Ekaterina Kurakova: Russian skaters have a short career and I want to be remembered in this sport
Interview with former Russian skater Ekaterina Kurakova, who changed her sports citizenship to Polish, made her debut at the European Championships this season, and will go to the junior and senior World Championships this spring. Partly translated.
by Elvira Ondar for gazeta.ru dd. 4th February 2020
You competed at the European Championships for the first time in your career. What was your thoughts right after the performance?
– I did it! I’ve passed this stage in my life. I’m very glad, because while this is my biggest and most memorable competition. The first time I competed in front of so many people.
Actually, I thought it would be even more exciting. Spent a bunch of sleepless nights, imagining how I skate in front of a large audience, and everyone is looking at me … Ahhh!
But turned out that this is a huge support that helps to perform well. When you take your starting pose, you don’t think about anything – there is only you, your breath, ice skates and ice.
Both times you left the ice happily, because you didn’t make obvious mistakes, but when you saw the scores, the expression on your face changed dramatically. What was happening at that moment?
– Probably, I expected higher scores, because I think I had a serious performances. For example, in a free program, I have a combination of triple lutz + euler + triple flip – no one else jumps it among girls. Of course, I understand that the rivals have quads and 4 + 3 combinations, but of the triples, my combination is the most expensive. And I have a lutz – toe loop in my short program.
Even Sasha Trusova makes this combination, because it is one of the most expensive. And to get such scores, of course … I will not comment it, because the judges do their job, and this is their opinion.
But in the future I will try to do everything perfect, to make it impossible to doubt.
I will work to make sure that all the jumps are fully rotated. We will also figure out what is wrong with the layback spin – I did not quite understand this. I reviewed the layback spin from the short program in slow motion and counted all the turns.
And after a free program, Brian Orser told me in kiss and cry that now everything is fine (I intentionally made even more turns), but again got level two. But before, it was always level four.
Well, in Canada we have a special coach for spins, we will work with him, maybe we will change something.
Competing for Russia, you didn’t even get to the Junior Grand Prix. When did you start to think that you need to change the country?
– It wasn’t my idea, because I was only 14 years old when it all started. Nevertheless, I remember that I skated everything cleanly, I was a consistent skater, and girls, who could fall twice, placed higher than me at competitions. I don’t want to say that I was judged unfair, probably, I myself did not understand something. And the main reason to change citizenship was different.
It’s just that my parents invested a lot in me – both money and moral strength. And the Russian skaters have a short career. It is sad to admit, but it’s true. Think of Julia Lipnitskaya or Alina Zagitova, who suspended her career, and she is my age.
I am very proud of Alina, because she has already won everything. In such a situation it is difficult to find motivation. But I still want to be remembered in this sport and I want my career to be long. Carolina Kostner is the main motivator for me, because at her 30 she went to the Olympics – it’s just a delight!
When you decided that for the sake of a long career you need to change something, how did the transfer process begin?
– When I performed in juniors at an international competitions, we met with the president of the sports club, which I represent now. He said that I skate very well, and he is ready to help with the transfer.
But then I did not think about it. There wasn’t such that I received an invitation and “Bye everyone!”. I went to the Russian junior championships, skated well there, then to the Russian Cup Final – there I also skated well. We thought that if I get into the national team, I will stay. I have patriotism, I wanted to represent Russia.
But it did not work out with a national team, and we began to work on transfer. My coach Natalya Dubinskaya already had such an experience, and she helped me a lot.
But Russia refused me, and at that moment everything collapsed. However, a lot of questions arose. After my request to leave for Poland and the subsequent refusal, they did not invite me to the junior test skates.
I switched to Inna Goncharenko. I decided that since Russia did not release me, that means they want to give me a chance.
But it all started all over again. In the fall – the championship of Moscow, then the stages of the Russian Cup… Strange things happened that I do not know how to explain. It seems that you do everything possible, but still it’s not enough.
I had a very good content. At that time, it was allowed to do all the jumps in the second half, so I had only a double axel in the first half, and all 3 + 3 were in the bonus zone. But still, nothing came of it, and we again decided to try to change something.
I understood that I was not letting anyone down. If now, for example, I had left Poland, I would have let many people down. They invested so much in me, and now I became the leader of the national team.
And in Russia there are a lot of talented skaters who are no worse than me, work hard, show the result. So for the country it was a small loss.
Just try to understand, I don’t want all the years of my life that I spent on figure skating to be in vain, I don’t want to continue skating at Russian Cups at the age of 18. We spend so much health on this – all jumps and falls affect the spine and joints, this should be at least justified.
Åhe first, Russia did give you release, but a year later agreed?
– I got a release when I went to Brian. That is, they simply had no choice.
Prior to that, they did not give release, and I even withdrew from the Russian junior championships because I understood that if I get into the national team, then I won’t be able to represent another country.
After that I was forbidden to skate in Russia. “Once this is your choice, then that’s it.” There were very unpleasant moments that I will not voice. Then my parents told me: “Katya, in three days you are leaving for Poland with your mother. We don’t know for how long. Pack all the things that come in handy.”
We bought a ticket and it was a step into the unknown. Russia has not approved yet.
Since they didn’t give release last time, we decided to apply for Polish citizenship. In this case, they could not forbid me to skate for this country, because I would be its citizen.
I still remember how my mother cried at night. My dad is a very strong man, but he also had tears in his eyes. Everyone understood that my career could end there. Suppose I won’t be given citizenship in Poland, I won’t be able to skate in Russia either, and that’s it.
The worst thing you can see is when your parents suffer. It was very hard. But in the fall of 2019, I got citizenship – it’s fast, in just a year and a half.
And, fortunately, so far everything is justified – I got to the European Championships, which I could not even think of! Previously, all my dreams ended at the junior Grand Prix – I just wanted to be allowed to go there.
Before, I couldn’t even show myself … they simply didn’t give me a chance. And here I already performed at the European Championships.
Let I can’t be in the top 5 yet, but this is my first season, and I think that it is going quite well. I skated successfully at the Grand Prix, won two challengers, at the Warsaw Cup I even managed to beat Bradie Tennell – that’s cool. I got more than 200 points in my career. Indeed, dreams come true. There is no easy way to happiness, but I’m on the right way.
I am very grateful to Poland for giving me a chance to prove myself. This is probably the most important thing.
How did you get to Orser?
– This was all done by the Polish Federation. In 2018, the European Championship was held in Moscow, Marek (head of the club) and Sylwia (Nowak-Trebacka – ed.) approached Brian there, showed a video of my performance, and he said: “Yes, I want to coach this girl.”
I did not know at all that I had a chance to train with Orser. When they called me and told that he would be my coach, I could not believe it.
You see, I was shocked even when I was skating next to Maxim Kovtun and Sergei Voronov. Then it was the elite of Russia skating, for me it was “Wow”.
And in “Cricket Club” I come and understand that there are Yuzuru Hanyu, Evgenia Medvedeva, Jason Brown. At first, I did not even think that they could take me to one training session with them. I hoped that I would just see them sometimes. So trainings with them are such a delight for me!
Waiting for these training sessions helped me when I skated in Poland for eight months without a coach. I knew that Brian Orser was waiting for me in Canada, and I should come in a good shape. I did all the combinations, including Lutz + loop, trained quadruples. I understood that I did not want to embarrass myself.
A video how you jump quad salchow + triple toe loop has appeared on the Internet long time ago, during trainings in Russia. Was there really no chance to represent your country with such a jumps?
– Apparently no.
I showed quad when I was skating with Natalya Dubinskaya, but for some reason they did not notice that. It was the same season when Anya Shcherbakova jumped quad toe loop, and Sasha Trusova jumped quad salchow. I jumped a quad at the same time, but for some reason it was their quads that were wow for everyone.
And I remember, I was sitting in the locker room and they showed me a video – “Look at what these girls are doing!”
I am very happy for Sasha and Anya – this is sincere. What they do is super cool, and I never had any kind of anger towards them.
But at that moment it hurted when I was saying, “But I just did a quadruple in training!”, to which people answered: “No, Katya, that’s not the same.” But why wasn’t it? This is the same quadruple salchow!
Girls also did not immediately start doing them cleanly, Sasha did not fully rotate salchow from the first attempt, the same as me. But I seemed that no one notices me.
You work hard, do, but they do not pay attention to you. Of course, it hurts. Probably, this also … also influenced my desision.
How are the things with quads now?
– We are working. I don’t know when we will include them into the programs. I think that it is necessary to do this when I am 100% sure, because now even at my triples they look for every millimeter and call underrotated. And quadruple is another opportunity to give me underrotation.
If there are two carrots, then the quad price will drop to a triple – another chance to remove me.
When I begin to do quadruple stably – ten out of ten, I will definitely include it. I’m not scared – I go on all quads.
I try lutz and flip, there are very good attempts. I sincerely believe that Brian and I will master them in the spring, when all the competitions are over and there will be time for preparation.
In general, of the ultra-c elements, the triple axel is the closest to me, and of the quadruples, it is different. Sometimes I feel salchow better, toe loop or lutz. Probably, now we are not concentrating on any of them and it affects. I hope that we will make a choice and master a quad.
Or maybe it’s even better to cfocus on the triple axel, because you can do it in the short program, as Alena Kostornaia does.
She does not jump quads, but thanks to the triple axel, she scores a lot of points in the short and has a gap that gives a chance to win.
You want a long career. What do you think about raising the age for competing in seniors? Could this increase the duration of a career?
– I think it would be nice if the International Skating Union (ISU) raised the age at least to 17 years, because many finish earlier – for example, girls often leave at 16. They win very quickly and leave very quickly.
Besides, skating at 15 and 17 years old are two different things. At 15, you come, dress and perform. Now I have to constantly warm up. If I do not, then with a cold body I can not jump easily. We have to monitor weight more, to force ourselves – everything becomes harder.
I think, if they rise the age, coaches will lead athletes to seniors differently, take care of joints more, and treat children differently. When you have such loads in 15 years, then everything affects, you start to have big health problems.
In addition, at senior competitions you will see mature skating – there is a difference in how you feel the program. At 15, they told me to smile here – I will do it, but now it comes from the heart. You become more sensitive, gentle, passionate …
Now it’s not just movements. You can convey your image to the audience better. Not just jumps. It is important. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that a change of age limit can affect a lot.
How was your first training session in Canada?
– I was excited – pleasantly excited. The first lesson was scheduled at 08:25 in the morning, because of this I got up very early. I remember warming up, standing in the headphones, the door suddenly opens, and there – Brian Orser. I say to myself: “Breath”. He comes up, shakes my hand – “Hello, Katya! Nice to meet you,” and I think: “This is a real Orser!”
Then I went to the ice and got nervous, but Brian praised me very much, so I exhaled a little. And then Zhenya Medvedeva arrived.
We were not personally acquainted with her, but when I entered the hall, she immediately said, “Oh, are you Katya? I heard about you” – and hugged me. Zhenya is so cute!
I heard different stories about her and I can say that this is not true. Zhenya is a very kind person. Yes, we are competitors on ice and motivate each other. If Zhenya jumps something, I will try to do it better, and then she will do even better! But outside the ice, we talk on different topics – sometimes about boys, sometimes about something else.
How do you communicate with Hanyu?
– Also well. When we meet, I bow, he also bowes, smiles, and even hugged me several times. I try to support Yuzuru sometimes. I remember once his training session didn’t go well, and he was just sitting. He did not know me yet, but I just walked over, sat next to him and hugged him. Everyone was shocked.
Usually no one comes up to Yuzu: he is a closed person, communicates with few people, always in headphones. But when I hugged him, he turned to me and I said: “You are amazing. Yes, the training didn’t go well, but you’re amazing. Remember this”.
In response, Yuzu stroked my head. He was shocked by my courage – such a little girl came up and hugged him! And I just felt that he needed support, and I did not care. Even if he snapped at me, I would not be offended, because what I did wasn’t right. But I supported him.
How many specialists work with you at Cricket Club, in addition to Orser?
– Oh … I can work with six coaches a day. We have a coach for skating skills, and after every second workout we have 15-30 minutes when we work with Brian and Tracy Wilson only on skating. We really spend a lot of time on this. I remember how I stood for ten minutes and retrained a simple stroking, because a technique was completely different. At first I didn’t really trust this, I thought, “Why are we all doing this?”
But then I realized that it really looks better and it’s even easier to skate. In general, I like that in Canada they teach us that figure skating does not end on jumps.
It happens that I watch some girls; performance, and I want to skip everything except jumps. And it seems to me that many do the same. And I want the audience to watch my entire program. I try to highlight the image, create a picture – for me it is really important, and in the Cricket Club they teach it.
What is your main dream is figure skating?
– I want to succeed. I do not want to talk about commonplace things, such as winning the Olympics or the Worlds. I just want to be remembered as a very good, positive athlete, I want to be special.
Alexei Mishin: I will be overly surprised if Hanyu performs this jump cleanly this season