Irina Slutskaya: “The athlete who is educated and can express his thoughts can work on TV. You can work on the technique of speech, but you can’t buy brains.”
Interview with Irina Slutskaya. About ISU congress and age minimum, suspension of Russian skaters, Trusova’s silver at the Olympics, friendship in sports and popularity of figure skating.
source: postnews.ru dd. 2d August 2022 by Mikhail Celikov
Irina Slutskaya is a legendary Russian figure skater, two-time world champion, seven-time European champion and two-time Olympic medalist. After completing her career, she became a popular TV host and commentator, and then opened her own sports school. We discussed with her the latest events in the world of figure skating. Irina told us:
• How does she feel about changes in the age minimum.
• Is it possible to compare Trusova’s second place at the Beijing Olympics with her silver from Salt Lake City.
• About competition and friendship between figure skaters.
• What to do during the suspension of Russians skaters from international competitions.
• Why figure skating is so popular.
• Will Shcherbakova, Valieva and Trusova be able to become good TV hosts.
In June, the ISU congress was held, where several rules were changed. Raising the age minimum is still being discussed. Do you find more pros or cons in this decision?
Irina Slutskaya: I will take a neutral position. For some, this will be pros, and for someone – cons. If an athlete at the age of 15 has reached the level when he can compete with the leaders, then why not? And if at the age of 15 a child remains a child, then he will not be a competitor to anyone. I think that many coaches will now have the opportunity to review their preparation process in order to bring athletes to the peak a little later. There is nothing terrible or critical here. We just have to adapt to the circumstances and show up later.
Did you have thoughts that if the such age minimum had been introduced earlier, Sarah Hughes would not have performed at the Salt Lake City Olympics, and you would definitely have become a champion?
Irina Slutskaya: You know, if there had been team competitions, I would have been a hundred-time Olympic champion. And if this, if that… Each time has its advantages. Previously, there was crazy competition, first at the Russian Nationals, then against America. All business was on that continent, there was little we could do. Then there were the Japanese. Now is a completely different time. It’s wrong to compare. We do not compare the first models of mobile phones with the current ones, right? We had one thing, now it’s another. I started competing quite early. On the one hand, I am against raising the age minimum, but on the other hand, I somehow understand why this happened.
You said that during your career there was no friendship among single skaters, there was sports anger. Do you think things are the same between Shcherbakova, Trusova and Valieva?
Irina Slutskaya: We weren’t friends, but we communicated well with each other. Everyone skated at their skating rinks and there were no social networks and instant messengers. We didn’t write letters to each other. To be honest, I hardly believe that there can be friendship between rivals at all. It’s such a fragile feeling that most people can’t keep it. Someone is able to separate life from what is happening on the ice, but someone is not. It is always right when everyone goes their own way and chooses friends, maybe even outside of sports.
There were different situations, but you understand Trusova’s emotions quite well and her disappointment with the Olympic silver. How can you comfort an athlete in such a situation? What would you say to her at that moment?
Irina Slutskaya: This is life, this is sport. The situations are really different, so I would not compare. There was no way I could win on that continent, and Sasha made a big mistake. I like her very much, like the entire top ten of the Russian Nationals, but she had a fall on the first day of the competitions. In my time, if you fell in the short program, you would fly away to 10-12th place and could forget about the medals. Even if you did quintuple, you still wouldn’t win. According to those rules and that judging, any small mistake could cost you a medal, even without falls.
I think that Trusova also understands this, and therefore she was upset. The girl is risky, she wanted to prove to herself and the whole world that she can. And Sasha is really a very strong athlete. But if she had not taken the risk on the first day and skated the program clean without mistakes, she would have taken her third or second place after the short program and then, of course, she would have won with the content that she had. But this ominous fall in the short program let her down.
Anya skated clean in both programs – without any mistakes. She had enough points to win. I believe that Shcherbakova is a bright and worthy winner of the Olympic Games. No need to belittle someone’s merits. Each was good in her image, her skating. I repeat once again – if it were not for a mistake in the short program, then we would certainly have seen Alexandra on the top step of the podium.
What do you think about other changes that were introduced at the congress – reducing the number of components and testing a new judging system?
Irina Slutskaya: It won’t make judging better. Perhaps this will make something more transparent. Everything must be constantly improved and adjusted to the level of athletes that we have today. As long as there is a human factor in our sport, and it will always be, we cannot count on 100% fair judging.
Russian figure skaters are now unable to compete at international competitions. What would you do in a situation where you are banned from competing and your career is at its peak?
Irina Slutskaya: Probably, I would continue to train, perform and believe that sooner or later this absurdity will end, and I will compete again. But here you need to be patient, because we do not understand how long this will last. And I would not even talk about those who are now at their peak. It’s a disaster, really. It is very painful and unpleasant when nothing depends on you. Here I would think more about our youth, how can we not lose it. How can the guys who are 9-11 years old train and wait for the moment when they can enter the international ice? There are more complications here. For a professional athlete, this is super difficult. No one would want to be in such a situation at the peak of their career.
Did the mood of girls who train in your skating school change because of this situation?
Irina Slutskaya: Perhaps parents panick more. Children do not fully understand all this. Some parents no longer understand what all the classes are for. The task of the state and sports functionaries is to make sure that our children do not fall out of the training process, that there are enough competitions and that the guys do not lose practice, the feeling of competitions and the ability to perform. I think they will do everything for this.
Sponsors will also come and financially support our guys, who, due to the lack of international competitions, are deprived of one of their earnings. Our guys are almost always in prizes at the Grand Prix, European and World Championships. They had enough competitions where they could earn. I hope that sports officials will also work on this issue.
I’m talking about all athletes, not just figure skating. It’s a little easier in our sport, because we have performances and ice shows. Others need to be supported. And not only mega-professionals, but also our youth, who also want to represent our country.
When Trusova is involved in athletics or curling, it becomes an event in these sports. Why are figure skaters so popular in our country? There are big victories in other sports, but they don’t resonate like that.
Irina Slutskaya: We have been creating the way for many years to make this sport popular. When we started, only mothers, fathers and grandmothers were at the stands at the Russian Nationals. After the generation of Lena Vodorezova and Kira Ivanova, there was a quite in women’s figure skating. Since the late 90s, our generation began to prove that figure skating is really a beautiful, aesthetic and romantic sport that combines technical complexity, artistry, and beautiful soaring over the ice.
I am very glad that today people recognized the beauty and leadership of our sport. That’s why there’s so much attention. The girls are all young, for young people they become a role model – successful, rich, smart. This is everything that every mother wants to see in her child. They are still very versatile – bouncy, physically strong, with a good stretch. Together with victories, this all makes our sport interesting. Do not forget that when sponsors came, everyone became interested in who earns how much and how. “They started filming this one in advertising, and that one somewhere else.” Here, both fans and the media inflated such a beautiful picture. That’s all.
Is figure skating the number 1 sport in Russia?
Irina Slutskaya: Probably, it’s wrong to ask me, an experienced figure skater, an honored master of sports and a multiple record holder of everything that is possible and impossible, such a question (laughs). If I say football, cats will scrape in my soul. For me, my sport is the most beloved, beautiful and bright. I want to see more winners, champions, athletes, dancers, pair skaters. For me, every season, when new names and faces appear, becomes more inspirational. I look forward to what’s new. I always watch performances, costumes, elements.
You are an example of how after sports you can build a career on television and in the media. Which of the current figure skaters can be easy on the eye?
Irina Slutskaya: The athlete who is educated and can express his thoughts. You can work on the technique of speech, but you can’t buy brains. There must be inner charisma. The person must understand what he is talking about. If one of the girls wants, the same Anya, Kamila and Sasha, then everything depends on the education process. I didn’t fall out of the sky either. I graduated from the school of television, the Institute of Physical Education. Now I have several higher educations, I want to go to study.
I am very pleased to listen to Anna Shcherbakova. She is an educated, well-mannered and restrained girl. Kamila Valieva is nice, but for me she is still young. My son is a little younger than her. She turns from a girl to a woman, speaks beautifully, aesthetic, very affectionate, rather modest. I like them both very much. Sasha, probably, is strong in another industry. And Anya and Kamila could build a good career on TV.
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