Elena Ilinykh: “I read this interview with Papadakis. You decided on this abortion, that is, you put the Olympic victory as a priority. It was your decision. Why should anyone feel sorry for you?”
Big interview with Elena Ilinykh. The Sochi Olympic champion in team event spoke about why there is no place for resentment and pity in big sports, urged not to be cunning and talk more about the problems of motherhood, talked about her career and creative plans.
source: RT dd. 9th November 2022 by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya
In her sporting times, Elena Ilinykh was considered to be a figure skater who has never fully realized herself. They say she wasn’t too lucky with her character, it didn’t work out with a partner – but she could have…
Now it’s time to ask the question: is there any other figure skater in the Ilinykh’s generation who has become so accomplished in her post-sport life? Soloist on the ballet stage, travels around the world, meeting unique people in their profession, raising two children, and dreaming of creating her own ice show.
At the show, in fact, we met.
I can’t forget the phrase that you said once. That, having finished with the sport, you gave yourself a vow never to stand on the scales again. Was it that traumatic?
Elena Ilinykh: It was, of course. And not only this. Although at times when I hear athletes talking about such things in public, I get a little lost. On the one hand, I understand that this is a cry from the heart. On the other hand, it seems to me that not everything that happens outside the ice should be made public. It’s like on a film set, a Hollywood movie is being shot, we see a beautiful picture, everyone is happy and no one cares what really happens behind the scenes.
Now that big sport is a thing of the past, can you honestly answer if it was worth it?
Elena Ilinykh: Of course. It is clear that we all want to live in some kind of ideal world, where no one scolds you, no one forces you to lose weight, and allows everything you want, while you still become an Olympic champion (preferably more than once) and skate up to 45 years. But you know perfectly well what big sport is and what you have to face. Yes, it’s hard. But there’s always an option to say, “Guys, I can’t handle this.” And leave. Actually, I have never heard those who have come to their goal complaint about life.
Have you reached this goal? Or a certain dissatisfaction and resentment remained?
Elena Ilinykh: You know, I have always tried (and still try) to look for the root of all my problems in myself, and not to be offended at someone. When, at the Sochi Olympics, Nikita (Katsalapov. – RT ) and I became third in individual competitions after a short dance, and seven pairs were right behind us, each of which claimed the same place, I entered the free program with one single thought “In no case should we give our position to anyone. Even if you have to sink my teeth into it.”
Is this “not giving to anyone” a human feeling or an animal one?
Elena Ilinykh: Animal, I think. Some instinct kicks in. Because the ability to reason that sport is sport and anything can happen, it simply turns off at this moment. You fight for your own and are ready for a lot to do this.
I have been writing about big sports for more than 30 years and very often I face that it is absolutely impossible to explain to people that the sport of the level of the Olympic Games podium is a world that cannot be compared with anything.
Elena Ilinykh: This is generally some other world, where either you survived, or you were thrown out of life. With age, I began to understand that no matter how talented and hard-working an athlete is, everything needs to come together at the right time in the right place. Talent, diligence, luck, location, so that there is no covid, so that you don’t suddenly get poisoning or get sick, and finally so that you wake up in a good mood on the day of competitions.
Not so long ago, Alina Zagitova was very offended at me because I wrote that her victory in Pyeongchang was an amazing combination of circumstances.
Elena Ilinykh: I absolutely agree with you. I don’t really understand when people say: “I did it myself!” Because there are relatives who surround you, a coach, and other specialists who work with you, and on the day of your competitions everything should come together for them too. Any Olympic victory is incredible luck, happiness.
Gabriella Papadakis has recently admitted that she had an abortion a year before the Games in order to fight for Olympic gold. Would you be able to do so?
Elena Ilinykh: I read this interview and just tried on the situation for myself. I tried to imagine how Kolya, Nikita (Morozov, Katsalapov. – RT ) would react … Nikita skated with me for eight years, together we won the Junior World Championships, and a bunch of other competitions, for so many years we went to the same goal together – and here I am: “Guys, I am going to give birth.” Probably I wouldn’t dare to say that. In fact, this is again a story about whether to expose such details to the public or not. You decided on this abortion yourself, that is, you put the Olympic victory as a priority. It was your decision. Why should anyone feel sorry for you? It is clear that you want people to pity you. You really want to.
Was the decision to leave the sport difficult for you?
Elena Ilinykh: No, everything went smoothly. When we parted with Nikita, I naturally thought that I did not want to leave. But I understood that the point was set. And that I won’t have anything else.
Were there no illusions that it was still possible when you and Ruslan Zhiganshin won the Russian Nationals?
Elena Ilinykh: No. I spent that first year together with some incredible courage. I set myself the task of skating at full strength, with maximum efficiency. I squeezed everything that could be squeezed out of myself then. And I realized that this is the absolute maximum that Ruslan and I are capable of. Of course, I did not want to speak these thoughts, not to mention sharing them with someone. Of course, subconsciously you continue to hope for something and yearn for more. Plus, they tell you from all sides that you can. That’s why it’s so hard to make a decision to retire. You also understand that you just seemed to have everything, and suddenly there is nothing.
When you and Yulia Lipnitskaya started a joint coaching project, I had the feeling that you just leaned toward each other like two shot birds, not thinking about any business.
Elena Ilinykh: So it was. But, you know, it was an interesting experience. I always understood while skating that I didn’t want to coach, although I can probably do it very well. I am very observant, besides, I went through a big school: I skated with Igor Shpilband, Ilia Averbukh, Sasha Zhulin, and Kolya Morozov. And I see very clearly what and how to do in order to achieve results.
Then why avoid this choice?
Elena Ilinykh: I don’t want to go through it again. I also understand the full measure of responsibility that the coaching profession imposes. You can’t be a coach for five years and then say, “I’m sorry guys, I’m going to have kids, surf in the Maldives, or act in movies.” At least, in my head, the idea of the coaching profession is exactly this: if you take it, then you work right up to a hundred years, until your last breath. I’m not ready for this.
Preparing for the interview, I watched some of your performances on stage. And the question arose: have you ever been afraid to perform in public?
Elena Ilinykh: No. I love this adrenaline, courage, nervousness of waiting for my own exit. I love the audience very much, I love to hear reaction of the audience. It is clear, of course, that it becomes more difficult when you are not in shape and you understand that nothing good will happen now, but all the same, you try your best to show something.
Was switching from skating to the stage smooth in that regard?
Elena Ilinykh: I didn’t agree for a very long time, to be honest.
Elena Ilinykh: I wasn’t sure it was right. I like it when people do something professionally (which is a huge shortage now, no matter what profession you take). I understood that in figure skating, with all my advantages and disadvantages, I am a professional. But on the stage – no, despite the fact that I have some qualities that allow me to be there. In addition, I wanted my husband to make the highest quality product, and I was afraid that with my participation I could drop this quality. It took him a while to dispel these doubts.
Convinced in the end?
Elena Ilinykh: He simply explained that he did not need ballet standards, but a completely different vision of what was happening on stage. Some completely different emotions. So I agreed to try it. And tried as best I can. I worked a lot with Sergei himself, with a very cool Japanese choreographer of the Rasputin ballet Yuka Oishi, with my partner from the Stanislavsky Theater Alexei Lyubimov, who plays Nicholas II. These joint efforts of many people were aimed at me to such an extent that it turned out to be not scary at all to go on stage.
Do not tell me that you weren’t nervous at all!
Elena Ilinykh: Honestly? I expected to be nervous. But when I stepped on the stage, I remember a thought in my head “Why is there any reason to be nervous in comparison with figure skating?” You can’t slip, there are no tough limits when you lose 0.11 points because your lift lasted half a second longer. What is half a second? And your life almost ends there, and you want to die. Therefore, my main feeling from the debut was “Wow, is it possible to live like this? Not to die every time something went wrong? How cool!”
It is clear that all this is not easy in its own way. It is very difficult to dance with Serezha in terms of energy. It is necessary to match, and the energy of such a partner sometimes is so heavy, it crushes …
What was the most difficult for you technically?
Elena Ilinykh: If I like something, it’s not hard to work.
Many people whose profession is on a stage are afraid to have children so as not to lose what they have already built. You and Sergei have two sons. Were there no fears that having gone headlong into the family life, you might never return?
Elena Ilinykh: I have wanted this family for a very long time. I was too tired of feeling constantly restricted. In sports, you actually live around the clock under these restrictions. It is clear that you get used to it, but psychologically it is not easy. There were also fears. That I won’t be able to have a child, I can simply not meet a man with whom I would want to have children. That is, I had some very complex scheme in my head on this matter. And then Seryozha appeared – and everything somehow happened by itself. So I was not afraid that I would not return somewhere. However, I didn’t really understand where I could go at all when the children grow up. Being in the third month of pregnancy with my first son, I still danced, but Rasputin seemed to me a one-time project then.
And then you give birth to your second child, stand on the scales and see the number there …
Elena Ilinykh: I saw a very large number there, just scary! But I felt so comfortable, I was so happy, I felt such care from Sergey, and indeed from all my relatives, that the figure did not bother me at all.
Did you and Sergey immediately decide that children should be born in America?
Elena Ilinykh: The first births were in the winter. And Sergey planned everything very carefully. He reasoned like this: it’s cold in Moscow in winter, I would have to dress somehow with this belly, and walking with a stroller would be problematic. So we made the decision to go to Miami literally three months before birth. Our eldest son Mir was born there. But Dar was born completely unplanned in Dubai, where we were waiting for an American visa.
I remember that I began to worry a lot about my condition, and Seryozha reassured me: “Endure a little more, you are an athlete. We’ll get a visa and fly right away.” So we endured… It turned out that both children were born in January and both were born in warm countries. But the second time it was more scarier.
In what sense?
Elena Ilinykh: The first time you do not know what and how. Whoa and here he is, a child. We somehow even discussed this with Serezha’s former partner, Ksyusha Ryzhkova, who also has two children. To become a prima ballerina or an Olympic champion, it turns out that you have been going to this all your life. But when a child is born – you are immediately a mother. And, by definition, you should be a good one. Sometimes I read in blogs: “Oh, what a wonderful time!” Well, it’s a lie! A lot of difficulties. Diapers, teething. At night, the child does not sleep, and during the day you cannot go anywhere, because dark circles under your eyes are so scary to look at. Why isn’t anyone talking about this?
I didn’t just ask you about weight. I know what it’s like to keep weight for so many years and suddenly find yourself in a “plus twenty” state.
Elena Ilinykh: When you are loved so much, you don’t notice such things. It’s just that I myself, as a reasonable girl, three months after giving birth, decided that I really want to return to my competitive weight. And I started taking care of myself. I can say for sure that I have never lost weight so easily. In total, these 20 kgs were gone in three or four months. It remains to lose just a couple of kilograms to the weight I had at the Olympics.
But you suffered so much because of this problem in sports!
Elena Ilinykh: It seems to me that in sports, children have a feeling that everything they do is not for them, but for a coach. For example, I didn’t really understand the argument when they say, you have to be thin, otherwise, the boy will not be able to lift you. You are constantly hungry, but instead of eating at least something, you lose weight, lose weight, lose weight. Because the coach said so, or some woman from the federation, or mom, or partner. That is, you are trying to lose weight for someone with the feeling that you owe someone all the time. It seems to me that it is very important to explain to children why they should do this and not otherwise. This is a good way, win-win.
In some interviews, I read that the ideal coach in your understanding is a coach like Eteri Tutberidze. It turns out that you always had to be forced.
Elena Ilinykh: I just always liked this state of hard work. Sergey and I were in America not so long ago, met with actor Mickey Rourke. He told how during the work on one of the films, where it was necessary to play a dramatic scene and cry, he looked at a photograph of his deceased grandmother. And even asked his agent to beat him with a belt. So that it really hurts. Well, a person prepares for his role this way. Some people have different ways.
If they start yelling at me before going on the ice, it put me in a state of courage and absolutely incredible adrenaline. Although, perhaps, the whole point is that in figure skating from childhood you get used to being yelled at. If they suddenly stop, you immediately get nervous: “Yeah, something is wrong here!”
What do you feel when you meet people like Mickey Rourke, Emir Kusturica, or anyone else whose names you only heard from the screen before?
Elena Ilinykh: This is great. Not only do you talk to these people, but sometimes you catch yourself thinking that your thoughts are very similar. I noticed that such people always listen very well. You ask some questions, you discover something new for yourself. Really really cool feeling. I am very grateful to fate that I have such an opportunity. It adds a lot of color to life. This is important, especially at a time like now.
What is participation in the Ice Age for you? Fun, earnings, or an opportunity to keep fit?
Elena Ilinykh: Both income and pleasure. But I would not agree to participate if there was no partner. The one I want myself.
What did you like about Yegor Beroev?
Elena Ilinykh: I really like him as an actor – the type itself. Strong male energy, absolute reliability, and at the same time the ability to feel strongly and subtly. Yegor has an interesting approach to programs, music, to the choice of costumes. Not at all like figure skaters.
What’s the difference?
Elena Ilinykh: Everything is different. This is probably about the freedom of the stage and sports. We’re too blinkered, aren’t we? One free program for the season, and you skate it all over again for several months. Only three lifts and people still manage to repeat them year after year: “What? Make a new one? Let’s not take risks.” And every time I want to ask: “Guys, you have been skating this for a year. Aren’t you tired?” Honestly, I still catch myself on some things that have been developed over the years in sports.
When the conversation about programs first came up on Ace Age and they asked me what we are going to do, I automatically answered: “Whitney Houston.” Why? Because it is necessary to take something bright, win-win, well known. And so that Tarasova liked it. It seems that I have already moved from the sport, so rebuilt and creative, but it still sits in my mind. And I’m scared to try something new.
Well, you want to win, right?
Elena Ilinykh: So Yegor asked me about it. And then he cautiously suggested: “Don’t you want just to try skating the program for fun, and not for the sake of getting ahead of someone?” And I suddenly realized that I really like this way of thinking, this approach to work.
Are your main creative plans at the current stage on a stage or ice?
Elena Ilinykh: I really want my ice show. I do not know yet how it will be implemented technically and where exactly. But I would like to create an ice performance, and leave something in figure skating. Possibly Frida. I have seen many productions, carefully watched how they are created – from music and the search for composers to scenography. I roughly understand what and how I can implement. Seryozha also really wants me to have my own project. So this will definitely be our joint work.
Your sons have rather unusual names. If the third child is a girl, what name would you give her?
Elena Ilinykh: Good question. I don’t even know whether I should talk about it. From the very beginning, we agreed with Seryozha that he gives a name for a boy, and I give a name for a girl. For some reason, I was sure that after Mir we would have a girl. And one evening, when I was already falling asleep, for no reason at all a name came to my mind – Matilda. Matilda Sergeevna and that’s it!
Sergey was so upset when I told him about it. I even began to suspect that he did not want a second child at all. But when I had another ultrasound and we finally determined the sex of the baby, I cannot express how happy my husband was. He was just ready to jump for happiness that it won’t be Matilda.
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