Elena Radionova: I squeezed the maximum of me
Bronze medalist of the 2015 World Championship, the first-ever two-time world junior champion Elena Radionova announced her retirement and gave a frank interview about her career. Partly translated.
by Anatoli Samokhvalov for rsport.ria.ru dd. 22d September 2020
Lena, when did you said to yourself: it’s over?
Elena Radionova: After the test skates in 2018, I finally realized that I had finished. First thoughts about it came when I did not qualify for the Olympics. But I thought that the post-Olympic year is always very unpredictable. I went to Art On Ice, got in good shape at the end of the season, prepared good programs, life got better. But the offseason turned out to be insanely difficult and absolutely blurry. I said to myself: either you are doing it well, or quit.
What prevented you from “doing it well”?
Elena Radionova: Health. Hormonal disruption that I could not cope with. Few people understood me. I gained a lot pf weight. A rigid diet wouldn’t have helped, such a state couldn’t be controlled, you could only wait it out. The body needed time to normalize its work. I put on skates and felt that it wasn’t me, and then they stopped letting me on the ice at all because of my weight. Psychologically, I was depressed. Elena Germanovna (Buyanova, Elena’s coach – ed.) was very worried, she saw that I could get injured at any moment. The days passed, but I was still far from an acceptable shape, I had to ask for medical help and then I decided: I shouldn’t ruin my health, I have to think about the future. And in this future I will achieve more than in the skater’s career, I’m sure.
What happened nex?
Elena Radionova: And then I gave myself another chance. In the summer I tried to get in shape, gathered all my strength, forgetting about previous thoughts. I thought: well, one more time. The last one. From under the summer sun I went to the cold skating rink and tried to “get my body started”, but I was still uncomfortable, everyday stress, hysterics. It was hell. I went to the stage of the Russian Cup in Yoshkar-Ola, skated the short one and realized that I could not skate the free. I exhausted myself so much that afterwards I never regretted that I quit figure skating. I’m so tired of all this. In my opinion, I squeezed the maximum of me.
Why didn’t you announce retirement right then?
Elena Radionova: A thought still lived in my head for a while: you never know? What if I’ll want to? You never know… I needed time for the skater to disappear from me and for another person to grow up in me, with other goals, who could say: this is really the end. Here people like to finish and then come back. People swing on their desires, like on a swing, but I wanted awareness. And I make this announcement first of all for my fans. I am leaving officially and nicely.
Were there no desire to return?
Elena Radionova: Now I feel very good. Sometimes, I see myself on video, and I want to put on skates, skate in a show … But I never wanted to compete again. Competitions have always been a huge stress for me, after which I had to recover for a long time. Someone performed and forgot. Sometimes it took a week for me to recover after competitions, the body was ready for a new one, but the head was not.
Have you ever loved to compete?
Elena Radionova: Never! Figure skating gave me a lot, I was happy in it. I loved to perform for the audience, to get its attention, but the very fact of competitions never made me happy. I liked winning places and titles, but I didn’t like the process itself.
Elena Radionova: I didn’t like this concentration on competitions. If I had my way, I would have done it differently, you skate both short and free, and without these trainings between performances. I could got myself together and did everything to the maximum. But only one time. By the way, it’s not like I didn’t like competitions. I loved the atmosphere – new countries, people, gala, attention, but the battle itself is not for me. I adored everything before it. And the battle itself is stress. I step on the ice – full concentration. I take off my skates – devastation. I paid for this concentration with my nerve cells.
Did the coaches try to make a she-wolf of you? The one that comes and destroys competitors.
Elena Radionova: I have never be told that I should go and tear someone up. I don’t like this formulation at all. Why should I
How to win then?
Elena Radionova: I think everyone should do his job. It’s not a box where you have to beat a man.
After talking with Plushenko, I realized that this is real boxing on ice.
Elena Radionova: Really? I didn’t have that. Even in training. I never needed a sparring partner, although someone needs one. It didn’t make me angry when someone nearby did something beautiful. When you focus on someone else, you waste your own energy. This helps someone, apparently, but I was toned by concentration on myself. The coaches knew that I could train poorly and look great in competitions. Such is my psyche, I don’t even know what to call it. In general, I was ready at the right moment, and coaches appreciated me for that.
Don’t you think that with a more brutal quality, being a “killer”, you would have taken not silver, but gold at some point?
Elena Radionova: Who do you think is a “killer” in ladies’ singles skating?
Medvedeva. For two years she was winning everything possible, and then after an injury she was able to gather all her strength for the Olympics.
Elena Radionova: Zhenya is really such a fighter.
Zagitova for example is not a “killer”. She does not have a killer instinct, but she has a core that does not allow to crash her.
Elena Radionova: I agree, Alina is not a “killer”, but we all have different psychology. I tried to use those qualities that are close to me, and I really could pull out important competitions, but partly I lacked other qualities, partly I did not have the team that I needed to work well to win.
Did you say there was no team?
Elena Radionova: Yes, at certain moments I lacked coherence, when you realize that all together we are going to make the result. Sometimes I did not my job, but I had to get into these issues. Let’s say Elena Germanovna (Buyanova) has a choreographer, a skating skills coach, a general physical training coach. And before that, with Inna Germanovna (Goncharenko) we were like pioneers. We didn’t even know how everything should be arranged. When you are little, you can keep up, but when you grow up and want results, you understand that you need, lets say, an additional load for à hip joint – this is in my particular case. Sometimes I organized a certain team myself, with which we had to go to the result. But we did not manage to unite to the end, because Inna Germanovna and me had the first experience of working for serious tasks. We just didn’t know what to do and made mistakes.
And to get this team, you had to go to Buyanova?
Elena Radionova: Not at all. You can try to create your own team, but I switched for another reason.
I am grateful to Inna Germanovna (Goncharenko) for what she did for me. If she continued to raise athletes, she would have succeeded, because she had experience with me and she would have drawn conclusions. Still, when the child is small, you can behave as you see fit. You can shout at him and he will do it out of fear. And when he grows up, you have to study his psychology. In difficult adolescence, when your “I” appears, a different approach is needed. When there’s no such, failures, misunderstandings, tantrums occur. At such moments, Tatiana Anatolievna Tarasova saved me. When she came, it was simply impossible not to work. And not because everyone is afraid of her. Nope. She has an unimaginable energy and she is ready to share it with everyone. Tarasova inspired me. One word was enough for her to make me forget about all the problems and rush on the ice, doing any amount of work. My eyes burned when she came in, I wanted to do more, more and more…
Has Goncharenko changed the way of communication with you?
Elena Radionova: It’s not about the manner of communication. She just had a hard time dealing with me. She created such a load plan for me that I couldn’t cope with. I realized that I was no longer a child and if I blindly do everything that the coach requires, I would simply ruin my health. After all it’s one pace of loads for the juniors and another for adults.
Could you tell her that directly?
Elena Radionova: I absolutely trusted her, but I didn’t have enough support during that period of growing up. Inna Germanovna has a conservative approach, she says – you do. And I dreamed that they would just believe in me. You see, my parents always believed in me, and I really wanted Inna Germanovna to be the kind of person who would believe in me. But I didn’t feel it, I lacked it. Sometimes she would say: “Go and do it. It is necessary.” But I understood that I was not ready for this. In response, the coach thought that I was lazy, come up with all sorts of fables just not to work. We simply lacked conversations. But if not for Inna Germanovna, I would not have achieved my results.
And with another coach?
Elena Radionova: But it was she who saw something in me. In childhood. And she spent a lot of energy on me. But time passed, and I saw a dead end in front of me. I wanted to work with this person who is dear to me, but I understood that I had only one way out – to leave.
Don’t you think that the coach at such moments thinks that you are simply being lured away?
Elena Radionova: Sure! And so it was. So it was thought. We have a problem with this in Russia. If you go to another coach, you are a traitor. An ungrateful person. And I do not think that we have achieved the maximum with Inna Germanovna. No, we could have achieved more with her, the discord happened at the level of relationships, not because of the coaching level. In general, I am skeptical about when a person says: “The coach gave me maximum, and I left him.” I believe that nothing needs to be changed if work is going well. Best the enemy of the good.
But you did not manage to cope with the problem of growing up in Buyanova’s group.
Elena Radionova: It’s a pity that the work with Elena Germanovna turned out to be blurry. The work itself was going great, I had such a contact with the coach that we are still together.
She says that you became friends.
Elena Radionova: So it is, we even discuss life issues, I often ask her for advice. She responded to my request to take me to the group. Although, of course, they said that I was lured away, but this is absolute nonsense. I called her myself and didn’t even know if she would pick up the phone. We trained at the same rink and I was a girl with character, I did things that were impolite. Could look at her the wrong way, passing by. I understood that she was an authoritative person, and for me she was like that. But I, as a little girl, also knew my self-worth and sometimes behaved arrogantly. In general, I called her, she answered the phone, I told her: “Elena Germanovna, this is Lena Radionova.” She’s like, “Oh! Wow!” There was genuine surprise in her voice. I found it difficult then to find the words. “I want you to take me …” – I remember, I said. “Yes? You surprised me,” she replied. By that time, I hadn’t yet said goodbye to Inna Germanovna, because I wasn’t sure if I was needed in the new group. I got consent, after which I skated at the World Team Trophy under the guidance of Inna Germanovna, with whom I already had a strained relationship. Thanks to Sasha Uspensky (CSKA coach), who supported me in that difficult moment. When we arrived, I told Inna Germanovna about the decision to leave. It was hard for me to say it.
Was it a hard-won decision?
Elena Radionova: Thoughtful. I went to it for a very long time. But the hard-won also, perhaps. I am very attached to people and then I believed that, despite all my arguments, I really looked like a traitor. “You can’t do this!” – I constantly heard my inner voice. “Well, what about Inna Germanovna? ..”, “We’ve been with her since childhood …”. I thought to leave, but this thought was painful, and for a long time I did not dare to do it.
How else, if the mind says to leave?
Elena Radionova: On one side of the scale there was a good relationship, on the other – the result. I chose result. Of course, no one will guarantee you the result, but there was hope. And choosing a good relationship would only hasten the end of my career. Nevertheless, I realized: if you think about others, you will lose yourself in sports. One smart man told me: every athlete should be selfish. So I played an egoist during that critical period.
But you haven’t found happiness in sports.
Elena Radionova: The first training camp with Elena Germanovna was excellent, in training I restored loop- half loop – flip, lutz – loop, lutz – toe loop – toe loop. This was enough to compete for gold at all competitions. But at the competitions it was like I’ve been a different person. Now I myself think that it was so, but I cannot understand. I always knew how to go to the start, and then I seemed to have forgotten how to do it.
Was there a feeling of powerlessness in front of competitors?
Elena Radionova: No. They really did not distract me. I remember preparing for the Russian Nationals, one training session on Saturday, and a day off on Sunday. I have a quirk – if there is a day off, I can lose my shape. The day off was canceled, I skated well that day, I come on Monday, and there is a bag under my knee. Out of the blue. Yesterday everything was fine, today I cannot step on my foot. I put on skates, but couldn’t even do stroking. And on Wednesday I was leaving to St. Petersburg. I’m in panic. I went to the physiotherapists, they throw up their hands. Either the lymph node is inflamed, or something else. It is still a mystery to me. Then they put some tapes on me, removed the pain syndrome. On Tuesday, I did a workout somehow, I also skated in St. Petersburg, jumped. I thought that everything would be fine, but I go for a short program, warmed-up, among other things, loop. This jump has always been very stable for me. I skate the program, go on the loop and understand that my bleda gets in my own trace, and there is no take off. I’m falling. This rittberger cost me some more or less successful result at the national championships. A knee, a trace, some kind of bad luck. And the next summer is already to goosebumps … I have already told about it.
Who was your main rival?
Elena Radionova: The main one? It depends on what time. Zhenya, Lizka, Anka, Yulka, Adelinka, Alina … All were main, but according to the seasons.
It seemed to me that the fight was only with Medvedeva. Before that, you were small, won, but did not yet realize this struggle. “Radionova – Medvedeva” battle could have become a brand, but it was “Medvedeva – Zagitova”.
Elena Radionova: It seems to me that Zhenya and I would not have such a confrontation as she and Alina. They were preparing to the Olympics in the same group and this is the prospect of a drama. In general, it’s better seen from the outside, I skated for myself, today we compete with Zhenya, tomorrow with Anya, and the day after tomorrow with Japanese ladies. We fought very seriously with Miyahara in juniors, and then with Ashley, Gracie, Mao …
As a child, do you quickly get used to the fact that you are the best and most beautiful?
Elena Radionova: I never considered myself like that, and no one imposed this on me. Beauty is a relative concept. It should be inside. Sometimes a handsome man walks along, you start talking to him and realize that he is, in fact, not handsome at all. It is important for me how a person expresses his thoughts, his worldview, life concepts, even how he jokes. For me this is the priority, not appearance.
Who jokes the best ?
Elena Radionova: Joked. Denis Ten. Smart, educated, intelligent. When he began to talk, I caught his every word. He told simple stories with amazing humor. I wanted to listen to them for hours. He was unique. Whatever Denis took up, it began to shine in different colors. He had such a beautiful soul. I have many fond memories of him. It was he who gave me the phone number of Shae-Lynn Bourne, introduced me to her. Our skaters are accustomed to do programs with our choreographers, and I am the first who decided to go overseas. So I started the fashion on Shae-Lynn Bourne in Russia. Now Liza Tuktamysheva, Zhenya Medvedeva and Alena Kostornaia are working with her.
I have always had a dream to participate in the Swiss Art On Ice show and Yuna Kim’s show, which I consider the most prestigious in the world. Denis attracted me to Yuna’s gala performances. I also adore Japanese shows, but I participated in them as a junior, and I really dreamed about these two. Denis was, one might say, my agent who negotiated. He really tried hard for me, got a normal contract. When we met, everyone was joking: oh, the agent is in business. Usually, you rely only on yourself, but here was a man who helped me. There are not so many kind people left in the world like Denis.
And I never considered myself the coolest. Even when I won, I didn’t feel like a champion.
Winning the junior world championship twice – is that interesting?
Elena Radionova: The second one was more interesting. I went to the first one with a lack of understanding what it was. Yulka (Lipnitskaya) was the reigning champion. I thought it would be cool to be in the top three. We became friends with her and with Anya Pogorilaya then. Our atmosphere was not competitive. You are talking about a she-wolf, which has to tear rivals apart, and we laughed together, went to breakfast together, for lunch, dinner …
Zagitova and Medvedeva also looked like a friendly duet at the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang …
Elena Radionova: It’s one thing to communicate, and another to be friends. There are no friends in sports, that’s for sure. Friendship it’s is serious. There cannot be many friends, one or two at most. These are people you can rely on in difficult times. And not just those who can be there when you feel bad, but who can sincerely rejoice when you feel good. A fairly large number of people have always supported me. Our people are merciful, it’s true. But when you feel good, not everyone will be happy. You see how happy your parents are for you, and then you meet someone with the phrase “Wow, how cool!” They start to tell you how gorgeous you are, but you understand that this is not all sincere.
And you smile professionally in return?
Elena Radionova: Sure! This is also nice. Fans really rejoice, but sports colleagues are rarely. And who will be happy with a direct competitor? Figure skating is a very cruel sport. I won the first junior world championship without any thoughts. I didn’t go there to win the second title, but to prove it. And then there was a bunch of unnecessary thoughts like “What if it doesn’t work out?” I have always been a maximalist, living according to the principle “all or nothing”. It was important for me to win a second time, despite the big toe injury. A common “figure skating” sore, cracks appear on this finger because of lutz and flip. For this reason, I missed the Russian championship, where the third place was taken by Sasha Proklova, also a skater of Inna Germanovna at that time. But Tatiana Anatolievna defended me and said that I must go. I couldn’t let her down and won the World Championships for the second time in a row. Tarasova sincerely worried about me throughout my career and was always there.
Did you feel like you almost got into the right year for the Olympic Games that you could win?
Elena Radionova: Would have, could have … Of course, I had such thoughts, but I did not bother with them.
After all, initially there was not a huge difference in the level of skills between Zagitova, Medvedeva, Radionova, Pogorilaya. All of you were about the same high class.
Elena Radionova: In 2018 there was a chance.
But then you already started having problems. And had you been a little older, in 2014 everything could have turned out quite well.
Elena Radionova: Complaining about this is like taking offense at rain. In 2018 there was a chance. But for a third place. It didn’t work out, but as they say, it doesn’t sit in me. Every time I prepared honestly, honestly approached the competition and showed the maximum.
At the same time, at the European Championships in Stockholm, leading after the short program, you lost some crumbs to Liza Tuktamysheva.
Elena Radionova: It was very hurtful. Then they reassured me: “Come on, you are young and you have everything ahead, and Lizka has been skating for a long time.” In the end, I finished, and Liza is still fighting.
A year later, at the European Championships in Bratislava, Medvedeva went as tank, and you were sad.
Elena Radionova: This is also an offensive competition, which I skated cleanly and Zhenya won with a fall.
She even looked like a winner in training there. We sat on the stands with Mishin, and he gave me an example of Medvedeva, who was imperturbable and with movements worked out to the smallest detail, her self-confidence was visible. And you didn’t seem to have such an attitude.
Elena Radionova: I didn’t have the team that could unite everyone and tune in the right way.
Tarasova is a master of this attitude, she cared about you.
Elena Radionova: But she didn’t work with me every day. She came when there was an opportunity.
If she had been your coach since 2015, what could have waited for you?
Elena Radionova: Good question. I never thought about it. It seems to me that it was already difficult for Tatiana Anatolievna to lead the athlete. She just showed up at the right moment and brought to the right track. In general, she is, of course, a phenomenon.
We have a special attitude to the phenomenon. Many believe that she has favorites that she praises and tries to promote.
Elena Radionova: I never noticed that.
Weren’t you among them?
Elena Radionova: She treated me very well, but I did not see how she works with others. In my opinion, Tatiana Anatolievna is ready to help anyone. They will call her, she will immediately come to the rescue.
I noticed that not everyone treats her with respect, but everyone listens to her advice.
Elena Radionova: Only an unwise person will not listen to Tarasova. I don’t remember a situation when she would have been wrong. She knows everything about figure skating and at the same time keeps up with the times. Previously, everyone skated to the classics, now the age of modern music has come, and Tatiana Anatolievna is able to quite objectively assess new trends. I had a lot of doubts about Porgy and Bess. The music was suggested by Tarasova, she saw me in it, but the image was so new for me that I could not imagine myself in it at all. At first. We began to stage and I realized what Shae-Lynn is capable of. I’ll tell you honestly: Tatiana Anatolievna will not advise bad things. And Gershwin from Shae-Lynn is a complete delight. I still admire. In general, I am used to trusting professionals.
Shae-Lynn Bourne, Morozov, Vlasova, Maslennikova, Tchernyshev, Kanaeva, Averbukh, Ge. Who’s the coolest choreographer in your career?
Elena Radionova: We did magic with Shae-Lynn. I adore Elena Stanislavovna (Maslennikova), she is a truly bright person. She guided me since childhood, with her we did amazing “The Fifth Element” and “Zombies”. Ilia Averbukh is a choreographer who is absolutely not like anyone else. He has a ritual: he puts on a hood and begins to skate on the ice alone with himself, living the entire program inside, and only then he begins to stage a program for a skater. Petya Tchernyshev is unique in his skating style, he just has an abundance of new steps. When he offers something, you understand that you will not do it. I looked at his legs and did not understand how they turned. But when you overcome yourself, it turns out very cool. Kolya Morozov shared with me the secrets of skating skills, edges, his priority is the convenience of the program for the athlete. He believes that if you are uncomfortable somewhere, then in this part of the program you will fail. Morozov is a master of staging integral programs, when each movement harmoniously flows into the next one. Nadya Kanaeva and Rafael Arutyunyan have a completely different environment, Nadya taught me easy women’s skating. Every time she tried to make me softer and softer, to soar in the air and Ashley Wagner flew next to me, and I sometimes cought her feminine skating style, which was very beneficial for my skating. Kanaeva knows how to deliver a program with a minimum of energy consumption and very airy. Symbiosis of strong legs and light torso. Nadia and Shae-Lynn instilled in me a love for the American-Canadian style, I enriched myself with it and I really did not want to lose it when I returned to Russia. Now I have the skills of both the Russian choreographic school and the North American one, and you have no idea with what a pleasure I share my experience with the kids.
So is choreography your future?
Elena Radionova: Yes, I’m passionate about it. Of course, if someone asks me to help with jumps, I will respond, because I also understand this. But love choreography. It’s truly mine.
Evgeni Plushenko: “I don’t want my athletes to be a flash, a one-off story: they jumped, won something and disappeared”