Elena Vaitsekhovskaya’s interview with Meagan Duhamel.
Pre-story from Elena Vaitsekhovskaya: the famous Canadian figure skater came to Oakville together with her spouse coach Bruno Marcotte and two dogs. She joked when then met at the rink: the pleasure to travel with pets is expensive, but it brightens up life, especially now, when there’s less figure skating in her life. On the invitation to talk about figure skating, she happily responded: “With pleasure, I was happy on the ice when I was skating, and I’m just as much happy now when active performances stayed in the past.
Was it hard to take a decision about finishing your career?
– Strangely, but no. Generally I was lucky to avoid the psychological breakdown that at some competitions I can be not in the first place. Even after Eric and I won the World Championships twice, I hadn’t the idea that from now we should be the first at any cost. Of course it’s nice to win, especially to me, because by nature I’m not an artist, but an athlete. But I remember very well that the first thought on the pedestal in Shanghai in 2015 was absolutely not that we finally became the best in the world.
Then about what?
– I tried very hard to think what can I do now to skate even better? I remember the next day, standing in front of a mirror in the bathroom and looking at my reflection I even asked myself aloud: “What else can you do?” Probably, my brains are arranged very successfully, I quickly lose interest in what has already happened. Yes, we won. Yes, it’s nice. But what’s the use to continue thinking about this? Eric, as far as I know, has always treated our sports successes in a similar way, in this respect I was lucky with my partner.
Did your partner’s injury prevented you from continuing your career after the Games in Pyeongchang?
– No. We just achieved absolutely everything. The only thing we lacked to fully satisfy the ambitions is the brilliant skate at the Olympic Games. As soon as this happened, Eric and I looked at each other and without any words realized that we will not compete with anyone ever again in our life. We seriously intended to leave the sport right after the 2016 World Championships in Boston, when we won gold medals for the second time in a row. I remember when I returned home and told my husband that we will never skate better. It was an awful feeling really: I realized that I reached my ceiling and would never jump higher.
How did Bruno react to your words?
– He said that we can’t finish skating, because he still has a whole bunch of coaching plans connected with us. Plus the team event at the Olympics.
Has your attitude to this competitions changed after the Games in Sochi?
– Yes, and it changed a lot. In Sochi, no one really thought about gold medals. But before Pyeongchang, I would say it was already a goal. From the very beginning of the season everyone understood that it was not just a comeptitions, but comeptitions where all the strongest will be required to compete for Canada. Eric and I first treated everything with great caution, because for us participating in the team event meant four full performances in a week. On the other hand, we’ve never regretted it later. The team event is a completely different energy, much more positive. In addition, we didn’t perceive it as the Olympics. Especially the short program, which was even before the opening ceremony.
But the victory itself turned out to be a little too casual. Too predictable. Given that we all have been waited for this result for a year and set only to it, even the joy was in some way casual. Our personal bronze caused much more emotion for me.
I know that your coach Richard Gauthier sincerely believed that you can fight for an Olympic medal already in Sochi, but you remained the seventh. Were you very disappointed by the result?
– When we lost of course we were very upset. But if to analyze that result now, we need to honestly admit: we were not good. The free program “Alice in Wonderland” was not good. It was stylistically new for us, but it was not successful. Of course during the season we continued to convince ourselves that we were capable of fighting for Olympic medals. Although in fact those who really fought for them were another league in comparison with us.
– I just thought about it a lot. After those Games it was very difficult for me to come to my senses. The tragedy was not in the seventh place, but in our skating… In short we skated poorly. I fell from a triple salchow – jump, which I could perfectly do at the age of 12. Throws also turned horrible. As a child, I remember that I watched the Olympic Games on TV and always admired the greatness of those who perform there, the greatness of their victories. And I wasted my own Olympic chance! I wanted to cry, I wanted to sink into the ground, but even more clearly I realized that never in my life I would like to experience this again. In some sense it motivated both of us. We complicated the program, learned quad throw, but at the same time we began to skate more relaxed. We convinced ourselves that result can’t be an obstacle to get pleasure from skating. And it worked.
The decision to leave your coach Richard Gauthier a year before the Games in Pyeongchang, how do you think now was it right?
– Yes. Eric and I have been considering this option for the past couple of years, probably it was even good that the pre-Olympic season was unsuccessful for us, it made us to make the decision. Many then talked behind my back that Eric and I left Gauthier and stayed with Marcott just because Bruno is my husband. But this is not true. Eric is not connected with Bruno by any kind of relatives ties, but he insisted on that move as much as I. Continuing to work with Gauthier, we both realized that we had stopped in our development, stopped progressing, that we’re loosing more and more motivation. The time that Richard spent with us on the ice stooped being enough for us. There was a very strong inner need to feel that we’re the only ones, but …
Do you mean that Gauthier got too many other students?
– It’s not that, Richard always had a lot students, it did not bother us. Rather, something just broke inside our four. There was a fist and suddenly he unclenched: unity disappeared, doubts arose about the correctness of what we were doing and the coach didn’t hurry to dispel these doubts. All this was complicated by the fact that for many years Richard wan’t just a coah us, but also a close friend.
It always complicates the situation. As in the family: you can not tell your mother or father that you want to look for other parents, because the former ones no longer understand you.
– Exactly. The most difficult thing was to explain to the coach that it’s not about him, but about us. Perhaps we grew up, maybe changed internally, we wanted something different. In general, we’re sitting in a room and wept. All three. I have never experienced such shocks. In fact, Richard is a man of great heart and very big soul. Saying goodbye to us, he said: “I hope that you will win your medal in Pyeongchang, and I dream to see it with my own eyes.” It was very important for us to hear the words of support from the coach, and in one way or another way he supported us all the Olympic season, always found some words when we met at competitions.
Is your spouse still working with Gauthier?
– Yes. I think that in the depths of his soul Richard still feels hurt a bit, but I’ll repeat it all my life: our Olympic success is first of all his success. He always believed in us, he always believed in me, from the moment he put us in a pair, he gave confidence that we could do everything even thou I was not good for figure skating at all. My whole career is Richard’s merit. Therefore, the decision to part with him in professional respect was very hard for us.
What do you mean when you say that you were not good enough for figure skating?
– Well, I’m not an idiot, right? I know perfectly well what they say about me. That the skater should not be so athletic, that I lack grace, height. All this I’ve heard since I was a teenager. But I always liked to skate very much, probably just because it gave me a lot of space in order to progress. Not elegant enough? Okay, go and do a triple lutz. Or a quadruple throw. If I had another body, I could hardly mastered this element. When I just started doing pairs and tried to skate with Craig Bantin, Gauthier was pretty skeptical, saying that in his opinion I was “not that size”. I still do not understand, to be honest, what he saw in me and Eric. Frankly, we did not have much chances to achieve something: when we started skating together, Eric could not do anything, he could not even do a simple side by side jump, he constantly fell on landings. But I remember Gauthier’s reaction after one of the first training sessions. He then said to Bruno, “She’s too athletic, he’s too elegant, damn, but it’s cool, they will never look like anyone else, but for heaven’s sake, do not put them next to each other during the choreography class, because I’ll die of laughter!”
Although, Richard always worried what people think about our pair, I know for sure.
What do you consider your main advantage?
– I can work hard, perhaps better than anyone else in our sport. And I never quit my job if I feel that I can do it better. Plus a common sense. I am quite able to understand that I will never look like a ballerina, even if I die at the ballet class. But I am quite able to bring to perfection those lines that I have. One god knows how much time I additionally worked on the artistic side of my skating: in order to transfer it all to the ice and improve the sksting, we even hired a Russian specialist.
How does it feel to learn quad throw at the age of 28?
– I will not say that it was easy, but it turned out to be easier than I thought. We managed to do the quad throw at competitions from the first attempt after six weeks of work on this element. One of the secrets was that technically we did not change anything except the speed of my rotation. Because every time Eric slightly increased the power of the throw, I fell absolutely terribly, doing even triple throws. Therefore, we agreed that he throws me exactly as before. The rest is my responsibility.
The second key to success was that we trained this element very carefully. Did not do more than three throws per training, did it on freshness, and concentrated very much on each of the attempts. This allowed to avoid serious injuries, although I fell that summer as much as never in my life. There was a time when Eric and I caught ourselves thinking that we asses not the element itself, but the falls: “Oh, it was already ok, do not you think?” And we enjoyed even that. I’ve dreamed of a quadruple throw since Sui and Han did it in 2011. They always beat us because of quadruple twist and a quadruple throw, and I began to tell Richard that we also need to complicate the program.
I know that he treated this idea with a lot of skepticism.
– Oh yeah. At first refused. He said that he does not know a skater who would not have been injured on a quadruple throw. And two years, until the Games in Sochi, for all my requests I heard a categorical “No!”. After Sochi, I did not ask anything – just announced it as a fait accompli. I came to the training, stood straight in front of him, eyes to eyes and said almost in syllables: “I will do a quadruple throw.” He was taken aback, but then he said: “Okay, no one is against it.”
Outside the rink you wear glasses. Problems with vision?
– Not too serious. I see the boards when I’m skating, but sitting in the “Kiss and cry”, I do not see scores. One day I even started to rejoice ahead of time, because it seemed to me that I see 80. Turned out that it was 68. It’s easier to skate because Eric is near. The hardest thing for me is to skate in shows with stage lighting. Here I always annoy Eric with questions where we’re going. I really fear to crush the board.
Is there anything more scary in figure skating for you?
– Triple twist. Every time we do it, I mentally say goodbye to life. It seems to me that Eric also – after I broke his nose at the World Championships in Moscow in 2011. At that time we have been skating together only a year and probably the whole problem was that we learned this element too late. But I can definitely say: a quadruple throw in comparison with a triple twist is such a small thing … On the other hand, despite all my fear of this element, I would gladly try to make a twist with such a partner as Bruno Massot or Hao Zhang. It would be interesting to know what it’s like to fly at such a height.
Every time I hear that you are a vegan with ten years experience, I recall the story of Maxim Shabalin, who after one of the trips to India completely switched to vegetable food. After that his injuries began, because the bones and ligaments ceased to receive the usual “building material”.
– I did not know that. For me, on contrary, it was a way to make my body healthier. In 20, for example, I had problems with the weight, which was very problematic to solve. Becoming a vegan, I generally stopped thinking about weight. I began to recover better after the loads, much faster than Eric, managed to completely avoid injuries – for ten years there was none. Now I can say for sure that I thoroughly studied my body and everything that is somehow connected with nutrition. Nutrition is a very important component in sports and very individual. In my body, for example, meat and milk always caused a strong internal conflict. But when I talked with Zhenya Medvedeva a couple of months ago, she said that many health problems began because she almost completely excluded meat and began to eat more vegetables. Perhaps it was because of insufficientl quality of products or in their wrong balance, but proper nutrition for the athlete is definitely very important.
Do you like how Medvedeva began to skate after moving to Canada to Brian Orser?
– I always liked her skating. I know Zhenya well, as a person, I know her mother and I like to communicate with both of them. I always admired the way Medvedeva skates, ever since she was a junior. Now I see how she trains in Canada, and I can say that she looks like an absolutely happy person, even after a whole day of training. In my opinion, this is much more important than gold medals. It is clear that the changes will take quite a long time. I do not even mean now that too much has changed in her life. Just people who want to see the result here and now, I think thay forget that a few months after the Olympic Games the girl did not skate at all. I know this because we performed in the same show in April. All that Zhenya could do at the time was the basic steps and the basic spins. And even this was difficult for her. When a person spends so much time without jumping, it’s extremely difficult to return to normal skating. She did it. Did it brilliantly – this I say, like the person who watched her training. She managed not only to keep the technique, but to improve it. Jumps became really big, and in general, Zhenya looks stronger. Perhaps, while this does not seen much in competitions, but trust me as a professional: Medvedeva is doing everything in the right way. She needs only a few competitions to restore the shape fully and get rid of unnecessary stress.
Since you stopped performing, is pair skating still interesting for you?
– Yes very. I’m curious to watch the choice of music, how the choreography is changing. In fact, I came to Oakville to see Vanessa James / Morgan Cipres, I love their skating. When they first came to Canada to work with Gauthier, they lived in my house five months. And last summer Eric amd I even coached them a little. Vanessa and Morgan are very musical, very accurate in accents, but the main thing is not even that. When I look at these guys, I see what and why they do. What they want, what they strive to. I always like these things.
As far as I know, this pair is going to finish their career after the end of the season.
– I heard about it, but you know we also “finished” after the Games in Sochi every year. And every year changed the decision.
Do I understand correctly that coaching career does not appeal to you?
– I’m coaching a little, but I get reall pleasure when I help someone else. For example, my husband. Apparently, that’s how it works: I always need a person in my work to whom I could say: “Yes, boss!”
What I really would like to do is to develop a program for athletes, which would teach them to eat properly, properly set their minds to performances, properly recover, avoid injuries. Figure skating is a complex sport, especially for girls: they must be very thin and light, but strong at the same time. This is not a coach’s problem, it is primarily the organization of life outside the ice. I spent a lot of time and energy doing it myself. Therefore, I want to be useful in what I really know.
You have two dogs, one of which you brought from Korea. Was you really scared that it could be eaten there?
– Moo-Tae is very small, so it’s unlikely some chef could be interested. Now in Korea a campaign to eliminate meat farms where dogs are grown for food are taking place. I like the idea, that’s why I considered it my duty to support it – to take the dog home. Since I live in Montreal in a not too large condominium and already have a fairly large dog – beagle, I chose the smallest dog. Moo-Tae lived in a Buddhist monastery for a long time, and I have a feeling that I got more than a dog. When at home I do yoga, he silently sits near and meditates with me.
Do you travel together, too?
– Well, now Eric and I will have a two-month tour in Canada, and frankly I do not even know whether they will let me take one of the dogs with me, or not. I would like to take Moo-Tae at least for a while. The second dog weighs 40 pounds, so there is way I can take him too, he will stay at home with Bruno. When we are both away, I hire a woman who walks the dogs and feeds them. It costs a lot of money, but I always know that my dogs are happy. We also have a cat, but it’s easier – just leave the keys to a neighbor.
What do you know about the show?
– You may be surprised, but actually nothing. Except that it will not look like any other show and rehearsals start this week. But this is an excellent opportunity for many of us to drive the whole country and thank all those who supported us during the Olympic Games. Eric and I started training in early August just to be in good physical shape by October. After all we will have a vert tight schedule and two months we’ll live in the bus.
Have you already had such experience?
– No. But, I think, we will cope with it. Fortunately, we are all friends. Plus Elvis Stojko, whom I always admired. I love to chat with him, I love to watch him skate. When I was small I always wanted to be “like Elvis”. Strong and unbending. Well I still want to.
by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya for rsport.ria.ru