Елена Вайцеховская о спорте и его звездах. Интервью, очерки и комментарии разных лет
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Figure Skating - Athletes
Maria Butyrskaya:
Maria Butyrskaya
Photo © Alex Wilf
Maria Butyrskaya

The first Russian ladies' world champion came to Grand Prix press center right after Saturday's finals, and it was obvious she was impressed: «This kind of skating! At this age!»

This was a perfect cue I needed to start my tape recorder.

- So Sasha Cohen's victory was unexpected for you as well?

- Not her victory in and of itself - her skating level was high enough last season - but the overall impression. We are very used to seeing cute American girls skate for a couple of years and disappear just as fast. Cohen's most striking feature is her individuality. Perhaps the fact that her mom hails from Odessa was a factor.

- Do you mean to say she's got Southern Slavic soul and charm?

- Possibly. You see, it's not that her spins are special, and it's not that she's got a terrific stretch and range of motion, or that her moves are extraordinarily danceable. She's got a special talent, fantastic emotional quality that permeates her skating. The way she looks in Carmen is very different from Rach. Sometimes it seems that she took acting classes. Although at times it appears that she drowns in her emotions and can't always keep them under control. Think of other American ladies her age - Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski, Sara Hughes - their most memorable quality was consistency. But I like Cohen much better. I'm awed by her.

- What can you say about her technique? Some believe her jumps are weak.

- I don't think that's a fair statement, considering she tried to do, and did do a quad salchow. I saw it with my own eyes in practice last year, and I stand by my words. As far as I know, she never tried this jump this season, and I think that's a mistake. I can tell from my experience - it only took a year since I stopped trying to do a triple axel, which came out well at practice, for these skills to go away and never to come back. Cohen has an unusual technique for approaching her jumps. It looks a bit odd to me. Perhaps that technique feels more comfortable for her. But more likely, she wasn't taught proper technique when she was young. And re-learning something at 18 is difficult. On the other hand, Sasha's skating is so neat and she presents each element so well, that it leaves few people indifferent.

- So you're saying she's a serious contender.

- I don't even know if she is. She's a phenomenon, more likely. Although, let me repeat, she doesn't do everything well. She lost the Nationals.

- Are you going to the Worlds?

- I am not, and I don't particularly want to. I have a fear of flying, especially lately. And my TV company will not broadcast from the Worlds. And I don't want to just hang around in the U.S. as a spectator.

- As I know, you perform at different competitions occasionally. Are you still drawn to figure skating?

- Very rarely. The last time I skated was at a professional competition in the U.S., Ice Wars, and that was my official goodbye to the eligible status. I represented the World Team with Suria Bonaly. Tara Lipinski and Nicole Bobek represented the U.S. team. My team lost, although my results were the best out of all four. I won my play-off with Lipinski. But competitions like these are more a game than a competition.

- Do you continue skating because of the money or because of your ambition?

- I don't know what to tell you.

- Let me rephrase - do you still have fun skating?

- To be honest with you, I'm tired of it. I'll need time to start liking skating again. Perhaps I shouldn't continue at all. For me, the most important thing was always the competitive element: the stress, the competition and all the works.

- So it's not about the sport, it's about the thrill of the chase for you?

- Well, if they made me do track and field instead of skating, I would have tracked right home. I love figure skating much more. And I love even practices, when everything falls into place, including the elements I never showed in competition. But I am not ready to start practicing again strictly for myself. Perhaps I?m not as fanatical about skating as the Protopopovs. Although I gave skating 25 years.

- And is this why you can't leave skating completely?

- Right now, what I want more is find myself in another profession where I can feel the same interest, the same drive. I have no grudges for my sport. You know, quite often people leave with the feeling that they gave their entire life to the sport, and were under-appreciated. I have no reason to complain. It wasn't all bed of roses, but I achieved a lot. The problem is in something else. Sport makes you live a certain life regimen. Outside of the sport, things can happen, tragedies, misfortunes, grief, but they all go away when you are on the ice. You simply cannot try triple jumps while thinking that your life sucks. And practices can lift your spirits and give you the will to carry on. Right now, I don't have this. I started thinking too much, revisiting my actions, cluttering my head with completely extraneous information. This is why I want to find a job that can be a source of new emotions and new goals, if not a complete replacement for my sport.

- Right now, you are a TV commentator. What were your impressions after GPF?

- I have fun watching skating from the commentator booth. I liked Plushenko. I felt that this season he feels more relaxed because he has no competition. You know, all athletes are extremists. Last year he did two quad toe loops, and this year we want him to do a salchow and a toe loop, or different combos. He can do it, you know. Sport is an unpredictable thing. For now, having these jumps is enough. But what if another guy comes around in a year or two and starts doing more difficult elements?

Personally, I regret that Alexei Yagudin stopped competing. I had so much fun watching them fight. They are both so different and so inimitable. I still get questions on who was the best. How do I explain that they are incomparable?

- Is it hard to commentate ladies' skating?

- On the contrary, it's my favorite discipline. I always root for the ladies, for all of them. I know how difficult it is to step on the ice with so many people watching.

- Don't you get nostalgic?

- One should be realistic. People are doing triple-triples all over the place. It's a different generation.

- What about Slutskaya?

- Her colossal experience will be an asset. But I don't even want to try to predict what the Washington results will be. In my opinion, Ira was made to understand, as the European championships showed very recently, that she is no longer some untouchable leader. I assure you that no one would have allowed to touch her last year. It is extremely hurtful to realize that when you are in these shoes. But what can you do? Such is life.


© Елена Вайцеховская, 2003
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