Irina Slutskaya: “Fair or not, such is the technique now. While the judges pretend that everyone doesn’t see prerotations and this is not a mistake, why not?”
Interview with Irina Slutskaya. About the performance of the Russian team at the Beijing Olympics, the judging scandal at the 2002 Games in the USA and the age minimum.
source: sport24.ru dd. 4th March 2022 by Konstantin Lesik.
What do you think about the Beijing Olympics?
Irina Slutskaya: Excellent performances of Russian skaters, which, of course, were a little overshadowed. It seems to me that some of our athletes deserve higher awards. For example, Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov did not skate on 64 hundredths worse than the Chinese pair. But the hosts needed to win at home. Although our pair is worthy of gold.
Our guys could have also placed higher, although Zhenya Semenenko skated beautifully. Mark Kondratiuk gave everything he had in the team event.
In Ice dance, I would like to see Sasha Stepanova and Vanya Bukin at a higher place. They are mega-professional athletes who, by coincidence, missed the last Olympics. Until now, no one understood why they were so mocked when they were not involved in doping at all. I love these guys very much.
Vika Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov looked very good. And our girls generally go in a separate category.
Do you think that Tarasova / Morozov deserved gold?
Irina Slutskaya: I have been following this pair for a very long time. I saw all their ups and downs. I can say that they deserve this victory. And Anastasia Mishina / Aleksandr Galliamov were also beautiful. These two pairs cause great emotions when you watch their skating.
I understand how difficult it was for Zhenya and Vova. Nobody believed in them anymore. But they skated both programs perfectly. Both of our pairs were very, very close to victory. If the Games were not in Beijing, then the Olympic gold would go to us.
It turns out that the transition of Zhenya and Vova to Eteri Tutberidze was a right decision?
Irina Slutskaya: I want to say that they have come to Khrustalny already in the status of Olympic medalists, winners of major competitions. Eteri Georgievna brought them to one more medal. A high rank medal. But let’s not forget that the guys already had titles and medals. And they did not have to be taught from the beginning, as Eteri Georgievna teaches girls. Here it was necessary to work on psychology. The guys perfectly perform the elements in training, they simply could not show everything at the right time.
But they have worked on this, and this work is visible. The guys got better.
What can you say about ice dance?
Irina Slutskaya: I’m not good at ice dance. (Laughs) I judge from an aesthetic point of view. I understand, and everyone says that the French were stronger. But it is more pleasant to look at ours, I will draw such a conclusion. (Laughs.)
Diana Davis and Gleb Smolkin are a young pair who broke into the Russian national team. Unfortunately, they still lack the skill and professionalism to fight for the podium. But in any case, they showed themselves. This is the first step towards future results.
Vika and Nikita are already famous athletes. Moreover, Nikita won gold and bronze at the Olympics back in 2014. They were ready to compete for medals in China and ended up in second place.
As for Vanya and Sasha, these guys should have a breakthrough in the next 4 years. Kolya Morozov began to help them. He choreographs great programs. The guys are good in terms of technique, but Kolya opened their new sides. The tandem of Irina Zhuk and Alexander Svinin proves that amazing works comes from collaboration. We saw a bright victory at the Russian Nationals, silver in Europe. Yes, an unfortunate mistake happened in Beijing, when Sasha’s blade slipped out in the spread eagle. But I do not think that this mistake cost them a medal. In the next 4 years, they will be those athletes who will begin to fight for the highest places on the podium.
There is an opinion that Stepanova and Bukin are held back a little in their scores.
Irina Slutskaya: I’m not a judge. Many technical nuances are hidden both from me and from many viewers. But purely visually, they are insanely beautiful. I don’t even know which of our pairs look more passionate on the ice. Both Sasha and Vanya and Vika and Nikita are beautiful. But ice dance is a sport where sometimes you have to stand in a queue and wait.
Unfortunately, Sasha and Vanya got into this queue, which should somehow move forward in the next Olympic cycle.
Irina Slutskaya: You hope, but I believe.
There were those who hoped for an Olympic medal in men’s skating. But the Games have shown that it is still hard for us to fight for the podium.
Irina Slutskaya: Yes, it’s hard. In order to fight for the podium, you need to learn the most difficult quadruple jumps. There is potential. Both Zhenya and Mark. I don’t take now our third single skater (the Russian team at the Olympics was also represented by Andrey Mozalev – ed.).
Zhenya and Mark have a potential, technique, opportunities. If at the European Championships we have enough of this potential, then at the World Championships – no. We all know that the US team will soon have Ilia Malinin with the most difficult jumps at the main events.
I always tell my athletes: “You should not look up to those around you. You should look up to world leaders.” They set the bar, and you have to climb even higher. Or at least catch up to become competitive.
Today, it is impossible for Russian figure skaters to fight with the leaders. You need to learn quadruple lutz, flip, jump them in combinations. I don’t understand at all how to compete with Malinin. He has 4-4 combinations in his arsenal. Absolutely unique rising athlete. Nathan Chen won the Olympics just in time. (Laughs.)
Of course, we do not know what will happen in the upcoming years. It is extremely difficult to keep such a shape.
Why does Russia have a certain crisis in men’s skating?
Irina Slutskaya: Well now quadruple is rather correct technique then strength. Apparently, we still have that technique when you go back and tried to rotate yourself with all your strength. It is almost impossible to change the technique of an established adult athlete. Either take it with strength, or correct something.
Why did the breakthrough happen in these countries? It is difficult to say, there is some kind of cyclicality everywhere.
Well, one more thing. We watched the Olympics, saw the victories of our skaters. Little girls tell their parents: “I want to become a champion, like …” But there are no boys yet. In principle, fewer boys come to figure skating. Many say that this is a sport for girls. Someone can not stand it physically and switch to ice dance, someone – to pairs. There are not a lot of boys. Moms, listen to me! Let the boys join us in sports. (Smiling.) Maybe the talents we want to see just haven’t come yet. Probably, our diamond has not yet been born.
I also see it in my school that there are few boys. There are practically none. They go to football, hockey. There is no such flow in figure skating.
Do you see differences in technique between our skaters and world leaders?
Irina Slutskaya: I see differences in technique between now and 10-15 years ago. Look, our girls perform quads from a very young age. Is this bad? On the contrary, it’s great. This gives our sport the opportunity to develop and move forward.
Do you think Hanyu will be able to do a quadruple axel? So far it can be seen that the jump is underrotated.
Irina Slutskaya: I think it’s possible. It’s a question of time. Should he have tried the Axel at the Olympics? He basically had nothing to lose. He already has two Olympic gold medals, he wanted to go down in history in a different way. Was this risk worth it or not? Probably not. If he had skated his program without mistakes, he would have been on the podium.
Many experts believe that Yuzuru is very far from a clean quad axel. How can he still do this jump?
Irina Slutskaya: I think if they “steal” some more rotation during take off, the jump can be done. Hanyu is unique, he is quite tall, light and physically strong. I would like him to succeed.
Are quintuple jumps possible?
Irina Slutskaya: I don’t know, I won’t answer. If the boys learn to jump with pre-rotation, when half or even three-quarters of the turn is done on the ice, then in principle the strength costs will be the same as for the quadruple jump.
Prerotation – is it fair at all?
Irina Slutskaya: Fair or not, such is the technique now. If you don’t do that, then you won’t fully rotate the jump. But this requires enormous strength. If you know how to twist yourself at the beginning of the jump – you will succeed. While the judges pretend that everyone does not see it and this is not a mistake, why not.
Let’s discuss women’s skating. Anya Shcherbakova took gold!
Irina Slutskaya: I really want to congratulate Anya on a fair, well-deserved and worthy victory. No matter what they say, she is a well-deserved Olympic champion, no one just gave her this title. She is the only one of our girls who skated both programs clean. And she performed two quads in the free program. It is great.
I was worried about her, I really like her. Shcherbakova is the standard of women’s skating. There is technique, and artistry, and external and internal beauty.
Inner beauty, you know? Her skating comes from the heart, from the soul. Anya is an insanely fragile and very beautiful girl, she combines the qualities that many athletes dream of. The most important her quality – is a “plus start”. The ability to pull yourself together when it seems that everything is already lost.
Congratulations to Sasha Trusova on her silver medal. Also a very worthy award for the Olympic Games. She, of course, writes history by performing n-th number of quadruple jumps. And she went down in history, became our locomotive for promoting quads in sports. But, unfortunately, she could not avoid mistakes – both in the short program and in the free program. And it was these mistakes that cost her the gold medal, unfortunately.
These girls have a big future ahead of them. Potential, motivation to fight. Anya has to win the European Championships now.
The fan turns on the TV and sees how one figure skater does two quadruples, the other five. The one who made two wins. How to explain such a paradox?
Irina Slutskaya: Everything is very simple. Figure skating is not only about jumps. In addition, for each element you can get from “minus five” to “plus five” points. Honestly, I didn’t see the protocols, but I suppose that Anya got a very good pluses for all the elements. This is the first.
Second. Shcherbakova had no mistakes at all. No mistakes, not even small ones. Sasha had mistakes. Well, it’s true, she really had mistakes. I really like her, I cheer for her, but she made mistakes.
And Trusova won the free program anyway. But let’s not forget that Sasha fell in the short program. And she still got high scores. The judges were very supportive. All figure skating professionals know this.
After the short program, Anya had a gap from Sasha. And even a victory in free program wasn’t enough for Trusova to beat Shcherbakova. That’s it.
Maybe it’s worth giving a medal for a free program? Skiers, for example, have six races. Alexander Bolshunov became a three-time Olympic champion.
Irina Slutskaya: I’m for any kind of activity. Somewhere the sport is technical, somewhere psychological. And we have complex coordination. We must be stable both physically and psychologically, and also should have good coordination. Why not? Give the title for the short, for the free, for the team event. Also make a jumping competition. It’s interesting. We would also take four medals at the Olympics. Not bad, right? The more you give to the skaters, the better it will be. Two days – one medal. It’s sad. The team event has appeared – it’s already good.
What happened with Kamila Valieva?
Irina Slutskaya: She didn’t withstand it psychologically. Even a grown man can’t take it. What has reached us is terrible. I don’t want to discuss it, whether they found it, or they didn’t find [doping], whether it’s truth or not. I will say for the athlete – it hurts me a lot for what happened there. Kamila, at the age of 15, performs much better than mature girls.
I really want her to turn this page, say “it happened” and move on. This is one of the brightest figure skaters in recent years. The team that now represents women’s single skating is incomparable to anyone else. And not only because of the ability to perform quads, but in general, just as personalities.
What do you think about mass support, banners “Kamila, we are with you”, songs … Some of the fans are sure that it was superfluous and the skater simply did not need it.
Irina Slutskaya: I think when Kamila was in Beijing, she didn’t know about it until the end. Rather, it was done for us, for the fans, to unite us. But it’s always nice. I’ll be honest. When some incidents happen, it is always nice to realize that the whole country is behind you, people are behind you. It adds people’s love. And that’s important, honestly. It’s scary when everyone doesn’t care about you and you’re left alone on the battlefield.
But there is another point – no one will return her this Olympics. And the moment when she made mistakes can’t be replaced. At that moment, you don’t need anything. Her very good chances for a gold medal were slipping through her fingers. Did they support her? It’s very good that she was supported. But the opportunity to win the medal can not be returned.
What do you think about the emotions of Alexandra Trusova, who was upset with her second place?
Irina Slutskaya: I condemn those people who filmed it. I condemn those who shoves cameras at such moments in the face and puts it all on public display. Do you understand that there is nowhere to hide? There is not even a corner where you can go and swear.
I don’t want to discuss it, because a person who has never been in that situation will not understand what happened. I was in this situation and I understand those emotions very well. In those emotions of Sasha, I just saw myself at the 2002 Olympics.
You posted on Instagram a video from Salt Lake City, where in a fit of emotion you say the word “assholes”.
Irina Slutskaya: Sasha and I still had slightly different situations. Although the level of stress were somewhat similar.
What was on your mind at that moment?
Irina Slutskaya: What you can have when you did everything you could, but did not reach your cherished goal? In my situation, nothing depended on me. Maybe Sasha somehow missed it, but she made mistakes. She fell, sorry. She lacked a clean jump in the short program. If she hadn’t jumped a triple Axel in the short program, she would have won.
But I couldn’t do anything. If someone says that I didn’t jump something then. Just look at the scores. I won the first mark. Technique was not the reason. I was brazenly removed with a second mark. Although two weeks later at the World Championships for the same program I got 6.0 for artistry. That’s all.
I have been going to this for more than one year, not two or five. But no one fought for me, no one needed me. We just talked about support. Is it great? This is great. After all, no one fought for me.
We raised a protest then. They looked at it and said: “Ah, you filled it out incorrectly.” And threw it back. We took: “Wrong … Well, what can we do?” This is how our fight ended. Because by the time the women’s single skating took place, no one needed anything. Both in Salt Lake and Turin.
Are you talking about support from the federation?
Irina Slutskaya: Yes, from the federation, from the country.
Now the athletes are treated differently?
Irina Slutskaya: Certainly. Well and that’s not only right. That’s the way it should be. We must fight for everyone. To do everything in our power. Butyrskaya (Maria, figure skater, world champion – Sport24) and I laid this story. And it’s good that even for some stories with us, Russian figure skaters are now supported. And they do everything for them, not selling and trading medals for other countries.
Why did this happen in 2002?
Irina Slutskaya: It’s simple. The US fought for their only gold medal. Before that, only their boys had a bronze. And the whole business of figure skating was tied to girls. Everyone worked there, including us. They earned a lot of money on us.
Girls always skated last. Everything has already been laid out, everything has been sold. And when the girls started to compete, we didn’t care if Russia had a medal or not. We already has everything. And America clung to every opportunity to make a sensation. And with the old judging system, jumping from fourth place to first was almost impossible. It was necessary to calculate everything in such a way … But there was nowhere to put me. I skated without mistakes. Although the Italian generally managed to put me in 4th place.
Michelle Kwan made a mistake. Although, if Michelle won, I would be very happy – she deserves to win at the Olympics. She was swept at the Games in 1998, they put Tara Lipinski above. And in 2002, she falls, taking first place after a short program.
Third place after the short – Sasha Cohen. Falls. There still remains a backup plan – Sarah Hughes. But for Hughes to win, I needed to sit the whole program on my ass. Sorry for my slang. And I didn’t, I went to compete, alone. But our federation didn’t need me. Everything was good in our country.
Who will America send on tour after the Olympics? There are no heroes. The whole huge financial machine worked for Michelle Kwan. And it worked correctly. But she made a mistake, she fell.
Do you know how long they weren’t putting the scores then? They were counting how and where to remove me, what kind of judge will do it, so that I would not place first.
If there was a modern judging system, would it be possible to do this?
Irina Slutskaya: If we skated according to modern rules and we had a team event, I would be a three-time Olympic champion. It is impossible to compare the old Nokia and the modern iPhone.
And the same thing happened in Turin in 2006. Russia takes three Olympic gold medals. I could even not to go on the ice. Never four gold medals will be given to one country. Never. Do you understand?
I made a mistake there myself, but if I got at least my scores for the short program, I would have a lead of 10 points. But I was immediately removed to second place.
They do not give one country four Olympic gold medals. After the Russian skaters won three victories, I could pack my bags and leave for home. Everyone understood this very well. They only traded, whom to sell. And who to sell. Although it was clear who to sell. Of course, Slutskaya. “She doesn’t need medal.” This is pure business.
And I said that at the Olympics they will do everything not to give us three medals in women’s skating. At the World Championships, they still can close their eyes to it and give us entire podium. But at the Olympics… They did everything. We were not given a third medal.
And I urge everyone not to look at all this as some kind of catastrophe. These are the facts with which we live. Sports have been unfair for a long time. Everyone sees it, everyone knows it.
You wrote on Instagram that you didn’t understand why we didn’t make a substitution in the team event. What needed to be done?
Irina Slutskaya: Now, of course, I can argue differently. But at that moment it seemed to me that it was necessary to make a replacement in women’s skating – to put Anya or Sasha for the short or free program. And I would also make a replacement in the ice dance so that Sasha and Vanya perform. For boys, a replacement would be a risk, because Zhenya Semenenko skated unstably this season before the Olympics. We put everything on Mark – and it was right.
There is an opinion that the medal of the team event devalues individual gold.
Irina Slutskaya: I heard a lot of statements from Olympic champions on this topic. It’s very difficult for me to judge. At such moments, I do not think about the value of the medal, but about the athletes who have a chance to win the Olympics. And it’s amazing.
I wouldn’t talk about devaluation. Maybe call them [these medals] in a different way … But I am for every opportunity to win.
You said that you could have been a three-time Olympic champion. Isn’t it a shame?
Irina Slutskaya: No. I am very happy with my two medals. Glad that I have gone through three Olympics. Emotions from each of them stayed with me for the rest of my life. The main thing is to learn to appreciate what you have.
And it is important to understand that sport ends sooner or later. And then another life begins. More severe, more complex. At times, even scary. At some point, you realize that you are naked before entering a new life. That you need to start over. It is important for me not to be in stagnation, to constantly learn.
Any medal has a downside: someday this popularity will end – for someone at the age of 20, for someone at 30, for someone at 50. You are left alone with your skills. And, if by the age of 30 you are in a state of euphoria and thoughts that everyone needs you and you are so cool, sooner or later you will be left with nothing.
Another important topic for figure skating is the age minimum. I read that you are against raising it.
Irina Slutskaya: Everyone is very worried that young girls are winning. But life has shown that the Olympic champion is 17 years old. Just as they wanted to set it. And what will change when you are 16 today and 17 tomorrow? Will you become a different person?
Where is this criterion? Someone even at 17-18 sits under their mother’s skirt and is afraid to stick their nose out. And someone at 14 is independent and ready to take the hit. If an athlete at the age of 15 is ready to fight, then why should we shut him down? I specially say the word athlete, not a child.
I understand that the situation with Kamila has now occurred, and many in the world have become excited because of her integrity. And, if they found it in her probe, then she must answer like an adult. This situation has stirred up the public.
They also say that Tutberidze grabs athletes in this “teenage” age. Who’s stopping you from doing the same? I think we already have more coaches than athletes. Who prevents to find this talent, educate, teach, dress up and send on the Olympic ice? Nobody. Why then mock another person who can do it? Be happy for him.
They also talk about “broken destinies”. Can you name me at least one broken fate?
Usually in this context they talk about Yulia Lipnitskaya.
Irina Slutskaya: Okay, let’s break this example down. Who prevented an athlete from enduring a year, and then pulling himself together? And then perform, compete, work from morning to night, listen to the coach, accept criticism in order to achieve big goals? This is the work of an athlete.
The coach cannot close your mouth when you eat. You must do it yourself. But here the test begins whether you ready to change for the sake of victories? Are you ready to work three times more? “Killed” or “broke” has nothing to do here. The coach is coaching. If the problem is with psychology, find yourself a doctor. Now this is common practice. If 20-30 years ago it was a shame, now it’s normal.
Winning is hard. And repeating your victory is 10 times more difficult.
But now it turns out that Russian skaters at a high level perform mainly for two or three years, and then others change them.
Irina Slutskaya: And who forbids leaders to fight further after victories? What forbids them? And I can say what. The question arises: is it necessary to continue fighting on the ice for the sake of “couple of bucks”, when you can earn 30 times more on shows and advertising, having major titles. That’s why we are leaving, and not because somewhere someone breaks someone.
That’s life. And I believe that an athlete should earn. The longer, the more, the better. An athlete deserves good pay. That’s how it should be.
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