I’m meeting Liza Tuktamysheva on a sunny Autumn morning, in the skaters’ official hotel in Espoo, during this year’s edition of Finlandia Trophy. This Challenger Series event has been her second competition of the season, and she ended it on the 4th place.
Following her presence in the social media for a while now, and rooting for her ever since I’ve seen her for the first time on the competitive stage, I know very well she is not only a very strong skater, but also a clever, thoughtful person. Calm, collected, analytical, feet on the ground, always knowing what is happening in her training and which are the objectives. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva explains things with complexity and unusual words, so it will take me a while to translate this interview from Russian to English as close to the original as possible.
by Askar Ibragimov/Espoo
Askar Ibragimov: Hello, Liza, and thank you for agreeing to this interview for insideskating.net. You had a marvelous 2014/15 season, when you won the World title and almost everything else, and then there was a less successful one. Looking back at this last season, what do you see? What could have affected your performances?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: After some rise there is always some fall, this is only natural. Psychologically, I am quite an emotive person, it is important for me to find that “edge” with which I can skate. After a successful season it is very hard to come back [on the ice] and win high places again. But we do our best, and I will work on this. I generally expected some small decline, but, due to my injury, I had to completely skip the second half of last season, and currently I am carefully observing my leg’s condition, in order not to repeat the mistakes. [Elizaveta sustained an ankle injury in April 2016, and couldn’t take part in the Team Challenge Cup in Spokane, Washington – ed.]
What is the strategy for this season?
Just skate calmly. Do not aim for any special achievements, just attempt to stay in the top [group] at competitions.
How were your first two competitions, Nebelhorn Trophy and Finlandia?
In Oberstdorf it was my first international event of the season. I went to skate being quite emotional, because I missed all this [competitive] atmosphere a lot, so I was in high spirits. I like this event in Germany, since it is very calm there and the arena is very nice. It was, therefore, easier to skate. I haven’t been skating for a while in competitions, and [due to the atmosphere in Oberstdorf] I felt no major commotion.
I have my second event here, in Finlandia, and, as experience shows, emotionally, it is more complex, because you already know that you can, and the arena is bigger, there are more spectators. So this competition resembled a Grand Prix, a different level. It was a little more difficult to perform, perhaps there were some mistakes, I am getting in shape, but I still miss this competitive regime.
Any particular goals for this pre-Olympic season?
This season I just need to understand how to prepare myself for a start, from different situations, different circumstances, with different health conditions, how to come on the ice and properly perform my programs [in the Russian figure skaters’ slang, “start” stands for “the fact of performing in competition” – ed.]. One cannot be in great condition, in great readiness, at every start. This season I want to get that confident feeling when performing my programs, even if don’t feel great or if there is too much emotion, let’s say.
I know that myself, when I need to concentrate but I just can’t…
Yes, it is a very special psychological moment. This season I attempt to understand, to find some approaches that may help in this sense.
And to see how to get over this.
Your famous triple Axel. What are the plans for this season?
I want to restore it too. I want it to become more stable. It is currently in a kind of a “raw” state. We focused more now on the basic technique, on the overall training, so I get more natural [with skating in general]. Triple Axel works for me only when I am in my peak condition, since it is a very complex element. So far with the overall training there are no major obstacles, but it is still difficult to handle the Axel, since I do not feel it yet. This season, as I said it already, I want to learn this jump by heart, so I will not only be able to do it in good condition, but also when I am in a tired state. This is the main task.
The ladies’ long program ended quite late yesterday, at about 23:00 [the interview took place in the morning after the ladies’ free skate in Espoo, on October 8]. How often do you have to skate at some undesirable time?
When we go to US or Japan, it is a priori a different time zone, and one needs to get used to it every time. Very often it happens that a competition occurs not in the time of day when you feel most optimal, such as during day in your home town, as in training. To be a sportsman means one is ought to get used to the atmosphere, to mobilize him/herself – it does not matter whether you skate in the night, or in the morning, one must do his/her job. This [time zone changing] might affect you somehow, but one has to be in such a good shape that you could, say, wake up at 3 am and it would not matter for your skating.
Do you arrive perhaps in advance at a competition’s place, in order to get rid of the jet lag?
Not really in advance. Usually two days prior.
You selected “Piano Concerto No. 23” by Mozart for the short program this season. Is that choice somehow related to Gabriella Papadakis&Guillaume Cizeron’s free dance during 2014/15 season?
I honestly did not know they skated to this music. I do not really follow ice dance in detail. I have never heard this piece of music till the moment I was shown it, so no one affected my choice. I just listened to it and, together with my choreographer and with Alexei Nikolaevich [Mishin], decided that we like it very much. And as soon as I started to skate to it, we understood that this year we want the short program to be put to this one.
Is there a story you want to tell with this short program?
There is no story per se – there is, though, an image of such spiritual, feminine… not still a girl, but not yet a grown woman, that discovers for herself a grown woman’s way of thinking, but, at the same time, it is still “maiden-like” skating. A very fine, delicate image – even in tango such a character cannot get too loose, everything should be refined, moderate, and, at the same time, not too flat. I like this program, I like that it is not like my previous years’ performances – this is something new to me. My coaches like that both as the character in the short program, and as Cleopatra, in the free skate, I am looking good, even though these are two completely different looks, different performance styles.
Cleopatra is a very noticeable, shining and impressive character. How did you end up with this idea for your free program?
To be completely honest, I had already thought about this music during last season [the soundtrack of the movie “Cleopatra” by Alex North – ed.]. That time we decided to take “Peer Gynt” as music for the LP, though I suggested this one for the free program. And this year we decided that, yes, we can try. Furthermore, it is a familiar [skating] style for me, and I like it, and have a good feeling of this music score, even though it is complex and may not be very clear to the spectators. It is such a music: without tempo, without rhythm, it ends up in a little bit of chaos.
This is a good experience, it’s interesting, because this program, even comparing to the Eastern dance that I had before [the long program from 2014/15 season, to “Batwannis Beek” by The REG Project and “Sandstorm” by La Bionda – ed.], it’s a level up, as it looks like a theater performance. Not just an Eastern dance, but there is a sense, a character, and a 16 year-old girl cannot possibly skate to this music well enough [to explore the theme/character].
Do you have a story then?
There is no special story, it’s Cleopatra’s life, showing her different emotional states, distress, fights, losses, and her suicide in the end.
Any thoughts for next season’s programs?
There are thoughts, but I cannot disclose them now.
You mentioned Cleopatra has no pronounced rhythm. What music is it easier to skate to? To the one that has rhythm, or not?
Of course it is easier to skate to rhythmic music, since it makes the pace. In every human there is an inner rhythm – when you adjust [your program] to it, it is easier to perform even the skating elements. At the same time, it is good experience [to skate to rhythmless music] – in the case of Cleopatra free program, the music becomes chaotic only towards the end of the program, so it does not knock me off. But for me, it is much easier to skate to a rhythmic music, which lifts my spirits, since I “charge” from it, and my inner self spills outside. There are though some sportsmen that are better off with monotonic music or with a waltz. It depends on the person.
From where you are now, at the beginning of the season, is it possible to predict what happens during the rest of it?
We are here, working step by step. So I could not really tell for this season.
I do hope you’ll perform to the best of your ability. And here’s my last question: last year’s free program cancellation at Trophée Eric Bompard in Paris, how did it affect you?
I did not feel at that point that this cancellation was something troublesome. Only later I realized that if the free program hadn’t been cancelled, maybe my fate could have been different, maybe I could have got to the Grand Prix Final. But it happened as it happened, so I must forget about it and just continue to live on.
Update: on November 9, Elizaveta’s coach, Alexei Mishin, announced that his student would come back to last season’s “Peer Gynt” free program, “due to the results of previous events”. “She performed this program for way too little time”, he stated referring to “Peer Gynt”, while joyously adding that Cleopatra was “bricked up” into Cheops Pyramid, so that Cheops didn’t feel bored. During this year’s edition of Rostelecom Cup, Stéphane Lambiel, the choreographer of the “Peer Gynt” free skate, worked with Elizaveta in Moscow, in order to restore and refresh the routine.
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva will compete these days in her second Grand Prix, Cup of China, in Beijing.
[Interview by Askar Ibragimov, Espoo/editing by Florentina Tone]
FURTHER READING – 2016 Finlandia Trophy