Diana Davis and Gleb Smolkin: “Daughter of Tutberidze and son of the actor – we want to turn this story around”
Interview with Diana Davis and Gleb Smolkin. About start of their career, training with Igor Shpilband, plans for the future and famous parents.
source: tele-sport.ru dd. 11th October 2021 by Vladislav Zhukov
So, the daughter of Eteri Tutberidze and the son of the famous actor Boris Smolkin. How do you react when you see such headlines? Isn’t it annoying?
Gleb Smolkin: Well it’s not that annoying … It doesn’t cause any emotions. Well, they just wrote the same thing again. People lack vocabulary or something else.
We understand why this happens – of course everyone needs headlines. Journalists need headlines to make people read the news, this is understandable. We just hope to turn this story around. So that someday it was just written “Davis / Smolkin” and people would recognize us right away.
We will talk about this in more detail a little later. Gleb, there is little information about you on the Internet, especially about how you got to figure skating.
Gleb Smolkin: At the age of five, my mother brought me to the rink to do single skating. It was in St. Petersburg. It happened because parents are creative people – dad is an artist, mom is a pianist. Plus, my mother loves figure skating, she even understands something about it. They wanted to develop me both in sports and in creative directions.
It started to turn out more or less. Everyone said that I had the ability, so we continued. Trained with Evgeni Rukavitsin, then with Alina Pisarenko, then returned to Rukavitsyn. And at the age of 14 … By this time, like many others, I started to have problems with my knees, I could barely jump – one hurts, then another. I didn’t find any motivation for myself.
But I liked playing football. And therefore, having entered a conscious age, I decided that I needed to do what I wanted – to try to play football at the St. Petersburg Lokomotiv. As a result, I took a break from figure skating and did not touch skates for a year and a half. And then at one point, when I was on vacation, Elena Sokolova, the coach of St. Petersburg ice dancers, called my mother.
It wasn’t the first time she suggested trying, but like any single skater, ice dance did not attract me at all. What is there to do in these dances? There are no jumps, but what else is left? It was not interesting at all, but my mother persuaded me. She said: “Well, is it hard for you, or what? People ask. Come for a workout or two, try it. If you don’t like it, you will leave.” In the end, I went, in fact, to do a favor for both the coach and my mother … But I liked it.
The first few months I combined it with football. I could play a game on Sunday, and in the evening I could go to learn dancing. It didn’t work well to combine, there wasn’t enough time. Then I decided that it’s time to give up football and went to Moscow.
Why did you decide to quit football?
Gleb Smolkin: I just came to the conclusion that figure skating is closer to me. I have devoted my whole life to this sport, I understand how it works. I felt that I could do something here.
And in football I clearly lacked experience. Well, imagine: I have been doing figure skating since I was five, and they have been playing football since the same age. I cought up what I could. Physics, a little bit of technique. But I still lacked some things, and this is logical – the opponents played for 10 years longer than me.
I returned to figure skating like to my home. I decided that I have a better chance here. Plus, I liked skating with the girl.
I heard that you didn’t like jumping.
Gleb Smolkin: Not true! When jumps turned out, I loved jumping (laughs). When nothing came of it, I hated it. Like, probably, many single skaters. The only thing is that I’ve always loved to glide. The skating skills lessons weren’t annoying at all, it was cool for me.
So, in 2018, you teamed up. A skater who was a football player for the last year, and a skater who considered ice dance a sport for losers. Why, Diana?
Diana Davis: (laughs) I always wanted do pair skating more. I could jump, I did everything except the triple loop – it turned out every other time. In single skating, I had consistency issues. And one day I came after a vacation – I lost a lot of weight, became taller. And all my jumps were lost at once, even the elementary ones. As a result, mom got tired of it, and she said: “That’s all, let’s go to ice dance.”
First I combined ice dance and single skating – I came to one training to jump, the second one – to skate in pair. Then, combining stopped to turn out well and I finally switched to ice dance.
As far as I remember, you started skating professionally at the age of six …
Diana Davis: In fact, even from the age of five.
Both of you started quite late by modern standards.
Gleb Smolkin: According to modern ones, yes. But when I was leaving for football, no one really jumped, even with their hands up. Adding a double toe loop with the one arm up to the combination was already considered a complication. And when I returned, jumping 3-3 with both hands up became the norm. Everything has changed very rapidly in figure skating. Especially in Russia.
Diana, I heard that before figure skating your mother wanted to send you to a military school as a child. This is true?
Diana Davis: Yes. Well, I was a bit of a bully as a kid (laughs). They kicked me out of the kindergarten, I ran away somewhere constantly. I tried to attract attention to myself in every possible way. Once I almost got hit by a car.
So my mother really said that she would send me to military school. She, of course, was just joking, but in principle I did not mind going there.
I also read that you wanted to do synchronized swimming. An interesting choice, very rare.
Diana Davis: I can’t say that I really wanted to … I just really loved to swim. And my breathing apparatus is very good – I could hold my breath and swim 70 meters under water.
First you trained at “Khrustalny” with Eteri Georgievna. How does it feel to train under the guidance of your mom?
Diana Davis: In principle, I liked it. I just sometimes wanted to prove to myself and to my mother that I could do something, but it didn’t always work out. Therefore, sometimes we had disagreements.
It turns out that Eteri Georgievna was as strict with you as with the rest of the athletes?
Diana Davis: She was even stricter with me! (laughs).
Did you manage to separate work and home?
Diana Davis: Mom continued to talk about training, programs and jumps even at home.
Now is an absolutely unique case. Since Eteri Georgievna has became the most popular coach in the Russian figure skating, we have already asked everyone what she is like. Now give your assessment.
Diana Davis: She’s demanding. And not at all evil, as many write. It seems to me that mom is just a strict coach. Sometimes she can joke.
You both tried skating with other partners before teaming up in 2018. How it was?
Gleb Smolkin: It somehow happened that at one point Diana’s partner had an injury, she skated alone and I was alone in training, without a partner. The coaches told me: “Pay attention to Diana, she is now looking for a partner. You have a good age and height difference. It may work out, think about it.” We were put together, we started trying to do something, there immediately was a contact, we started communicating and something started to turn out.
I was given a break of two days. I went to see my parents in St. Petersburg and together we decided that I would skate with Diana. Upon my return, I immediately said that I wanted to skate with her. The coaches started to work with us and a process began that looked like a really serious job.
You started pretty quickly, as far as I remember. A few months later, you already won medals at competitions.
Gleb Smolkin: We then performed at the junior test skates. A week later – at the Moscow open championship. Unfortunately, it was not the most brilliant competitions for us, but somehow we did get to it.
Everything was new for me and for Diana. I didn’t really skate in ice dance – one might say, I performed only 2.5 times. I used to have tall partners, and here comes Diana – a petite girl. And at that moment I was already at full height. We also had to got used to it.
The coaches worked a lot with us, spent time. But in general, we are still in the process of becoming a pair. It can take all your life to become a pair.
Who is the leader in your pair?
Gleb Smolkin: Partner, I think! (laughs). The partner leads, controls.
Diana Davis: I agree. I always listen to Gleb.
Do you often have argues?
Gleb Smolkin: No, I wouldn’t say that. There are no particular reasons for argues. We are both trying to improve what we feel or see in the picture. Some things that, for example, I see in myself, I try to fix on my own. There is no need to tell Diana about them.
And what I see in her, I say so we could grow up as a couple. Well, plus we have a team of coaches. Everyone contributes to our improvement. So no, we are not arguing, rather the opposite – we are moving in the same direction. We have the same goals. We see senior pairs, whose level we strive for. To grow up to their level and maybe even outgrow them.
Of course, anything can happen. It happens that Diana is not in the mood or something does not work out for me. At such moments, we just try to support each other and not to bring it off ice.
Which pairs’ level do you want to strive to?
Gleb Smolkin: I’ll start with two of our pairs – Vika (Sinitsina) with Nikita (Katsalapov) and Sasha (Stepanova) with Vanya (Bukin). The guys are just wonderful, they show outstanding performances on the world stage. And, of course, the French – Gabriella (Papadakis) with Guillaume (Cizeron). These duos in the first place, plus a few others. Each is unique in its own way.
Of course, we want to find our own style. We do not want to do the same thing, or what we have already done. In the next years – God blesses that everything is ok with health – we will try to develop in our own direction.
In general, your first two seasons were fairly even, you have progressed steadily, gaining on results. Then there was the last pandemic season and in the spring of 2020 Diana had an ankle fracture. What happened there? Seven weeks in a cast is quite a lot.
Gleb Smolkin: In total, it turned out much longer. In fact, we lost the whole summer then. They put on a cast twice – first they found a fracture, and Diana spent about seven weeks in it. Then, it seems, she began to recover, go to physiotherapy. At first, Diana just walked, then she gradually began to train in a gym.
In August, she just returned on the ice, began to restore elements. We went to the scheduled follow-up examination, did an MRI and the doctors discovered a second fracture – of another bone that was nearby. They said to put on plaster again … But this time it was much harder for Diana morally. Therefore, instead of the planned month, Diana returned on the ice two weeks later.
Diana Davis: I just couldn’t sit at home anymore …
How did the recovery go? Almost three months in a cast is hell.
Gleb Smolkin: Yes, two or three months in a cast, then quarantine … You can say that Diana didn’t really skate then. Plus, before quarantine, we set ourselves a difficult task – tango. Serious music, a completely new direction for us. And Igor (Shpilband) is an excellent choreographer for tango. When we delved into this work, we realized that it would be more difficult than we expected. That there will be elements of Argentine tango. Now we are grateful to him that he brought all this into the program, and now we can show something more serious.
In general, it was not easy. The coronavirus also affected … When we realized that we did not have time to prepare for the fifth stage of the Russian Cup, we decided to concentrate on the Russian Junior Championships. And then both fell ill with coronavirus – with a weekly difference. Of course, we flew out of the training schedule and realized that we would not go to any championships and would prepare for the 2021/22 season.
But Igor and Eteri Georgievna advised us to try to prepare for the Russian Cup Final, convinced us that we need to perform. We put all our strength into preparation. Two months of skating, training – and we came to Russia completely exhausted, because we trained in a very difficult mode. But, fortunately, we got there. And the judges saw progress. So this trip was really useful.
I just wanted to say about the Russian Cup Final. I remember well how you skated before, and when I saw you in Moscow, I was really surprised – it was a dramatically different level both in terms of presentation and the ice coverage.
Gleb Smolkin: We just really worked hard. Even when Diana was in a cast, we did useful work. She came to trainings, and we worked with Igor. I skated, and Igor Shpilband stood with Diana behind the board.
We turned on our music and worked on emotionality, on connection, contact. Diana stood in a cast and interacted with me while I was skating the program. Diana could not step on her feet – she was sitting on a chair and we were working on acting, on programs.
In general, we tried not to waste time. We even managed to learn some new things, despite this situation. Plus, I skated all this time, tried to improve, so that later, when Diana returned, to help her regain her shape as quickly as possible.
Diana Davis: When I returned to the ice Igor said: “Now you have a real partner.”
Is Igor Shpilband’s approach really that different from other specialists?
Gleb Smolkin: We would not like to underestimate the work of our previous coaches. We are very grateful to them for the fact that our pair has developed. And for the fact that we came to Igor already with some skills.
But in general, it’s true – he really has a slightly different vision of figure skating. I think it differs from many coaches who work in this discipline. He has his own vision on how the skate should touch the ice, how the partners should interact with each other. And we completely agree with him.
He always listens to us. Everything we offer is important to him. We try to move together and really want everything to work out for us.
In a mental sense, have you changed in the United States over these two years?
Gleb Smolkin: Probably yes. Eteri Georgievna helped us to create complete comfort here. In short, everything here is conducive to work. Everything is very convenient for training.
More convenient than in Russia?
Gleb Smolkin: I think so.
Diana Davis: For example, in Moscow, I spent three or four hours a day only on the road.
Gleb Smolkin: Plus, the schedule was a little different, we finished training late. Here we can choose the time more or less independently. We ask Igor about some classes, we distribute the load by week in advance. In general, everything is done conveniently so that we can just do our job.
And besides work and figure skating – how is life in the States different from ours?
Gleb Smolkin: We live in a small town near Detroit. Everything here is in a calmer rhythm, a little more discipline. Nothing distracts from work. There is a guarantee that if you come somewhere, then you will be served on time, we do not spend a lot of time on the road, everything is nearby. Perhaps everything is different in the big cities of America, we have not been to New York, we do not know how it is in Los Angeles. But here everything is very comfortable and there is time for recovery.
I often hear that figure skating isn’t that popular in the States. This is true?
Gleb Smolkin: Unfortunately. Especially when compared with our country, with Russia. Here everyone is very charmed when they hear that you are a skater, that you are doing ice dance. They are curious about it, but nothing more. This is not surprising when there is no history of this sport as rich as in the USSR and Russia. They have other sports that are at the highest level – hockey, basketball, baseball. It is native to them.
Returning to the Cup Final. That your performance was accompanied by a lot of talks – they say, how they were generally admitted to the Final, why such high scores. And returning to the first question – how often did you faced skepticism about yourself? When they say, well for sure they have a lobby. I know that such conversations arise from time to time among coaches and skaters.
Gleb Smolkin: We also heard about it. Diana and I know for sure what we want and are trying to achieve it. When we hear a professional point of view about our skating – we listen to it, we are interested in it. And the fact that someone is chatting … we try not to pay attention to these talks. Yes, we have fairly well-known parents. This is a given.
Have you ever faced a frank hate about this?
Gleb Smolkin: Yes, we did. But we clever enough to understand that talking is easier than working. And if we feel that we are progressing, then this is the main thing for us.
And as for the parents … Well it’s not parents who skate for us. Not Diana’s mom and my dad skate tango. Although I would have take a look at it (laughs).
Are these talks not upsetting at all? It is impossible to completely ignore them.
Gleb Smolkin: When you start to achieve something, and I’m not talking about us now … Look at Eteri Georgievna. An example before your eyes. It has already been proven a hundred times that a coach makes champions, it was no coincidence that she had the first strong athlete. And there are still different opinions – some are delighted and some are hating. And nothing can be done about it.
I shouldn’t have said about the haters. Now they will run to you.
Gleb Smolkin: Sometimes there are really witty comments – both about us and about other guys. Some people have a sense of humor. Sometimes they even write the truth, notice some things …
Are you ready for the fact that every year they will be only more of them?
Gleb Smolkin: Of course. We understand that if we continue to progress and rise higher, these talks will go side by side. This is a concomitant factor. And to be honest, we doesn’t care at all.
Diana, I’m sorry, I can’t but ask about the hearing. I remember in the 2019 you wrote that you were able to overcome it. How did you manage to do this?
Diana Davis: Well, in principle, everything was always fine with me. There is just a certain frequency that I cannot hear. But in ordinary life, no one needs it. I don’t even know what this frequency is called, to be honest. Her sound annoys everyone, but I just can’t hear it.
Gleb Smolkin: At the same time, there are frequencies that I, for example, hear at a mediocre level, and Diana perceives them very well. That is, at some points, on the contrary, she has a sharper hearing, and the loss of one frequency is compensated in this way.
Stop. That is, there have never been any serious problems? It seemed that there was talk that you even had to use a hearing aid.
Diana Davis: I tried to wear hearing aids and flatly refused. I can hear well, why do I need them?
And it was like that from the very beginning?
Diana Davis: Yes. I have normal hearing. With the apparatus, I began to hear a person breathing on the street. I sit at home and hear it! I don’t know how you can live like that.
Gleb Smolkin: In general, everything is not as bad as they say. There was a reason for this at a young age, but absolutely nothing prevents Diana from living or skating. It even helps skating, because at some moments her hearing is sharper than others. She perfectly hears music, then she can reproduce it perfectly. It is enough to see what Diana does on the ice.
Right now we are communicating through the speaker in the car – and Diana hears everything perfectly. We accidentally discovered this frequency. It seems that the refrigerator in our house was beeping – I heard it very clearly, but Diana – no. That’s how we found out.
Gleb, do your parents follow your performances? Going to competitions?
Gleb Smolkin: Of course, they watch everything. But they hardly go to competitions. They were at our performances two times during our career.
I will explain why I asked. Diana’s mother definitely goes to competitions. I wanted to know what it is like to perform in front of your parents? What’s in your head at this moment? Does it help or add extra pressure?
Diana Davis: Mom follows the competitions, but for the first time she watched us live only at the test skates in Chelyabinsk. She did not watch our performances at the competitions in Boston – she only looked at the training sessions, the warm-up, and did not came to the competitions themselves. She watches us on video.
Diana Davis: I asked her a couple of times not to watch. Even when we just started performing with Gleb. Well, then my mother herself decided that she would watch our skating on video, because she was very nervous.
Gleb Smolkin: But in fact, this, of course, does not affect us. Eteri Georgievna watched our skating in Chelyabinsk and everything went well. So it all depends on her desire.
So far you have only two competitions in the season – test skates and b-event in the States. Have you already managed to feel that you have fully moved to seniors?
Gleb Smolkin: I think so. I cannot say that we felt any significant difference between seniors and juniors. We initially strived to be on the level when we move to seniors. Maybe Skate Canada will give us some new sensations in this regard – we’ll see.
Now we have skated with Sinitsina / Katsalapov and with Hubbell / Donohue. We have met with them before – at the Grand Prix Final, we just did not intersect on the same ice. We dreamed of competing with them – although it is clear that we are not rivals to them so far. But at least just being on the ice together – they show their programs and we show ours. This is cool, we aimed for this. Now we are skating for our pleasure, showing what we have learned.
By the way, have you heard Ilia Averbukh’s slip of the tongue about “Diana and Davis” in Chelyabinsk?
In chorus: Yes! (laugh).
How did you react?
Gleb Smolkin: Well, great! Laughed, like everyone else. Such have already happened to us – both at the show and at the competitions we were called another pair.
Next, according to your plan, you have Canada and a break before Russia?
Gleb Smolkin: In general, we expected to go to the Challengers, but we don’t know which ones yet. But we definitely need to go somewhere.
If we talk about your global ambitions – what are they?
Gleb Smolkin: In the next (Olympic) cycle, we want to be able to claim high positions and prove with our skating that it is deserved. To represent our country both in the national team and on the world stage. The main thing is progress, which should help us fight for the highest places in the future. And Igor repeats this to us almost every day.
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