Oksana Baiul: “Tutberidze is trying to build her show “Champions on Ice” where she will be the main star, and not her athletes.”
Interview with Oksana Baiul. About Eteri Tutberidze’s system, Alina Zagitova, Evgenia Medvedeva Alexandra Trusova and figure skating in Russia.
source: sport-express.ru dd. 5th July 2021 by Dmitri Kuznetsov
Oksana, you are almost the most popular person in Russian figure skating now, a new generation of fans has learned about you. And the reaction, you know, is different. What do you think about it?
Oksana Baiul: Well, it’s great that Russia has such a reaction on me. It all started when one day I came home from a training session and saw a girl, Kamila Valieva, jumping the quadruple at the test skates in September 2020. Hands opened, flies to the right … and falls very hard. I posted it on social media with the comment that after such falls, it’s possible not to get up. Yes, I expressed what I thought. Hips and knees hurt the most, and many replace them. Aleksei Yagudin and Tara Lipinski have had their hips replaced. Alexei also did not jump enough elements before including them into the program.
Of course, after that an influx of Russian fans came to me, saying, well it’s Kamila … But my opinion remains the same: I’m not against quads. But I am opposed to figure skating moving in its current direction. And then it began – they began to offer me an interview, one of the most popular Russian sports sites. I called my friends in Russia, they told me: “Oksana, this is a dump.”
It seems to me that in sports, as well as in the entertainment industry, you cannot take everything to heart. There should be a lot of opinions, that’s okay. I have the opinion of an Olympic champion. Well, they started to call me different things… It’s funny to me. This means that I did not lose my core, which helped me achieve success.
We will definitely talk about your opinion about Russian figure skating, while I want to tell a new generation about you. What does your average day look like?
Oksana Baiul: An ordinary married life. I get up at 5:30 in the morning and cook. Then we go with our daughter to training. There are always some chores around the house. Calm, a very normal lifestyle.
So you can already be called a coach?
Oksana Baiul: No, I am first of all a mother, I develop a love of figure skating in her. She already does the squat better than me. Although of course I can jump double axel even now. Considering how long ago I started, this is not bad. (Laughs) Now I’m training, negotiations are underway for the return of the American show “Champions on Ice”.
You started back in the Soviet Union at the end of the 80s.
Oksana Baiul: Yes, in SC “Meteor” in Dnipropetrovsk. Stanislav Zhuk even came there, wanted to take me to Moscow, but for some reason my mother did not agree, and I stayed in Ukraine. I was lucky, it was one of the best bases in the USSR. On Saturday there was a sauna, game day. I had to work, but it was not hard labor. And my next coach, Valentin Nikolaev, had a “do less, but smarter” approach. This is how we won the first World Championships in 1993, which was fantastic.
Oksana Baiul: I was in the lead before the free program. At the practice I did everything instantly, and they took me away from the rink. I made a run-through and left confident in myself. After that, everyone began to shake, redo programs. Nancy Karrigan began to jump the most difficult jump, the triple lutz, one after another, it was too much. So we scared them. True, I myself crashed into the board after the loop during the warm-up. After that, it remained only to tell myself that I would definitely become the world champion.
At the Olympics, it was even more “fun” for you.
Oksana Baiul: I was preparing for it in Ukraine. It was very hard. Zero money. The ice resurfacing machine was broken, we had to prepared the ice ourselves. And everything went according to the principle of “less, but of better quality”. It was very cold, we almost didn’t make full run-throughs, so as not to catch a fever. Yeah, it was an interesting season.
But you must admit that the showdown in the American team between Karrigan and Harding helped you to win.
Oksana Baiul: I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t watch TV, and I realized that something was wrong only when we arrived to Lillehammer. It was also funny there – for example, my warm pants disappeared from the uniform set. Therefore, I did not go to the opening ceremony – so as not to get sick, the coaches held me back. Where these pants have gone, why they were not given – I have no idea.
When practices had started, a strange feeling came. Ukraine and USA are next to each other in alphabetical order, so we skated next to them. Practices turned into a show, a lot of people, a crowd of the press. It turned out that it was no longer possible to skate badly. But yes, I won Olympic gold from an American. And now I live in America.
I especially remember the confusion after the end of competitions, when they could not find the anthem. Our team leader Lyudmila Mikhailovskaya is told: “We cannot find Ukrainian anthem. But we can play the Russian anthem!” After these words, she got into a car with a flashing light, drove to the Olympic village, brought the anthem, and they turned it on. But, for example, Nancy Kerrigan was told that I was crying and need to refresh myself. You can imagine her reaction. She was not ready to lose. But that’s how God decided. Tutberidze once told in an interview: Olympic medals are a merit from above.
After the victory, you even was in the delegation of President Kravchuk during his visit to the United States. Is it true?
Oksana Baiul: Yes, after the end of the Olympics, they even sent a presidential plane for us. We were getting to the Olympics as best we could. By trains, by ferries across rivers, horse and buggy in short. It was all about finances. At the award ceremony they said that President Clinton wants to see us in America. We really flew there with Kravchuk. I remember that he read the newspaper, and I walked up and down the salon – a cheerful, 16-year-old girl. This clearly irritated him. But the mood was good – I won, and we are flying to Clinton himself, in the USA! Clinton gave us a reception us even earlier than his team. When we arrived, left the gangway, everyone ran to me, and Kravchuk stayed behind. He hardly enjoyed that trip. (Laughs.)
After this trip, did you decide to move to the USA? How did this happen?
Oksana Baiul: At the age of 16, you do not control your career yourself. There are a lot of nannies and managers behind the rink. It was not my wish. They just told me that we were leaving, but not for long. The same Kravchuk promised to establish conditions in Odessa. But we got sucked into life America.
There were a lot of Russians there, too, for sure you crossed paths with them.
Oksana Baiul: What was left to do? The situation in Russia was also not easy. You are a young fan of figure skating, and Tamara Nikolaevna Moskvina, whom I congratulate on her birthday, remembers those times very well. We trained at the same skating rink in New Jersey. Many have moved, and America has taken everyone well. We even had ice free of charge.
Do you associate your words that Tatiana Tarasova “loves money, not Russia” with that period?
Oksana Baiul: I just answered Tatiana Anatolyevna. She, honestly, understands the strength of figure skaters better than anyone in the world, knows my story perfectly, and she is one of the most authoritative voices in the world of figure skating. And she says that everyone has already forgotten that I became an Olympic champion, and now I allegedly try to remind about me. Such words give rise to situations like those of Emma Hajiyeva (ex-figure skater and journalist. – ed). Hajiyeva said that I came to the Olympics as number two, forgetting about my victory at the World Championship. And then she apologized and explained that she relied on information from Tatiana Tarasova.
Of course, I will not be silent in response. She knows very well what earnings were in America in the 90s, she knows that after the car accident I returned to the ice and attracted the full arenas. She was here at the time. In Stars on Ice in 2003-2004, I performed with Alexei Yagudin and skated on equal terms, there was no difference between us. And I understand perfectly well that in 2006 she was offered money in Russia, so she went back.
But to be fair you did not return to sports. How is this different from the current situation where girls win and leave?
Oksana Baiul: I had a chance to return in 1998, but you know about the problems with the car accident. If I wanted to return in 2002, I could do that. If we take the current figure skating, I don’t want to offend anyone, but Zagitova and Medvedeva simply cannot do what 15-16-year-olds do. This is the difference. Zhenya wanted to learn quads, but at 21, her body does not allow her to do this. And she understood perfectly well that it was time to return to Russia and perform in shows. It will be insanely difficult for her to compete with children, with the same Trusova with five quads. This is simply not possible.
You have recently said that the story of the car accident that everyone knows is a lie. Can you tell the truth and what is false in the generally accepted version?
Oksana Baiul: The first to arrive were not the police, but the doctors. They took me to the hospital and they sold the information to the Associated Press that I was drunk. Although this is prohibited by law. Then who opened the doors to the club? Didn’t they know that it was Oksana Baiul? But they poured drinks anyway. Honestly, if my team had acted differently at that time, the result would have been different. I earned money, and they were transferred through the Cayman Islands to Ukraine by my team. In recent years, there have been courts with Ukraine, I tried to get my money back (Baiul lost the court. – ed). Because of this, the Minister of Justice called me a fallen angel. And after a couple of years I found in the Internet that he himself is already under investigation. Corruption in Ukraine is huge, I don’t know if this problem can ever be resolved or not.
You are one of the most prominent figures in Russian figure skating too. Tell me why Alina Zagitova and Tatiana Navka did not please you? Why did you decide to troll them about the crown?
Oksana Baiul: I love ballet, I’ve seen Tsiskaridze once, and he is a dancer from God, a revolutionary. Most do not understand what I am talking about. When a person comes to figure skating, it is already the world of art and the entertainment industry, show business. Yes, I said that Alina and Navka had an argument about a crown. Now there are four Olympic champions in this role. One crown for four people. It’s like four prima ballerinas in one role in one ballet. If Maya Plisetskaya dances in Swan Lake, she creates her own artistic image. And when the image of Navka will be embodied by four different people, it’s strange. I thought the crown still belonged to her. In addition, the show is more for dancers, and not for single skaters.
Alina, in your understanding, is not a revolutionary? Don’t you like her artistic image, or do you lack uniqueness? She also won the Olympics at 15, when it seemed to many that another person should win.
Oksana Baiul: I was cheering for Zhenya [Medvedeva] in 2018. And I look at what she and Alina are doing – they are two different people. At the moment, Alina has not created anything of her own. At least in 1993, I introduced the “ring” (doughnut?) spin to the world of figure skating.
Did Zhenya contribute more than Alina?
Oksana Baiul: Well let’s see how it will be.
Were you surprised that Alina answered you so amicably?
Oksana Baiul: Absolutely not. Her answer perfectly characterized Alina. She is a nice, gentle girl. She said: “Don’t worry, I will give this crown back to Navka.” I would not give my crown to anyone to wear and would not return it back. But that’s me. And here she wore it and then gave back.
It turns out that Zagitova doesn’t have a champion character?
Oksana Baiul: I won’t say that. She is a champion, she won the Games. But what will happen next is a question. What the fans see is completely different from what is happening behind the scenes. There is such a game … a separate business.
You’ve already said that you don’t like where figure skating is moving. Women’s single skating is now associated with the name of Eteri Tutberidze. Do you have any complaints about her system?
Oksana Baiul: The coach always took care of me. Now Eteri is trying to build her show “Champions on Ice” so that her athletes will perform there. It turns out that she will earn both as a producer and as a coach. This is somehow wrong, in my opinion. These are different professions. The coach shouldn’t be your manager.
But, what if she is so talented that she can manage everywhere?
Oksana Baiul: She has a team of people, choreographers, technicians. She, as I understand it, stands on top and directs everything. Rather like that. So, in my opinion, this is not very good.
In many ways, Tutberidze personifies the transformation of figure skating into mathematics, the emphasis is on jumping. Does this bother you?
Oksana Baiul: Yes, artistry is already gone. There is no time to be an artist. It is necessary to jump, have time to make transitions, steps. There is no time even to open your arm beautifully. Now Alina and Zhenya will skate in the show, the artistry will came. But when you’re preparing for the Olympics, you don’t have time for shows. Only training from morning to night. And even at the age of 14-16, a person does not really feel the depth, it is difficult for him to show the artistic image that the choreographer came up with.
Maybe your trash-talk approach can help promote the sport and compensate for the losses? Plushenko and Tutberidze did it very well in the previous season.
Oksana Baiul: And before Plushenko there was Orser … When the press began to promote their confrontation. Before that, Zhenya and Alina were pitched against each other.
But let’s not pretend that Zhenya and Alina have an ideal relationship.
Oksana Baiul: I will not comment, I do not know. But this is your job, I understand.
Did it surprise you that the girls who left Tutberidze returned to her a year later?
Oksana Baiul: Sasha Trusova will just motivate the rest now. When she left Plushenko, I did not recognize her. She matured, they did a lot of work on pushing during the take off. Her lutz became without pre-rotation, earlier she jumped it from a full blade. Apparently, Evgeni got her with injuries, and they spent a huge amount of time in the gym to pump up her injuries. How it’s done? The muscles that hold the sore spot are built up. So that it stops hurting. She did well, she was strong.
Then the come back looks illogical.
Oksana Baiul: I agree, but that’s just my opinion. Because if you compare Shcherbakova and Trusova at the World Championships, these are two different physical preparation. Anna is much weaker physically than Sasha, I mean how she looked on the ice. Before the Olympics, everything depends on the coaching staff. If they work smartly, they will keep the best. They will work stupidly – all her sores will come out again.
You said that it is unrealistic to do quads at 21, but there is such a person as Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. She shows that it is possible, and even takes medals. What do you think about her story?
Oksana Baiul: This is an athlete who works according to the old school, as I did in my time. This is the Professor who trains her. They, however, did not include the quadruple into the program. But Mishin is a genius. He can work with athletes and not kill them. And there are coaches who took – and the next one, the next one.
Apparently, you’re talking about Eteri Georgievna.
Oksana Baiul: Well not only about her. There are many others.
Is figure skating in crisis now?
Oksana Baiul: I wouldn’t say that. In Russia, it follows the path that has already been traversed in America. Market oversaturation. There are two shows in Sochi alone, and people will buy tickets for $ 50 – this is very expensive. Now there are too much product.
And the bubble will burst?
Oksana Baiul: God blesses it won’t. But there are not so many people who can pay that kind of money and go from one show to another. Now for Alina, then for Zhenya, then for someone else … And the audience must grow up with their athletes every year. I don’t see it. Take the same “Champions on Ice” – the main star there will be Eteri Tutberidze, and not her athletes.
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