Stepanova and Bukin: “Upon arrival in Beijing, at the airport, Sasha was tested positive for covid again. Thank God, all the following tests were negative.”
Interview with Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin. About Olympic season and future plans.
source: fsrussia.ru dd. 23d April 2022 by Olga Ermolina
The Olympic season for every athlete is difficult by definition. For multiple winners of the European Championships, two-time Russian champions in ice dance Alexandra Stepanova – Ivan Bukin, the Olympic finish line turned into an obstacle course. The guys told how the final stage of preparation went, competitions in Beijing, the special Olympic atmosphere, moments of disappointment, which later played the role of motivating factors; post-Olympic performances, the unusually warm and sincere anniversary show of Tatiana Tarasova, the full stands in St. Petersburg and plans for the future.
I think that you, like no other, given the circumstances of four years ago, had a great desire and goal to go to the Olympic Games.
Ivan: We had a crazy desire. We have been preparing since the beginning of the season. Even the vacation was reduced to two weeks in order to do everything in time, to do it as best as possible. During the season we faced a lot of problems. But if we take the season as such, it turned out very interesting, not easy, but memorable, because we were able, managed and got to the Olympic Games!
You know, the atmosphere of the Olympic Games, all these impressions still remain with us, because the Olympics are a completely different format of competition, everything is different. Surprisingly, but there we were probably even less nervous and worried, because we were in anticipation of this event.
Alexandra: We were so happy that we got to the Olympics! That we can see all this with our own eyes, be in the Olympic village, even in the dining room, where you can meet athletes from different countries and not only from figure skating. Different teams, the joy of victories, worries about failures – all this caused incredible emotions … I don’t know, some completely different feelings that are remembered for a lifetime. Very cool!
You can be understood, because the final weeks of preparation were very difficult for you. Can you tell?
Alexandra: Now, perhaps, we can lift the veil of what happened to us. Unfortunately, problems arose almost before the Olympics itself, which greatly complicated the preparation.
Ivan: I will say this: before the start at the Olympics, Sasha and I skated together for two and a half days. On February 1, we were supposed to fly to Beijing, but did not fly. Sasha had a positive PCR test. Accordingly, we tried with all our might to recover. I skated alone, Sasha was treated at home.
That’s why you didn’t go to the training camp in Krasnoyarsk?
Ivan: No. Initially, we did not want to go there, because a large group of specialists and coaches worked with us, and it was easier for us to prepare in Novogorsk, where there are excellent conditions. In addition, we were 99 percent sure that we would not compete in the Olympic team event, so we planned to fly to Beijing on February 1st, a week for adaptation, practice on the Olympic ice, cheer for our guys in team event, and enjoy the atmosphere of the Olympic Games. But everything turned out the other way.
Alexandra: At first, I really didn’t feel well, I had a fever. I took all the necessary medicines. Was treated. I took tests every day, and as soon as the result became negative, I arrived in Novogorsk. I skated alone in the evening to feel my legs, but happiness did not last long. In Novogorsk, we were also constantly tested, and about a day later my test again was positive… It turned out that we spent the entire period of time given for the mini-training camp before the Olympics in continuous worries, very nervously.
On the eve of flying for the Olympics, I had two different tests, but we still flew at our own risk, because many athletes have faced the situation that someone had false positive tests before. But upon arrival in Beijing, at the airport, I took test and it turns out that it is positive again. Of course, I was “closed”. Thank God, all the following tests were negative. We only have two days left before the event. In principle, this was the time when we normally skated together, did the work at full strength.
Ivan: Why didn’t we talk about it then? Because we didn’t want to look for excuses for ourselves. Once we have arrived, we perform. It would be possible to blame the circumstances, to name the reasons. But mostly, no one cares. Sasha and I decided not to dwell on what had happened, but to go and skate. And in fact, rhythm dance turned out to be such a buzz!
Alexandra: And we skated the free program until a certain moment, until this unfortunate mistake happened. We changed that choreographic element literally the day before, and it was not prepared well in the program. But to be honest, it didn’t seem to us that it was difficult, it was easier than the others. I stood on my two feet, Vanya did not fully hold me … Everything should have been fine. And then this mistake…
At that moment I experienced a real shock. You see, when an experienced athlete makes a mistake, he tries not to show it. As we had at the Moulin Rouge, there were incidents with a dress, hair, but there I had time to mobilize. But here it was just a shock…
We had one element left – the choreo step sequence, and I don’t even remember how I finished it. Didn’t understand what was happening. The only mistake at the very end of the performance just knocked me out. And it was so sad! After all, despite all the difficulties, we still arrived, we perform, we almost finished the free program and bam … Why?
Ivan: Actually, it was very upsetting. But I want to say that all these chaotic things that happened before the competitions did not prevent us from enjoying the Olympics later, because, I repeat, the Olympic Games are special competitions. Yes, we went to the World and European Championships – major events, which also have their own atmosphere, adrenaline. But the Olympic Games are still different, grandiose, large-scale.
Covid restrictions, of course, affected the festive atmosphere. But it was still there, making its way through masks, gloves, everything, and we could feel it. Too bad we left early. On the one hand, I already wanted to go home, so that after everything I had experienced, I could calmly exhale. But on the other hand, to be honest, there was also a desire to walk around, watch other sports, cheer for ours. But since the conditions at the Olympics were tough, we were told to go home.
Even before Beijing, you announced that you did not intend to end your sports career. Did participating in the Olympics give you an extra motivation?
Ivan: We have changed. The realization came that sports life consists of many events, but the Olympic Games still stand apart and it is these competitions that I want to win. To be honest, before Beijing, I personally did not have such a conscious desire. Probably partly because you don’t know, don’t understand what the Olympics are. And when you saw and felt all this, it becomes clear that standing on a podium, winning an Olympic medal is very valuable. For every athlete. Because this is the result of a long and hard journey, with all the problems, difficulties, overcomings, in order to achieve such a result. And it doesn’t matter, although no it does, of course it does, and yet, an Olympic medal of any value is very cool! And honestly, I really want to win an Olympic medal. I think I would even sleep with this medal.
After the Olympics, you took part in several shows. Were these performances different from those in previous years? Was there a desire to realize to the maximum, since the end of the season, for known reasons, did not turn out as planned?
Alexandra: If there was a World Championships, we would skate more calmly in the show. And here I really wanted to express myself as much as possible. I remember the past years: you come to the show – a little less ice, different lighting, and at first you do everything more restrained, watch the size of the ice, your partner … Of course, you skate with emotions, but still you hold yourself a little, more control. And now we were performing with greater impact. I can say for sure for myself – something like this is happening, you want to prove …
Ivan: I want to thank everyone who invites us to the show. There is another moment here. The organizers offer participants different music for the performances, and there is an opportunity to try to do something on our own. There is an element of creativity, when we ourselves can create, change something, invent and then show the audience.
At such moments, I even feel a little like a coach: “Sasha, let’s do it, no, it’s better like that.” I can’t explain, but this is actually a “timid” creative work that reveals and makes you want to open up even more. And this process itself is very important for an athlete, because you do and repeat not only what they say, but you yourself start to try, to participate. Probably, from now on, treat everything you do differently, more consciously.
As a child, after all, you came to training, worked. Perhaps someone perceives this not as a pleasure, but as a punishment. Anyway, when I was little, I thought that training was my punishment. They brought me at 7 in the morning and made me to skate … And now everything that happens on the ice makes you look at figure skating with a new look.
Does the specificity of performing in the show require additional experience?
Alexandra: Everything matters at any performance. For example, we skate at our rink, and we come to competitions and there is the same light, just brighter, and we need to adapt to it.
To some extent, we were lucky, because we started to travel early and perform in the show of Igor Bobrin and Natalia Bestemyanova. And there, not only did the light change, but they let out smoke, something flew overhead, and this should not have interfered with the performance.
Ivan: Experience is needed in any case. To participate in exhibitions or shows, you need at least an understanding of how this happens. But I think that now every athlete who performs in a show in our country is trying to do it as coolly and sincerely as possible, to show everything he can. And in such difficult conditions, light, on a smaller ice rink, this can turn into trouble. It is necessary, of course, to control everything. But I want to say that almost always we, and all the guys who participate in the show, go to look at our single skaters because they do something incredible on the ice.
What recent show do you remember the most?
Ivan: Anniversary show of Tatiana Anatolievna Tarasova. It was just incredible! Very warm, sincere! Such a wonderful atmosphere! I didn’t even want it to end. They would have given us a week, we would have skated for another week… Everything was very kind, and the audience felt it.
Alexandra: Indeed, there was a very cozy, warm atmosphere. Light! Five years ago, we already participated in the anniversary show of Tatiana Anatolievna, and since then we have good memories.
Talking about the show, Vanya noticed that it is very interesting to be involved in the creative work of creating new performances. What would you like to see in new programs?
Alexandra: Of course, we can do something ourselves, but our whole team is working on ideas, competitive programs – Irina Vladimirovna (Zhuk), Alexander Vasilyevich (Svinin), Alexei Gorshkov, Nikolai Morozov, our choreographers, Alena Samarskaya, specialists. Vanya and I can prepare a performance for the show. But to make a program “from and to” is different thing. This is a different job, a different level of responsibility. We have not yet had such experience, so, of course, we need to work together.
Would you like to continue in the same style as the programs of this season? Because both were remembered, the audience liked them very much.
Alexandra: We really want the audience to be interested in watching what we do on the ice. I would like not just to tell some story on the ice, but to make everything match, work out – skill, music, idea …
Ivan: In the upcoming season, it will be possible to boldly try yourself in different directions. We hope we succeed. We are ready for all changes, and any changes must be approached with the internal attitude that we have. We really want to move forward.
Alexandra: So that we have programs that the audience watched, enjoyed.
The season ended for you with the Channel One Cup, our team did not go to the World Championships, and you need to find new motivation for yourself.
Alexandra: Of course, we were upset that we did not go to the World Championships. But let’s live in hope.
Ivan: Sport has always been a bridge connecting people. Skaters from different countries come to any competition, junior or senior, World championships, European championships or Grand Prix stages, international events, showingg their skills, skills they have worked on over the years. For this, athletes sacrifice a lot. Sports have always brought people together. No wonder we often say: rivals on the ice, friends in life.
Alexandra: We have a clear plan to move on, because there is experience, there are opportunities and a desire to reveal ourselves. We will find motivating moments for ourselves – take risks somewhere, try new things, gain experience, try to reach a different level, and most importantly, use time to good use.
Ivan: All the most important and interesting, we hope, is still ahead.
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