Maxim Naumov: “The desire to return and do what you wanted, what you spent time on, is stronger than fear of getting injured again.”
Interview with Maxim Naumov about coming back after injuries, medal at Nationals and goals.
source: sport-express dd. 14 February 2023 by Dmitri Kuznetsov
Naumov is the son of Vadim Naumov and Evgenia Shishkova, 1994 world champions in pair skating. Maxim finished in 10th place at the recent Four Continents Championships and became fourth at the US Nationals.
In the mixed zone, we talked about the fact that you were leaving figure skating because you got tired at some point. Were there alternatives to a sports career?
Maxim Naumov: Difficult question. My whole life is at the rink. It’s hard to imagine what else I could do in life. My parents were always at the rink; that’s all I know. If I didn’t skate… I like to play football or hockey. Anyway, I would go in for sports, I think. When I was little, I always had a lot of energy. I ran, I jumped. After all, parents-athletes are also a factor.
School has always been a distant second to figure skating. It’s not that we didn’t pay attention to studying at all, but I spent more time skating than studying. Although I liked to study. So if I had chosen a different path, I would have found myself in something, I think.
Since your parents are athletes, has your father told you, “I was already a world champion at 25, catch up!”
Maxim Naumov: No, no way. They don’t say that. I was very lucky with my parents; they understand everything. It’s hard when your parents are your coaches. You can ask all the athletes who have the same situation, and they will all give you the same answer. Of course, as a child, I had no concept of work or discipline; all I wanted to do was hanging out. They taught me how to work, which is generally important. And they’ve never said anything to me in the tone of “I won the worlds.” Everything was positive. Yes, I am very lucky in this sense.
As they say, there are no healthy athletes. You had very serious injuries. How many fractures? Did you count?
Maxim Naumov: My first serious injury was five or six years ago. I’ve always had issues with my ankle. I have never had such a fracture. My bone broke, and part of it began to rub against the tendon. The first surgery was to remove part of the bone. The second was to remove other pieces, then the third was in the same place to close the hole they made to find the pieces of this bone, and the fourth was to heal the scars on the muscle tissue. All this was on the ankle.
All athletes have injuries; it’s true. My problem was that we couldn’t rest. The doctor constantly said that we should take a break for two or three months, but we could not afford it because of competitions and stuff like that. When I stopped skating and took a break, it was the best thing I could do for my ankle. For how many years have I been told to take this break! When I came back, I also had problems with the muscles because I hadn’t moved my body for a long time, but the injury in my ankle had healed and didn’t bother me.
Isn’t it scary to jump after such injuries?
Maxim Naumov: If we, the athletes, set a goal, there is little that can take us away from it. Even injury. The desire to return and do what you wanted, what you spent time on, is stronger, even if you have to miss a month, two, three, or four. Many athletes come back stronger and better after surgery because of this desire to do what is planned, what they like, and what they want. It guides you through all the time outside the game.
Then what is your goal?
Maxim Naumov: There are many goals, but I am moving gradually—a month or two ahead. We don’t think about big things right away.
Maybe a dream?
Maxim Naumov: Of course, I have a dream; I definitely want to get to the Olympics. I have three years left in this cycle. When I returned to the sport, it was the biggest dream for which I returned. I need to prepare myself for the Olympics, and the better I perform there, the better.
You got the pewter medal at the US Nationals for fourth place. Is it the first in your career?
Maxim Naumov: I think so; this is my first experience with such a medal. (Laughs) To get on the podium at Nationals is a very big deal. I don’t care what medal I have; after a six- to seven-month break, I was glad that I just got to these competitions.
Maybe we should also have a medal for fourth place in other competitions? Olympic Games or World Championship?
Maxim Naumov: It would be interesting, but I don’t know what I would do. It’s been the same for so many years, and these are prestigious competitions … You always think in terms of “first – second – third”.
Was it a shame that you lacked just a little bit to reach third place?
Maxim Naumov: I can’t say that I haven’t thought about it at all. Of course I thought so. But no, it’s not a shame. The goal was just to show myself that I’m still here, still skating. I didn’t even think about getting on the podium.
Do you keep the World Championships in mind? You are the first substitute.
Maxim Naumov: We’ll see. Now I was thinking only about the Four Continents. Now that we have finished, we will discuss and make another plan, if necessary.
I wanted to ask about the American system. In Russia, sports are largely state-owned. Do you have to pay for the ice yourself? Do you work part-time? Does the state help? How is everything arranged?
Maxim Naumov: The state—no, but US Figure Skating (federation) helps. If you get into the top five, you get a grant to cover the expenses for the season. This is decided at the US Nationals. But I still work. I don’t live with my parents; I have to pay rent, so I train children, and also, my parents help. I really like it, by the way. When I wasn’t skating, I worked at Starbucks. And only 9 months have passed since then to the national team and a medal at Nationals! It’s unusual to think about it.
Which is more entertaining: a cafe or figure skating?
Maxim Naumov: You know, still figure skating. (Laughs) But I also liked Starbucks. My whole life has been in figure skating; I have never tried anything else, and all my friends and family are connected to it. I even spent little time at school, with friends too—I was at the rink all the time. And thanks to this work, I made new friends for the first time in five or six years. This is a break from figure skating; it’s a different world. I made a lot of friends, and they now know everything about figure skating because I told them everything. Also interesting. I would not refuse this experience.
And when new people learn about your Russian roots, do they have any associations? What are they asking? Cold, vodka and saff like that.
Maxim Naumov: Nothing. We have different people working with us. I wouldn’t say it’s something special. It’s different here, people don’t think about it. I have never been told anything, either good or bad, about the fact that I have Russian roots.
Figure skating is not so popular in the USA. Can you share your vision for why and how to fix it?
Maxim Naumov: Oh… If you look at Japan, Russia, it is so much more popular. Skating is shown on TV, and people come to watch it live. There is no such thing here. It was very popular in the 1990s. We now have American football as the number one sport. People have forgotten what figure skating is. They don’t show it much on TV, if the US Nationals are held, they will show the last warm-up, and that’s already good. Few people come.
What to do? Marketing needs to change. Maybe we should give some tickets for free. Sell a piece, and then go out into the street and give so that people will come or give to schoolchildren. We need to get more people involved so that they learn about this sport. You won’t find it on TV, even if you want to watch. It is very difficult to reach such popularity as American football, hockey. There are people who remember that level, but they are older. We have new athletes, but few people know them. Of course, we have Ilia Malinin, Nathan Chen, people know them. But this is generally a difficult question. If it were easy, they would have done it long ago.
What about such a theory: an American turns on the TV and sees three Russians on the podium. Will he really not ask, “Where are ours, what kind of sport is this?”
Maxim Naumov: Hard to say. I don’t have the perspective to discuss it. Maybe. But our girls are all American. Although, of course, Torgashev, Malinin, Naumov … Yeah, cool podium. (Laughs.) It was similar at the Junior Worlds. Maybe that also plays a role. But who else is Russian? We have other athletes as well.
Are you more American or Russian?
Maxim Naumov: Fifty-fifty, I think. Some friends speak to me in English, in the family and with some other people I speak Russian. I don’t care.
And with Ilia Malinin, if you see him at the rink, which language will you speak?
Maxim Naumov: Both, I guess. It depends. “Hello,” I will say in Russian, and if someone else is with us, then in English. But among ourselves, we will probably speak Russian.
I have to ask about this: would you like to see Russians at international competitions? The situation seems to be changing.
Maxim Naumov: I don’t want to say anything about it, to be honest. I would not answer.
Because of a tense situation?
Maxim Naumov: I would say yes.
Do current world events influence people’s attitudes toward you because of your origin?
Maxim Naumov: No, I didn’t experience any negativity.
Who is your idol in figure skating?
Maxim Naumov: Difficult question. When I was smaller, it was Plushenko. But when I grew up, I realized that all skaters have something that they do best. Plushenko: jumps, technique, Yagudin’s skating, same for Yuzuru, Denis Ten, Jason Brown’s spins. Ilia [Malinin] – quadruple axel. I look at everyone and take something from everyone. I’m generally a fan of figure skating, I watch it a lot, it’s interesting.
Did you follow the competitions in Russia?
Maxim Naumov: In Russia – no. Rather, I thought about myself and my competitions.
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