“The main argument, as Ruben put it, was that “fun is more important to me than results.” And he stopped getting joy from training.” Alisa Efimova about the breakup of their pair with Ruben Blommaert
Interview with Alisa Efimova. About the breakup of their pair with Ruben Blommaert, this season and plans for the future.
source: MatchTV dd. 14 April 2023 by Marina Chernysheva-Melnik
When we talked last spring, you said that you were looking forward for a busy season after a long break from sports. And that’s exactly what happened. Let’s go over all the competitions in order. You debuted with Ruben at the Nebelhorn Trophy – in the country you represent – and immediately won a medal. How much did that motivate you?
Alisa Efimova: It was really awesome. I didn’t know what it would be like to compete after such a long break. We were the first to perform because we didn’t have a ranking and we didn’t know how we would be perceived. We skated the short program clean, the judges appriciated it, and we maade it to the strongest warm-up in the free program. As a result, we even won a medal.
Of course, ut was a wonderful result after such uncertainty. I finished the competition with a feeling of immense gratitude for being able to do what I love again.
Then there was the Finlandia Trophy in your home country, and you won silver there too. I remember you once said that this event was the happiest moment in your career. How was the atmosphere in Finland?
Alisa Efimova: It’s a familiar place, yes, and I have a lot of acquaintances there. It’s always nice to skate at that arena. My mother also came to support us with Ruben.
And soon we came to Finland again – at the Grand Prix stage in Espoo. There was an unexpectedly warm moment there: my mother’s student was invited to perform. The girl got a spot because a Finnish singles skater withdrew a day before the competitions started. So, for the first time, I participated in the Grand Prix as an athlete, and my mother as a coach. It was a double celebration for our family.
I was so happy for my mom and her student! And everything ended successfully, plus my dad and brother came for the exhibition performances. In general, my native Finland is my happy territory (smiling).
How did you manage to get into the Grand Prix, considering the absence of a joint international ranking?
Alisa Efimova: The thing is, we got high scores at the Nebelhorn Trophy and immediately added a lot to our ranking. Then there were other “Challenger” competitions, and we earned stages along the way.
In general, our competition calendar was constantly changing, there was no stability or clear plan, we always had to rush.
Why did you withdraw from the free program at the Canadian Grand Prix?
Alisa Efimova: In the short program, I fell on a throw and badly bruised my thigh. The next day, when we went for practice, it became clear that it was impossible to skate the free program to the fullest.
As far as I remember, you missed the German Nationals due to Ruben’s flu.
Alisa Efimova: Yes, he got sick just a couple of days before the event. It was serious: high fever. Therefore, we understood that we wouldn’t be able to show our best.
Does this Championships give any particular clarity on the composition of the national team, like in Russia?
Alisa Efimova: In and of itself, this one competition is not decisive. In Germany, the selection for major competitions takes into account the sum of the best results of skaters in the first half of the season. They look at the quality of the skating and the scores at the competitions.
The National Championships plays a role only in the sense that you can earn even more points, which will go into the internal ranking. Thanks to the fact that Ruben and I had a good first half of the season, won medals, we managed to keep our place in the main lineup of the national team.
At the European Championships, you came close to the podium, even won the small bronze. What was missing for the medal?
Alisa Efimova: It was frustrating, but I’m still happy with the small bronze. This is my first European Championships in a long career. Of course, it was very close, and I don’t remember what prevented us from getting a medal. Our preparation was shortened due to Ruben’s illness. It’s bitter, but that’s the way it is. And still, to become fourth in Europe is cool!
I guess after the successes, you had a strong motivation regarding the World Championships.
Alisa Efimova: Right, and finally, we had a lot of time. We even canceled a trip to an intermediate competitions in the Netherlands, which we initially planned for the ranking. We decided that we wouldn’t participate, but just dedicate the time to training. After all, the endless race in the fall, when our schedule changed on the fly, took its toll. On the one hand, we were very happy to receive the Grand Prix, but we were always worried and tired. Therefore, it was important to switch to a calm mode.
So we did: calmly prepared for the World Championships, skated the programs. There was no rush, and there was a good feeling from the process. Everything went smoothly for two months, without any extra nerves or force majeure.
You made it to the top ten best pairs in the world. On the one hand, it’s great, and on the other hand, an athlete always wants the maximum. How did you personally assess this result?
Alisa Efimova: Of course, the situation is ambiguous. Being in the top ten at the main event of the season is fantastic. Especially since this is my first World Championships! Plus, the competition was held in Japan, in a particularly warm atmosphere. Everything was new and amazing!
We clearly couldn’t fight for medals and understood that from the beginning, without building any illusions. So, we were satisfied with the result we achieved. But I realized that I want more! I felt that I didn’t show all of my potential, and ultimately left with a feeling of sporting hunger.
What did your coaches say to you?
Alisa Efimova: Overall, they were satisfied. But they knew that we could have skated better. After all, we were well-prepared, and everything was working out during training and previous competitions. At Worlds, we fell in both programs, but if we had skated clean, we might have received higher scores. At the very least, the whole team wanted to keep our seventh-place ranking after the short program.
Why did your partner decide to quit the sport after a successful debut season for your pair?
Alisa Efimova: The mindset was up in the air for a long time. The main argument, as Ruben put it, was that “fun is more important to me than results.” That is, he stopped getting joy from training and therefore didn’t know if he wanted to continue.
In turn, I had many questions because my life in Oberstdorf depended on our future plans. After all, if our pair ceases to exist, how do we plan for the new season? Should I extend my rental contract? After all, I am a foreigner in Germany, and it’s much more difficult for me in terms of everyday life. Life goes on, and understanding is important. At some point, I asked for a clear decision, but Ruben replied that he was still thinking…
What was Ruben missing to enjoy figure skating and your achievements in competitions?
Alisa Efimova: It’s better to ask him; I can’t answer that myself. He listed many factors that influenced his decision.
Ruben also mentioned the problem of a lack of financial support from the German federation, which was the case in the previous season. Did the athletes not get rewarded for their successes in the season?
Alisa Efimova: Indeed, we did receive less funding for the next season, and we would have had to pay for trips to Challenger events and Grand Prix stages ourselves. In January, we received a letter from the federation outlining how much money they were allocating. Yes, they probably should have rewarded us. I don’t know the reason for the decrease in funding.
In any case, there is always a way out if there is a desire! Plus, as a German athlete, Ruben serves in the army and receives a salary. He is a Bundeswehr serviceman and lives at home. It’s easier for him in terms of money than it is for me.
But isn’t it a common practice among European figure skaters – to invest in their sport themselves or to raise money through crowdfunding, which so confused your partner?
Alisa Efimova: I don’t know about other European countries, I can only speak about the conditions in Germany in the past season. Because in the previous two years, I invested solely my own funds into figure skating (my family helped me a lot).
But in the last season, the German federation paid for our ice time in Oberstdorf, choreography lessons, and partially for the programs. So, there is good support here. I’ve heard from other teams that it can be more difficult with money.
When and how did Ruben tell you his decision?
Alisa Efimova: Right after the competitions in Japan, he firmly told me that he was finished with the sport.
Did you and the coaches try to persuade him otherwise?
Alisa Efimova: We were all interested in continuing to compete as a pair until the 2026 Olympics. We discussed and agreed on this from the beginning, set up a plan and worked towards it. When Ruben began to waver, the coaches brought in a psychologist and hoped that it would help. But unfortunately, it didn’t work out! It’s upsetting that (coach) Florian Just tried to find a compromise so that all team members would be comfortable during training, and so that Ruben and I could each realize our potential.
You know, I think it’s important for all team members to accept the conditions, to have a common desire. It all starts with the person who is focused on the result. I also made many sacrifices, tried to build my work in a new environment. I originally come from a different culture and trained for a long time in Russia. Much of what I experienced in Oberstdorf was unfamiliar, but I accepted it and at the same time tried to show my best qualities in new conditions. It was difficult, but it was also working on myself and my responsibility. I wanted to continue skating, and since such a chance arose under the flag of Germany, I did everything possible to become a worthy representative of this country’s team. But in collaborative work, one-sided efforts are not enough.
How’s everything going with you right now? A couple of weeks ago, you said firmly that you would continue your career, and several try outs were planned.
Alisa Efimova: Yes, I am definitely motivated, looking for a suitable partner. It’s very difficult – many factors have to come together. Especially organizational issues prevail, as there are less than three years left until the next Olympics. There were tryouts, but nothing specific. Now I’m in America and I want to finally make a decision. In general, I have a regime: some information comes in, an opportunity … and my coaches and I immediately grab it!
And fly across the ocean!
Alisa Efimova: About like that (smiling). Everything is very spontaneous, I have to think on the go. That’s how I’ve been living since Tokyo. Of course, the most optimal option for me now is Germany. I have still gone through a certain path in the national team, invested a lot, and have excellent training conditions and, most importantly, specialists who believe in me.
Starting everything in another country is very risky: there is an immediate problem with documents, and in September I could already apply for German citizenship. I would have had enough time to do it before the Olympics. But I try to solve problems as they come, step by step. That’s the challenging situation I’m in now, standing at a crossroads.
Do you have a clear attitude and belief in participating in the 2026 Games?
Alisa Efimova: Yes, because too much has already been invested, especially over the past three years. I feel responsible to my family and understand that I cannot give up everything. I absolutely do not want to do that! There was so much effort invested, I must go all the way. After my last performance for Russia, the work plan was for six years, and now we’re at the halfway point (even a little more), and the situation is such that everything is in question. We urgently need to make a decision that will help us achieve the most important goal – to perform at the Olympics.
You are one of the few figure skaters representing Europe now who spoke in support of your Russian colleagues against their suspension from international competitions. It’s very nice.
Alisa Efimova: And how else can you find out who the strongest in the world is? Sports are global, we have one planet. If you choose the best, then from all athletes who are ready to fight.
Did you talk to Russian-speaking figure skaters at the European and World Championships?
Alisa Efimova: Oh, yes, there were many of us there, and I managed to talk to some. It’s cool that Nastya Gubanova became the European champion! I watched her free program live and congratulated her.
Did you communicate with your former partner Alexander Korovin during the World Championships?
Alisa Efimova: We even met earlier, at the Finlandia Trophy. We talked a little, although during the competitions we all too focused on ourselves. Later on, Sasha and I met at other competitions during the season, everything was good.
What is your ultimate dream right now?
Alisa Efimova: I want to find my place in the world of sports. I know that my beloved family is always waiting for me at home in Finland, no matter what happens. But I love figure skating and want to continue my path as far as possible. I have already put in a lot of effort and investment, so I want to go all the way and find a team that will help me achieve success together. This is my biggest desire at the moment.
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Thanks for posting. Good luck to Alisa. Hoping Olympics will be worth the efforts;) And all the best to Ruben – he had to follow his ‘dream’;)