“All the effort we put in have suddenly vanished. No permanent ice, no coaches, no conditions for further effective work … And we realized that life itself wants to bring us to the final decision.” Sara Hurtado about difficult decision to end sport career
Spanish ice dancer Sara Hurtado about ending her sports career.
This spring, the Spanish duo Sara Hurtado and Kirill Khalyavin ended their careers. This was preceded by leaving the group of Alexander Zhulin: the skaters left Russia against the backdrop of international political events.
In Spain, where the athletes live now, they failed to find a decent team and conditions for self-realization. Six months later, Sara decided to tell in detail about how and why everything happened. She also shared her impressions of the Olympics, where she could not perform, and spoke about new goals and dreams.
We decided to publish Sarah’s story in the form of a monologue, which sounds especially piercingly in the context of saying goodbye to sports.
Sara Hurtado: Now it seems to me that everything that happened to me over the past year happened in a different life. It seems like yesterday, and at the same time a very long time ago. Last summer, together with Kirill and the whole team we made grandiose plans, we wanted to qualify for the Olympic Games. We worked a lot on programs: we experimented, tried different elements, new movements. We wanted to show something unique and memorable.
We planned to start the Olympic season as early as possible and participate in more competitions in order to gain experience. But some circumstances got in the way. First, I was recovering from an injury, then we left for Spain to get an international vaccine and complete the paperwork. This slowed down the process a little, but the main thing is that in September we made our debut at the Lombardia Trophy, and in early October we participated in another challenger – the Finlandia Trophy.
The first competitions of the season are a journey into the unknown. You don’t know anything at all. How will you perform? How will you be judged? What will the experts say? Maybe it will turn out that everything needs to be redone … You just want to get feedback from the judges and other experts in order to understand what your chances are for the season with new programs and what needs to be improved. It is always an experience and a stage for growth.
Then we had Grand Prix – Japanese and Russian. In these two countries, skaters today are given the most attention. Athletes are always supported there, regardless of the country they represent. The audience always welcome, applaud and create comfort. Therefore, I agree, we were very lucky with the atmosphere! (smiles) I remember how we flew to Tokyo and took a long bus ride around the city just to enjoy the new environment and set ourselves up to skating in front of the local audience.
I can describe my arrival in Sochi at Rostelecom as “the circle is closed”. Purely from an emotional point of view. After all, the cardinal changes in my life began there – at my first Olympics.
I skated with Adria Diaz and I will never forget these competitions – so valuable for every athlete. Later, we started having difficulties, which will eventually lead to missing the whole season and the breakup of our duet. And soon a miracle will happen, and Kirill will invite me to Russia. A country where I find the best team and spend a few happy years, win medals.
The first time I competed in Russia was at the same Olympics. And now, at the Sochi arena, feelings came flooding back. I even remembered the stands where my parents were sitting. In 2014, it was important to me that they came to Sochi to support me at such a significant performance. And although this time my parents were no parents, I still felt their support.
At both Grand Prix, we took the most offensive fourth place. That is, you lacked one step to the pedestal. It is difficult to name a definite reason. Yes, we made mistakes, our competitors were better. But Kirill and I continued to fight: step by step we went to our main goal – the Olympic Games. We brought all our energy to each competition, tried to perform with dignity and show everything that we are capable of.
We realized that we were not going to the Olympics, at the height of the European Championships – when we saw the marks for our free dance. Of course, it was a shame, but such is life. Kirill was with his family for that period, and I took part in this wonderful competitions remotely, I worked as a commentator on a Spanish TV channel.
Was it hard to watch a competition where I could compete myself? A sad feeling – when you did everything in your power, but this was not enough. But the Olympic Games are too exciting to ignore. They don’t lose their beauty and power from the fact that I am not there. After all, the best athletes from all over the world perform at the main competition of the four-year period. Of course, I wanted to be there, on the ice. I knew that there would be no other moment. I was sad. This is a natural feeling. And still I was eager to know how everyone would perform, what the final would be. These mixed emotions appeared simultaneously.
It was difficult for me to watch the opening and closing ceremonies. After all, they happen only at the Olympics, once every four years. Competitions on ice happen often, but only here athletes from all winter sports and all countries live together, parade with their flags. This atmosphere makes the Olympics special. However, I was glad to participate in the Olympic Games in a different way, telling people about my favorite sport. In Spain, they love to watch figure skating, but most do not understand the rules and elements. And I had a chance to professionally explain everything to the public.
Interested in my subjective impressions of the participants? Well, Gabriella and Guillaume were by far the best – among skaters of all dicsipline! I didn’t even analyze their elements, but just watched the dance and enjoyed it. They flied above the ice as a single organism. This is the highest art! As soon as Gabriella and Guillaume stopped, I immediately wanted to watch the dance again many more times.
All the top pairs and single skaters skated wonderfully. Alas, I was able to watch men only in the recording. The girls were super emotional. Of course, a lot of emotions were walking around, given the events that preceded the final skates. I felt that every girl tried to show all her talents at that decisive moment. This is more valuable than just figure skating. From the very beginning the competition was difficult and sad, but it turned out to be very exciting to watch.
Of course, I congratulated my friends Victoria and Nikita on their success. I saw these skates so many times in training and knew how hard the guys worked, put their soul into the quality of their programs. I am glad that Vika and Nikita managed to perform the dance perfectly at the right time. I smiled from the first to the last second – it was their finest hour! I congratulated my friends only after all the skates, because in our group it is not customary to distract each other until the end of the competitions. I sent an emotional audio greeting to Vika and Nikita. I don’t remember exactly what I said. I only remember that I screamed with delight and jumped with joy when I was recording the message.
At the beginning of the last season, Kirill and I did not think about leaving the sport and did not make any plans for life after the Olympics. We agreed to set ourselves up to the main goal and not think of anything for the future. And only then, at the end, to think about what’s next. I think you can’t plan for a long time ahead until you pass one important stage. All these years, before each season, I said to myself: “Now I will go into the new season, I will do my best and in the end I will see if I want to continue.”
After the European Championships, we realized that now we both need time. Just take a break, relax and think things through. We promised ourselves to plunge into freedom, isolate from the usual way of life and feel if there is a new motivation. Now we have already thought a lot: to continue or not?
So, after the end of the Olympics, I returned to Moscow. Kirill and I were to participate in Javier Fernandez’s show “Revolution on Ice”, and we started working on show program. We worked quietly for several days, and then a well-known political event broke out. It was very unexpected. We lost our sense of safety and had to make decisions on the fly. We didn’t know how long the conflict would last. We called the Spanish consulate, and they recommended us to we return to Spain urgently. The consuls themselves did not understand much, and we thought: what if the borders are closed, and we will not be able to go to any competition? We already have an experience of a pandemic situation, when everyone was blocked. Therefore, we decided to follow the advice of the consul and leave Russia as soon as possible.
I want to emphasize that leaving the group of Alexander Zhulin does not mean at all that we wanted it. We had great relationships with all the coaches and other skaters. We just found ourselves in a difficult situation and realized that leaving for Madrid was the best solution. This is the only reason. It all happened at the end of February – literally three or four days after the start of the event, the name of which I basically don’t even want to pronounce. We quickly completed all the documents, packed our things and flew to Madrid. Alas, we did not even have time to say goodbye to our beloved coaches. I had to explain everything over the phone. They adequately accepted our decision and said many kind words as parting words. I hope I will have the opportunity to personally meet with all the coaches of the group and thank them for what they have done for me. Our joint work is a great happiness and luck for me.
So, I, Kirill and his family went to Spain. At first we didn’t have ice there, we had to ask for different skating rinks. We talked a lot with representatives of the Spanish Ice Sports Federation and thought about how to improve the situation. We tried to find new coaches, but in Spain there are no specialists of Sasha’s (Zhulin) level a priori. The federation only told us: “Find coaches abroad, and we will think, we will try to help.” It was a crazy period!
We felt that we were heading to an important crossroads in life, and we asked ourselves: “Why do we need to continue our career? For something specific? Prove something to someone?” We realized that we have nothing to prove to ourselves, because we are already proud of our sports results. All the effort we put in have suddenly vanished. No permanent ice, no coaches, no conditions for further effective work … And we realized that life itself wants to bring us to the final decision.
Kirill and I made it almost simultaneously. We have realized ourselves in sports and will be able to live on without the medal of the European Championships, which we dreamed about so much. We can not return the old fire and motivation. This is all the result of long reflections and conversations. But I am glad that we came to this decision together, with respect for each other. I don’t remember the exact moment. After all, we first settled in Madrid, skated on public ice, consulted with many people and with each other. This lasted a total of two months, and we gradually lost energy. One small factor, another … Disappointment after disappointment … As a result, we could not stand it and said to each other: “That’s it! We’re done!”
We have been living in Spain for seven months now and we can say that this is our home. I can’t promise that it will be forever, but so far it’s so. Kirill’s family also decided to move here for a long time.
Realizing that it was time to try something different, we felt incredibly motivated. It can be said that we got a second wind. Our main goal is to develop figure skating in Spain, share experience and help other skaters. Kirill and I want to open our own school in Madrid. For now, we are solving organizational issues: we are looking for a permanent ice rink, we are thinking about the specifics, team and marketing. We have already had an open day. Many children and teenagers who are interested in learning came.
I want to coach both beginners and athletes who are already preparing to enter international arena. I consider these areas to be equally important, because this is all work for the future. Kirill is already coaching the Spanish figure skater Sofia Val, we are looking for a worthy partner for her. Ksyusha (Ksenia Monko – junior world champion, wife of Kirill Khalyavin. – “Match TV”) is only engaged in their child. But I am sure that in the future she will join the work at the school. She is also a talented figure skater.
In the summer, I coached with pleasure at the camp in Andorra. It was organized by Ivan Saes, my previous coach. 52 skaters came – whole teams from different regions of Spain. It’s a wonderful project because most of the Spanish ice rinks are now closed. They were empty during the pandemic, and demand fell. And at the camp there is a concentration of many coaches: specialists in gliding, jumping, physical training … I led a separate dance group, only my students are still skating solo and looking for partners.
The famous coach Lorenzo Magri participated in the camp. He is awesome! First of all, because he generously shares his skills. After all, there are greedy coaches who do not want to reveal secrets. And Lorenzo gives his students everything he can. This is very valuable for our team.
By the way, Tiffani Zagorski also spent a lot of time in Andorra this summer. We didn’t see each other, unfortunately, because Tiffani finished her workshops a week before the start of our camp. We have similar fates – we both came from Europe to Moscow, to Russian coaches and partners. I have wonderful memories of the time when we lived together with Tiffani. Hope she’s doing well now. She is very strong, a fighter in life and will definitely find her way!
Kirill and I want to perform in ice shows. First of all, in the “Revolution on Ice”, which is organized by our friend Javi Fernandez. Thanks to Javi, the Spaniards are now very interested in figure skating. He has done a great job through shows, master classes, TV shows. As a successful figure skater, Javi originated this interest in his homeland. Well, we are also open to other proposals for the show.
And I also want to realize myself in journalism. The combination of journalism and figure skating is the best way to bring people closer to this sport. I love my job and am ready to talk about it endlessly – both professionally and to the general public.
What are my most vivid memories of living in Moscow? Oh, how many there were! So many events on the theme of art – ballet, exhibitions, dance festivals. I keep everything in my memory and heart. This is a city with a strong energy, in which I was very happy. And the closest people in Moscow were a couple of Spanish journalists who also lived there and often met with me.
I really want to come to Russia when the political situation improves. First of all, I hope that the global problems will be solved, all the victims will be compensated for the damage. Many cultural ties have been destroyed, much needs to be restored.
I have a huge feeling of gratitude for everything that I have achieved during the years of my life in this country. Thanks to everyone who made this possible! Thanks to Kirill and Ksyusha for the invitation back in 2016! Thanks to the team of coaches for being inspiring and supportive! Thanks to all the fans for the kind words, for coming to watch our performances!
Related topics: Sara Hurtado Kirill Khaliavin
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