“It’s nervous, but it’s a very pleasant nervousness. It’s great when there is competition.” Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin about Russian Nationals
Interview with Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin. About first victory at the Russian Nationals, preparation for the season, fans and hate comments and what needs to be changed in the rules to make ice dance more popular.
source: Konstantin Lesik for sport24.ru dd. 11th January 2020
How do you feel in the status of the Russian national champions?
Ivan: Wow! … To be honest, we didn’t get enough sleep. It was a busy day – it was hard to fall asleep. We talked with the team, discussed a lot. This was our first competition in a long time, we were a little exhausted.
Alexandra: Yesterday we stayed to watch all the girls’ warm-ups. Only after that we were back to the hotel. And so far we don’t really feel that something has happened. But the assessment of our coaches was very important for us. They didn’t know how we would perform. Yes, the coaches did everything to make us perform well. But at the competitions everything depended only on us. And we managed to perform well. Many thanks to our team for this.
Ivan: In general, we all really liked it. We missed the audience so much. I hope we will perform somewhere else soon. Yes, it’s nervous, but it’s a very pleasant nervousness. It’s great when there is competition.
Is it the main award of your career?
Alexandra: Nooo. We had silver and three bronze medals of the European Championships. We performed well at the World Championships. Moreover, the situation here is completely different in all aspects. We had a different task. But we are very pleased with the title of Russian champions.
Yes, indeed, this is the first time for us. And the support was great – although there were only 35 percent of the audience, but we felt incredible warmth.
Is the lack of vivid emotions related to the fact that there were no your main competitors?
Alexandra: Well, many people didn’t come Chelyabinsk. It’s a pity that it happened. We also missed many competitions, for example the Grand Prix in Moscow.
Dima Aliev did not come either, although we were expecting him – we are friends with him. I hope that after the New Year we will meet the entire Russian national team. And at the competitions, which will be held instead of the European Championships, there will be all the strongest, including those who could not come to the Russian Nationals.
We just wish you all good health. Covid is terrible. This is an unpleasant sore. You wouldn’t wish that to anyone.
So, did this whole story blurred the impression of the Russian Championships for you personally?
Alexandra: Of course. In addition, the federation pointed out that this is not the final qualification for the World Championships. We perceived it just as a certain stage where we need to show what we are capable of. I think it was easier for the guys too, because this competitions were not one hundred percent decisive.
Ivan: On the other hand, this was our first competitions in a long time, which added importance. And the name “Russian Nationals” has not changed. And the support of the audience was tremendous! This 35 percent created the atmosphere of a full arena.
Is it a shame that European Championships was canceled when everything goes well in other sports?
Ivan: Of course, it’s upsetting.
Alexandra: I didn’t really follow what is happening in other sports. But the cancellation of our European Championships was not a surprise. Everything went towards this gradually. We were ready for this news. And we understand that holding the event in such conditions is difficult and unsafe.
How do you feel now?
Alexandra: Fine, thanks.
Ivan: Yes, we have already recovered.
You joked at the press conference that you were out of luck and had covid at different times.
Alexandra: Well, yes, we were really out of luck.
How could this happen? You spend so much time together.
Alexandra: At first I just caught a cold. There was bronchitis or something like that. Then I was back on the ice for a while, and then fell ill again, but with a covid. I don’t know why it happened, but after I got well, the coaches and Vanya fell ill. Three days after my return.
Ivan: Why this happened is still a mystery to us.
How did you handle the disease?
Ivan: It was not very easy. I had a lung damage. The temperature was kept for a very long time, the dose of antibiotics was quite strong. But the hardest part wasn’t about being sick, but about getting back on the ice. It was very strange and even a little scary. At this moment, you realize that not everything is completely healed and you are afraid to do something wrong.
Alexandra: At home you may be fine, but as soon as you go on the ice, you immediately start coughing because of the cold air and the slightest load. Usually for us to skate a circle it’s like nothing. And after an illness, the body perceives it as a serious threat and begins to react instantly. It scares. You think: “How am I going to skate now?”
Have you been at home? Didn’t it come to hospitalization?
Alexandra and Ivan: No.
Ivan: Fortunately, it didn’t come to that. At that moment, there was a large increase in the incidence and did not want to get to the hospital. I didn’t have extreme temperatures – around 37.5 – 38. The only problem is that it lasted a long time. Sasha, on the contrary, had fever at first, but then it quickly disappeared.
Alexandra: In my case, at first it looked like a common cold – the whole body began to ache. I came home from training and it was as if someone was breaking all my bones from the inside. A sluggish state. And then the temperature began to rise. The maximum was over 39. I started to take antibiotics to knock it down.
The state itself was unpleasant – you get to the kitchen, to the bathroom and you are already very tired. And you hear how you breathe. You understand that you look like an old man. It’s scary when you realize that you have to work hard on ice in order to achieve results.
Was it scary for your career?
Alexandra: No. We understood that everyone was in such conditions. Although at first it was heard that only our group was sick. We wondered what others are using that they did not get sick? But then it turned out that others also fell ill, just a bit later.
Sasha, I studied your instagram and came to the conclusion that you love black and white tones. Why?
Alexandra: In black and white there is …
Alexandra: Some kind of charm. Yes, magic. Many photographs look better in black and white. Some lines, shadows. I like it. This applies not only to me.
Do fans write a lot?
Alexandra: Very much! Just yesterday, our fan gave gifts through the coaches. She loves our group very much, follows us to all competitions. As I understand it, she is not alone, it is just she who communicates with us. She called us for a photo session, unfortunately, we have not came yet due to the situation with the virus.
They write a lot! They post stories, write huge texts. Sometimes I read and tears come, people give so much of themselves. You think how this is possible. Many have a family, business, work. You are constantly running somewhere. And then people stop for a moment, take time for you. They expect you to answer them at least something. This is admirable.
Ivan: Most often they post our reactions to the scores. This has already become such a joke, a meme. We have already begun to be compared to animals. Sasha recently re-posted a picture where I am a dog who smiles, and she is a serious cat.
In general, in many shots I and Irina Vasilyevna (Zhuk. – Sport24) are so expressive, while Sasha and Alexander Vasilyevich (Svinin) are more restrained. It looks cool.
Does this reflect your nature?
Ivan: Probably, I am more emotional after the skate. Apparently, I keep everything in myself so much that at the end I’m ready to explode. And Sanya, on the contrary, gives a lot to the program and at the end she has nothing left.
Alexandra: Whatever the performance was, when I come to the room after the competitions, I am devastated.
Sasha, are guys trying to meet you in direct?
Alexandra: There are young people and men who behave very aggressively. In direct messages, I try to say “thank you” to everyone, but I had a moment when I wanted to stop doing it. Because some men begin to press on aggressively. They start asking how I’m doing. I answer briefly and politely that everything is fine. Then it continues – in the evening they write “How was your day” not using the polite form of “you”. And I cannot call a person I don’t know by his first name. Even if it’s a little girl.
And unfamiliar men call me by my first name, and even with aggression. And then writes something like “Why don’t you answer?” It is unpleasant and I can’t understand why such negative things are coming on my address. I answered you, I tried. There are a lot of people whom I want to answer – those who write sincerely.
Does this happen often?
Alexandra: Not lately. But the year before last, I even blocked several people. They started writing some dirt.
Are you offended by any comments?
Ivan: Sometimes there are very interesting comments. It happened a couple of times in my life that I wanted to answer, but then I realized that it was pointless. It is nonsense.
Alexandra: Because you will catch on to it even more and just spend energy.
Ivan: And now I laugh at such comments. If a person doesn’t like something and he expresses his opinion – please. If this is really constructive criticism. When you see that a person has seen and written not for the first time, but really understands figure skating, you can listen to this. And sometimes they write just to say something.
Alexandra: Yes, when a person, relying on nothing, throws out his unnecessary emotions.
Ivan: We can sometimes laugh at this. Imagine that I come to a person at work and say: “You are doing everything wrong.” He probably would have answered: “What right do you have to say that?”
Has it ever happened that, thanks to a person’s comment, you changed something in your performance?
Ivan: A couple of times.
Alexandra: But the person did not write that we had made some step, etc. There was something in common like “I want more power, brightness”. At such moments, you can reconsider and decide that, indeed, something is missing.
It happens that not very pleasant things are written by those who like another pair.
Ivan: I’m okay with this, but if you like another pair, why are you writing under our post, go to your guys and write some good things there.
Sasha, are you sometimes compared to Vika Sinitsina? Are you okay with this?
Alexandra: Yes, absolutely! We are both fair, well, we sometimes have the same taste in clothes. We laugh sometimes that we have some clothes the same.
And what about the comments that it would be great for you and Vanya to be a couple not only on the ice, but in real life?
Alexandra: It’s fun too.
Ivan: On the one hand, this is a compliment, because we can show real emotions on the ice. A person believes this and thinks that we are also together behind the scenes. But we have already said many times that we are not a couple in life, so it is strange when people ask about this again.
Alexandra: It’s very cute! This means that new fans appear – that’s good.
Ivan: Those who have been with us for a long time know that we are not together. Our fans really want us to be together.
Alexandra: Yes, it’s very nice when they write: “Well, but why …?”
Ivan: But they still understand everything. Nevertheless, under each of our posts, you can still find 2-3 questions: “Are they a couple?”
Did you follow the situation with CAS and Russia’s two-year ban? Your pair already had some bad experiences in the past with this decision.
Alexandra: Yes, we heard this news. As far as I understand, the consequences could have been much worse – all athletes from Russia could have been banned indiscriminately. They could have said, “Russia, goodbye.”
But we were still allowed. Let it be without the anthem at the World Championships and the Olympics. But the country name can be written on our uniform. This is already pleasant for us. I do not know all the details, but in this situation I want to find at least something positive. And there is something positive.
Ivan: Of course, we are upset, because this is our country. We would like to perform with the flag and anthem very much. But the decision has been made, there is nothing to be done. I would not say that we have a suspended state. We prepare for all major competitions. It’s still unknown how the admission to the Olympics will be held. Will it be as tough as in 2018? It seems to me that they have not decided yet.
What would you change in ice dance to make it more popular?
Ivan: I’ll give you an example. We used to have two technical step sequences. After the Olympics, one was replaced by a choreographic one. And the programs played with new colors. People have become more creative. After all, dancing is a very creative sport. Pairs have very difficult content. In ice dance everything should look easy and unpredictable. In my opinion, to make ice dance more popular you need to give duets even more space for creativity. And then duets will not be alike. We have many rules that do not allow us to go beyond the certain frames …
Alexandra: The rules are made in order to make it clear how to judge. Previously, ice dance was on the “I like it – I don’t like it” level.
Ivan: Of course, you cannot remove the technique completely, but you can do something. Even sliding move – when partners can touch the ice with some part of the body adds some creativity.
Do you watch the “Ice Age” show?
Alexandra: I watched a couple of times.
Ivan: Also a couple of times.
Do you like it?
Alexandra: I would like to go there!
We should say this to Ilia Averbukh.
Alexandra: For me, everything that Ilia does is on a cosmic level, and most importantly it is very warm and soulful – his ice performances, shows. And the “Ice Age” gives more creative freedom to athletes who recently competed with us at competitions. New acquaintances, new opportunities. This helps the development of our sport. After all, no one jumps there, there are no single skaters. In fact, “Ice Age” is like ice dance.
Of course, sometimes they do high lifts, something like a twist. But this is not really pair skating. But it’s still great when nonprofessional guys decide to do this. Especially when girl is a professional figure skater in a pair.
Ivan: Oh, sometimes it even scares.
Alexandra: When the guy doesn’t skate and lifts a girl, it’s very scary.
Ivan: Katya Bobrova has recently posted her falls. Just nightmare!
Isn’t it a shame that because of the “Ice Age” competitions are sometimes shown not live?
Ivan: There are stars, after all. And they come with their audience. And some of this audience is not familiar with figure skating. And many fans then watch the competitions and stay. This is a great way to develop our sport.
Alexandra: Yes, thank you very much Ilia!
Do you have any long term career plans?
Ivan: This season has shown that it is difficult to plan something. We decided to live for today and prepare for a specific event and not guess what will happen next. We planned a lot, and in the end, almost no plan came true.
Have you thought what you could do in life after sports?
Alexandra: I didn’t have any serious thoughts. The only thing, when I came to Ilia Averbukh’s show, I thought that I wanted to participate there. There are no specific plans that after the end of my career I will go there or there. But I can definitely say that I want to stay in figure skating and open up for the audience in a new way.
I still want to do a lot in sports. We have just turned into a mature pair who deserves some high places and recognition from the audience. We have new fans. At this moment you understand that people cannot be fooled.
Ivan: And we are very grateful to everyone who supports us. When the general public became aware that we were sick, many began to write and support. It really motivates!
A small wish to the fans at the end of the interview.
Alexandra: Health, love. Be happy no matter what. Live every day.
Ivan: So that all your dreams and plans in the New Year will definitely come true.