Ekaterina Kurakova: “I really wanted to make it to the Olympics this year. You never know what will happen to your body and whether you will skate at all in four years.”
Interview with Ekaterina Kurakova. About the Olympics, leaving Orser, training with Lorenzo Magri in Italy, Medvedeva and the “Ice Age”
source: gazeta.ru dd. 21st December 2021 by Elvira Ondar and Danila Zhilyaev
The bright Polish figure skater Ekaterina Kurakova spoke about the missing her family and Russia, which represented before, how she had to leave the famous Canadian coach Brian Orser and train on her own for a year, about the tough competition in the Russian women’s team, commented her close friend Georgi Kunitsa leaving the group of Eteri Tutberidze and admitted that she want to take part in the Ilia Averbukh TV show.
For the first time in a very long time you came to a competition in Russia, at the Grand Prix in Sochi. What are your impressions?
Ekaterina Kurakova: At first, it took me a while to get used that everyone speaks Russian (laughs). After all, I very rarely hear my native language. Here I didn’t have to try to understand, translate something in my head. I also remember the incredible support: there were more spectators in Russia than at all other competitions.
When I was warming up before the free program, I even tried not to skate on the left side, because there women were constantly shouting: “Katya, come on! Katya, you can! ” (laughs). I make the second circle: “We are cheering for you!”
Of course, I was very pleased. But before the free program, I was very nervous, because I wanted to place higher, skate well, and I tried to focus, but the screams amused me. Therefore, I said to myself: “Katya, focus. No need to be distracted by what is happening around.”
There were also small posters with me, toys – this all is very nice. I can say that there was a real home atmosphere.
You have lived in Canada for a long time, in Poland, and now you train in Italy. Do you miss Russia?
Ekaterina Kurakova: I missed it, and, to be honest, I was sad that the Grand Prix was held in Sochi, and not in Moscow.
I wanted to spend more time with my family, but in the end I talked with them for about 15 minutes during a connection flight in Moscow.
I had a little over an hour between the first and second flights, and this was enough only to get from one gate to another. But it was very nice that the whole family came to see me anyway. It’s so nice to hear your native language, to see loved ones.
How often do you see your family now?
Ekaterina Kurakova: Very rarely – once a year or even less. I used to come for the New Year and on vacation at the end of the season. And now, because of covid, it turns out that it is quarantine in one country, then in another.
Now you spend most of your time in Italy. How did you get the idea to work with Italian coach Lorenzo Magri?
Ekaterina Kurakova: I was looking for a competent coach, because all last season I was without a coach. I understood that it was impossible to continue like this, but I really wanted to return to Brian Orser.
We had very good contact, we felt each other perfectly as a coach and a skater. I was very sad (because of the quarantine, Kurakova was unable to return to Canada to train with Orser. – ed.) and I was without a coach for a long time, because I was hoping to return and continue training with Brian.
But at the end of the 2020/21 season, it became clear that something needed to be changed. I needed to get a spot to the Olympic Games.
And I had two training camps with Lorenzo last year, and after these trainings in Italy I got to know him better. He is a very good person, very understanding, a professional in his field. And when we had a meeting with the Polish Figure Skating Federation, where my future was discussed, it was decided that I would move to Lorenzo’s group. Unfortunately, there are no opportunities to train in Canada, and it is not known when they will appear.
Have you spent the whole last year training with Brian online or completely on your own?
Ekaterina Kurakova: I trained online at the beginning of the season, but then I realized that it didn’t make any sense, and from September I started to train on my own. There were many difficulties during online training. Something freezed, I did not fit into the frame, did not load, Wi-Fi did not work well …
The Internet works much worse when there is such a long distance, such as between Europe and Canada. In general, I can’t train online, because I don’t feel the coach.
The coach also does not feel me and does not fully understand what is happening. You are jumping somewhere in the distance – and what can he see from the camera? For me, online classes are the last thing that can be. But, of course, Brian also tried his best and helped me in every possible way with his comments.
How is it like to motivate yourself to train?
Ekaterina Kurakova: It’s hard, very hard. Many people were shocked – even Lorenzo! – that I kept my jumps, went to competitions and put me on the ice myself. Of course, there were mistakes, but I coped.
Probably, this is exactly what I am most grateful to Russia for – for my character and for the coaches who instilled in me this motivation: no matter what happens, I train, warm up and do everything I can do.
The biggest stress is to skate the entire program. When you know that the coach is here and watching, there is some kind of motivation and support. And when you are alone on the ice, it is difficult to force yourself to skate to the end. There is no one who would say even a kind word.
Another difficulty was that no one could correct my mistakes. I recorded myself, and I had to come to the board all the time and watch. But I did everything I could.
Have you thought to return to Moscow to train? It seems that for you it would be the easiest option.
Ekaterina Kurakova: I don’t know, probably when I thought about the coach, it was more connected with Europe. Either Brian in Canada or Europe.
Now it turns out that you constantly live in Italy. What is impressive about this country?
Ekaterina Kurakova: My parents adore Italy, and when I was little, we always went here on vacation. So I am very familiar with Italy. I like the climate here, and the fact that the rink is in 15 minutes of walk.
Sometimes it is sad because I am in Italy without my family, and my friends are either in Poland or in Russia. I have practically no friends in Italy. In this regard, it is morally difficult.
But, fortunately for me, the coaches support me very much – especially Lorenzo. We talk a lot with him – and not only about what happens in training. This helps me a lot, and I am incredibly grateful that he really worries about my state and wants everything to be fine with me – both physically and mentally.
You dedicated a post on Instagram to Lorenzo after the Sochi Grand Prix, and he wrote in the comments that he is very proud of the path you are going. It looked a little unusual, because in Russia coaches seem to be stricter towards their skaters, especially if not everything worked out at the competitions.
Ekaterina Kurakova: Yes, Lorenzo and I had a conversation then, I said that I want to show more and I know that I can do more. I admitted that when I make mistakes, I feel ashamed and sad in front of the coach, because I know how much he did for me, that he went everywhere with me …
It turned out that I had a lot of performances in a row.
Honestly, in Sochi I barely survived until the end of the program, I was helped to get to the hotel room after the free program. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so powerless.
First, I performed at the Warsaw Cup, and two days later I had to show two programs at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Polish Figure Skating Federation. And then two days later – the Grand Prix in Sochi. It turned out three events in one week.
It was very difficult, and Lorenzo said that he understands everything. It amazes me how wise this person is. Working with him teaches and educates me a lot. He said one phrase that always helps me – I even wrote it down: “Success is just a pleasant moment. This is not progress; it gives nothing. And mistake is progress, because when you make a mistake, you gain experience.”
If you think about it, experience is a progress. You make conclusions, you understand what you did right and what did not. Therefore, when we make mistakes, we still take a small step forward.
I always say to Lorenzo: “I’m sure this is not your first life.” I believe in rebirth, that souls return. Lorenzo is 42, but if he had said that he was actually 97, I would have believed. A 42-year-old man cannot say things like him.
But at the same time, when we go for a walk, Lorenzo is like a teenager – he behaves so simply, he can understand me, support me, give advice on how to make Stories or create a TikTok video. And I think: how can you be such a young and such a wise person?
And if we talk about the training process, what is the difference between Lorenzo Magri and Brian Orser?
Ekaterina Kurakova: Working in Italy reminds me the Russian training system. In Canada, things are completely different.
In Canada you spend 15-30 minutes with a coach every day. There are many different ones – it can be six specialists per day. Let’s say you have 30 minutes, and you have to manage to work with a coach during this time, because then you have a different coach and a different workout. And during these 30 minutes the specialist works only with you.
In Italy, you work in a group with other skaters. For example, there are three workouts a day and you work together all the time. There is no such thing that you have only 15 minutes with this coach, do as many jumps and run-throughs as you can, and then go to another coach.
In the Olympic season, such a format as in Italy is probably more comfortable for me. For example, everyone skates the short and free program, and, like it or not, you watch others do it, and it motivates you.
Is it psychologically easier to work in a group?
Ekaterina Kurakova: It’s more convenient for me, yes.
This season you took part in two Grand Prix- the first was in Las Vegas. What do you remember from that event?
Ekaterina Kurakova: When I arrived to Las Vegas, the first thought was: “I’m proud of myself.” Little Katya skated a lot and flew to Las Vegas for a competitions. This awareness remained with me throughout the event and really helped to perform.
Junior Grand Prix and Senior Grand Prix are two big differences. I used to think, “Junior Series – oh, that’s great.” But then I realized that this is just a little competitions – just cool events. But the senior Gran Prix series is a high class competitions.
It was so nice when you leave this black corridor and the audience screams! I was asked for autographs, photos, I went for a walk and they recognized me. Not my country, not my city, but they recognize me! I went to Starbucks and they tell me: “Hello, we wish you good luck.”
Ekaterina Kurakova: Yes! And this “wow” I had all the time being in Las Vegas, I was so happy! It’s so great when so many people’s support you, and you think: “I need to skate well in order to thank them somehow, give them my positive energy”.
Let’s talk about your Olympic programs. What is the Steppe (Rene Aubry) short program about?
Ekaterina Kurakova: My short one is called “I Am Who I Am”. Lorenzo asks: “We realized that you are you. But what else can you say? ” I answered: “Well, I am Katya.” He: “Very nice to meet you!” (laughs).
And just before Sochi, we began to discuss it in order to finalize the idea. In the step sequence I revealed myself completely, but at the beginning I was a little lost.
We began to work more on this, I felt a pleasant change in my skating, and the component score in Sochi immediately increased by three points.
If we talk about the plot, Lorenzo and I agreed as follows: I am a wild animal or a bird that is trying to get out. Like in a zoo, people look at me – and I want freedom. In the beginning, I just try to free myself, and then the fast exciting music starts and I finally fly out of this zoo, out of the cage. And now I’m free, I’m flying towards my dreams and goals. I can be myself and not pretend to be someone. I’m just me.
Yes, in Sochi there was an impressive step sequence in the final: the judges gave it the maximum level four. If we talk about your free program to the music from Charlie Chaplin’s movie “Limelight”, you skate it for the second season.
Ekaterina Kurakova: Yes, we kept the free program, because last year almost all competitions were canceled, and I never showed it at the international level – only at local competitions in Poland. I like this program, I feel it. There are such cute moments when I can really show myself. I really like to give emotions, to flirt with the audience and the judges. And there are moments where I can play a little with everyone (smiles).
And what has changed in the free program thanks to the famous French choreographer Benoit Richaud, with whom you started to work?
Ekaterina Kurakova: In the free program we slightly changed the order of the elements, and everything became much more convenient. We also changed the choreo step sequence – now it looks better.
What was it like working with this choreographer?
Ekaterina Kurakova: Richaud is an incredibly creative person, very, very talented. But he can also yell, say a couple of harsh words – and this is not always easy, but, of course, it is worth it, because there is a result.
And it is clear that he is so unique. His whole image, style, behavior … He is special.
If we talk about jumping, everyone knows that you have a complex combination of triple lutz + oiler + triple flip. What else are you working on? You used to do, for example, a triple flip + a triple loop.
Ekaterina Kurakova: Yes, I want to complicate the programs, make difficult combinations in the second half. Last year was a difficult, incomprehensible season, there was no coach, and I did not feel that I was improving. It seemed that at best I could keep my previous level. But this year everything goes differently: I feel more and more strength, I understand that I can perform better. But I do have some back problems, and I have to take great care of this. The main goal is the Olympic Games, and now you can’t take too much risk.
At the Nebelhorn Trophy, you just earned a spot to the Olympics for Poland. What did this mean to you? Do you feel additional responsibility now?
Ekaterina Kurakova: No, if I feel something, it’s happiness (smiles). All my fans, federation, coaches, friends – in general, all people from Poland – did not make me feel any extra responsibility and I am very grateful for it. They were just very happy for me and continue to be happy and proud.
So I just feel satisfied that I was able to do it. Now we need to continue to work on maximum every day in order to show as good, clean and strong skating as possible at the Olympics. What did it mean to me? That some dream of mine has come true.
I had a dream to get to the Olympics, like all athletes, because this is a special event – and it takes place only once in four years. And in our sport, especially among girls, four years is a lot. You never know what will happen to your body and whether you will skate at all in four years.
Therefore, I really wanted not to leave this opportunity for the next four years, and try to get there now (laughs). And it was great happiness that it succeeded.
Several very strong girls from Russia will not get to the Games – there are only three spots and you know what a huge competition we have in the women’s single skating. In your opinion, isn’t it a pity that so few girls can go to the Games from one country?
Ekaterina Kurakova: I don’t know… We did not create this rules. It’s hard to judge, because I didn’t do it. But of course, it’s hard for girls from Russia, and I respect all girls very, very much for their inner strength. Withstanding such a pressure … It’s not easy.
Major changes to the figure skating rules may be made soon. At the congress of the International Skating Union (ISU) next year, they will discuss raising the age minimum for seniors from 15 to 17 years. In your opinion, how can this affect the development of women’s single skating? After all, girls reach their peak before 17 years old.
Ekaterina Kurakova: Yes, girls peak at 15, maybe 16, and then everything gets harder. But if the rules are changed, then they will be changed.
In general, we talked about this with Lorenzo and came to the conclusion that, perhaps, coaches will change their approaches to training in order to take more care of girls until the right age.
Perhaps, from some point of view, this is right, because the woman’s body and the girl’s body are two big differences. Even from my own experience I can say: with every year you feel a difference. It becomes more difficult to skate the program, learn new elements and force yourself to work.
Let’s talk about life in Poland. Do you usually come there on vacation? How do you like life in this country?
Ekaterina Kurakova: Yes, I am coming to Poland on vacation, I feel that I belong here. I know that I have friends here, as well as in Russia. Although people say that there are no friends in big sports, I completely disagree with this.
For example, in Russia I have two friends from figure skating – Sonya Istomina and Gosha Kunitsa. We used to competed with Sonya, but for me she is my best friend. She always supports me, we text almost every day. And we have been friends with Gosha for more than ten years.
I will tell you a story about my friends in Poland that touched me incredibly. When we went to the Nebelhorn Trophy to get Olympic spots, the boy Cornel Witkowski went with me. I was very worried about him, he also really wanted to qualify. We are good and close friends.
But, unfortunately, the day before the competitions, Cornel got injured and withdrew. He had tears in his eyes – it is incredibly sad, I knew how hard he prepared and trained.
But when I managed to get the Olympic spot, he had such sincere emotions and joy for me! I was shocked that there was neither envy nor annoyance that I did it, but his fate decided otherwise. The man was happy for me with all his heart, just like his brother Milos Witkowski – thanks to him too. It was very valuable to me. When people are so sincerely happy for others, it is worth a lot.
Plus, I have a boyfriend in Poland, and my family comes here. So I feel very good here, at home.
When people ask me where my home is, I don’t know. I don’t have a home. I hardly ever appear in Russia. In Poland I do not have my own apartment – I rent. In Italy, I live in a hotel. I have no place that I could arrange for myself.
When you rent an apartment, you cannot change something there or make repairs. And it’s a little sad that I don’t have my place yet. But someday I will definitely have it.
You said in your October interview that you will probably stay in Poland after your career ends.
Ekaterina Kurakova: Actually I do not know. When I lived in Canada, I was sure that I would stay in Russia later. Then I decided that I would definitely be in Poland, because it is very good there. And now I don’t know – the main thing for me is to have friends nearby and to have support.
And in any case, I want to live not far from Russia, so that, if anything, I can always come. I don’t want to say something, what if suddenly something will change in three months and I will be in a different country.
How different is life in Poland from life in Russia?
Ekaterina Kurakova: It’s hard to say, I don’t live in Warsaw – I live in Torun, and this is a small town. Of course, there is a big difference with huge Moscow. What I like about this town is calmness, and there is no such thing that you are constantly in a hurry. You can walk almost everywhere you need or take a scooter. If you need to go out of town, then you take a taxi. But here “far” is 15-20 minutes. In Moscow, “far” is three hours to get there.
You posted a cool post about the birthday of your boyfriend Philip Boyanovski. How was it celebrated? Brought him a souvenir from Russia?
Ekaterina Kurakova: Yes, I brought “Alenka” chocolate and marshmallow from Sochi (smiles). We celebrated great, I prepared a cool present – you know, now the massager-pistol has become very fashionable. I tell him: “I ordered you a cool present from America, but I still don’t know whether to give it or keep it for myself” (laughs). But, of course, I gave it to him. I really wanted to please him.
His family, which I just adore, also came. This is also why I like Poland: now I do not have the opportunity to see my relatives, but they accept me in such a family way and call me “daughter”, that I feel that I am in a family, and it is very pleasant. I am sure that when Philip comes to Russia, my family will also take him as a son.
On the photos it seems that you are already wearing a engagement ring.
Ekaterina Kurakova: No, no, no (laughs). Officially: I’m not married, there is no stamp in my passport. I have a different story. The fact is that I cannot wear rings on my left hand – for some reason I feel them there, I constantly fiddle them and I can even accidentally throw them out. It happened that I lost my rings and found them under the bed, under the carpet …
And on my right hand, the ring finger is the only one where the ring does not bother me in any way. There must be something pretty, right? (Smiling). This is the only reason why I wear a gold ring on the ring finger of my right hand – it’s more comfortable this way.
Let’s talk about friendship now. You have already mentioned that you are friends with the Russian figure skater Georgi Kunitsa. You even have a paired tattoos, right?
Ekaterina Kurakova: They were temporary. I have no real ones, I’m not ready and I’m not sure that I want real tattoo.
Do you watch competitions with his participation, support him?
Ekaterina Kurakova: Oh sure. Gosha is much more than just a friend for me. This is a very, very important person in my life – like Sonya. These are people who have gone through everything with me – through all my changes and transfers.
I care a lot about Gosha and I’m so grateful to him that there has never been such a moment that he turned his back on me. There have been situations in my life when I moved somewhere and achieved success, and a lot of people dropped out – there was envy, some kind of anger. And he went through everything with me.
I feel great support from him – Gosha is such a kind person … he is wonderful. Therefore, girls, go and write to Gosha in a direct messages (laughs).
Did you supported his decision when he left the group of Eteri Tutberidze – perhaps the most successful now – for pair skating. Did this surprise you?
Ekaterina Kurakova: Probably surprised. But I will support any decision of Gosha and will always be on his side – just as he is on mine.
It seems to me that this is also very good for him, because the boys have incredible competition now, everyone has quadruple jumps, they show very strong content.
I just supported him, and I think that he will succeed in pair skating, because Gosha is a hard worker. Probably, of all the people I have met in my life, I can especially single out Gosha and Zhenya Medvedeva in terms of hard work. I have seen personally how they work, and it causes respect. This is something incredible.
But I’m talking only about those with whom I personally trained. I am sure that all the Tutberidze’s girls work very hard, also Liza Tuktamysheva. Maybe I can’t even imagine the level of their dedication, but I haven’t trained with them, so I’m not talking about them. Gosha and Zhenya are incredible hard workers.
We talked about Gosha in pair skating. Are you watching the performances of Zhenya Medvedeva in the Ice Age?
Ekaterina Kurakova: Of course! And I also follow Zhenya on TikTok – she already has 1.6 million followers there! And million (!) followers on Instagram (smiles). I support Zhenya very much. We met personally in Sochi – it was a small moment, but very pleasant. I was very glad to see Zhenya.
Do you like the “Ice Age” project in general? Would you like to participate yourself?
Ekaterina Kurakova: Sure. Ilia Averbukh is also there, so kind, so good – I would very much like to take part in his project. But after my career in sports.
Wouldn’t it be scary to try lifts with a non-professional?
Ekaterina Kurakova: I am always for any actions! Apparently, God did not give me fear – and sometimes this is not very good. Very often my mother or Philip says: “No, Katya, don’t!” And me: “Let’s get in there, let’s look at this!” There is a sign that you cannot go there, so let’s find out why (laughs).
Same on the ice. Try a new quadruple? Yes, I am always for it, but, unfortunately, health does not always allow (sighs).
But I’m always ready to try. So yes, I would like to try all this lifts, I really like pair skating. I think this is very interesting.
Are you still offered to switch to pair skating?
Ekaterina Kurakova: Yes, it was offered many times, and they still offer.
You are going to the Olympics as a single skater …
Ekaterina Kurakova: Yes, but they tell me: “Maybe after the Olympics?” I answer: “After the Olympics, we’ll see what happens. And now all my attention is focused on the Games – the conversation is over ”(laughs).
You mentioned that you are not afraid to try quads. How long ago have you tried to learn something like that?
Ekaterina Kurakova: Actually … today (laughs). But I am very careful.
Last season was very difficult for me due to back problems – there was a very serious injury. For example, at the World Championships I had a very difficult time, it was painful to compete. And then I went through a very long treatment, rehabilitation, and I still do it. It will never be completely healed.
The main thing is to keep everything in such a state that the back either does not hurt at all, or so that it is practically not felt. Especially during the season.
So now I put my health first. Yes, I can try something risky and I will try very hard, but I still remember that my back comes first, because I have very important goals in the Olympic season.
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