This is a season of change for Evgenia Medvedeva – taking her career into her own hands after the Olympics in PyeongChang and moving to Canada to train with Brian Orser.
But change can make you deal with a lot of vulnerabilities, and Evgenia sure looked vulnerable at this start of the season. But she also looked completely changed already in the way of approaching the music, the pace, the inner rhythm of a program, the speed, the flow.
It is still a long, difficult road ahead, the Olympic silver medalist admits: “For me to accept that in order to move forward I have to get used to the fact that not every competition is going to be good – it’s very hard, to be honest. But I’m getting help in realizing that, and I guess I’m starting to be calmer about it”.
And you do recognize Brian Orser’s coaching philosophy in Evgenia’s words, and notice that student and coach’s perspectives are starting to align, and that is clearly one more step into the right direction. You’ll see that for yourself – and understand that transformation requires time, and energy, and efforts – in our series of interviews with Evgenia and Brian.
We talked to Evgenia on the last day of 2018 Internationaux de France in Grenoble. By Sunday, the disappointment of not making to the Grand Prix Final for the first time in her senior career might have dissipated a bit.
A day earlier, she had finished her second GP event on the 4th place; to qualify for the Final she needed to win.
And so she understands this is all part of the process – and her focus is already on the Russian Nationals. She looks calm, collected, in control, she even jokes about her gliding qualities compared to those of her colleagues in Toronto. All in all, she’s the same wise, professional Evgenia we’re familiar with since her junior years, but, in other aspects, she seems fundamentally changed: she’s on a mission of rebuilding herself, of leaving no stone unturned – in order to discover, reach her full potential.
And she’ll take all the necessary time for it. Remember, she is only 19.
by Nadia Vasilyeva/Grenoble
Nadia Vasilyeva: Zhenya, when you are out there on the ice, before the program starts, what does the coach usually say to you? What can be said at that moment?
Evgenia Medvedeva: Mostly it’s words of support, of believing in me. “We are in charge”. That’s pretty much it, it’s not that many words. Everything has already been said during practice, so then it mostly goes without saying. I already know what Brian wants to say to me, and Brian knows what I’m thinking. Brian used to be a competitive athlete himself, so we have a tacit understanding.
Your programs this season are very interesting, and very different – would you share a couple of things about the process of creating them, about the music choices?
Yes, these choices are very unusual for me indeed, and difficult in some ways. In the future, there are many more changes to be expected – I’m not going to say what kind for now, let it remain a kind of project of mine for the next four weeks. [the interview took place on November 25 – Ed.]
I really like the free program, I feel it really deeply. Maybe we will change some parts of it, maybe we’ll leave it as it is, and just do the refinements. We haven’t decided yet, we’ll make the decision next week, about the changes or whether we need those changes at all.
I always wanted to skate to a tango, and it turned out to be exactly the kind of tango that I wanted. Slow and passionate at the beginning, bold and daring in the middle, and in the end it’s just… so full of passion! Well, of course, I wish I could also skate this tango clean…
Well, there will be many more possibilities for it…
I hope. And as for the short program, this music was suggested by David [Wilson] and Sandra Bezic. I wanted to experiment, but I didn’t expect the experiments to be so global. The working process was a lot of fun, but this image is so unusual for me, I mean really.
I guess everything was very different for you in comparison – the choreography process, the practices, everything…
Yes, everything is so different, the process of training, of life itself, even how I sleep – just everything! And mostly it’s a lot of fun. And by fun I don’t mean unserious, but that it’s so captivating – it makes you want more and more, create something else, try something new. Fun in a professional way.
And fun in a way that you’re enjoying it?
Your skating style seems different now too. When you step on the ice now, do you feel the same as before, or has something inside changed as well?
Something inside changed, yes. Some for the better, some for the worse. And for the bad things – we’ll fight with them, and the good things we’ll improve.
“I JUST HAVE TO SET MY MIND ONTO COMPETITION MODE”
Zhenya, did you know from the beginning that you wanted to train with Brian and Tracy, or did you consider some other options?
I knew at once that I wanted to train with Brian.
Did you have any expectations from joining his group, and did the reality meet them?
I didn’t have any expectations, I had some rough idea of how it was going to be. In some ways, it’s different, in some others, just as I expected. I can’t name anything in particular because I didn’t go to join the group, but I went to the coach [Evgenia tries to find the right words here]. It’s not exactly a duo, but…
Yes, the most effective work is when it’s one-on-one.
So you don’t interact within the group much?
Why not, we do. For example, we have this really great part of the practice called ‘stroking’, where we work on skating skills for the last 15 minutes of the practice. We just put on some music and the whole group, everyone who’s on the ice – we skate synchronously. And it’s a really great exercise because you look around and realize just how much better these guys are at gliding than you! [laughing]
Well, yes, but they’ve been training with Brian for how long…?
For much longer, yes. So I just catch up on this skating technique that they’ve been learning from very early age.
And I think I have this precious experience of working with both Russian and Canadian specialists, and it’s a really unique combination. And I really wish to learn to use both of those, these two components so to speak, so that they can merge into one, into something new. But it also takes time.
So the adaptation process is not quite over yet?
No, not really, and I think everyone can see that. Yes, it’s not so pleasant for me to talk about it sometimes, I don’t like to admit it, but I’m not the kind of person who doesn’t admit their mistakes. I see the mistake, I say – Yes, I don’t know how to do that, I want to learn.
And I won’t deny that I did badly. Because for now everything is really bad with me [smiling]. But I’m satisfied with my practices – public practices, I mean. It means that I can actually do all those elements that are planned in the program, I just have to set my mind onto competition mode. Something went wrong and we’re going to figure out what.
But how different is the jumping technique with Brian, did you have to re-learn some things?
I try to re-learn bad things into good things, and to keep the good things. In my case – I don’t speak for the others, but in my case Brian adapts to my technique. He doesn’t just make general remarks, like “jump higher, do this, don’t do that”.
But every athlete has their own technique, everyone has a different body, everyone has found their own way. And Brian makes corrections for my particular case.
Do you have any strategy, something that you focus on especially in your training? Or is it everything altogether?
It’s everything altogether. We work on the weakest sides – it’s mainly spins. But figure skating is everything combined, so if you put more effort into some things, and less into others, those lesser things then make themselves known in competitions, and everything goes bad. So you got to work on everything.
Brian’s perspective is a long-term one, he says the results really start showing after a year and a half of working together. Is it hard for you to get into such different rhythm, to accept the idea that you’ll have to wait for the result to come?
It is hard, yes. It’s hard to get used to this idea, but luckily I understand that.
What goals did you set for yourself this season?
This season I want to show a decent skate at Russian National Championships. And since I didn’t get into the Grand Prix Final, now I have more time to get it together and fix myself up for the Russian Nationals.
And what about long-term goals?
In the long-term I want to reach my full potential and become the best possible version of myself. Not a version of someone else, or some person that people want to see, or just put on some masks, no. I want to uncover and develop what’s inside.
There’s this idea that any person, and particularly an athlete, in order to move forward, he/she has to learn not only how to win, but also how to lose. What do you think about that?
To be honest, I don’t really like that saying [smiling]. Even if it sounds bad for my part. Over the span of… how many seasons, four? [she pauses, counting the seasons] I was always on the podium. One junior and three senior seasons. And most of the time it was first places. And now for me to accept that in order to move forward I have to get used to the fact that not every competition is going to be good – it’s very hard, to be honest.
But I’m getting help in realizing that, and I guess I’m starting to be calmer about it. It’s not like I don’t care now about where I place and how I skate! [emphasizing this part] No, not like that! But, I mean, those failures will push me so much, and they will haunt me so that I’ll just get up and keep moving.
So you’ll use them as motivation?
Yes. There are only two ways about it: either give up, or use them as motivation. No other option.
[interview by Nadia Vasilyeva, Grenoble/intro and editing by Florentina Tone/photos taken in Grenoble by Mila Iutskevych]