Natalia Zabijako and Alexander Enbert: Our life before the Olympics was more like a sprint, now we have become stayers
Interview with Natalia Zabijako and Alexander Enbert. About past season, withdrawal from Europeans and plans for the future. Partly translated.
by Olga Ermolina and Tatjana Flade for fsrussia.ru
Past season was the most successful in your career, you won at two Grand Prix, got to the Final, won bronze at the World Championships for the first time. How do you think what was the reason for such progress?
Alexander: Feels like this season was really close to what we would like to achieve. And the most important was that we started to skate a free program as easily, calmly and consistently as short program. Apparently, it took some time for us to really become a pair.
Natalia: From the very first season, we skated the short program clean almost every time. For all these years there were only 2-3 performances with serious mistakes.
Alexander: In the free program there were some mistakes that did not allow us to take the places that we would like to take. This season the inner confidence in all elements has come. Confidence that we can put all this together in the program, with music. This was especially important this season. Probably, this and consistency allowed us to have a good season.
You won silver at the Russian Nationals and qualified to the European Championships, but you didn’t go there because of Alexander’s health problems. There was a lot of talks. What was the reason?
Alexander: I did not have a permission from doctors, which would allow me to continue training and competing as usual after the Russian Nationals. It was recommended to take a break. Apparently, in the previous years of preparation for the Olympic Games, fatigue had accumulated, which leaded to such a state. The only medicine that I was prescribed was a long break – 3 months. But this meant that we could have missed not only European Championships, but also Worlds.
Then we asked sports doctors, specialists who work with athletes to help. They made a survey, gave a plan: a month of de-training, with detailed explanations what I can, should and should not do in training. Whatever Natasha and I did in the gym or on the ice, I had to monitor my heart rate monitor, check that the pulse stayed normal. I will not tell everything in detail but during this month the body has recovered, and about a week before the Worlds, the doctors allowed me to participate.
Now it is clear why this bronze has become such a valuable medal for you.
Alexander: First of all, we are glad that we got to the World Championships and skated both programs well there. It would have been terrible if the season had ended for us with the Russian Nationals, because there we were in great shape, we felt incredible, on the rise and were ready to show good skating further in the season. We skated both programs easily there… And suddenly, after such a start, in the middle of the season we had to take a break … What I felt at that moment could not be described in words.
Natasha, what was the most difficult for you during this period?
Natalia: Uncertainty. We felt calmer when after the New Year holidays there was hope that everything would be fine. We were still preparing all this time, but weren’t exactly sure if we were going to Worlds. It seemed that we began to gain shape, do something and the doctors said: “We should wait.” It was hard not so much physically but psychologically.
Alexander: After detraining I didn’t lose shape completely, but still you relax, you feel differently. And for the World Championships, you need from average shape reach the peak. The preparation plan was more benign than usual. The training was focused on concentration. Specific parts of the program, elements, something else important – it had to be done qualitatively.
Do you have any ideas about new programs?
Alexander: The most difficult thing is to combine what we want, what Nina Mozer wants and what the viewers want to see. By and large, we skate for the audience, and we were pleased that they liked our free program so much. Many even asked how we will say goodbye to it? I’m not sure but perhaps we will keep it. We will think about it, make a rebranding, restyling, a little refreshment … The program is really successful, and we didn’t skate it in Europe.
This season short program was no less interesting.
Natalia: We are likely to change the short program.
Alexander: Although Peter Tchernyshev did a cool short program. I think no one in the word could have done this program better. To do this, you must be born in Russia, know the topic very well, feel the music as Peter felt.
Will you change something, add something?
Alexander: Of course, we will try to please the audience, think of something new. But the content we will remain the same. We are doing a flip throw consistently, our jump combination is more complicated than Zhenya and Vova have (Tarasova – Morozov – ed.), salchow … We will work on the levels. In current realities, with such programs we can compete with the leaders.
As for the ultra-c elements, we will not do a quadruple throw. When Natasha and I practiced a triple Axel throw, before that we were doing double consistently. It seemed that there were enough height and distance to add one more turn…But it turned into a trauma for Natasha, and we abandoned this idea.
Quad twist is also difficult, but this topic can be discussed, although so far I have no idea how to make this element and whether we need it. Height of the partners play an important role in pair skating. Natasha is tall, it won’t be easy for her to do four turns in a twist, even now, when we have a big height on this element. Juniors do a quad with a lower height, and many girls are not tall, miniature …
So jumps are left. Lutz, flip. Americans who train with us, jump loop. Of course, I support progress. And I think the time will come when the new generation will do all these elements. The technique will change a bit, the idea of complex elements will change a little, and I will be only happy for the guys. But my opinion is that this will not happen in three years before the Beijing Olympics. Too many athletes got injured on difficult elements. Natasha and I have our own tasks for the next season.
Can you explain?
Alexander: This season we improved death spiral, spin. We started to do flip throw and jumps more confidently… But we cannot stop there. A lot of work is ahead.
But the most important thing now is to recover and rest. In the summer I will have a medical survey in the United States, because the Olympic cycle is long and everything must be properly checked. When Natasha and I only teamed up, everything that happened to us was more like a sprint. Actually we had to start from scratch, prepare and qualify to the Olympics. Every year we tried to learn something new. We did not have one hundred percent ready lifts, twists, throws … We had to rush all this. All training camps were spent at the maximum, and for me it was work at the limit. Apparently, all this affected.
This cycle will be similar to the stayer race. It is necessary to properly distribute the loads, compare the strength, desire, plans, opportunities and move forward. In general, our life before the Olympics was more like a sprint, now we have become stayers.
Related topics: Natalia Zabijako Alexander Enbert
I agree! I think the tango program worked for them because it was bold enough that I didn’t fall asleep watching, but not so sensual that they couldn’t handle it (I can’t see them doing something like Virtue/Moir’s Carmen, for instance). If they can just stay in that classy, interesting style, I think they’ll be fine.
I totally agree! Their short program in the Olympic season wasn’t bad at all, but the medieval knight program made me cringe. They are good, pretty skaters, but trying to be warriors is a terrible idea! I think they could maybe try something cool and modern, but they don’t have the fire for a heavy piece of music. I hope they get something decent, but their Instagram posts about the new short program with swords is not comforting.
I liked their gala program to tango. It wasn’t something too intense or too sensual, I think it was a comfortable style for them but still something new. Maybe they should think about something like that for their competitive programs.
Interesting interview! They seem very ambitious. But I really hope they get two new programs. The sword fight short program could’ve been good, but I was so distracted by the “take it off immediately” costumes! I know they love the free program, but to me it was a little boring. I want to see them skating to something dramatic, maybe the theme from Maleficent? Natalia seems so artistic and fun on instagram, but I wish some of that cool personality would show up on the ice.
I think they should go back to style they’re really good at – something lyrical, romantic, maybe classical. They have nice lines, they’re beautiful, why ignore that and try to hide behind sword fights and awful costumes?