“You realize that some athletes in the cafeteria look at you so strangely, turn around, and you can’t help but think about it. And you realize that you’re supposed to be a strong girl, but…” big interview with Kamila Valieva
Interview with Kamila Valieva. About continuation of her career, pressure at the Olympics and Eteri Tutberidze. Parts of this interview were posted before.
source: sports.ru 24th April 2023
Big conversation with Maxim Trankov after the season.
There were many new competitions and innovations from the Russian Figure Skating Federation this season. What do you think about it?
Kamila Valieva: It’s great because we had international events canceled, but we still had the same Grand Prix-like stages and the Final. In Russia, the competition is very high, especially in women’s skating. It was very interesting to come up with a new exhibition program that no one had seen before, to compete with you – wonderful Olympic champions, with skaters who have achieved a lot in life. It was very interesting.
Two victories in the Grand Prix stages, two silvers – the Russian Nationals and the Russian Grand Prix Final, personal gold in the jumping competition, the most discussed exhibition program in the history of figure skating, captain at the Channel One Cup, the audience’s favorite award at the “Russian Challenge,” a triple axel in the Olympic short program at a show in St. Petersburg. Are you satisfied with this season?
Kamila Valieva: Yes, I am very satisfied. The way I started the season… and the way I finished it was much better. Closing the season, I even landed a triple axel in the short program. This is probably the most exciting season for me.
What stands out the most? The most pleasant emotion?
Kamila Valieva: The Russian Jumping Championships. I did 8 toe loops for the first time ever. In training, I managed to do two at most, but here, thanks to the audience, thanks to the interesting competition, which was held for the first time, I did 8 toe loops and won the gold. It can’t help but make me happy.
Did you enjoy performing more as part of a team or individually?
Kamila Valieva: I was very nervous in the team event because I was representing my group, Eteri Georgievna, and I wanted to perform well without making mistakes. And I succeeded. But when I went out for individual competitions, I was completely calm and confident that I would land those jumps, even though I usually get very nervous. I just enjoyed the moment.
It seems like you enjoy skating. Is it true, or are you just a great actress?
Kamila Valieva: I really love it when I understand the program, what I’m skating about. I add my own emotions so that each person can see something of their own in my performance – that’s my ideal. It brings me joy to derive pleasure from a well-executed program, both technically and artistically.
In last year’s short program – the Olympic one – on the steps sequence, I don’t see anyone at all. I only know the story, and I tell it, adding emotions and movements. It is this short program that I want to highlight because skating it brings me immense pleasure, and I will do it an infinite number of times. I don’t think I will ever get tired of it.
Do you have a least favorite program or one that was the most challenging?
Kamila Valieva: Perhaps the most challenging one was this season’s short program – “Interstellar.” I am simply in love with the music; it’s beautiful. But I didn’t have a deep understanding of it internally, and I couldn’t skate it the way I could have.
You broke stereotypes this season. It’s commonly believed that after the Olympics, everyone retires. But you stayed, motivating others. Where do you find the strength?
Kamila Valieva: I don’t know why, but in the first six months after the Olympics, I thought it would be incredibly difficult to continue, not to think about everything they wrote, said back then. And you grow, your body changes, you return to training after a break, and you realize that you can’t do a triple jump. You attempt a triple toe loop, but it’s not there.
Over time, as you slowly recover and participate in competitions in front of the audience, you realize the tremendous support you have – not only from a small group of people, the coaching staff, family, and friends but also from the outside.
People truly believe in you, they want to see you skate. And immediately, inspiration comes, and the desire comes. I simply set new goals and pursue them calmly, without rushing, trying to make progress for the long run, not just the short term.
Eteri Georgievna spoke about your personal growth: “In the past season, she showed herself stronger than she was in the Olympic year. Even after one of the performances, she said, ‘Oh, if only I had those qualities back then.'” What qualities are being referred to?
Kamila Valieva: It’s very gratifying that Eteri Georgievna highlighted that. It means that it’s all true. Perhaps I started worrying less if something didn’t work out. I began to approach preparation more seriously. I feel and listen to my body more. Previously, I could arrive an hour and a half before ice training, and you train to the point where you step onto the ice already burnt out, with tired muscles.
You don’t have that much reserve of strength and energy, especially for a small child, a teenager, to endure constant two-hour training sessions in a stressful situation. Now I feel that if I’m ready to warm up, it’s not more than 30-40 minutes. I’m more in tune with my body, and I’ve simply matured – that’s the most important thing.
Have you also matured in life? Have you become independent?
Kamila Valieva: Almost, ha-ha. No, my mom still helps me.
How? Does she tell you, “Kamila, it’s time to sleep”?
Kamila Valieva: No, that means she doesn’t help. In that sense, I’ve become more organized.
My mom helps in the sense that if I need to get ready somewhere and I physically can’t manage it all, she helps me gather my things: clothes, cosmetics. But I can cook by myself, go to competitions by myself as well. If I happen to travel without my mom, it’s not a tragedy. I actually enjoy traveling alone – you’re in your own world, in your own rhythm.
Do you think your mom is a little bit sad about this?
Kamila Valieva: I think she is, yes. But we talk about it all the time. I joke with her, “You understand that in a year, I’ll be moving out, right?” And she replies, “Yes, yes, I’ll come visit you.” I don’t think that at 18 years old, I’ll just say goodbye. I hope it will be an adult life, but with good communication with my mom.
You always emphasize that your mom has been very helpful and has always supported you in sports. Do you think you could have gone through this path without her involvement?
Kamila Valieva: No. Absolutely not. She enrolled me in dance classes, made sure I did exercises that helped me in the gym. Now it has become a habit for me. I understand that to achieve flexibility, I need to take dance classes, work on my muscles. We did a lot of off-ice development.
She helped me a lot. I did choreography every day, twice a day. I attended preparatory classes at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography. I want to say a big thank you to my mom for all this tremendous effort. She spent a huge amount of time on me, and it all bore fruit. I hope it made her happy.
During the most difficult moment in your career, you were without your mom. How was that? Did you still feel her support, or did you miss it a lot in that moment?
Kamila Valieva: I really didn’t want to worry her, so I filtered what I messaged her, what I told her on the phone. I needed to communicate, I did communicate, but very cautiously because she gets really concerned. I had so many worries myself at that moment, so I spoke to her cautiously.
Mostly, I poured out everything I thought about the whole situation to Mark Kondratiuk. But I tried to get the biggest support from my mom while being careful in how I approached her.
In a situation where you needed to take care of yourself, you also found the strength to take care of someone close to you. That’s a very good quality. And everyone thinks that you’re naturally talented, flexible, but in fact, there’s also a lot of hard work involved.
Kamila Valieva: Yes, talent is 20%, and hard work is 80%. It involves a tremendous amount of training, stretching, dancing. Perhaps the most important aspect is dancing. It helped me feel my body and develop it properly.
Are you still continuing?
Kamila Valieva: Of course. I still attend dance classes occasionally. I enjoy it, it’s no longer an obligation, but a hobby where you pour out all your emotions, turn them into dance, and convey feelings through it. Dance is my love.
You’re one of the most popular athletes in Russia. You have training, photoshoots, interviews, podcasts. Is it difficult to find free time?
Kamila Valieva: Right now, it’s actually good. It’s not just training; I meet very interesting people, I get invited to photoshoots. My horizons are expanding. During the season, there are times when you only have training.
It becomes such a monotonous work that at some point, your brain boils, and you think, “I don’t want to skate the short and free programs again, how much longer can I do it!” But here, the picture changes every time: you train, you bring joy to people, you do photoshoots.
So, do you enjoy being famous?
Kamila Valieva: Well, I enjoy the experience I can gain from the people I interact with, those who share interesting moments of their lives with me. It’s genuinely very important.
Let’s fantasize for a moment. If you could choose anything, what would you decide to try? Where else would you direct your talent besides figure skating?
Kamila Valieva: Anything at all?
Space? The depths of the ocean?
Kamila Valieva: Oh, no, no, no, that’s scary. I would like to act in movies, I want to experience being on a film set.
When I introduce you in ice shows, I often say that you are perfection in figure skating. But you know more about yourself. What else would you like to add?
Kamila Valieva: Just confidence in what I do. Sometimes I feel like I lack a bit of that. Good gliding – there’s no limit to perfection there. Gliding, spins, conveying emotions – everything needs to be developed so as not to stay at the same level. And I don’t want to be an actor of just one genre.
Sometimes it’s scary when you realize that there’s an opinion that Kamila Valieva can only skate lyrical programs. But how would you know? You need to develop and not think that you are perfect in something. That’s not something you should do, otherwise there will only be degradation.
I think a person who lacks self-confidence cannot go straight towards their goal.
Kamila Valieva: I speak what I feel. Sometimes it hinders me in competitions. Or maybe I confuse it with simple nervousness when you want to give your maximum, but sometimes it doesn’t turn out that way.
You know how I set myself up? It’s better not to go beyond what’s necessary.
Kamila Valieva: I’ll remember that.
You should do it right, otherwise, it will turn out poorly.
Kamila Valieva: Ha-ha, good.
Popularity came to you quite early. When did you personally realize that you were truly doing something very well?
Kamila Valieva: Probably only after the Olympics. I was very afraid to feel it before the Olympics because I thought I would stop working on myself. But still, just by reviewing my programs, I understood that I was doing well.
Do you review all of your performances? Or only the good ones?
Kamila Valieva: Well, no, sometimes I also watch the bad ones, but I can’t rewatch certain programs, I just don’t want to. When I don’t need to.
For example, the free program from the Olympics.
Kamila Valieva: I did that. I deliberately watched it three times with tears in my eyes. I watched it because I needed to do it, to close the gestalt – to see how it looked from the outside and what I had inside. And I watched it, and it just let me go – okay, it already happened, well, that’s it. So enough thinking about it.
I understood that if I could have flown to Moscow even for a couple of days, which was impossible then because of COVID, but I thought that a change of scenery would help me breathe a little. You’re so fresh on the team. Fell? It’s okay, it will be better in the individual competition.
And when you have ten more days of that and at the same time you have some burdens on your back, you realize that some athletes in the cafeteria look at you so strangely, turn around, and you can’t help but think about it. And you realize that you’re supposed to be a strong girl, but… It was so difficult for me to jump because of what I had built for myself and because of what was piled on me. So a change of scenery would have been helpful.
When you wake up every morning and don’t know if you’ll participate – how to go out and, for example, jump on the skipping rope in the gym?
Kamila Valieva: It was actually fine. At first, I was even afraid to go to the gym because they told me: you shouldn’t be there for training. At first, I was suspended, I had a day off, and on the second day, I went to train. It was, on the contrary, some kind of relaxation for me: I work, everything is fine, I jump on the skipping rope. This routine calmed me down.
But the most intense thing is when you go to practice, and instead of a few photographers, there’s a whole arena of those clicking cameras. Whatever you do – everything is photographed, everything is posted. You’re used to being in front of cameras, but not to such an extent… I kept looking at it and thinking, “Oh my goodness!”
Daniel Grassl said that you supported him after the bullying at the European Championships.
Kamila Valieva: It’s like something familiar. He also goes through it, he also gets nervous, he trains in another country, competes in those competitions where unfortunately we’re not welcomed now. He also wants to show high results. This stress factor, we weren’t prepared for it. Hopefully, they will prepare us for it now.
The media needs clickability, that’s why there are such headlines. Sometimes when an athlete sees it, they take it very personally.
From my side, it was like a friendly gesture… Well, to reassure him.
Do you read social media yourself, the comments? Because the bullying still continues?
Kamila Valieva: Well, as usual. At the Olympics, it was like, “Oh my god!” And now it’s like, “Okay, fine, good, they write, the person spent time on me.” It’s also some kind of attention, but from a different perspective.
And at the Olympics, did you read everything?
Kamila Valieva: Unfortunately, yes. I should have just deleted all the social media where the news stream is happening. At some point, I was frantically checking the news because it was supposed to come out there – whether I would be allowed to compete in the individual event or not. So you subscribe, and for all ten days, it’s like, “Uh-huh, okay.” Well, it wasn’t my best move. Now I understand that before competitions, I need to switch off, forget, remove it.
At that time, there were many people who wrote in support. But at that moment, the negative comments caught more attention than the positive ones. Now there are also many positive comments – thank you very much! I suppose it’s nice to have such support. But what happened, happened. I was supposed to have this experience.
What is the perfect day off for you?
Kamila Valieva: Just enjoy the weather, go for a walk. I really want to walk! I didn’t have a chance to walk in St. Petersburg, how did that happen?
We’ll do the next podcast on location in St. Petersburg. I’ll give you a tour because it’s my favorite city.
Kamila Valieva: Super!
When you turn 18 and your mom lets you go, we’ll definitely go, go to Rubinstein Street, the bars there…
Kamila Valieva: Haha, sounds good.
Do you count the number of cities where you have been and performed?
Kamila Valieva: No, not really. I even bought a magnet once.
What do you do with the toys people give you?
Kamila Valieva: I give half of them to your wonderful daughter, Angelika. She chooses the toys with such excitement that if you had more space in your suitcase, I think she would take them all.
I distribute most of the toys to the kids in the city. Those who skate and pick up these toys from the ice. Of course, we take some and give them to our kids in “Khrystalny.” They are so thrilled to receive these toys! If any famous figure skater had brought so many toys during my childhood, I would have taken them all.
How is your interaction with the coaches now? How often do you offer programs? Do you argue?
Kamila Valieva: It’s not like I come up to them and say, “I’ve decided to skate this.” No, I try to talk to them somehow. Sometimes there are disagreements, but I think it’s normal. They started treating me more like a athlete who knows what to do to warm up, skate the free program, and do something else.
There’s no wild total control like before. Do this many and such sets of exercises, and so on. They started to understand more – I hope it’s my perception – that I am also growing up and sometimes make the right decisions.
You have three coaches. With whom is it easier for you to resolve issues?
Kamila Valieva: I need to resolve the issue right away with Eteri Georgievna. That’s 100%.
Well, with whom is it easier for you to communicate?
Kamila Valieva: Well, with Daniil Markovich (Gleikhengauz)… I can express everything to him.
Because he’s younger?
Kamila Valieva: He communicates more with us. And somehow you… I can’t say that we treat him as a friend. No, the subordination is still observed, he’s the coach. But it’s just interesting to talk to him about certain topics, it’s interesting to hear his opinion.
It’s also very interesting to have conversations with Eteri Georgievna, which wasn’t really possible before. It used to be all about training, training, and training, but now we can talk about various topics. She also shares her own experiences, and she has tremendous experience both in life and in figure skating. It’s always fascinating to listen to her.
With Sergei Viktorovich (Dudakov), we don’t communicate as closely, but it’s interesting to hear his opinion. In general, I work with interesting people, and it’s very pleasant to be around them. Well, sometimes there are moments, but that happens to everyone.
Athletes sometimes reach a point where they are so tired that they’re ready to quit everything. How often did you have such thoughts this year?
Kamila Valieva: Well… often. Mostly at the beginning of the season, from July to September/October. It’s a strange feeling when you’re working hard, doing everything, but it seems like it’s not enough. You can’t reach the level you had in juniors, even though you’ve done everything possible. It’s at that moment that you feel discouraged.
But you have to motivate yourself, continue, because after a while, that feeling passes, and you get back into the training process.
You shouldn’t fixate on figure skating. You should live by the rule: figure skating remains figure skating. When you step off the ice, you forget about everything and live a normal life. You hang out with friends without thinking about figure skating. But when you come to figure skating, it’s work, and you focus on work.
It’s necessary to avoid burning out. If you think about figure skating 24 hours a day, you lose that balance, and you think you’re constantly involved in it, even though in reality, there are only 3-4 hours of ice time per day. You need to skate it, give your maximum, and detach yourself.
And where and how will Kamila Valieva relax from figure skating, fans, and interviewers?
Kamila Valieva: I haven’t decided yet. I’m thinking about it. But I really want to go to the seaside. Three weeks in May, and in June, there’s already the math exam.
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