Maria Sotskova: I tried to seem stronger than I was
Maria Sotskova has recently announced about finishing her career. Interview with Maria about her decision and career.
by Vladslav Zhukob for tass.ru dd. 15th July
In November, you announced a break in your career with the words “I am not going to finish” and “I choose to fight with myself.” In the spring you said: “I have not said everything yet, it is too early to talk about retirement.”
Maria: While I was competing, I really fought for every time on the ice, every move. It was hard, but every time I tried to find the strength and faith that I had before, the feeling that I could overcome all this. And when I was asked about the end of my career … In my heart I understood that this was inevitable. Both my relatives and my team knew about it. We all were ready for this.
Approached this, every day I overcame my fears. Because, of course, this is a very difficult decision. It doesn’t come right away. But I wanted to walk this path with dignity. I did not want to give unequivocal comments, because I did not fully believe it myself.
Turns out that the pause has become the path to acceptance.
Maria: Yes. Then I already had health problems, emotional difficulties. I struggled with this, but I understood that everything was coming to an end. Unfortunately, there are factors that are stronger.
Your coach Svetlana Sokolovskaya said that she knew that you were finishing back in November. That is, everything was clear then?
Maria: Sure. We had a great training camp in Kislovodsk, everything was great. Then my dad died, and health problems started due to nervousness. And together we slowly but surely approached this decision. That is, this is not only my decision, it was made jointly, because we are one team. As we worked and achieved something together, so we took this decision together.
At what point did you realize that you were ready to announce your decision?
Maria: Until recently I was not ready. It already seemed to me that I could do it. I wanted to announce about finishing my career, but when I started writing this, memories overwhelmed me and this post turned out to be a rather painful for me. It was very difficult to write all this. Sobbed several times while writing.
One can say this is a fateful decision. Because I did not know another life before. I have always had only sports, but now I understand that I can’t continue. Not because I don’t want to or because I lost faith in myself. There are moments in life that do not allow you to go further.
I read your last interviews, it seemed that you are slowly beginning to let go of the past. But at the same time, your post is full of pain.
Maria: Because I have always understood that when you come to a competition, you are responsible. I have never allowed myself to seem weak at competitions. Therefore, I had such interviews – “I will fight”, “ready”, “I have not shown everything yet.” I really felt it at that moment, but at the same time I understood … I guess it’s just my desire to be stronger than I am. To show the others and believe myself that I can cope, that I will overcome everything. But I didn’t succeed.
Also in winter you said that despite the break you have jumps. Then, it turns out, health problems appeared. What happened?
Maria: It all started much earlier, long before winter. I really didn’t have any problems to get the jumps separately, but I couldn’t cope with more serious loads, it was physically very difficult for me to skate the program. Some pains began. It felt like I was just falling apart. There was no strength, no understanding of how to overcome it. When you realize that you physically cannot do something for a long time, you become a little stronger. The pains go away, it becomes easier, but psychologically you can no longer cross this barrier. There is some kind of fear, self-doubt, it becomes not as comfortable as before.
You worked in a tough competition that has become fierce since this season. Well, you talked about it yourself. Did this moment also affect your decision?
Maria: No, it would never affect me. If we talk about last season and even a little earlier, I had so many difficulties that I had neither strength nor time to think about competition. At that time, it was no longer about pedestals, victories and medals. It was about getting myself out of the situation.
Have you considered competing for another country?
Maria: I have never had such thoughts. I am a patriot, I love my country, so many times I represented Russian flag. You can’t just trade it for another country and another flag. I was born and raised here.
You mentioned working with psychologists. For Russian sports, it’s still quite rare.
Maria: I think this is a personal matter for everyone. There are people who do not perceive them. I had such a desperate situation, I needed help so badly that I considered any options.
When a person is looking for a lifeline in agony, he will accept any help. This was just my case. I no longer understood how to mobilize myself. Therefore, I talked with psychologists. With different ones, there were many.
Was it after the Olympics?
Maria: It began after the Olympics, but to a greater extent continued after my father’s death. Emotionally it was very hard, I did not understand what was happening.
Did you want to take a pause after the Games?
Maria: No. After the Olympics, I was so motivated to continue skating, I was really sure that my unsuccessful performance at the Games was an impetus to move forward, improve and only get better every day.
But it didn’t happen. And I still can’t answer the question of what happened. Perhaps the Olympics broke me down so much or something after it. I myself cannot give an answer. I’ve been living with it for two years now and I’m so tired of thinking about it that it’s easier to turn the page and forget. Because it is simply impossible to think about it for so much time trying to find out what was the problem.
So consultations with the professionals did not help at all?
Maria: They only helped for a while to numb the pain inside, which bothered me very much. But it didn’t turn out to solve the problem.
As I understand it, this is not just about emotional burnout?
Maria: Yes. It was very hard. And the very stay at the Olympics pressed. The atmosphere was not what I had imagined, and not very pleasant things happened in my life. I guess I really needed a good, long rest after all this.
What confused you about the Olympic atmosphere?
Maria: From the very beginning, everything was somehow wrong. Before leaving for a training camp in Japan, we sat on the plane and did not know if we would perform at all. Two minutes before departure, we read in the news that we would skate under a neutral flag. Of course, this also affected.
The Olympics are the dream and goal of any athlete. Everyone goes to it. And when you realize that it is already in your hands, you are the official representative of the national team, you deservedly got into the team, there is a feeling that you got your dream. But it’s not you how you imagined.
I watched the Sochi Olympics. It was great, gorgeous. Everyone felt this Olympic spirit, everything was great, fun and cool. And with us … Starting from the opening ceremony, the flag we performed with – everything was not right.
Does it really mean so much for an athlete to perform with his national flag and anthem?
Maria: It affects emotionally. I cannot say that I performed so badly because of this. There were many other personal moments that shook my fortune before the Olympics. As a result, I could not show what I wanted.
Did Elena Buyanova, your coach then, support you during this period? From the outside, it seems that everything that was happening was a serious test for her and she herself did not understand what was going on.
Maria: Nobody understood. In our entire team, no one could understand what was going on at all. It was a difficult time for all of us, but we went through it together. Everyone supported me, no one turned away from me at that moment. I’ve always had enough people who truly believed in me and really wanted to help me. No one has ever left me in difficult life situations. I have a wonderful family, my mother, relatives, a coaching team. In general, I did not experience problems with loneliness.
For most people, not only athletes, a pause in any activity is often associated with trying something new. How did this process go with you?
Maria: I devoted myself to my studies. I started attending all the classes, every day (Maria studies at the choreographer department in GITIS – ed), and this distracted me. But I never tried to forget about figure skating, delete it from my life. I always follow, watch, cheer and support all our guys. I just understand that this sport is over for me. To my great regret. Figure skating is a huge part of me, my life, and I can’t just cross it out. Well, I’m not going to do that. Even if it’s all over for me, but life goes on.
About “attending all classes.” You’ve attended everything before, haven’t you?
Maria: These are different things – normal attendance and how it was with me before, when you come to the class and think: “I need to ask to leave early and be on time for training. Today I have a free program runthrough, I need to repeat all transitions, and then to work with the choreographer”. And you sit on a lecture, and all thoughts are about figure skating.
I could switch only in the evening, when after training I came to the institute for the “art of the ballet master” class, where we dance. There I could turn off my head, relax a little and enjoy the process. But then I was thinking again: “I have a competitions in a week , I have to do this and that to be ready.” So it was at the moment of the pause when I started to attend lectures for real. Before that, I tried to absorb everything, but my head was busy with something else.
Studying, of course, helps a lot. I come to the institute – there are different people, the atmosphere, everything is so new to me. Even though I’m already in my third year, I still discover something new (laughs). Now my second love is GITIS.
And it all began with the phrase: “The main thing is not to enter the Russian State University of Physical Culture”.
Maria: I wasn’t’ choosing the lesser of two evils, between the Russian State University of Physical Culture, Sports, Youth and Tourism (TASS) and GITIS (laughs). I had a dream to enter GITIS. But I understood that it was very difficult – there is a big competition, and it’s hard to study there. I had the Olympic season, I passed the exam, not really having time to move away from what had happened. I wasn’t sure that I’d cope with the loads.
I wasn’t 100% sure that they would take me. And I knew: “Masha, you need a fallback, you will still have to go somewhere.” But I did not believe that I would have to study at the Russian State University of Physical Culture or somewhere else. No, I am not saying that this is a bad university. But for me there was only GITIS.
Let’s go back to the previous topic. Trying to understand how athletes feel at the moment when their careers are nearing the end, I came to the conclusion that fear of the uncertainty of the future prevails. Because at a relatively early age, it is really difficult to realize that one life has already been lived and now you need to start a new one. Have you had something similar or do you already know what you want to do in the future?
Maria: I always knew what I wanted. I did not feel lost. And now there is no fear. There is a search of myself and an understanding what I want to do. I try on some fields and look from the outside, how I feel in this and how well I do it. Because I am used to the fact that if I start doing something, I do it very well.
When I do something, I give all of myself to the process. Maybe in sports I didn’t always succeed as I would like, but at least I can honestly tell myself that I did my best. I really loved what I was doing and people who support me – the fans, my family, the coaching team.
Have you thought about working as a coach or choreographer?
Maria: Not yet. At the moment, my only experience is individual lessons. I already choreographed programs, but they were for little girls. There was also a 16-year-old boy, with whom I worked as a choreographer. It was a very serious and important job, because he and I were in the same realities. This boy also lost his father and wanted to dedicate a program to him.
I like to choreograph programs, give people new images, as my choreographers once gave me. It’s great when you have something to give. I love to give people my energy and love, it means a lot to me.
Can you imagine what kind of choreographer you will be?
Maria: I need to study for at least a few more years, to learn new information. And then to improve all my life. Therefore, I cannot say yet, but, of course, I would like to be a versatile choreographer, to have my own style. Without monotonous programs, make unique programs.
Can you give examples?
Maria: I will single out those with whom I worked. Let’s start with Nikita Mikhailov, the man who did programs for my first senior season. We started working with him when I moved to CSKA to Elena Buyanova. This is an insanely talented young man who is constantly developing and is not afraid to try something new. He is always active, positive, constantly pushes you to do some cool things that you would never have dared to do. He is very lively, and I got great pleasure from our cooperation. But the first year, of course, ihe ruled the process, but in the last year, when I was with Svetlana Vladimirovna, we created programs together. And that made me even happier: firstly, I work with a cool choreographer, and secondly, I myself take an active part in the process.
Next – Peter Tchernyshev. I don’t even know what words to choose for this person, because he is really insanely creative, makes the most wonderful programs. Usually we worked at night, because the muse comes to him at a later time. And when at three o’clock in the morning you are alone with the choreographer, and all the ice is yours, you go deep into the music and the artistic image. This is just unreal. It takes my breath away when I recall these emotions and realize that I had the opportunity to touch something so beautiful.
Finally, Nikolai Morozov. A wonderful choreographer and a person who can literally work on the fly. He turns on the music and immediately puts the program. It was like this – he skated for three minutes and asked: “Got it?” I answered: “No” (laughs). He showed it again, and that’s it, the program is ready. He was really born for this. He does not need to think, strain, everything goes by itself. It was a shock for me, I had no idea that this was possible. The man did not think for a second – he listened to the music once, turned it on, took the starting pose and skated the entire program.
At first I thought he was just improvising. But then I realized that he was doing a step sequence (laughs). Made all the elements, put them in the right places. And when he approached me, I asked: “Is this already a program?” And he: “Well, actually, yes.” It was such a surprise for me – in three minutes the program is almost ready. And it’s still a mystery to me how he did it.
You talk with such enthusiasm about the joy of choreographing process. And besides that, what was your happiest moment in sports?
Maria: I cannot single out something, because all my moments were happy. From every competitions – successful or not – I took experience. And everything that happened to me in sports was great. The best time you can imagine. I am grateful to my parents for choosing this path for me. And when they saw that I liked it, they did not interfere, but only helped and supported. Therefore, it is difficult for me to single out one thing. My every day in sports was filled with happiness.
Svetlana Sokolovskaya briefly mentioned that you have a wedding soon.
Maria: Yes it’s true.
Is your fiance from the world of sports?
Maria: No, he is a composer. Creative person. He has absolutely nothing to do with sports.
How are wedding preparations going?
Maria: We came to Sochi for a few days. It was really very difficult for me after the announcement of my retirement, and we decided to distract a little. I read a lot of great comments that people wrote to me. Some wrote that these are temporary difficulties, do not give up, we believe in you. Someone – that I have made my mark on figure skating. It seems to me that it is important for any person – to make some kind of mark after himself. And I am glad that even after many years people will review my programs and get some kind of aesthetic pleasure. This is the most precious thing to me.
After the rest, my future husband will start working, I will have an institute from July 20. Life takes on the previous state. As for the wedding, most likely it’ll be only next summer. Now we will just legalize our relationship.
And finally. Your figure skating story is beautiful, but incredibly difficult. And it seems that the difficulties seem to outweigh everything else. Tell me, do you still love this sport?
Maria: Yes, my path was thorny, difficult, but at the same time very bright and interesting. I am grateful to every person who has been with me during these long years. To those who invested in me everything they had. Indeed, there were many difficult moments, but when I overcame them, it gave strength, I began to respect and appreciate myself and everyone around me more.
During this life in sports, I got so many sincere and close people to me, received from them and gave them so much love that, of course, I cannot treat this sport differently. If not for figure skating, I don’t know what my life would be like. Thanks to it, I have made real friends, my sports family. And I will always love figure skating, despite all the difficulties and everything that accompanied victories and defeats. And, if you put on the scales the pain and happiness that accompanied me in sports, happiness will outweigh.
If you could choose whether to become a skater in your new life and walk the same path, what would be your choice?
Maria: I would start over a hundred times and go exactly this way. Because I believe that everything that happened to me made me so strong and impenetrable. And taught me to appreciate what I have, because at some point you can lose it. And now I can say that I appreciate everything that happened to me, even more than a few years ago.
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