Ekaterina Kurakova: “Olympics are once in 4 years, in women’s skating you don’t know what will happen to you after such a period. So the next three days after qualifying for the Games, I got up in panic that everything was a dream and hadn’t earned my lucky ticket yet .”
Interview with Ekaterina Kurakova. About preparation for the Olympics, new program and her experience in learning quadruple jumps.
source: match.tv.ru dd. 28th Januarty by Marina Tchernysheva-Melnik
Polish single skater with Russian roots Ekaterina Kurakova has recently performed at the European Championships with a new short program. This was the last event before the Olympic Games, for which she qualified in the fall.
For success, this fragile girl was not afraid of cardinal life decisions: changing citizenship and moving overseas to the group of Brian Orser. But the pandemic has disrupted stability. For a whole year, Ekaterina had to train alone and then look for a new coach. Now the athlete lives in an Italian hotel with her beloved puppy Emilia and trains at the Lorenzo Magri Academy.
Your family must have had to sacrifice a lot since your transition to Poland. How do you evaluate your decision from the height of the gained experience?
Ekaterina Kurakova: It was definitely worth it. I’m happy that my parents understood and supported me four years ago. Poland gave me a chance to reach the world level, to skate on the same ice with top athletes, to train in various major figure skating schools. This experience will help me as a coach and in general in life. Of course, I really miss my family, close people. Every year it gets harder in this regard. After all, when you just plunge into a new world, it is insanely interesting, you perceive everything with delight, especially at a young age. I went to another continent at the age of 15 and at first I lived in euphoria. But time goes, goes, goes, longing accumulates. This is a sacrifice in the name of a great goal, although I want to have a permanent home.
Your life has changed drastically in the last year. Do I understand correctly that the reason for changing the coach and moving to Italy from Canada is the pandemic restrictions?
Ekaterina Kurakova: Yes, in Canada I had a big team, excellent relations with all the coaches. But the country has a difficult situation with quarantine, and as a foreigner I have not been able to get there since the spring of 2020. I was waiting for this all last season and really wanted to return, but due to coronavirus measures, I had to train in Poland in a group of ice dancers. Of course, the coach Sylwia Nowak Trebacka helped me, but she is a dance coach and could tell something only about step sequences, but not about jumps. But they are the main elements in my discipline. As a result, I was able to compete in 6 competitions: the Polish Nationals, the World Championships and some Polish tournaments. It became clear that if I want to progress, I need to change something. Alas, those are the rules of the game. Life has shown that the decision on the new coaching staff was the right one. Canada is still closed, and you can enter there only with citizenship or a residence permit.
Why did you choose the Lorenzo Magri Academy?
Ekaterina Kurakova: Firstly, it is located in Europe, and pandemic restrictions allow you to travel from here to competitions. Secondly, I have known Lorenzo for a long time. We often crossed paths at the events, and then I’ve been to several training camps with Lorenzo and realized that he’s a great professional. Now I work every day under his guidance and two wonderful coaches from Russia – Angelina Turenko and Alisa Mikonsaari.
Tell us about your programs.
Ekaterina Kurakova: In the first half of the season, I have the image of an exotic animal in the zoo in my short program. Everyone is looking at me, but I am sitting in a cage and cannot break free. When the jumps end, I managed to free myself, and here I am running along a long road. The whole world is open, I can finally be who I want to be. The program is called “Me – it’s me”. The point is that I am who I am.
At the European Championships, you saw a new short program. We changed it because, firstly, the song “Steppe” by Rene Aubry is very extraordinary. It’s like playing the lottery with 50/50 chances: you either really like it or you don’t understand it. I didn’t want to take risks at the Olympics, so my coach and choreographer and I decided to do the Tchaikovsky’s Sentimental Waltz. This is a classic, and, in my opinion, the program turned out to very bright. In our difficult time, everyone really lacks lightness, joy, some kind moments of life. The second reason: I didn’t fully feel “Steppe”, no matter how hard the coach and I tried. And I have been considering “Sentimental Waltz” for a long time – I really liked this music, I feel it well.
How do you assess your performance this season?
Ekaterina Kurakova: After the past season, I’m incredibly happy to perform and travel abroad, I appreciate every event. I’m especially pleased that I can skate at the arena in front of the audience – their energy helps me a lot. Last season it was hard without the support of the audience, but now everything is much better, and with each competitions I am progressing. By the end of September, the main goal was the Olympic qualification, and I won it at the Nebelhorn Trophy. The European Championship gave a lot of happy emotions and feedback from the audience. Plus, I updated my personal record – it’s great! So everything is going according to plan.
For you this season is generally rich for competitions. I recall the words of Brian Orser in 2019 that you had to miss the post-Olympic season due to the change of sports citizenship, and in the next you “rushed to the competitions.” Participated in both senior and juniors. Now something similar is happening.
Ekaterina Kurakova: Agree. This season I already have 3 international challengers, 2 Grand Prix stages, selection for the Olympics, the Polish Nationals and the European Championships. Between some events it were only a couple of days. And Olympics, Wolds are ahead. I was ready to go to the Universiade, but it was canceled. So it’s a good comparison. By the way, that busy season was the most successful in my career – when I finally got the opportunity to compete. I hope this season will also bring a lot of joy.
What were your emotions when you realized that you qualified for the Olympic Games?
Ekaterina Kurakova: First, the feeling of freedom. Every day after the Worlds I got up with the thought that I had the last chance – the only one, there would be no plan B. And this is not a World Championships, which you can wait a year. The Olympics are once every 4 years, and you don’t know what will happen to you after such a period. This is especially true for women’s single skating. Every athlete dreams of going to the Olympic Games. I knew that even one workout is a step towards a big goal. It was very difficult mentally to withstand the pressure: I began to have difficulties with sleeping, I had all sorts of nightmares. Therefore, when I realized that I had won the Olympic spot, I freed myself from oppressive thoughts. A few days later the realization of happiness came.
Has sleeping returned to normal then?
Ekaterina Kurakova: You know, not right away. The next three days after the Nebelhorn Trophy, I got up in a panic that everything was a dream, and in fact I had not yet earned my lucky ticket. The medal is in my closet, and when doubts arose in the middle of the night, I came up to check: the medal is real, which means everything is true. It didn’t fit in my head that I mentally ate myself up for half a year, it was so hard, but in fact everything depended on 4 minutes of a free program. You put half a year of your life on the scales and these 4 minutes… didn’t fit in my head. And later, realizing that the dream had come true (“Yes, I did it!”), I felt very happy.
Once you said that skaters take rest during the performance of spirals. Explain, please.
Ekaterina Kurakova: The spiral helps to slightly restore breathing, which is lost during jumps. It’s also hard to breathe on spins because of the speed. And during the spiral you stand in one position, do not make sudden movements. You have time not only to relax physically, but also to show emotions, to move your arms beautifully.
How about the energy consumption on the step sequence?
Ekaterina Kurakova: At the beginning of the season, the step sequence is really hard to skate. Benoit Richaud choreographs step sequence where the body is actively involved. I bend over, sit down, stand up, skate… it’s hard. But then the body remembers where it is best to breathe. For example, before such a change of body, you need to take a deep breath. And I’m getting used to it. I don’t know about other skaters, but I follow such nuances. With every performance of the program, it becomes easier.
Coach Angelina Turenko said in November that you continue to work on quadruple jumps and triple axel. When will you be ready to perform these elements in competitions?
Ekaterina Kurakova: It is difficult to answer, because now – before the Olympics – I am very careful about my health. Last season was difficult: I treated my back a lot, the problems started also because of the axel. Each athlete has his own weak place in the body, which sometimes fails. For me it is back. For today, the main goal is to approach the Olympic Games in my best shape.
You started to work on the quadruple jump in the group of Natalia Dubinskaya. Tell us more about this process.
Ekaterina Kurakova: Yes, we worked on the quadruple together with Natalya Petrovna and Stanislav Kovalev. The absence of fear helped a lot – the coaches even had to stop me. We just tried a lot (at first with harness), tried, and in the end it turned out. I can’t say that there is some kind of secret and decisive moment here. Ultra-c is the result of work and risk. With Natalya Petrovna’s I landed a quad on two feet, and with Inna Germanovna Goncharenko I managed to land it on one.
You have a great geographical experience in training: Russia, Poland, Canada, now Italy. Compare the training system in these countries.
Ekaterina Kurakova: If we are talking about Russia and Italy, then my training plans are similar in many ways. Even more comfortable, because in Russia there were two long ice trainings, and in Italy we ahve three short ones. In the morning training, we work on new elements, combinations, jumps from different entries. The second and third trainings are devoted to working on the programs. All this is very useful for transitions, and as a result, you spend a lot of time on the ice – but with interruptions. Comparing Russia with Canada, there is a difference in the attention of the coach. The Russian coach works with the whole group, and in Canada I remember the so-called lessons, which last 15-30 minutes. You work with a coach face-to-face and so you should manage to do something in this certain time.
You have been training in the group of Brian Orser for a year and a half. Can you single out his main coaching talent?
Ekaterina Kurakova: He is very close to each athlete, he feels his athletes. Here’s what amazed me, for example. I’ll skate the program or work out several combinations, and I think: “Maybe I should try the lutz-loop combination, which I haven’t polished yet?” I go to Brian, and he says: “Let’s try the lutz-loop!” Or, let’s say I wanted to repeat a piece of the program again, and Brian suggests repeating this particular piece. There were a lot of such moments – when I thought, and Brian voiced it. It’s amazing how a person can read minds! We had an incredible contact, and that is why the parting was hard.
A world championships with the participation of Yuzuru Hanyu and Javier Fernandez was in front of your eyes. What are the most vivid memories associated with them?
Ekaterina Kurakova: I’ll start with my first days at the Cricket club, when I first came to Toronto in October 2018. All the strong athletes and coaches left for the Autumn Classic and a few days later they returned. The whole company of geniuses gathered at the rink, and for a long time I couldn’t believe what was happening. I just looked and thought, “God! It’s impossible! Is this really happening to me?” Yuzuru Hanyu, Evgenia Medvedeva, Javier Fernandez… I watched what they were doing on the ice and understood that I had to work a lot to even get closer to this art. And I saw that everything is thanks to work. Yuzuru could lie from exhaustion after skating his entire free programs three times. That’s why he is a champion, he never spares himself. Whether it’s hard, tired, it doesn’t matter. He just goes on the ice and work in any condition, giving a million percent in every training.
You comunicate a lot with Evgenia Medvedeva, didn’t you? How did you spend time together?
Ekaterina Kurakova: I can’t say that a lot. Sometimes we went to the cinema together or in a big company. I really like Zhenya as a person, and I admire Zhenya the athlete. When they ask who is the most hard worker and who should be looked up to, Zhenya immediately appears in my mind. She has a strong character.
Do you keep in touch with Brian Orser and his group now?
Ekaterina Kurakova: I test with all the former coaches and the guys from the Cricket Club. What was especially pleasant: Brian himself congratulated me when I qualified for the Olympic Games. It was one of the most important things for me at that moment. This means that he understands that I left because of external circumstances, and he is happy to communicate. But you have no idea how much I look forward to meet Brian! So far, we have said goodbye only by phone, but I still want to say a lot in person, to thank him. I do not like all these discussions of cardinal changes on the Internet and messengers. I want Brian to look into my eyes and understand how grateful I am for everything he has done for me. Hope we meet soon in Beijing.
How are you doing with higher education?
Ekaterina Kurakova: I am studying for a coach in my second year at a Polish university. I take classes mainly remotely, I pass all the exams. I am very grateful to the teachers for the fact that this season they are sympathetic to my schedule. Still, I’m preparing for the Olympic Games.
How often do you visit Poland now? What are your favorite places there?
Ekaterina Kurakova: I come every few months, for competitions. In December, I stayed there for Christmas and New Year, which I celebrated with my parents: they came to see me in Poland. Most of all I love the city of Torun, which I represent. This is a small European town – real old Europe. I really like to walk along the local charming streets.
The Polish language has a lot in common with Russian. Perhaps, have you learned it quickly?
Ekaterina Kurakova: Definitely it was easier to learn than English. I think it helped more that I lived in this country, immediately plunged into the company of native speakers. My classes at the university are also in Polish, and now I speak it fluently.
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