenko: I finally felt how hard it is to be a mom. And because of this, I love my mommy even more now. What women do when raising children is real heroism. We have only one child so far, but that is very difficult. I can’t even imagine how those who have more children cope.
Tell us how your training process is organized during quarantine.
Aliona Savchenko: Members of the German national team have the opportunity to train, so, fortunately, I manage to keep fit. I train every day, sometimes even more than necessary (smiles). Much depends on the whether my husband can sit with our daughter. I try to listen to my body and pay special attention to what I need to improve.
Does such an active training regime mean that we will see you and Bruno Massot again?
Aliona Savchenko: We agreed that we would try to skate again, but quarantine thwarted all plans. We were supposed to visit him in Switzerland, but due to restrictive measures this is impossible. Therefore, now it is difficult to say something for sure, but if I return to pair skating, it will only be with Bruno. I don’t think I can find a better partner, because he simply does not exist.
In the summer, videos with your successful attempts of a triple axel and a quadruple toe loop were all over the Internet. Many wondered: “How is this even possible?” Will you reveal the secret?
Aliona Savchenko: There is no special secret. It is necessary to warm up properly from childhood, have a healthy lifestyle, adhere to discipline. All this allows you to hold on in sports for a long time. Thanks to my dad, who taught me this, I was able to skate for so many years, avoiding serious injuries. Every year I felt my body better, and it only became easier for me.
What prompted you to perform such difficult jumps now?
Aliona Savchenko: I started to learn triple axel while I was a single skater, but at the age of 13 I switched to pair skating and focused on other elements. However, I have always had a dream to jump a triple axel and a quadruple jump. I like to do self-improvement and find out what else I am capable of. I believe, if there is desire and strength, then why not try? In general, I would advise children who dream of great success never to chase after a momentary result. Everything has its time. If something doesn’t work out at the age of 16, then with the proper aspiration and work, it will certainly work out later.
Nevertheless, now many girls jump quads at the age of 11-12. In your opinion, does mastering ultra-c elements at such a young age prevent from building a long and successful career?
Aliona Savchenko: Now many girls gain their main victories at a young age. At the age of 16, their sports career ends, and a completely different life begins. It was different for me, it took a long time for me to come to medals and titles, and I won Olympic gold only at 34 years old. I am sure that ultra-c elements can be learned not only in adolescence, but for this you need to keep yourself in shape and take a responsible attitude to your body.
Now many skaters burn out quickly, they lose interest. It’s hard to stay motivated when 13-year-olds “overjump” you. Finding the right goal is important here. I have always strived to become better and stronger than myself. It didn’t matter to me how my competitors were skating and what did they jump. I set a goal to win the Olympic Games, and I didn’t care when it’d happen. Of course, it is difficult to continue after defeats. To do this, you need to have great willpower and patience, but the one who has a great desire will always find a way to achieve the goal.
And even more willpower is required to continue a career after big victories.
Aliona Savchenko: You can always set new goals for yourself. If success had come to me earlier, then I would have had a goal to win one more Olympics. Much depends on your attitude towards what you are doing. For example, I really love competitions. Some go to the goal, forcing themselves, so after the victory they feel relief and leave figure skating. I have always loved what I did. Everyone has his own path, his own motivation.
Is the lack of mature athletes with their own history and personality a problem? How do you feel about the idea of raising the age in figure skating?
Aliona Savchenko: This is a difficult question to which there is no simple answer. Of course, raising the qualification age will allow older girls to move forward in terms of titles and medals. At the same time, it will become more difficult for juniors to achieve big victories, because they will have to wait longer to enter senior competitions and to keep fit.
But overall, I think it will help the skaters stay in the sport longer. I would like to see many girls at the top level for longer. It seems to me that now we lack this in figure skating. It is always interesting when a career develops before your eyes, a person matures, overcomes all obstacles on the way to the top. Of course, it’s cool to jump quadruples being 13-14 years old, but it’s even cooler if you can do it at the age of 25-30. I like to watch girls at the age of 14-15 jump the most difficult jumps, but at the same time it’s a pity when at the age of 17 they disappear.
I sincerely wish all girls to live as long life in sports as possible, because this is the coolest time. You go on the ice, and millions of spectators are looking at you: they worry, cheer, get the strongest emotions from your performance. This is possible only in sports, so these moments should be appreciated.
Getting back to your super jumps: have you tried triple axel or quad jump without harness?
Aliona Savchenko: Honestly, no. I wanted to try it, see if I could do ultra-с. Now I know this is real. If I switch to single skating, then, of course, I will jump a triple axel and a quadruple toe loop (laughs).
But seriously, is there even a tiny chance of seeing you competing in singles?
Aliona Savchenko: Why not? Looking at ladies’ figure skating in Germany, I can try (smiles). The main thing now is to wait until the end of quarantine, and then we’ll see. Perhaps I will surprise everyone. In fact, after the birth of Amilia, I feel even better than before, so nothing prevents me from challenging myself. If earlier I was subconsciously more careful, realizing that I need to become a mother, now this fear is gone. In addition, I began to feel my body even better. Plus, coaching experience helps a lot. I have three girls, and work with them allows to see the process not only from the position of an athlete, but also from the position of a coach.
What is the main advice you give to your athletes?
Aliona Savchenko: I try to explain that if something does not work out today, it does not mean that you need to give up everything. You can always switch to another element, work on something else. Earlier, if something didn’t work out for me, some coaches kicked me out of training. I believe that there is always something to do and there is no point in kicking a child out of training, because this will not teach him anything.
You said that continue your career largely depends on finding sponsors. Can an Olympic champion with such a rich career have any problems with this?
Aliona Savchenko: In Germany, figure skating is not as popular as in Russia. You have it in the first place, and in Germany football comes first and only then all other sports. This is very disappointing, because if I skated for Russia and had so many medals, then most likely I would not have problems finding sponsors. Actually, I will be glad if a sponsor from Russia approached me and says: “Skate, I will help” (smiles).
In Russia, the figure skaters of the national team train at the state expense, and also receive salaries. Is it more difficult in Germany?
Aliona Savchenko: Our army provides the most significant support. When you get into the national team, you take a six-week military training, after which you enter the service in the Bundeswehr and receive a small funding that you can somehow live on. The organization “Sports Aid” also helps. This money is enough for rent and food. As for the training process, the federation pays for the work of coaches, but not in full. Usually, athletes give part of the prize and sponsorship money to their coaches, since they receive much less than their work actually costs.
Is it possible to revive the interest in figure skating in Germany and in Europe in general? What is necessary for that?
Aliona Savchenko: It seems to me that we need to show figure skating more, write more about athletes and competitions. In Russia, figure skating is on TV every five minutes (laughs). After the end of their careers, your skaters can perform in shows, star in projects like “Ice Age”. In our country, talented athletes very often just disappear, because they simply have nowhere to be realized. Perhaps the European teams need to invite more actively specialists from Russia and other countries where figure skating is developed well. However, here again everything depends on funding. This is a difficult question, but we are doing everything to popularize figure skating in our country. Hopefully, after the quarantine is over, something will start to change for the better.
After the European Championships in Graz, where Russian skaters won all the gold and took 10 medals out of 12, it was said a lot that such Russian domination is killing figure skating in Europe. Can you agree with this?
Aliona Savchenko: I don’t know the situation in Russia from the inside, but I see that you pay great attention to figure skating and invest a lot of money. I think Europe should follow the example of Russia, and then we will see serious competition at the European championships again.
A real technical revolution has been taking place in ladies’ single skating in recent years. Why in pairs no one takes risks and increases the difficulty?
Aliona Savchenko: Personally, I always liked to experiment, try more complex elements. But in pair skating it was not assessed as it was in single skating. Therefore, gradually all the pairs realized that it was better to skate easier but more confident. Better to get “+ 3” on a triple than a minus on a quadruple. On the one hand, this approach connected with the concern for athletes’ health, because pair skating is the most traumatic discipline of figure skating. But I still think that this slows down the development of our discipline and does not allow pairs to progress. If the scores for quadruple throws had been increased in the past, then nowadays more pairs have used these elements. Otherwise, pairs simply have no reason to take risks.
Is it because of this that the popularity of pair skating has been falling lately?
Aliona Savchenko: I think this is one of the main reasons. Even I have recently been more interested in watching dances, although it has always been thought that those who cannot do pairs go there. And now they are taking risks, trying something new, while there is a little stagnation in pair skating. Everyone thinks only about levels and does not want to take risks at all. If 10-12 points were given for the quadruple throw, then many would think about complicating the programs, and while it costs half a point more than a triple one, no one will do it.
Recently, the American portal Yardbarker included you in the 25 Greatest Skaters of All Time. Modesty aside, would you call yourself great?
Aliona Savchenko: Of course, I am pleased that the compilers of this rating have noted me. If you look from the outside at a person with as many titles as mine, then I would call him great. But for myself I am still the same Aliona – daughter, mother, wife.
You have competed at five Olympic Games and can become the first skater in history to compete in six Olympics. Is the opportunity to make history a motivating factor for you?
Aliona Savchenko: Honestly, I just found out about it. I think this will only add to my desire to take part in another Olympics. I really love both training and competition, so I don’t rule out anything for myself and I hope that I can conquer this achievement.
Your biography will be released in Russia at the end of November. In Germany, it has already become a bestseller. Are you counting on a similar success in Russia?
Aliona Savchenko: I really hope that my story will arouse interest among Russian readers. I want to say a huge thank you to the author of this book, Alexandra Ilyina, for agreeing to translate it into Russian as well. I think the Russian-language version can even surpass the German in sales, because there are a lot of Russian-speaking people everywhere, we are scattered all over the world (smiles). And also many thanks to the publishing house AST, which publishes this book in Russian.
Tell us how the work on the book went.
Aliona Savchenko: The idea to tell my story appeared a long time ago, but before that there was not enough time. And in January 2019, I realized that it was time to do this. Alexandra did a very big job: we met at my house, during the tours, constantly called up, she talked with my parents. Interestingly, while working on the book, I found out that I was pregnant.
You actively participated in the show and were preparing to become a mother, but still spent a lot of time and energy on writing the book. Why do you need this?
Aliona Savchenko: Before my victorious Olympics, I performed at the Games four times and could not reach gold. All this time I was looking for the key to Olympus: I watched movies about great athletes, read their biographies. Much of what I learned there helped me in one way or another to take the decisive step and finally win the gold medal at the Olympics. Perhaps my story will also help someone in a difficult moment, suggest the answer. And not necessarily for athletes. If I manage to inspire someone to overcome difficulties, then all the work was not in vain.
Your biography is almost a ready-made script for a cool biopic. Who, in your opinion, could play Alena Savchenko in a movie?
Aliona Savchenko: In fact, I would like to see a movie based on my story someday. And, as for the actress for the main role, then perhaps I would have played myself. Or Amilia, if the adaptation will take too long (laughs). In general, there will certainly be an actress who can bring my story to life on the screen. And I will definitely help her to get into character.
Almost simultaneously with the book “Aliona Savchenko. A long way to Olympic gold” a book about the Russian single skater Alexandra Trusova is being published. Are you not surprised by the publication of a memoir at 16?
Aliona Savchenko: Each has his own story. If she has something to say now, why not? I have a completely different path, in my book I talk about my life, about everything that I had to go through to achieve the main goal. I can only be happy for Sasha and wish her a long and successful career. Perhaps in a few days she will want to write a second book, and then a third one. I sincerely wish her to achieve everything she aspires to.
Now the show “Ice Age” goes on the First Channel. Have you ever been offered to participate in this project?
Aliona Savchenko: Unfortunately, I have not been contacted yet. I would love to skate in the Ice Age. It would be interesting to challenge yourself and teach some star to skate (smiles).
Your former partner Robin Szolkowy became a coach after his retirement and even worked in Russia. Bruno Massot also coaches. Do you see yourself in this field?
Aliona Savchenko: So far I only help, because I have not finished my career and I devote a lot of time to training. But in the future I am ready to seriously engage in coaching. I like helping athletes get better, doing choreography, programs. If I undertake this, then I will set a goal so that my students at least repeat my achievements, and maybe even surpass them.
You have achieved everything every athlete dreams of. Do you still have a dream related to sports?
Aliona Savchenko: I would not refuse a second Olympic gold medal (laughs). And I would love to try myself in single skating. And I also want Amilia to see her mother perform at the Olympics live, and not on video.
Related topics: aliona savchenko bruno massot