Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: “I would have broken if I had thought that figure skating is all my life”
Great interview with Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. About quadruple jumps, popularity of figure skating, working with a psychologist and launching her first clothing line.
by Vladim Smislov for gq.ru dd.16th November 2020
Can you recall 2008, your first senior Russian Nationals? How was that championships different from this year?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: Since then, our sport has become much popular. When I started competing at the Russian Nationals, Irina Slutskaya had just finished her career, and there was a failure in ladies’ single skating, people came to competitions without much interest. What has been happening over the past six years is not comparable to the beginning of my journey.
Are you talking about the period after the Sochi Olympics?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: Yes. Julia Lipnitskaya and Adelina Sotnikova were in Sochi. After the Olympics, the time came when people really fell in love with figure skating.
Why did this happen with figure skating? Bobsledders, skiers, and speed skaters also won in Sochi.
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: I think there was a big competition in our sport, a lot of good athletes per one country. The Russian Nationals is considered the most difficult competition of the season. And our top six can compete for the first place in Europe and for the top three at the World Championships. Apparently, the fact that our girls became practically invincible has popularized figure skating, it’s become interesting for people to follow this sport.
Okay, and when and why did such a competition appear in one discipline?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: The trend for the rejuvenation of ladies’ figure skating, in my opinion, appeared when Adelina Sotnikova and I began to compete among seniors and take medals, and sometimes even win.
Why did the juniors fail to do this before you?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: There were no such strong juniors. There was a tendency: the longer you skate, the better you jump. It was enough to perform triple and double jumps. We jumped triple-triple – very few people did that. And now, for example, everyone, starting from the age of 12, jump triple-triple. To be in the top three now, you need to be unique, consistent, have ultra-c and spin well.
It turns out that after Slutskaya’s retirement, coaches noticed both you and the potential in training of young athletes?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: Yes, when Adelina and I began to show that children can perform difficult jumps, the coaches started to think: why can’t my athlete do the same? And the progress began. The same is happening now. Who would have thought that kids would jump quads? I never thought about it. But when Sasha Trusova and Anya Shcherbakova started to perform them …
Now there is a growing generation of children who, from the age of 11, are taught to jump quadruple jumps. And ten years ago, 3-3 – that was wow.
Why did Alexei Mishin, who once coached Evgeni Plushenko, noticed the potential in you and offered to move from Glazov to St. Petersburg?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: Ability to jump. I had a very high jump, but a bad technique. I was such a monkey on the ice. This is what defines great coaches: they can find potential in very young children when no one else notices it. Later Alexei Nikolaevich told me that he did not think that he could retrain me and achieve the level that we have today.
It turns out that you managed to train with Plushenko?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: I was looking forward for this, but he took a break after 2006, and that year I came to St. Petersburg for the first time. And only closer to 2010 we started training at the same rink.
What did you think when you heard that Plushenko is opening a figure skating academy?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: I was happy for him. If there is such an opportunity – why not open it? Figure skating is popular, and it will only benefit from one more skating rink and coach.
I want to clarify this: you have repeatedly commented on the takeover of senior figure skating by children …
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: Well I shouldn’t speak on this topic at all. In my case, it is undesirable to say that I am for femininity, grace, because I myself was in the place of these young skaters. But at that time, Adelina and I were a unique phenomenon, then all figure skating was feminine, mature. And now af the Russian Nationals, there are girls almost ten years younger than me, and this is the norm. In general, the answer is this: in figure skating you want balance. Jumping quadruples is great. But this shouldn’t be the only thing in our sport.
In your opinion, why do figure skaters who got into senior sports early and win the Olympics end their careers just as early? I’m talking about Sotnikova and Lipnitskaya.
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: I think a lot of energy and nerves was invested in getting to the games and winning them. And it is difficult for people to keep staying at the same level further. And if you give yourself a year of recession, then it is very difficult to get in shape, to return to training. It’s like candy. You try something sweet, you like it, and you want more.
And you want it because you haven’t tried such sweets before?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: Yes. It’s hard to stay in top shape. Win the Olympics, show your maximum. Then devastation sets in, and it can be difficult to set yourself up emotionally. You know what is behind all the victories. Nobody can skate on the same level for ten years. Well, except for Irina Slutskaya.
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: No, I had a lot of falls, pits. I just love skating. And we have a very trusting relationship with the coach. I work, he sees it, and we interact. He doesn’t change me. He knows that I exist. And even if I have a recession, I’m not forgotten.
When did your first recession happen?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: Before the Olympics. I did not cope with responsibility both mentally and physically: the transitional age began.
The center of gravity has changed.
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: Yes, I began to put on weight and could not cope with it, it was hard both psychologically and physically. But at 16, you don’t feel pain.
I never thought that figure skating is all my life, that I have to get up early for training every day, no friends and no walks. I’m not like that – I love life.
That’s why, I have been in this sport for many years. I never fully belonged to figure skating, I understood that there is another life. Otherwise, I would have broke. And then, at the age of 16, when I was a teenager, it didn’t hurt, I coped with the recession in a month, in two. And only then the thought came – oh you, it was necessary to strain up and get to the Olympics.
How does your coach feel about such approach? Once I interviewed Tatiana Tarasova, and for her the skater either lives on the ice or goes to trade in the market. Either one or the other.
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: I don’t like to ruin my health, I don’t want to leave sports as a sick person. I want that after figure skating, when I consciously decide to quit sports, a different life began, in which I am not superfluous and I know what to do.
When did you decide for yourself that life is not only about sport?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: I don’t know, it came with experience. I had a lot of failures in my career. I like to analyze situations, I even worked with a sports psychologist. And this is important – when you can speak out, you feel support. After all, you cannot always tell the coach, especially when you’re young, that you don’t want to skate anymore, that something hurts – you’re afraid. But you can tell the psychologist. And he will support, say that everything is fine, that you are a person, you may not want something, it’s okay. In addition, my mother always supported me, I took easiness to figure skating from her. She never go into specifics of this sport, does not know the names of the elements, and when something bad happens, mother says: “So what? It’s just figure skating. You are a healthy girl, you will be fine.” Perhaps, because of such an attitude to sports, I did not win the Olympics when I had the opportunity. But I prefer this way.
Can quadruples and other difficult elements performed by athletes today harm their health tomorrow?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: Interesting question. It seems to me that only with time we will find this out, skaters just started to learn and perform quadruple jumps. To say that this is a colossal load on the body is to say nothing.
When did you realize that you were ready for a quadruple?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: In the past year.
How did this happen?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: I didn’t make it to the Grand Prix Final. The shape was good, but I lacked literally a couple of points. So there was a big break and there was a lot of time to learn something new. And all previous season, Alexei Nikolaevich little by little inspired me that I can jump quadruple, that I will succeed. I was doing it on harness at the very beginning of the season, and suddenly I had a desire to do it without outside help. And when there’s a desire, I cannot be stopped. I worked with a harness for another week, and then in a couple of days I jumped a quadruple. It wasn’t that hard. Everything goes from my head: if I doubt a little, it will never work. I am not one of those who just does it, turning off the instinct of self-preservation.
Where do doubts come from?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: Training a quad, I think: “At this age I can have children instead of doing quadruple toe loops on the ice”. Every year it will be more and more difficult to rotate these four turns. The subconscious says: it’s dangerous, don’t. When I understand that it is time to do the element, but there is no one hundred percent certainty in it, I come to Alexei Nikolaevich and ask: “I won’t get injured, will I? I won’t kill myself? ” – “No, everything will be fine.” – “Okay”.
Have you ever been offered to change the coach?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: No never.
You and Mishin have been working together for over ten years. What is this union based on?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: I do not know. It seems to me that our characters get along well. And we also trust each other.
Have you thought about changing the coach yourself? During recessions.
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: Every athlete in his recession has such thoughts. But I talk with Alexei Nikolaevich, he will cheer me up, say something, and I’ll think: “Okay, just a little more, a little more.” He is always in a good mood, and you also take energy from this. He loves his job, but he also loves life, he enjoys it, you can see it. He works a lot in the country house, builds something, comes up with various projects. He is always involved in something.
Tell us about your hobby – you launched a clothing brand this year. Why did you decide to do this?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: In figure skating, there is no uniform, as in football and hockey, and if you come to the rink and want to cheer for an athlete, it is not clear how to stand out and attract attention. This was one of my ideas.
But there are no men’s clothes in the collection yet, right?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: No, now the whole line is unisex, but the largest size is L. So we will increase the size chart. I did not expect many men to show interest in the brand.
Why is the brand called Empress?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: When I was very young, fans called me that.
Sounds like you’re 48, not 23.
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: We can say that I’m 48 for figure skating.
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