Alisa Efimova: “For more than six months I was looking for options to continue skate for Russia, but I never found. My patience reached its limit and I decided: either I use the chance to skate with Blommaert, or that’s it.”
Interview with former Russian pair skater Alisa Efimova who now represents Germany and skates with Ruben Blommaert.
Former Russian figure skater, Universiade champion Alisa Efimova has officially joined the German national team. She will represent this country in a pair with Ruben Blommaert.
Alisa was born and raised in Finland in a family of Russian emigrants, she represented this country in single skating, then moved to Moscow to practice pair skating. Later, Efimova teamed up with Alexander Korovin, trained for several years under the guidance of Natalia Pavlova and then Oleg Vasilyev in the club of the legendary Tamara Moskvina. Together with a partner, she won the Universiade.
Then there was a long break and moving to Oberstdorf. One of Alisa’s coaches, Alexander Konig, is known for leading multiple world and European champion Aliona Savchenko to Olympic gold.
We met more than two years ago, when you had just parted with Alexander Korovin and were looking for a new partner. I remember you clearly said that you intend to continue your sports career. Tell us all in order.
Alisa Efimova: Left alone, I started to actively work on jumps. Oleg Tataurov, the coach of single skaters, helped me a lot. I met him a long time ago – back when I myself was a young single skater and often came from Finland to St. Petersburg to attend the training camp of Alexei Mishin’s school. Oleg Tataurov worked there, and his training system is very close to me. In a difficult period, I turned to a familiar coach for help and I am grateful that he responded.
I kept in shape and at the same time I was looking for a partner. There were try-outs with several guys, but it didn’t work out with anyone. We either didn’t fit each other physically, or because of the pandemic restrictions, we couldn’t train together. There was also a guy who had just started his journey in pairs, and our levels of training were radically different.
What coach would you plan to work with if you found a partner?
Alisa Efimova: I did not consider a specific specialist. Everything would have depended on where the partner is based. I was ready to join a new coaching group. The main desire was to continue skating for Russia. For more than six months I was looking for options to definitely stay, but I never found.
How and when did you meet Ruben Blommaert?
Alisa Efimova: He texted me on social network. Somehow he found out that I wanted to continue my career, that I was looking for a partner. It happened around the end of August 2020, when my patience reached its limit. That is, the beginning of the season was soon, but I had nothing concrete! And I got an offer. I decided for myself: either I use the chance, or that’s it. Although I understood the difficulties of moving under a new flag, the desire to return to the sport took over.
How and where did the try-out take place?
Alisa Efimova: I came home to Lappeenranta, and Ruben flew there for a couple of days. We just went to the local skating rink together and tried joint jumps, steps, lifts… No one was watching us – everything was on personal sensations. Very quickly we realized that there is harmony in skating and, accordingly, perspective. Soon I arrived in Oberstdorf, where Ruben lives, and there we were already controlled by the coaches.
How soon did you decide to team up?
Alisa Efimova: I don’t even remember the exact moment. We just skated together and discussed ideas, I was getting used to the new atmosphere. We understood from the beginning that we would skate for Germany. After all, Ruben has been living here for a long time and is a member of the national team, the leadership of the federation expressed interest in our pair.
We immediately decided on the coaches: Florian Just, who led Ruben for several years, and Alexander Konig. They developed a training plan and began to work on programs. Gradually I settled down in a rented apartment in Oberstdorf. That is, as we began to work, so we continue. Everything came together very naturally.
Tell us about the process of your transition under the German flag in terms of compliance with all formalities. There has been conflicting information posted on this subject on the internet.
Alisa Efimova: Around the end of 2020, I wrote a letter to the Russian Figure Skating Federation. Explained that I had found a partner and intended to skate with him for Germany. I asked for official permission. You could say it was a statement. The German Federation also turned to colleagues, they have been in contact with each other for a long time. I don’t know in detail how they all decided in the end. Recently we have received a release from the FFKR, and now I am a full member of the German team.
What are your financial conditions?
Alisa Efimova: Until recently, everything rested on our enthusiasm and the help of my family. Parents were very supportive: they give money for trips, housing, equipment and household expenses. We paid for ice and the work of coaches thanks to the finances that Ruben gets as a member of the national team. That is, formally, these expenses were only for his career. And now I am also in the national team, and, hopefully, we will receive funding as a pair. But I don’t know for sure. In any case, we are ready for a lot for the sake of a sporting goal.
Do you, as a citizen of Germany, have to join the army?
Alisa Efimova: I have no citizenship. I just received a certificate from the International Skating Union that I represent Germany in figure skating. It gives the right to skate for this country in almost all international competitions. Citizenship is required only for participation in the Olympics – closer to the Games I’ll take care of it.
Tell us about your partner Ruben.
Alisa Efimova: He is a Belgian, he competed for his homeland in single skating and then in pairs. In 2014 he moved to Germany: there were good conditions and a new partner. In 2020, Ruben, like me, found himself at a crossroads and began to look for a new round in his career. He is very motivated in his work, and this, of course, pleases. I feel like we’re on the same wave. I am also grateful to my partner for constant assistance in organizational matters. Still, I moved to Oberstdorf myself, it was hard to settle down in a foreign land and language environment. In such a situation, without the support of a friend, it is unlikely that anything would have happened.
What did you and Reuben learn that you couldn’t do before?
Alisa Efimova: Triple flip throw. I have never tried it, although I really wanted to. Still, the flip gives more points than other jumps. We – pair skaters – do not have a mandatory set of elements, like single skaters. You can choose any jumps for the program: everyone does what they can do better. But if the flip costs more, of course, it is valuable in terms of complexity. Ruben and I tried it, it started working out.
You used to have problems with jumping. Is it better now?
Alisa Efimova: Yes. Last season we had content: toe loop in the short program, triple-double toe loops combination, solo salchow and loop in the free program. In training, everything is more or less consistent. However, the results are considered only in competitions.
I am glad that at the German Nationals we fulfilled almost everything we had planned. So it’s good for the beginning. Let’s see how it goes. As for the content in the new season, we have not yet decided. Maybe we’ll add new jump options.
Aliona Savchenko, the famous student of your coach Alexander Koning, noted in an interview his calmness and poise in contrast to her previous coaches. Do you agree with this characterization?
Alisa Efimova: Yes, it’s about him. It is comfortable psychologically with him, and he is a multidisciplinary specialist. He did programs for us himself – only the arms and upper body we finalized with the choreographer. Alexander is also very creative: at each training session he gives new exercises, approaches, steps. With him we have enriched our lifts. I’m amazed at where a person draws so many ideas!
By the way, Aliona Savchenko sometimes comes to our skating rink, trains novice and junior girls.
What differences have you noticed in the approaches of specialists from Russia and Germany?
Alisa Efimova: It is difficult to distinguish between countries and peoples. Russian coaches are also different – even within the coaching staff, views differ.
And people are all different, including athletes. I’m a maximalist myself: at every training session I’m used to perfecting everything, an eternal race until my strength runs out. At some points, I was even stopped by coaches and a partner. So they say: “Let’s be calmer today, without madness!”
I don’t know if it’s a mentality difference. Rather, the individual character traits of each team member. In general, when it comes to professional sports, you have to move towards success and motivate yourself. The coach only assesses the situation and thinks how to make the overall work more productive. And an athlete should not rely on a mentality approach.
Where have you already skated for Germany?
Alisa Efimova: Last fall, at the test skates of the national team, only representatives of the federation watched us. And in December we were admitted to the German Nationals, and it was happiness! I remember that I was very worried: a long break made itself felt. I have already got used to the routine when you work at your rink, but there are no public performances. I lost a sense of the psychological mood and atmosphere of the audience. All the time I thought: “How to start? Is it necessary to keep a look here? etc. Plus a new team. Ruben and I had no experience of joint competitions, and this is a lot of nuances within the pair. I also felt pressure of responsibility to the team and family, which always gives me tremendous support.
Our performance at the Nationals did not matter for the selection for the main competitions, but taking into account personal responsibility, it was powerful. When everything worked out, such a sweet feeling appeared: “This is what all these sacrifices and work are for! Finally we get self-realization from training!”
How do you like the atmosphere at the German Nationals – in contrast to the loud Russian Nationals?
Alisa Efimova: Everything happened at a small skating rink, but there were spectators. Of course, not in such numbers and not on such a scale as in Russia (smiles). But we felt the interest of the audience. Relatives and friends of the participants came, the athletes of our rink. Everyone cheered for us, shouted warm words. True, I am usually so focused on my performance that I rarely look around and at the audience. And especially at this Nationals. I have already explained why. But I still remember the cool atmosphere of the event, especially since the city was already preparing for Christmas.
What competitions will we see you in next season?
Alisa Efimova: Oh, Ruben and I are set for a full season! We’ll start it in September with the Nebelhorn Trophy, then we’ll take part in another Series B Challenger. Grand Prix is unlikely, because we don’t have a joint rating yet. Next is the German Nationals, and there everything depends on the selection for the main competitions. Of course, we aim at the World and European Championships, although there is serious competition in the national team: Minerva Fabienne Hase and Nolan Seegert, Annika Hocke and Robert Kunkel. Then there is the junior pair Letizia Roscher and Luis Schuster, who will most likely move on to the senior level now. The country has only two spots, so there will be a fight. Here is the schedule. If there is a chance, we will perform at some other competitions in between.
The plans for the season are clear. And what about a career in general?
Alisa Efimova: Our main goal with Ruben is the 2026 Olympic Games. We started everything, we overcome difficulties for the sake of performing there. Let’s not guess anything further. Everything is changing so quickly, so many external circumstances! We will look at the situation: in what shape we will be after the Olympics, what desires will remain.
I noticed in your social networks that you conduct online trainings on physical training and stretching, and have a blog on this topic. Tell about the students.
Alisa Efimova: I have just started my project, I train small skaters in Oberstdorf. Although I’m ready to take any from different countries. I can train in Russian, English, and a little bit of German. I also publish content in different languages in order to reach a larger audience. To share knowledge is a very interesting direction. Still, I have already accumulated a decent experience, I worked with many specialists.
I also recently broadcast with sports psychologist Timur Sultanov. He suggested it himself after seeing my blog. I responded with pleasure, because the topic is extremely important, it is directly related to physical exercises and skills of performances. How to prepare for training and competition? How to competently spend the off-season in terms of psychology? This is an essential area for any athlete.
What language do you speak in Oberstdorf?
Alisa Efimova: Mostly in English. Still, I live surrounded by athletes from different countries, and as soon as the vocabulary of the country’s language ends, we switch to the main international one. I also speak English with the team – everyone knows it very well. That is, I have not only the German environment here.
But I still learn the language, I pronounce everyday phrases in public places. When you live and constantly hear the local speech, you easily grasp everything. I quickly learned to understand German. True, it is still difficult to build long phrases on your own – only individual words. But I understand the general meaning of what they say to me. If anything, the partner translates.
How did you rest during the off-season?
Alisa Efimova: Wonderful – with my family. This is especially valuable when we rarely see each other. Earlier, while I lived in St. Petersburg, I often came to neighboring Lappeenranta, and my parents also visited me. And against the background of the pandemic and the departure to Germany, we do not see each other for many months. I visited my relatives only during the winter and spring holidays. Dad and brother came to Oberstdorf once, then mom. And then she brought her athletes to the competitions, she could not devote all the time to me.
How do you like the success of former teammates Alexandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii? Rooted for them at the Olympics?
Alisa Efimova: I generally follow the competition. True, I look more at the results and some skates in the recording. At the Olympics, Nathan Chen made the strongest impression. His story and well-deserved victory is just wow! As for Sasha and Dima, it is unethical for me, as an active athlete, to comment on their performances and scores. I will only note that the guys are doing great. Well done for winning the titles and continuing to work hard!
How do you spend your free time in a foreign country?
Alisa Efimova: There is very little of it. Basically, I just relax physically. I am engaged in education (I study remotely at a Finnish university). Sometimes we go bowling with other skaters. I also love long runs and walks along the streets of Oberstdorf. Sometimes I go for a walk aimlessly, I look at the beautiful architecture and landscapes.