“Don’t believe me, just watch!” If there’s a line to best characterize Elladj Baldé, that must be it – and no wonder he chose “Uptown Funk” for his exhibition program during previous season. The truth is the charismatic Elladj Baldé is a joy to the eyes – his energy, feel for the music make him a wonderful presence in the competitive circuit, but also a special guest of many figure skating galas.
Not to mention his intriguing, out of the ordinary biography: born in Moscow to a Russian mother and a Guinean father, he lives in Canada and represents it internationally – and so he speaks fluently Russian, English and French. This particular interview, for example, was taken in Russian, at the end of Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, last November – and though it’s almost a year old, there are plenty of interesting details in it, so we decided to publish the story nevertheless. You’ll find the “new” in this candid discussion, we’re sure – Elladj’s take on the quads, the revelation following the Worlds in Boston, in 2016, him visiting Guinea, his father’s homeland, his biggest wish: a show of his own after the Olympics.
But the interview is also a pretext for an illustrated journey – the faces of Elladj Baldé, as seen during a competition (Rostelecom Cup, in 2016) and a figure skating show (Pinzolo on Ice, in 2015).
And for fresh news in his regard, do follow his most recent project, alongside Liam Firus: Skate Global (instagram: skateglobalinc).
interview by Tatiana Annenkova/Moscow
Tatiana Annenkova: Elladj, Rostelecom Cup was the first out of your two Grand Prix in 2016-2017 season [he finished the event on the 6th place]. How do you feel about your result, did you achieve the goals you set beforehand?
Elladj Baldé: I’m very happy that I skated both programs clean. My main goal for the event was to do a quadruple Toe, and I did it. It’s very important to me because it’s been a long time since I did a quad in competition.
A lot of young skaters nowadays include at least two quads, and different ones, in their programs. How are you planning to compete with them?
Now [November 2016] I can only do one quad [Toe], and it will probably remain the only one. I can’t do Flip and Lutz, and Loop and Salchow and Toe all in one program as young skaters do. I think my strength is in the emotional side, in quality skating. I understand that without quads I’m not going to be a World champion, but now I’m thinking more about the show that I’m going to do after I’m done with competitive skating.
But have you tried different quads in practice?
I tried Salchow. And I really wanna learn quad Lutz. When I was 16 and competing on junior level, everyone thought that if you could do triple Axel and quad Toe you had a big chance to become a World champion. When I was 20 and I could do both triple Axel and quad Toe, I thought I was gonna be World champion [he laughs]. But time goes by, everything changes and I understand that I won’t be a World champion [smiles].
Let’s try a quiz here: what is figure skating to you? Is it more art rather than just a sport?
Of course it is.
What about the most important thing to you: winning medals or the love of the audience?
Definitely the love of the audience. I skate for myself and for the audience. Judges’ scores are not as important for me now as they used to be.
But when have you realized that you are skating not for the medals, but for the audience in the first place?
Only this year I realized that I want to skate for myself, because I love this sport, and for the audience, because they always support me.
Is there a specific something that led to this attitude?
I think the turning point was when I was watching the World Championships [March 2016], where Yuzu and Javi did 3 quads each and both scored above 300 points. Well, of course, I will also try quad Lutz in the future, I’m not giving up yet, and so I will definitely try quad Lutz, Flip, Loop.
Maybe go straight for the quad Axel?
Maybe the Axel, why not [smiles]. I think Shoma or Yuzuru will soon land a quad Axel.
You skate in a lot of shows, and people everywhere like you a lot. They love you in Italy, for example – Andrea Vaturi invites you frequently to his shows, you’re like a part of his team now.
Once when we were on a summer tour with “Ghiaccio Spettacolo”, I skated to Michael Jackson and the whole arena just went crazy, it was so loud! I’m still remembering this moment, it was fantastic, I was shocked! I don’t remember the city for sure, but that was one the most amazing moments [the city was Pinzolo – n.ed.].
You might wanna set up a competition with Ivan Righini when it comes to skating in Michael Jackson style…
[Smiling] We actually talked about it and decided that we wanna do a number together. We’re not sure as to what kind yet, but we will do one for sure. Maybe Michael Jackson, maybe hip-hop, there are a lot of options.
When you were a child, apart from figure skating, you were also doing gymnastics and break-dance. How come you chose figure skating in the end?
It’s all thanks to my mom. She said: “You’re going to be a figure skater!” So now I am a figure skater [he smiles].
Are you doing break-dance professionally as well?
No, it’s just a hobby. I dance now and then, but I don’t have time to do it professionally. All the skating practices leave neither time, nor strength to do anything else professionally.
In 2015 you went to Africa, your father’s homeland. Do they know about figure skating there?
No, they don’t. When they found out there is a skater called Elladj Baldé – it’s a Guinean name – who skates for Canada, they got really interested, cause I’m the first skater from Guinea who won any titles. I really wanna do a show there. I don’t know when, because now there isn’t even a rink there, maybe only in a shopping mall.
You might be familiar with the story of Michael Christian Martinez – he practiced in a rink in a shopping mall in Philippines, and got into the Olympics. Do you think that’s possible for Guinea as well?
Of course it’s possible. I can’t say for sure now if I’m gonna be a coach in the future, but I really want a boy or a girl from Guinea to skate at the Olympics.
There’s plenty of talking about training systems in America and Russia. Are there any special aspects to Canadian training system?
My first coach was a Russian woman, than a Canadian, than an American, so I went through all the schools. My first coach gave me a very good base. When I was 10 years old, I could to triple Salchow and Toe while no one else in Canada could do them at such age. Then she decided to coach hockey players, and she’s still doing that. With my Canadian coach, we paid a lot of attention to the character – he wanted me to find my style. In America I would skate both my short and long programs every day. I had never done that before. It was very good for my physical fitness, ’cause during the competition after the long program I was ready to skate another one.
Now I’m training in Canada with Bruno Marcotte. I really like that he coaches at the same time as a Russian coach, as a Canadian and as an American. He worked with a lot of famous coaches, including Alexei Mishin, Alexei Urmanov, Frank Carroll, so he combines different systems of training.
Your signature move is the back flip. When have you started doing it?
When I was 15, I was at the show where Shawn Sawyer performed, and I saw him do a back flip for the first time. So I thought if he can do it probably I can do it as well – so after a couple of days I told my coach I wanted to do a back flip on ice, ’cause by that time I was already able to do it on the floor.
Who do you think was more scared about the consequences of the jump, you or the coach?
Probably my coach. Of course I was also scared. I was skating in circles for about 15 minutes before I did it.
Any plans, goals, that you already set for yourself?
Right after the Olympics, after I finish my competitive career, I want to have my own show.
[interview by Tatiana Annenkova/translation by Nadia Vasilyeva/intro and editing by Florentina Tone]
Photos from 2016 Rostelecom Cup, Moscow
Elladj, as Michael Jackson, at Pinzolo on Ice 2015