Daria Usacheva: “I’m absolutely satisfied with my career.”
Big interview with Daria Usacheva.
source: Sport24 dd. 24th August 2023 by Anastasiia Scoptosva
Figure skater Daria Usacheva is one of the brightest pupils of Eteri Tutberidze. Dasha is the vice world champion among juniors and the silver medalist of a Grand Prix stage. In the Olympic season, Usacheva had every chance to qualify for the Games in Beijing, but suffered a serious injury right during the warm-up at the NHK Trophy. Since then, she has not competed in any competitions, and in the summer of 2023, she left Tutberidze’s group.
In a comprehensive and candid interview with Sport24 correspondent Anastasia Skoptsova, the figure skater revealed everything about her career, her friendship with Anna Shcherbakova and Alena Kostornaia, the endured injury, leaving the “Khrustalny” training group, and much more.
You were recently at Alena Kostornaia’s wedding. Did you catch the bouquet?
Daria Usacheva: It was my first time at a wedding. And I announced to everyone that my goal was to catch the bouquet. Just on principle. But I made a mistake and stood almost in the first row. And Alena threw it towards the end. In the end, our friend Sasha Fominova caught it, who used to skate with us in “Khrustalny.”
Alena left Eteri Georgievna’s group a long time ago, but you still keep in touch. Haven’t you lost the connection?
Daria Usacheva: Of course not. There’s no such thing: left the group — no friendship. Friendship is either there or it’s not. It doesn’t depend on whether we’re in the same group. A person either fits or they don’t. We got along right away. Me, Anna Shcherbakova, Alena, Anya Frolova, Alina Zagitova, we all communicate wonderfully.
Anya and I were bridesmaids. Before that, the three of us were at a bachelorette party, so we have a great friendship. Sports can’t interfere with friendship if it’s real. Sports remain sports. Friends are those who can genuinely be happy for each other’s success. We always sincerely celebrate each other’s victories, successes in various endeavors.
Who among the girls in figure skating do you communicate with the most? Who is your best friend?
Daria Usacheva: Anna Shcherbakova, Alena Kostornaia, Alina Zagitova, Anya Frolova. Right now, we’ve become really close friends with Sonia Kachushkina, a dancer. Also Huda (Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva — Sport24).
We’re always on a positive note. Our coolest evenings are when we get together for sleepovers because those are the most genuine. Unfortunately, they don’t happen often, they’re rare occasions, but that’s what makes them so precious.
First, I became friends with Alena. I joined the group at 11 years old, and we started talking right away. Around that time, Kamila Valieva also joined. Everyone else was going on vacation, but we were at the rink. So we spread a towel right on the ice, as if we were at the beach. It seemed like a brilliant idea to us. I lived with Alena during almost all the camps in Novogorsk. I remember she was like a mom to Sofya Akatyeva and me. She would tell us when to go to sleep. She asked us not to talk at night.
Alena eventually switched to pair skating. Did you consider trying a different discipline?
Daria Usacheva: I attended a tryout for ice dance. It later became public knowledge. I flew to Abu Dhabi to see Dario Cirisano. I also tried ice dance in Moscow.
Why didn’t you pursue it?
Daria Usacheva: Initially, I liked it, and I always wanted to at least give it a try. Everyone says that ice dance is easy. But I, on the contrary, heard from ice dancers that it’s not easy at all, and I felt it myself. Even in pairs, the interactions aren’t as complicated. But in ice dance, it’s important to keep the elbow from drooping—you need to hold it, not too rigidly and not too softly, and feel your partner.
Do you often read comments about yourself and other figure skaters?
Daria Usacheva: Sometimes. Sometimes I laugh at them. Some people are genuinely convinced of their theories that have nothing to do with reality; it’s amusing to read. They should write novels, fan fiction. Although, I think they’re already writing them, ha-ha.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve read about yourself?
Daria Usacheva: Usually, they don’t write really terrible things about me. I found it funny when they touched on the topic of friendship. They wrote that Anna, Dasha, and Alena don’t post anything, so their friendship was just for show. They’re not really friends and never were, just acquaintances. And I thought: thanks for letting me know. It’s funny because people write with certainty, not speculation. But there are many reasonable commentators who write thoughtfully. Even when fans write criticism, it doesn’t hurt me at all.
Do you listen to fans’ opinions?
Daria Usacheva: If I agree with them, then of course, but if they’ve written something nonsensical, then no.
But there were many rumors about you. For example, it was said that you were starved and had to steal food from others.
Daria Usacheva: Well, no, of course not. That’s funny.
Were there any problems with eating disorders?
Daria Usacheva: It seems that all athletes, especially in figure skating, had difficulties with eating. When I was little, during my junior season, I thought I could lose some weight. Now I look back and wonder where my 40 kg? There weren’t any specific disorders; of course, figure skaters can’t eat whatever they want in unlimited quantities because all singles jump, pair skaters and dancers have lifts.
How did you maintain your shape?
Daria Usacheva: My mom helped me; she monitored my diet and always prepared regular food for a normal person. It could be nutritious red fish or a vegetable salad for dinner. These are basic things, but not restrictions. It’s considered proper normal eating without any junk. And of course, lots of training, especially when I was young.
Another fan rumor: “Daria Usacheva was beaten during practice and outside of practice.”
Daria Usacheva: No, nobody beat anyone during practice. And certainly not at home; nobody hits anyone.
I haven’t witnessed any violence against children in person. I coach now. When things aren’t going well for a long time, my nerves can start to get frayed, but I can’t shout or say anything bad. I feel sorry for the child — there’s this little one in front of you with eyes burning…
And finally, “Daria Usacheva spent more money on extra sessions and gifts for coaches than others.”
Daria Usacheva: No, of course not. For example, when we were really young, until we were 9-10 years old, everyone went to extra classes, but I didn’t. I only did off-ice training with Artemiy Puniyn, which helped me learn triple jumps and triple-triple combinations. But if we had trained more, it wouldn’t have brought results. I had Schinz’s disease, when the calcaneal cartilage was injured. I didn’t jump for two years and didn’t skate for a year, so everything I did at that age would have been in vain, and it would have cost money too. So, my mom did a great job.
Why did you leave Eteri Tutberidze’s group?
Daria Usacheva: Well, first of all, I’d like to clarify that the phrase “left Eteri Georgievna’s group” is correct, but it’s not the main point. I took a break from professional sports, from competitions. And, accordingly, if I don’t compete, I’m not training professionally with Eteri Georgievna.
Half of the comments were about which coach I went to. I had thoughts about changing coaches, but they burst like bubbles. I never wanted to go to another coach because I’ve been in “Khrystalny” since I was four years old. It’s my home in the true sense of the word, and I adore it with all my heart, all the people who work there, from coaches to administrators.
Eteri Georgievna and the entire coaching staff led me to great achievements. I’m immensely grateful to them, and going to another coach would have been a betrayal. I sincerely didn’t want to do that, and I don’t want to. So, I didn’t have and won’t have such thoughts.
I made this decision myself. I first told my mom, she agreed with me and accepted it all. And together, we told Eteri Georgievna. I assessed my abilities and prospects rationally, listened to my inner voice, which genuinely wants this.
I can confidently say that I have never regretted it and am incredibly happy now, free. Everyone wrote “stay strong,” but I don’t need that; everything is great for me. Eteri Georgievna accepted all of this; we wished each other luck. I thanked Sergei Viktorovich and Daniil Markovich as well. It was very pleasant to hear kind words from them. They also wished me success, luck in this new stage. It was very heartwarming. I almost teared up.
And how did the girls react?
Daria Usacheva: I talked about everything with Anna throughout the process, shared my thoughts, and she naturally supported me. Maiia (Khromych – ed.) did too; we communicate very well now. When it comes to friends, Maiia and I are really good friends. Despite being in the same group and seemingly direct competitors of the same age, we get along perfectly well.
I will miss traveling to competitions with the coaches. I went to all the first junior international Grand Prix stages with Sergei Viktorovich (Dudakov – ed.). He was like a father: he showed me where to get accreditation, gave me advice on everyday things. Sergei Viktorovich is a kind person, very cheerful overall.
Who is the strictest coach?
Daria Usacheva: Of course, it’s Eteri Georgievna. She is a responsible, strict coach in terms of discipline and everything else. Daniil Markovich, Sergei Viktorovich, when needed, they can also be just as strict as Eteri Georgievna. As individuals, by their characters, Sergei Viktorovich is just a kind-hearted person. I love him as a person and as a coach. Daniil Markovich is younger, he’s more on our wavelength, and outside of training, we could discuss absolutely non-sporting matters with him.
Did the work process go smoothly? Did you ever worry that you weren’t praised somewhere?
Daria Usacheva: Probably, it happened. I think everyone has experienced something like this. It’s a kind of teenage resentment: “Why can’t you praise me? Why?” As I’ve grown older, this feeling has faded. In recent years, it hasn’t happened, only when I was relatively young.
On the ice, I’m not an emotional person at all. I won’t throw tantrums, stomp on the ice, shout, or cry because something didn’t work out. Once I thought, “Tears drain my energy, and I won’t be able to succeed afterwards. So I’ll just redo it.”
Have you been offered to stay in Eteri Georgievna’s team and help?
Daria Usacheva: Not yet. I think being a part of Eteri Georgievna’s team is already a status. And inviting a 17-year-old girl there, even for working with young children, is not appropriate.
I believe I should gain experience in this field first, and then think about something like that. Right now, I’m coaching children, and I really enjoy it. Back when we were little, everyone would run around and say, “When I grow up, I’ll be a coach.” But I thought the opposite, that I would never become one. However, I ended up enjoying it.
I have a lot of experience: I’ve tried this, I’ve tried that, I’ve trained in various dance styles, I know jump techniques. So, I really enjoy passing on this experience. Especially when a child stands there with eager eyes, absorbing everything like a sponge. It’s so motivating, I want to share everything I know with them.
Parents say their children have told them that I explain things clearly. I try to approach things from various angles to ensure the child understands, because it’s really difficult for a young child to grasp such concepts, it’s truly challenging.
Who do you find easier to work with — young children or adults?
Daria Usacheva: Of course, it’s easier with adults. Let’s start with the fact that it’s simpler. With a young child, it’s more difficult because you need to convey everything to them from a technical standpoint for them to understand. Secondly, it’s harder for them to comprehend. Working with adults is simpler: it’s easier to incorporate certain choreographic elements that I have swirling around in my head. A young child physically can’t execute these, whereas an adult can, making it a broader canvas for creativity, so to speak.
Are you satisfied with how your career has gone overall?
Daria Usacheva: Absolutely satisfied. I won’t boast loudly that I did everything I could. In my feelings, I’ve accomplished about 90% of what I could do. And for me, that’s really significant achievement. I’m absolutely content with it, proud of it, and I value it.
Many people wrote to me, approached me: “Please, Dasha, don’t leave, please.” If they grew so fond of me, it means that I didn’t skate in vain. People really liked it. So, everything wasn’t in vain and everything was right, which is why I’m completely satisfied.
Why did you decide to put your career on hold?
Daria Usacheva: Firstly, I rationally assessed my abilities and prospects. Secondly, I listened to myself and understood what I wanted at the moment. I realized that I would be, at least, happier, and it would be more interesting for me to live and develop in coaching activities.
I also want to say that I adore figure skating. When something doesn’t work out, you think, “Gosh, I’m tired of it, I don’t want to, it’s annoying.” But now I’ve come to the conclusion that I really love to skate. I really enjoy it. Doing something to the music, expressing something, conveying a thought through a program. I really enjoy it.
Therefore, even if I’m not competing in competitions, I’m ready to skate in all the shows in the world. And my little dream is to create a great program for myself.
During your career, you had quite delicate, romantic, beautiful programs. Was it the coach’s vision or your desire?
Daria Usacheva: It was the coach’s vision, but everything suited me. I really liked the programs. I adore my “Romeo and Juliet.” I like everything about this program: the music, the incredibly beautiful dress. I liked how they structured the whole story for me in the program.
You skated this program in the same season as Sasha Trusova. Did that affect you in any way?
Daria Usacheva: I didn’t know that would happen. At our first competitions together with Sasha, when I heard the music, I thought, “Am I skating now?” Then I saw Sasha and realized that the music was exactly the same. So, I even used it to skate my combinations.
I remember using it during practice to skate my combinations. It didn’t bother me at all; all the fans and commentators were comparing us. I know this, I saw it.
Did it not worry you?
Daria Usacheva: No, not at all. I liked my program. I liked how I skated it. I didn’t need anything more.
Did you discuss this among yourselves?
Daria Usacheva: No, we didn’t discuss it, but it was unexpected. It’s great when the audience can compare. It was amusing when the same music played twice in a row at a competition. I think that’s a one-in-a-million chance!
Have you ever had the desire to try something extremely unexpected for yourself?
Daria Usacheva: Yes, I have, and I still do. Recently, I posted a clip where I improvised based on how I felt, and I really liked it. And I thought, “Wow, I need to come up with something really good for this, really think about where and how, so that it looks nice.” And this relates to my strong desire to create a program for myself, not something that’s funny, but something that’s really well-done.
How did things go with learning ultra-c elements?
Daria Usacheva: I have a video of a triple axel from when I was little. But it was at the end of the season. After the break, everything disappeared. The triple axel was the closest to from ultra-c elements. But I never managed to do it in competitions.
In general, I started with the quadruple toe loop — I tried a few times, but it somehow worked better for me than the others. It was realistic from the first attempts, in my opinion, a successful one.
My triple toe loop is really good — fast and high. However, when I try the quadruple, it’s not the same. Somehow, I do something differently or maybe tense up, I’m not sure, but it’s not like the triple toe loop. If I did it like a triple loop, maybe it would work out.
The injury in Japan. Was it tough to go through all that?
Daria Usacheva: Here comes an unexpected statement. But you know, I’m a very positive person. My principle is that everything happens for the best. And that’s exactly how it turned out.
So, I cried and felt nervous only for the first few hours. Then Ania Shcherbakova and I talked for a long time over video call. I had already calmed down by then. Nothing was bothering me once I was back in Moscow. Friends came to see me, supported me, and I wasn’t worried about anything. And, I never experienced depression. I didn’t tell myself that things were going poorly or that I didn’t know what to do next. I thought: it will pass, we’ll heal, not the first time.
For me, it was like reevaluating everything, thinking about what I wanted, what I needed, what to do, and all that. It’s as if fate gave me the opportunity to sit down and think.
How did it happen?
Daria Usacheva: Everything was fine at the Grand Prix in the US, and there was about a week between America and Japan, I think. It started hurting slightly right before Japan. Performing in Japan was my dream. At that time, I was one of the few girls from Russia who was going there. I thought, “Well, they put me on such a stage, and I can’t miss it.” So, I thought, “I really want to, and I can do it.” Well, who knew this would happen? It was my dream. Interestingly, I was the only one who left the bubble for the clinic. Only a doctor could accompany me. No one else could be released.
Did you have a choice to go or not?
Daria Usacheva: I didn’t even know what was wrong with my leg. There wasn’t much to see during the medical examinations. Some mild inflammation. And we consider even a bruise after a fall to be mild inflammation. There was nothing serious. No muscle strains or sprains. Even now, I still don’t understand why this happened or how. In Japan, it flared up. And I don’t know why, or because of what… I still don’t even have any guesses.
Did the doctors not explain this at all?
Daria Usacheva: Not really. How can doctors explain without knowing the situation? They might say what they often say: “You overloaded yourself.” It’s their favorite thing to say when they don’t know what else to say. “You overloaded yourself, stay home for two weeks.”
I’m absolutely easygoing about it and talk about it casually. I love joking about it. I have no regrets about anything, I never blame anyone for anything. That’s just how things were supposed to be. That’s how I’m living.
Who among your peers supported you the most?
Daria Usacheva: Anna Shcherbakova, Alena Kostornaia. I remember Anna often came to see me. Alena also came once or twice. I remember Alena sent me a gift as if she were my date — flowers with a card. But I immediately knew it was from her.
The guys came to visit, Artur Danielyan, Mark Kondratiuk, Sonya Akatieva, Artem Kovalev, Anya Frolova, Varya Kiselyova. Matvei Vetlugin. Morisi Kvitelashvili with Nika Egadze — I knitted them a balaclava.
What about the coaches?
Daria Usacheva: No, of course not. They are at the rink from morning till night, but they still supported me. I remember getting a long text from Alexander Ilyich (Kogan, CEO of the Russian Figure Skating Federation). Honestly, I was surprised. Such an important person wrote words of support to me, it was so touching. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised. So, I felt that they were waiting for me and loved me.
Tell me about your plans.
Daria Usacheva: To skate in shows wherever I’m invited. I think I’ll go on tour with Ilia Averbukh this winter. I want to skate for a long time, keep in shape. I’ve regained my triple jumps, 3-3 combinations.
I want to help kids and pass on my experience so that it doesn’t go to waste. I have something to contribute to the younger generation.
You finished 9th grade with honors, and that’s incredibly difficult. How did you manage that?
Daria Usacheva: My mom lost more nerves than I did. I’m not an honor student anymore. In 10th grade, we switched to a different class. And they know about it there, but still. I was in the same class since 1st grade, where all the teachers knew who I was and why I didn’t attend all the classes, so there were still misunderstandings, and therefore there’s no all A grades anymore. And at that age, I probably had the perfectionist syndrome. “A” had to be in every quarter, “A” had to be at the end of the year. Probably, it was instilled by my parents, my mother. My mom is a perfectionist.
I really studied everything, sat until night. I really liked biology, and I still do. I memorized all the paragraphs by heart, and not just memorized them, but really understood them, wrote summaries. I still have all the notebooks because I think it’s really useful. I made a textbook out of my notebooks with all the drawings. I really studied.
Now I’m in a media class, and physics, chemistry, math… I have no problems with math, my mom is a math teacher and tutor. I walked in like this for the math exam (walks confidently. — Sport24). What should I worry about? It’s nothing.
Were there ultimatums from your mom, like if you got a “C,” you wouldn’t go to practice?
Daria Usacheva: No, that never happened. She just said that I needed to fix everything, learn it. Now she’s calmed down about it, she’s let go of it a lot. Natural sciences, physics, chemistry — I don’t need them. There’s no “A” there, it’s very difficult now. She’s not worried at all, she says, “The main thing is to pass the Unified State Exam that’s required for university.
Where are you planning to apply and what subjects are you planning to take for the Unified State Exam?
Daria Usacheva: Like everyone else — to the Russian State University of Physical Education, Sport, Youth and Tourism. The sports direction, to become a coach. I need to take Russian, math, biology, I think that’s all that’s required there. So, I’ll definitely take those exams.
For some reason, I had the idea of taking English, I don’t know why, but I think I won’t waste my energy and nerves on that. I had thoughts of applying to the journalism department because I love the camera and all that stuff. Some people shy away from cameras, but I’m the opposite, I’m a walking camera. Hello, this is my blog.
Would you like to get into the media sphere somehow?
Daria Usacheva: I would, I like working on camera, telling something, commenting. I open up completely. It seems to me, more than when communicating with people. I don’t know, it’s very strange. I love cameras, and I fully open up on them. I wanted to try at least, but I think I would succeed.
Would you like to stay in sports and cover figure skating or expand?
Daria Usacheva: Probably sports, because I know this sphere and can talk about it confidently. Others need to be studied first, developed in it, to have a more professional approach. I had one dream. Many kids say and repeat it like a mantra: “My dream is to become an Olympic champion.” I can’t say I had that. For some reason, the World Championships had more status in my mind than the Olympics. I wanted to leave a mark in figure skating, if they remember me — then I spent my career greatly. For many, the goal of life is the Olympics, and that’s it. I didn’t have that, and I’m glad. The Olympics happens between the ages of 15 and 25, let’s take that range. My life doesn’t end there, and it didn’t end. Because that’s not the goal of life.
What is your life goal?
Daria Usacheva: To become a successful person and live freely. For me, it’s independence in everything: financially, interpersonal relationships, having wonderful people around, a wonderful family, being happy, having stable and enjoyable work. The goal is to create a happy life for myself and my family. And my dream is to go to the Olympics in media, as a commentator, for example.
What does a successful person look like in Daria Usacheva’s eyes?
Daria Usacheva: They have their own opinion, they succeeded in life, achieved what they wanted through their hard work. During the quarantine year, my parents had serious financial problems, and I helped them with my prize money, gave everything and got sincere pleasure from it. “I’m helping my family at 15 — wow. I’m a good kid.” Against this backdrop, I managed it — it’s important to provide for my family and myself so that no one is in need. Now I really want to work from morning till night to achieve this goal.
Tell me about your parents, it seems you have very good relationships.
Daria Usacheva: My dad had a business in Khabarovsk, and during the quarantine year, there were problems, just like for everyone. He’s a great artist, he studied to be a painter. He can easily paint a picture, a portrait of you. He loves hockey. My mom was a math teacher, then she gave birth to my sister and me — and she didn’t work. Just when the quarantine started, she became a tutor. She’s grown a lot in this field, she has many students.
Could the desire to teach have been inherited from her?
Daria Usacheva: It could have, but of course, she explains things more calmly to others. “Dasha, don’t you understand?” Like typical parents: you sit there, doing homework at one in the morning. Dad drew, helped. In childhood, I not only did my homework, but also copied the classwork. Like all girls, I had my own diary. Unfortunately, only one has survived because I tore out pages if I didn’t like the layout for the next day. Only one remains from my conscious age, when I joined Eteri Georgievna’s group. There’s a letter to the future there, by the way.
What’s written in it?
Daria Usacheva: I wrote it in 2020, and it should be opened in 2030. I remember describing what kind of life I expected.
What life did you want in 2020?
Daria Usacheva: I honestly don’t remember. I think the focus was on family happiness, well-being, everyone being alive and healthy, happy. Probably, my childish mind wanted happiness and peace for everyone.
Is Dasha Usacheva career-oriented or a family person?
Daria Usacheva: It’s hard to say. I haven’t had a situation where I would think about that. Family is important to me. I’m a very sentimental person, I worry about all the quarrels and conflicts, go through them myself, get attached to people. It’s important to me to have people around who love, respect, and support me. I also want to be strong, independent (laughs). I want to succeed in something, build a successful career. If there’s mutual understanding, one won’t hinder the other.
You often post photos with your outfits. Where do you get your inspiration?
Daria Usacheva: I don’t have a specific style, it depends on the occasion. I like everything, and right now it’s the “Old money” style. You need to find it, buy it, find the right moment to wear it. I adore handbags and high-heeled shoes. If sneakers, then Nike.
Do you have favorite brands, any favorites?
Daria Usacheva: Right now there are many showrooms where I find a lot of cool clothes. I love all the well-known brands, where you know for sure that everything is good and of high quality. I believe that only shoes and bags can be expensive. The dress can be cheaper, but together it will look great. I also fell in love with accessories and jewelry.
Series of short questions
What does friendship mean to you?
Daria Usacheva: Sincere and honest relationships between people. I saw a quote somewhere that I really liked: “Friends are the family you choose for yourself.”
What does love mean to you?
Daria Usacheva: Love is complete understanding, when you accept a person in full, their character. You’ll never abandon them, never betray them. You love them no matter what.
What can’t you forgive?
Daria Usacheva: Intentional betrayal by someone close.
What does forgiveness mean to you?
Daria Usacheva: Not reminding the person about it for the rest of their life, but genuinely and sincerely forgiving and understanding. I always forgive, maybe someday it will harm me.
What does happiness mean to you?
Daria Usacheva: When you realize that everything is good for you, everything is good for your family, there are no troubles or problems. You have everything you wanted. For me, happiness is an inner state that can’t be described in words.
What does figure skating mean to you?
Daria Usacheva: If I describe it in words — it’s art, beauty, hard work, exhaustion, overcoming, victories, falls, pain, complexity. But for me — it’s life. I’ve imagined leaving figure skating completely, not just switching to another sphere (like shows or coaching). If I don’t have it at all — I’ll be unhappy. I won’t be able to cope without it. Figure skating has given me opportunities, close friends, and everything I have now. Everything is great for me, I’m not complaining.
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