“If it weren’t for Eteri, I would have quit figure skating.” Big interview with Daniel Grassl

Posted on 2023-04-13 • 1 comment


Big interview with Daniel Grassl. About struggles of post-Olympic season and training with Tutberidze.

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source: sports.ru dd. 3 April 2023 by Maya Bagryantseva

For the past few months, more has been written about you than about Olympic champions. But let’s rewind a bit and remember how Daniel Grassl became a figure skater.

Daniel Grassl: I started quite late, especially by Russian standards, haha. At first, I was in a hockey section, but then my mom and I went to see the local figure skating competitions and I loved it. I was seven years old, I asked my mom to let me try it, and that was it. At first, I was the only boy in the group, but it didn’t bother me. For a couple of years, I also played tennis, but then I had to choose one thing.

When I turned 12, my first coach, Ludmila Mladenova, moved to work in another city. But I was still too young to go with her, and besides, I would have had to leave school then. That’s how the rink in Egna and the team of Lorenzo Magri appeared in my life.

How expensive is it to do figure skating in Italy?

Daniel Grassl: It’s not cheap. And at first, all of this falls on the parents’ shoulders. As they say, behind every successful figure skater are sacrifices made by his parents. But as soon as you start showing serious results, the club and federation get involved in funding.

You were remembered for your quite unusual plasticity and flexibility even as a junior. Did you have ballet training?

Daniel Grassl: No, not really. When we were in the section as children, there were ballet and aerobics classes, but we spent much more time in the gym. In Lorenzo’s group, there was also mandatory choreography, and we often watched ballet performances – both classical and modern. All figure skaters do a lot of stretching and I’m no exception, but then I also got into yoga, which helped. Yes, maybe I’m not as flexible as before now, but I can still do something.

I really like doing classical ballet, which is why I love my free program from last year about Rudolf Nureyev. It was almost ballet, and I felt this program from the inside.

Did you consider studying to become a choreographer?

Daniel Grassl: No, I entered university for a completely different direction – studying cinematography. I love movies, and the best relaxation for me is to watch some movie. I hardly have time for it now, but in Italy, after the training, I always watched something.

By the way, a month ago, I performed in Turin in an ice show that was entirely dedicated to the cinema. Carolina Kostner, Gabriella Papadakis, and Guillaume Cizeron – we skated in costumes from various movies. I had two programs: to the music from “Gladiator” and one old Italian movie about cowboys. The costumes were quite massive, it was not easy to jump in them, but it turned out great! They even added a beard to my costume, so I didn’t look like myself.

I have three more years of studying, and then we’ll see. I would love to work on a movie set – I don’t really understand in what capacity yet, but of course, I dream of getting an “Oscar”.

As an actor?

Daniel Grassl: Rather as a producer: I’m interested in how the movie industry works, all this behind-the-scenes stuff. And I think I have some organizational skills.

Then, maybe start with producing ice shows?

Daniel Grassl: It’s quite possible. I won’t exclude anything.

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Your programs for this season were choreographed by Benoit Richaud and Jason Brown. Why did you choose them?

Daniel Grassl: They are so different, I was lucky to work with such legends. I have been collaborating with Richaud for several years, we know each other well – he knows how to get everything possible and impossible from a skater.

But I was interested in trying something new, and my choice fell on Jason. He is one of my favorite skaters. When he steps on the ice, it’s impossible to take your eyes off him. It was an incredible experience – he revealed me in a new way, taught me not to be afraid of emotions on the ice. Look at how sensually he skates, how he communicates with the audience during the performance – everything he does is super cool!

Do you participate in the choreography process or just skate what was created for you?

Daniel Grassl: There is a part of Daniel Grassl in each of my programs, I always pass it through myself and come up with something myself. Both with Brown and Richaud, it was a joint work: I suggested movements, ideas. For example, this foot movement in one of the previous programs – that was my idea.

It’s important to me to have a story in a program. This year, for the first time, I thought about what I like myself, and I realized that when I skate to some story, it is easier for me to perform. In the last season, my short program was about saving the world (based on the movies ‘Interstellar’ and ‘Armageddon’) – and I understood that I was trying to convey something to the audience.

By the way, it gives me strength in skating: it is physically easier for me to skate such programs. This year was a little more difficult for me – the concepts of the programs were more complicated. That’s why next season, I would like to return to programs with a plot, ideally – to skate to the soundtrack from some movie. I already said that I am a crazy movie fan.

Do you also choose the music yourself?

Daniel Grassl: Yes, usually I brought several options to Richaud, and we decided whether this music was suitable or not.

Last season was very successful for you: silver at the European Championships, bronze at the Grand Prix stage… And suddenly you leave everything and move to America in the summer. What happened?

Daniel Grassl: Yes, everything was going well. But first of all, probably, it was so because I was focused only on one thing – the Olympics, nothing could knock me out of the way. And that’s why after the Games, I found myself in an emotional pit, I didn’t understand where to go and what I wanted. Then the failure at the post-Olympic World Championships… I was completely lost.


Daniel Grassl: Yes, probably. Plus, in fact, I was coaching me myself, so after Beijing, I thought that I needed to change something. Well, and honestly speaking, certain problems began on the ice in Egna, you can judge by the news that comes from there. That’s why I found myself at a crossroads.

Why America? I really like it there, and I always wanted to try living there, and then if I dream of conquering Hollywood in the future, this is quite a logical step. I even had thoughts of going to university there.

But it turned out that the system of preparation in figure skating in the USA is completely different. I started practicing with great enthusiasm, but training there lasts for 25 minutes, and then you are left to yourself. It didn’t suit me. Everything was different: methods, ice rink size… But the main thing is that I missed home a lot. It turned out that being in touch with my family is very important to me.

In general, it became clear: if I want to skate at a serious level, I need to return. It was scary, to be honest – such decisions are not made during the season. Already at Skate America, I almost panicked…

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But then you won the Grand Prix stage in Sheffield for the first time. It looked like everything was under control for you.

Daniel Grassl: I did only one quad there. Just one. Yes, I became first, but it wasn’t the level I expected from myself. Anyway, I returned to the US, packed up and went home. I didn’t have any motivation problems – my friends and family were nearby, I felt their huge support. It was harder at the rink: everyone was quite busy, and I mostly worked with Alisa Mikonsaari. None of the coaches went with me to Sheffield. And I really needed moral support.

In general, everything fell apart before the Grand Prix Final. The coaches led me to two quads in the short program, but I wasn’t ready for it, I wasn’t ready for their pressure either.

“Daniel, you are already in the top six figure skaters in the world, let’s take a risk and try two quads!” – what could I say to that? I only managed to do this content once in training. Anyway, I fell on the very first quad in the short program, and of course, didn’t go for the second one. And before the free program, I got sick and took the last place.

Preparing for the Italian Nationals also went awry, I couldn’t recover. But what became the main thing was that I felt uncomfortable in Egna. The work processes fell apart, chaos reigned on the ice, and I didn’t feel support either. I no longer enjoyed training or competitions. There was also such a moment – there were no skaters stronger than me in my group, I had no one to compete with, and it’s vital for me, I love competition.

And then I realized that I needed to find a place where they would help me come to my dream – an Olympic medal in Milan.

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You even have a tattoo with Olympic symbols.

Daniel Grassl: Yes, my sister and I made matching tattoos in the summer. I have simple Olympic rings, and she has “my brother” written – cool, right?

Let’s go back to the end of December. What options were you considering?

Daniel Grassl: The States – definitely not. I realized that their system doesn’t suit me. I thought about Canada, but training there costs crazy money, our federation couldn’t afford it, and my family wouldn’t have been able to either. I have many friends among figure skaters, and I always ask them how much it costs to train in different parts of the planet. So I know the prices.

There is currently no place in Europe where I could skate and be happy…

And how did the idea with “Khrystalny” arise?

Daniel Grassl: I always wanted to go and train with Eteri Tutberidze. Yes, previously we only talked about short internships or camps. But then the pandemic happened, and then all this political situation – in general, things didn’t work out for us.

And after the Italian Nationals, the president of my club, Nicoletta Ingusci, a very important person to me, approached me. She is also my agent and my favorite yoga teacher – we are like family. In short, she asked if I wanted to go to Moscow.

I already knew Eteri, she had visited her daughter in Boston while I was training there. Plus, we both worked with Benoit Richaud, and Eteri could ask him about my abilities. In short, Tutberidze and Ingusci exchanged phone numbers, and in December, Nicoletta called her to ask if she was willing to take me in.

Honestly, I would not have decided on this myself and would not have even considered such an option. It seemed completely unrealistic given all the political circumstances. But Nicoletta, and later my federation (and even sponsors!) convinced me that this was the right move and that I had nothing to fear.

So I ended up in Moscow right after New Year’s.

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A serious step. Did you understand how this news would be received on social media?

Daniel Grassl: Probably, it was the most difficult decision of my life. But everyone kept telling me that this was a chance. I was in a hopeless situation: after the Italian Nationals, I didn’t skate for a week, I cried a lot and couldn’t force myself to get out of bed. I guess you could call it depression, I was very unhappy. If it weren’t for Eteri, I would have quit figure skating.

I didn’t really understand what kind of reaction this would cause in the public arena. I thought things would go a little differently. But then my photo appeared in “Khrystalny” on the internet and that was it, an avalanche started.

Did you log into social media that day?

Daniel Grassl: I immediately closed my private messages and commenting ability because people started writing such terrible things to me. And I had just started to come back to myself after an internal crisis. Overall, those were terrible days.

But did you really hope that your appearance in “Khrystalny” would go unnoticed?

Daniel Grassl: I was going to announce it myself a little later. But, unfortunately, I did not understand how popular figure skating is in Russia, and I became the perfect reason for the news. I can’t say that people only wrote bad things to me. I tried not to read anything, but my friends monitored social media and told me that there were also many good comments.

I was also amazed by the Russian fans. They gave me an album with words of support and good luck wishes – it was so sweet! All of this, of course, helped me to keep going.

Why do you think many people did not understand your decision to move to Russia?

Daniel Grassl: Probably, the main reason was the overall political situation and Kamila’s case in Beijing. I also realized that you can’t judge people by what they say about them – in reality, everything can be completely different.

As for anti-doping questions, I am constantly in touch with the Italian federation. We have strict action algorithms in one situation or another, so they handle these questions.

I know why I came to “Khrystalny” and try to follow my own path.

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When you watched the Olympics in 2018, could you have imagined that you would be training on the same ice rink as Medvedeva and Zagitova?

Daniel Grassl: I would never have believed it, it was like a fantasy. I couldn’t even imagine that Eteri would agree to take me into the group and even know who I am.

Interestingly, several of my acquaintances in figure skating have already told me that they would also go to train at “Khrystalny” if it were possible. And I’m not talking about the financial side (for me, for example, our federation pays jointly with my personal sponsor), but about the fact that Tutberidze will not agree to train everyone.

Because if she takes someone into the group, she will invest all of herself in that athlete, completely.

What were you expecting from the training in Moscow? What changes did you come for?

Daniel Grassl: First and foremost, I needed to work on my jumps and their consistency. I also understand that I need to add more to my presentation and skating skills – I have room for improvement in this area. As for jumps, I came to fix under-rotations and learn how to get bigger GOE. I saw how much extra points the girls from ‘Khystalny’ were getting for their jumps – they were getting +5s!

Okay, so you moved to Moscow – was it difficult to settle in a new place?

Daniel Grassl: Oh yeah, bank cards don’t work, you have to use a VPN to access social media, and even Netflix doesn’t work. So I had to learn to use exchange offices – with the help of Nika Egdaze. We rent an apartment together – me, Morisi Kvitelashvili, and Nika and they help me a lot with household issues. I haven’t gotten a card yet, I’m using cash. The apartment is not far from the rink, about a 10-minute walk, but Morisi often gives me a ride, he has a car.

I already knew how to use a VPN – to watch different sports broadcasts. Although I admit, I always forget to turn it on and off.

Have you taken the subway yet?

Daniel Grassl: Not yet, although everyone recommends it, haha.

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Did you find good pizza in Moscow?

Daniel Grassl: To be honest, not yet. I tried it a couple of times in restaurants; it was pretty tasty, but it’s not Italian pizza. But once the coaches invited me to a fancy restaurant on the top floor of Moscow City. It was really delicious there, but the main thing was that I realized how popular figure skating is in Russia, because everyone was taking pictures of us – because of Eteri, of course. It’s different in Italy, nobody would have paid attention to me.

Anyway, while I’m in Moscow, my route is “home-rink,” I haven’t been able to see much yet. Maybe when it gets warmer.

Right now, I’m fully focused on training. I’m living on European time in Russia – it’s easier and I don’t have to readjust later. I go to bed no earlier than 1 am. But at ‘Khrystalny,’ the training starts later than in Italy: sometimes we trained at 7 am there, but we finished by 3 pm. And in Moscow, I’m at the rink from around 10 am to 6 pm.

What is the difference between training in Moscow and in Italy?

Daniel Grassl: They are more intense, and primarily mental. Every day at the rink, it’s like mini-competitions for us. We go for a 6-minute warm-up and then take turns skating our programs. For me, it’s unusual and not very easy because I don’t always cope with the mental pressure at competitions. So, you can’t relax during training, but I think that’s the benefit: I improve my weaknesses and learn not to get nervous.

I’m already used to this system, probably, and don’t shake during training. Although the adaptation process is not yet complete. In Italy, my ice training lasted 40-50 minutes, even though three times a day. In Moscow, it’s an hour and a half – twice a day, and it turns out to be completely different feelings and muscle work. I’m used to giving my all during 40 minutes, and here I have to add the same amount again, which is still difficult for me.

On the other hand, there’s less off-ice training. Mostly, it’s dancing.

So you’ve already tried training with Alexei Zheleznyakov?

Daniel Grassl: Yes, jazz and modern dance. It’s a bit different from what I used to do, and honestly, it’s not quite my dance style. Everyone around me does it perfectly, but I’m not used to these movements yet.

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Do you go to the gym? And what about your favorite yoga?

Daniel Grassl: I work very little in the gym yet, but I plan to catch up at the end of the season. Yoga is also not working out yet – there’s not enough time, I’m on the ice all day. Nicolletta and I are always in touch, but as friends, we haven’t tried online lessons yet.

But I started working with a psychologist from Italy – just online. I don’t know how I would have coped without her help with all this. I need to learn not to pay attention to what people say about me, to believe in myself more, and trust my decisions. I want to be happy regardless of what I hear from others. This is my life, and it’s up to me to decide.

The European Championships became the most challenging competitions of my life. When I was going to Finland, I was too dependent on other people’s opinions. Before the competitions, I opened a broadcast on YouTube for some reason and was horrified to read how people wished me to fall, miss jumps, and generally fail.

And then I returned to Moscow, and Kamila Valieva talked to me. She supported me a lot, saying that she was worried about me because she had seen what people were writing about me on the internet. And I have to learn to abstract from such comments – she definitely knows what she’s talking about.

I’ve grown a lot in the last six months: both as a skater and as a person. I’ve learned a lot and gained experience, I’m looking forward for new season, I’m ready for it.

Are you open to new ideas when it comes to your programs?

Daniel Grassl: We haven’t discussed that yet, I haven’t figured out how preseason works here when they choreograph programs and everything. I have a specific music in mind from a movie, as I said before, but we’ll discuss everything with the coaches.

Will you also be making costumes in Moscow?

Daniel Grassl: I don’t know. I think Eteri will decide that. If I understood correctly, she usually takes care of that.

Is it easier for an athlete when they are surrounded by such care and help with decision-making?

Daniel Grassl: Yes, definitely. They took care of me before – I am immensely grateful to Lorenzo Magri. Without him, I would not have made it to the Olympics and would not have become who I am today. But Eteri takes on decision-making for many questions: she knows exactly what and how things should work. And it really makes it easier for an athlete to work that way.

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What do you think about working with Daniil Gleikhengauz in terms of choreography?

Daniel Grassl: We managed to change the step sequence in the free program, and I enjoyed working with him. But I still don’t know who will be doing my programs for the next season – again, I’ll leave that up to Eteri to decide.

Shoma Uno once tried to train at the “Khrystalny” rink, but left pretty quickly. Now do you understand why?

Daniel Grassl: Yes, probably. But I really like training until exhaustion and when the coach squeezes out of you what you didn’t see in yourself before. And Eteri can push the boundaries of physical abilities and bring athletes to the maximum result. Yes, it’s not easy to work under pressure all the time, but I’m slowly getting used to it.

You said it’s harder for you to compete when Tutberidze is at the boards. Why is that?

Daniel Grassl: Well, she has so many top-level skaters that I really don’t want to disappoint her. I also feel responsible: even though I’ve only been working under her guidance for a couple of months, everyone expects magical results from us. Cameras film me, every step I take on the ice is looked so closely and I want to meet these expectations.

You said it’s easier for you to train in a highly competitive environment. There are no such problems at “Khrystalny”.

Daniel Grassl: Oh yes! If someone jumps several quads next to me, it really excites me. It only benefits my motivation.

Another thing: I always liked watching women’s skating more than men’s. When I watch men’s competitions, I get tense: I immediately get involved in the fight, even at the screen. And I watch girls more calmly. Moreover, Russian girls jump at an absolutely male level of difficulty and this also motivates me. That’s why I always said that I dream of training on the same ice with Anna Shcherbakova.

Who do you train with at “Khrystalny”?

Daniel Grassl: I am in the same group with Sonya Akatieva, Kamila Valieva, Morisi Kvitelashvili, Nika Egadze, Arseni Fedotov and Adelia Petrosyan. I share a dressing room with Nika, so I’m almost settled in.

We mainly communicate in English during training, although coaches sometimes ask how a particular word will be in Italian. And I already understand some of the working phrases in Russian – for example, the word “shit,” haha. Seriously, I trained with Angelina Turenko for a long time, so I heard the basic terms in Russian before.

Will you participate in the show tour of Tutberidze and her group?

Daniel Grassl: No, we decided that it’s better for me to focus on training. Right now, I’m going back to Moscow for a short while, then I’ll go to Italy and fly back to Japan for the World Team Trophy. And then I’ll go to America for a month. In Boston, I lived with a wonderful family and became friends with them, so I’m going to visit them. So I’ll spend my vacation there and do some traveling, with plans for New York and Miami.

This year, I’ve moved around more than in my entire previous life. I’ve never lived separately from my parents, and this season has been a time of big changes. In America, I was alone, and in Moscow, we live in a small group, although each of us – me, Morisi, and Nika – is busy with our own things and respects each other’s boundaries. Most of the time, we’re at home separately.

Morisi Kvitelashvili admitted that the hardest part of training abroad is getting used to loneliness. How do you cope with it?

Daniel Grassl: It’s definitely difficult. I miss home a lot, and in Moscow, I’m still quite lonely, I don’t have close friends, so it’s not easy. Every evening, I call my Italian friends, but that’s not enough, of course. Plus, there’s also the language barrier – that doesn’t help either.

Are there any plans to improve your Russian language skills?

Daniel Grassl: I’m in the process! (speaks in Russian) “One bag, please,” “cash” – I almost every evening go to the supermarket.

Have you discovered any favorite Russian food?

Daniel Grassl: I really like your soups – especially borscht and cabbage soup. I always have lunch in the cafeteria at the rink, and I cook dinner at home. I’ve tried pelmeni, and I can cook pasta. But more often, I buy something ready-made in the store.

Have you cooked real Italian pasta for Morisi and Nika yet?

Daniel Grassl: No, unfortunately not. But I should – I have a couple of favorite family recipes.


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One response to ““If it weren’t for Eteri, I would have quit figure skating.” Big interview with Daniel Grassl”

  1. Ame says:

    This boy needs a good psychologist and to get the frick away from Eteri.

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