Ekaterina Ryabova: “In large federations, judges give feedback to coaches. I have no such contact at any level. I would also like to hear a qualified opinion, but I’m not sure it’s right to ask the judges directly.”
Interview with Ekaterina Ryabova who will represent Azerbaijan at the Olympics. In an interview Ryabova spoke about the change of coaches, told why she respects Evgeni Plushenko and whether she will continue her career next season.
source: matchtv.ru dd. 29th January by Marina Tchernysheva-Melnik
18-year-old Ekaterina Ryabova from Moscow is preparing to compete at the Olympic Games in China. She will become the second single skater in the history of Azerbaijan to represent this country in the main competitions of the last four years. The last time this happened was 30 years ago.
Ekaterina is a little older than the top Russian figure skaters and also tried quadruple jumps when they just started to gain momentum. A chronic injury interfered, but the change of sports citizenship increased the chances of performing at major international competitions.
Just a little time is left before the Olympic Games. How did you feel when you realized that you would be performing there?
Ekaterina Ryabova: Happiness, satisfaction. The Olympics is so great and prestigious, they happen once every four years! At the World Championships in Sweden, I needed to get into the top 24, and after the short program, I realized that I did it. It remained only to skate a free program. I delivered two clean skates, and the main thing that motivated me was that the World Championships was my first senior competitions where my parents put me on the ice. I really wanted to prove to everyone that our joint work is justified and I can do a lot.
Tell us about the programs for this season.
Ekaterina Ryabova: We decided to keep the short “Mambo Italiano” from last season, because then I managed to show it only twice – at the Grand Prix and the World Championships. I have not yet fully expressed this image, and in recent months I think I have greatly improved in presentation.
We choreographed the free program to the theme of Notre Dame de Paris. In the middle, the vocals of Fleur-de-Lys from the musical sounds, and many do not understand the correspondence of this character to Esmeralda’s costume. So I’m glad to be able to explain the point. If you draw an association, there is a flame on my dress – after all, according to the plot of Hugo’s novel, Notre Dame was on fire, and a few years ago there was a fire in real life. A huge number of multi-colored stones on the fabric are fragments of stained-glass windows from the windows of the cathedral. Another association with fire is the love of the Fleur-de-Lys, which was destroyed because of Esmeralda.
What tasks does the Azerbaijan Figure Skating Federation set for you at the Olympics?
Ekaterina Ryabova: They never set tasks for me. I do it myself – I go to each competitions with my thoughts, which I do not voice out. Previously, representatives of the federation accompanied me to many events, but now, alas, there is no such possibility due to the pandemic.
Do you have support from Azerbaijan judges? Maybe they give some advice after the skates?
Ekaterina Ryabova: No contact at any level. A couple of years ago, a judge gave me some quick advice about music accents. But it was a specialist from another country. I know that in large federations, judges communicate with coaches, come to training. The same test skates in Russia, after which each athlete receives a feedback. I would also like to hear a qualified opinion about my programs. For example, about step sequences, for several years I have been trying to achieve the level 4 for my step sequence in the short program. Bent over, where possible, as far as the body allows. I want to understand what is missing for the highest marks. But I’m not sure it’s right to ask the judges directly.
Recently it became known that Vladimir Litvintsev will be the flag bearer at the upcoming Games. Why do you think he was chosen out of the two of you?
Ekaterina Ryabova: I’m very happy for Volodya and I think I know why such a decision was made. There are two of us from Azerbaijan. I will fly to Beijing later – closer to the women’s competitions. The thing is in the covid situation: every day you have to take tests and worry about the result. This is a huge risk of losing an opportunity to performe, being locked up in China for a long time and not yet having time to prepare for the World Championships. So I had to sacrifice the opportunity to participate in the opening ceremony. But two years ago, I already had the honor to carry the Azerbaijan flag at the Youth Olympic Games, which makes me happy.
How do you assess your previous performances in this season?
Ekaterina Ryabova: In general, the impressions are blurry, because injuries occur periodically. They prevent me from doing everything I planned, I even had to take weekly breaks. I could not start the season for a long time and started only in October at the Budapest Trophy. Then there was the Denis Ten Memorial, where I lacked confidence in the free program. But that’s ok, this event was a preparation before the Grand Prix. At Internationaux de France, I did not really understand the scores in the short program, but I was pleased with the clean free program. It was difficult at Rostelecom in Sochi because of the short intervals between events. Including flights, there were only two full days of training. I got tired and did not perform my programs well. Then I won the Santa Claus Cup in Hungary, where I showed my best performance of the short program this season.
How do you like the atmosphere at the recent European Championships? As I understand, it was hard for you because of a cold the day before.
Ekaterina Ryabova: When we started preparing in December, everything was going well. But yes, I managed to get sick right before the event. At first, seemed to endure it easily (only a runny nose), but on Wednesday it began to get worse, and every day it got worse and worse. My dad and I did a lot of exercises, thanks to which I was able to collect two clean skates. Because of such a crumpled preparation, there were a lot of strong emotions – I received so many good comments and words of support! It was still cool!
What was it like to perform in the same warm-up with the Russian leaders?
Ekaterina Ryabova: As usual, as with everyone else. These girls just jump quads, and I don’t really feel any other difference. This is the second time we have performed together at the European Championships in the strongest warm-up.
Was your path to sports, as the daughter of coaches, predetermined from childhood?
Ekaterina Ryabova: Surprisingly, my parents did not want to give me to figure skating. When I was very young, they performed in ice shows and lived on tour. I didn’t even see their performances, but at home I paid attention to the skates that were drying on the radiator. I asked my parents to give me the same ones. They bought skates and soon took me to their group, where older guys trained. This is how it all started at the age of 3. By the way, one of my younger sisters also skates, she is 11 years old now.
You managed to perform for Russia. Where and with whom did you compete?
Ekaterina Ryabova: Mostly at city-level competitions, such as the junior Moscow Championships. Participated in the stages of the Russian Cup. The main rivals were Alina Zagitova, Anna Tarusina, Anastasia Mukhortova (now performing in pairs with Dmitry Evgeniev. – “Match TV”), Diana Davis. These are girls born in 2002-2003. Then there were Anna Shcherbakova, Alexandra Trusova, Alena Kostornaia. Until the age of 11, I used to win, but at a certain point I began to grow, and the jumping technique collapsed.
When and why did your family decide to join the Azerbaijan national team?
Ekaterina Ryabova: There was such a competition that in my last season for my homeland I became 9th at the Russian Cup with two clean skates. We realized that medals are unreachable, and also considering the problems with my physical shape, it’s time to change something. I really wanted to perform on the international stage. These are prestigious competitions, fans, pleasant sensations. We started looking for another federation, thought of different options. I don’t know in detail how the transition was made – I was still a child then, and my parents took care of everything. There were no face-to-face try outs: the leaders of the federation of Azerbaijan only watched the recording of my performance at the Cup. Everything turned out quickly, even without quarantine, because I have never represented Russia at the world level. Having received the release, we calmly processed the documents necessary for obtaining Azerbaijani citizenship. It happened in 2017, and the next year I started to represent a new flag.
You are the same age as our top single skaters who actively jump ultra-c. Did you learn the most difficult jumps and combination when you were younger and it became obvious that without such elements it is difficult to win medals at major starts?
Ekaterina Ryabova: At my 11-12 years old – now at this age they begin to work on the quadruple – there was no such a strong need. Nevertheless, I tried a quadruple toeloop, but got injured, and that was the end of my attempts. Then it was already scary to jump. I have a chronic injury that often makes itself felt, and quadruple can aggravate it. But I never dismiss the idea of learning a quad. Perhaps the chronic injury will pass and I will try a quad again. But I have never tried the triple axel and I will not: the technique of my double axel does not allow it.
Why did you switch to the group of Sergei Davydov in 2015?
Ekaterina Ryabova: In the transitional age, it became difficult for me to train with my parents – purely psychologically. Jumping problems started. I could not even to do a jump entry, because I stopped to feel them due to my growth. Everything somehow came together at the same time – both physical and mental. I just needed a different coach, a radical change. We discussed this decision with my parents for a long time, thinking about who to go to. And in April 2015, I joined the Davydov group, skated there for a year and a half.
What elements did you learn under his guidance?
Ekaterina Ryabova: Triple loop and 3-3 combinations. It was with Sergei Dmitrievich that I began to work on the quadruple toeloop, but quickly got injured. In our joint season, I completed the qualification for a candidate for master of sports, then became a master of sports. Made a debut in junior competitions.
In 2016, you moved to the Evgeni Plushenko Academy. Why?
Ekaterina Ryabova: At a certain point, I realized that I reached my maximum, cardinal changes were needed again. I began to think where to go. My best friend and several acquaintances skated at the academy – thanks to them I already knew a lot about the internal atmosphere. I knew how the academy coaches work, what I can get there. And so I decided to join the group of Alexei Vasilevsky and Yulia Lavrenchuk. Of course, I did not know absolutely everyone who worked there, but in general, many things were clear.
Then Evgeni Plushenko was just starting his coaching career. How do you remember him during this period?
Ekaterina Ryabova: Yes, by the time I came, the academy had been working for half a year. It was very cool: all the time new tasks and lead-up exercises, frequent run-throughs of programs. Evgeni Viktorovich helped our group a lot. Yes, he went on business trips to the shows, but he oversaw the process: he gave everyone advice on working on jumps, technical aspects. He always sees mistakes and helps to correct them. He is a very good coach!
At what point did you start working with Alexander Volkov?
Ekaterina Ryabova: He joined the academy with his wife Martina in 2017, shortly after my previous coaches left. For some time I had to skate with the kids, because there was no alternative. And I really wanted to be among the seniors. And then a senior group opened under the leadership of Alexander and Martina – a one-level group for me. There, for example, Artem Kovalev worked. It became more comfortable.
Do you remember some bright moments from the competition during that period when the coaches put you on the ice at competitions. For example, what did they say to motivate you? How did they help you to relieve stress?
Ekaterina Ryabova: In fact, what they say before the skate, usualy, does not remain in the memory. Just common phrases can be remembered: “Are you ready?”, “Is rverything fine?”, “Are you confident in your jumps? We need to show it on the ice.” I remember very well the words of Alexander Sergeevich: “Go from element to element!” But without specifics about some performance. I’m usually in myself, because I’m already in the program, which is about to start. I listen and can catch individual phrases, but not the general meaning.
Why did you leave the academy in 2020?
Ekaterina Ryabova: It moved far out of the city. And to get to the new ice rink, I had to spend more than 2 hours one way. First go to metro, then by metro, minibus, another minibus or train. You can take a taxi there from the city, but the price is too high considering the distance. And I have the middle of the 11th grade and endless study, I studied at every break. It was simply impossible to put it all together. My parents and I decided that I would return to them. Now I have an adequate route from home to the ice rink, we often get there by car with the whole family. But, Alexander Sergeevich, the resigned from the academy and settled at the rink not that far. But I have already returned to my parents and did not make a reverse move.
What are the financial conditions of the figure skater who skates for Azerbaijan?
Ekaterina Ryabova: The Federation pays for my trips to competitions and costumes, and also found a wonderful sponsor, with whom we have been cooperating for the second year. And recently, the Olympic Committee bought tickets for the Olympics for my dad and me.
It’s good that you don’t have to raise the money yourself, as the Belgian Loena Hendrickx had to do.
Ekaterina Ryabova: A few weeks ago I looked at the prices for tickets to Beijing … But our family was ready to spend this insane amount on a ticket for my mom. The fact is that due to pandemic restrictions, only one coach can accompany an athlete. Therefore, only dad is going, but I wanted so much to have both my parents there! They have been investing in me since childhood, and my mother also deserves to see the Olympic performance live. I tried to found out if it was possible, begged them to find an option for my mother. She was ready to go as a tourist at her own expense, as a spectator. This is the Olympics, in which her daughter participates! What if this Olympics are the only one in my life? But rejection is everywhere. This is not the fault of the federation – just tough covid rules.
Do you often visit Azerbaijan?
Ekaterina Ryabova: Alas, only once – on my birthday a couple of years ago. It was necessary to do documents, and my parents and I flew to Baku exactly at 12 o’clock. We did not have time to see anything from the sights – only beautiful city streets. I dreamed of going to Baku on vacation for my 18th birthday, but due to covid, I had to abandon this idea. I hope one day I will be able to visit the country without fear of being captured by a pandemic.
How is the championship of Azerbaijan going?
Ekaterina Ryabova: It does not exist, because there are no one to choose from. Volodya (Litvintsev) and I are the only single skaters and there are several dance duets. Volodya and I have won two spots at the World and European Championships for the second time, but there are no single skaters who could go on the second spot. I would like to believe that new skaters will appear. I know that one Azerbaijani junior is growing. The problem is that there is no skating rink in the country – only a small ice rink in a shopping center the size of ⅓ of a sports rink. There is nowhere to skate, so figure skating is unpopular.
You have recently said that you are unlikely to stay for the next Olympic cycle. Why, given that you can easily qualify for many international competitions?
Ekaterina Ryabova: I will look at my health after this season. It is not always fine, plus covid, these endless tests every day. We, athletes, are no longer worry about the performance, but for the test result. This is very nerve-wracking and interferes with the training process. Even from the European Championships, after all, they removed many skaters who were well prepared. And for some, this is the first European Championships in their life, and it is not known whether there will be more. In general, I am madly in love with skating and getting attention from the audience. But I’m already at an age when it’s time to provide for myself. Parents have two small children, I want to get on my feet and help the family. I participated in ice shows (“Cinderella” by Evgeni Plushenko) – an amazing experience! I can and want to train too, but it is difficult to combine it with a sports schedule. So in the spring I will seriously think about my future.
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