Elena Ilinykh: a new life, with the same old passion for skating

Looking for someone madly in love with skating? Who can’t envision life without it?

Look no more.

You just found her.

Facing the garden of a small hotel in Brasov, Romania, I discover the new life of Elena Ilinykh – and I thoroughly like what I see. This young lady is a volcano of ambitions and enthusiasm, and she’ll share them generously in an interview for Inside Skating.

It’s the end of another day at a training camp in Brasov – Elena, Yulia, Maxim and their Academy of Champions were in Romania for ten days, at the end of August, to work with 20 students – and, in spite of the fatigue, she’s here, fully present in our conversation, eyes wide open for everything life has in store.

She knows good things will follow, she’s chasing them already, and puts her plans, ambitions on the road to become reality.

And for the next hour or so we’ll talk about her career, with all the good and not-so-good, about the confidence, empowerment she experienced right after Sochi – “It felt the skates were going by themselves, and they could do everything: twizzles, dancing, everything!”, about her favorite program ever, from everything she skated (want to guess which one is it beforehand?), about the dancers she’s a fan of – but mostly, and passionately, about her dearest project: the skating academy she founded alongside Maxim Miroshkin and Yulia Lipnitskaya.

She talks about Yulia with love and candor – their friendship evolved over the years, from the moment she saw that beautiful angel, and asked her for a picture; she was 16, and Yulia was 12. And then she talks with pride and admiration about Maxim – confident in his power, energy, resources, both as a coach and as a competitor. She says, eyes sparkling, and you believe her: “Hopefully he will come back [competing] and we will have another Olympic champion in our team!”

Skating lovers, there you have her: Elena Ilinykh. The skater, the teacher, the TV commentator. And, above all, a 24-year-old who’s lucky to have found her lifelong passion.

by Florentina Tone/Brasov

Elena, this interview will focus on both your career and starting this school, so questions will come from both directions. And, if you allow me, I will start rather chronologically, from past to present times – and I will go back exactly a year ago.

Last August, you were on the ice, with Anton Shibnev, preparing programs in what was a new partnership. And I remember that when the instagram account ilinykhshibnev was created, at the end of July, there was a lot of excitement in the figure skating world – the fact that you would continue to skate brought hopes and joy to a lot of people.

So will you lead me back to the summer of 2017, to the moment the partnership started?

Elena Ilinykh: I think we should start even from before that moment. From really early childhood, I was taught to never give up. And now I am still on the ice, and I can’t live without my sport.

After breaking up with Ruslan, I didn’t know what to do. I was studying International English and Marketing, and I wanted to go to Barcelona. And after I passed all my exams, they had taken me already, I decided it’s not going to be interesting for me. Because this sport is my life and, after three months not skating, I realized it was hard to imagine a life without it.

And I tried to coach at first, and that’s how the partnership with [Anton] Shibnev started.

I heard he was not skating with his partner anymore, and I asked him to come and help me with a couple that I was working at the time. It was the daughter of [Eteri] Tutberidze, Diana [Davis]. And it was easier for me to show them the steps with a partner – and I asked Anton to come and work with me on that.

And then he said: Let’s go, let’s try to skate [together]. And I knew this wasn’t the greatest idea, but all my heart was in the skating, and I was like: Go and skate. Try. At least try to do something.

And it just didn’t work. …but we prepared programs, we went to competitions…

Yes, I remember you went to Open Skates, then to a stage of Russian Cup, changed coaches in between, were scheduled to go to Talinn Trophy, to Russian Nationals…

We were scheduled to go, but I just saw this was not working for me. So I stopped it.

You did…

Yes, this time it was me.

Because it was too much work ahead of you two, or…?

No, it just wasn’t the right level, I think, the level that I wanted to be. Because I was ready to keep going for eight more years…


Yeah. I mean, I have the power and… I will never forget the moment I came back on the ice after the Olympics. I felt like I was the God of the ice! [proud, smiling Elena, emphasizing every word]

…and by that I don’t mean like I was the queen or something, but I felt I could do everything the coach showed me, I could improvise in every way, I felt open to everything! And I felt confident, I felt confident in what I was doing! And it was only one moment that I had this feeling – after Sochi.

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And it’s so important, I think, for every athlete to feel that confidence, to feel that you can do everything! Everything! And you want more, more, more! And from that moment I really understood how figure skating worked, and what I wanted to show, and how I wanted to show, what I wanted to see. And I knew what to do with it.

That’s why I said 8 more years, or 10 more years… I was ready to work, and I had power for many, many years.

But where did this power come from, have you asked yourself?

I don’t know, but maybe it came from the fact that during the Olympics I saw these people who were cheering for us, and who believed in us, and we finally got great medals.

Throughout our career we had lots of medals, but it was never enough, or something was wrong… Even now, when looking at our Olympic program, I think: “Oooh, a little bit more here! A little bit more there!”, but going back to that moment we returned on the ice, after the Olympics, I was like: “Oh, wow! It feels like the skates are going by themselves, and they can do everything, twizzles, dancing, everything!”

And I don’t actually know where that came from, maybe from within, but it was just a great feeling, and I will never forget it.

…and so when a new partnership was started last summer, lots of people were really enthusiastic that you would keep on skating. Too bad it didn’t work out.

Yes, but as I said already, I am not done with figure skating.

You’re not done…

I’m not done. I never closed the skating-chapter, and I think I never will. Because it’s my life, it’s my sport, and I’m just in love with it. I’m in love with what I’m doing, I’m happy with what I’m doing, and now I am sharing with the kids all the experience that I have, all my skills, my energy.

And I get to stay on the ice all the time, I can’t imagine my life without the ice.

But are you still trying, still looking around…?

No, I’m not looking. I’m not looking.

Because after the Olympics it’s a good moment to look around…

No, I don’t want to look anymore. Maybe somebody is gonna look for me… [laughing heartily]

Maybe it’s time to turn the page, I don’t know. I hope that God will bless my working road, and we’ll see what’s going to be. But I cannot imagine my life without figure skating, and I cannot tell that I am done with figure skating.


Elena, I’m going to the Academy’s story now. Because the Russian audience may be familiar with it, but for the rest of people it is still rather unknown.

Was this something that you had in mind for a while, something that you wanted to do at the end of your competitive career – or something that was rather spontaneous, when the partnership with Anton didn’t work?

No, I had this idea for maybe one year already before I started with Anton – the idea of having the Academy, and going all around Russia with summer camps, master classes, and maybe around the world as well, I was thinking about that too.

And on the New Year’s Eve I had to go to this show for children in St. Petersburg. And, up to that point, I had been commentating all the Grand Prix events for television, with Yulia and Maxim. And I went to this show with Maxim also. And while we sat on the train, going from Moscow to St. Petersburg – and it was like a five-hour trip – I share with him my idea, and, as it comes, he had the same idea!

And we talked a lot about it, analyzed it from different sides – what we wanted to do, what we wanted to see in it, how to start it – and I called my lawyer to make everything clear, legal, beautiful. Because I didn’t want it to be like: Ok, I’m Olympic champion, I’m just gonna go and take some money or whatever… No, we wanted to make it a good project.

And that was in the train…

Yes, in the train I just shared my idea of how I wanted it to be with Maxim.

And we just gave each other high-five, and immediately started working. And when we came back, we shared these ideas with Yulia. Because, first of all, I love her. And, second, because she has something to say and show.

I was thinking this was going to be a great team, and we were waiting an answer from her. But because she hadn’t gone anywhere before – no shows, nothing – we were afraid she would say No. And we were so glad when, the next day, she called me and said: “Ok, I’m ready! Let’s go, let’s work!” And we are lucky she’s with us.

We started to work and had our first camp in a city near Moscow. And there were some children, also some adults – but, all in all, not so many people. But now when we talk [end of August 2018], we have our schedule booked for one more year.

From this day, one year fully booked?

Yes. And we were in shock, like: How did we manage to do that in just half a year?

I mean, we knew this was a project we needed to work on, and we didn’t call anyone, but people started to call like after two months, and now we are already booked all around the world – we’re going to Norway, Japan, America, Canada, Mexico, France, and some other cities in Russia as well.

The Academy’s first international camp took place in Brasov, Romania, in August 2018

But which is the exact concept of the school? Will you be mostly having training camps?

Yes, we’re going with the camps right now. For now, everyone is interested in those.

And so you’re not planning to have a fixed school, a fixed ice rink somewhere?

We do. We do plan to do that also, but we will see how it’s going to work. Because we have some very ambitious ideas, but we don’t want to rush it – so the plans need to stay with us a little longer, we won’t share them at the moment.

But the school is not only about camps, I think it’s going to be… a little much more. We’re ambitious people! [laughing heartily, enigmatically, while looking determined to keep their plans in the laboratory for a while]

Got it, and I hope we’ll be the first to know when plans are settled and ready to go public [both laughing here]. Going back to the full-year of training camps, will you be having some breaks in between?

We’re gonna have a break in October and November because we’re also commenting all the Grand Prix-s. The same team: me, and Yulia, and Maxim. We’ll keep on doing this as well. Until then, after this training camp in Brasov we’ll go one more time to Irkutsk, in Russia, and then Norway.

The people that you are addressing to – are they kids learning to skate, kids already having the basics, skaters that are more advanced?

I think the good idea of what we are doing is that we can teach different categories.

We can do first steps, and we are having a great team – we have all types of routines for beginners, who just stand or who just learned to skate. And it’s fun, ’cause we’re using guards, and other stuff to teach them, and they’re all very happy. And I feel this is my favorite part, ’cause I’m always: Oh, that’s so good, you did it!

But we’re adjusting to every group we’re having. Like here, in Romania, one girl is going for Youth Olympics, another one is going for Junior Grand Prix – so triples, doubles, everything!

And we also have a program for adults – they can come to our training camps as well.

You seem very organized – preparing programs for all possible categories of students.

Yes, I think the main idea was not to just come and I don’t know what to do. We actually show what we have, what we know. And we thought about how we wanted these programs to be, everyone was suggesting ideas: training on ice, off-ice, physical, mental preparation.

We have different types of programs, but we’re sometimes changing them because everywhere there are different people, different kids. And we come with one program, and then we see, and then we change. Even if we’re like after 8 hours on the ice, we still sit and discuss, like: “This one, we have to give more abs”, “This one, we need to give more back”, “What kind of jumps…” We prepare for it, and we’re continuously improving the program. And we feel like we’re doing a good job.

Are there any other people involved in the Academy?

We also have Egor Britkov, and we have some other coaches who are working with us – we have meetings, we tell them what to do, how to do them. We know these people, and we know we leave our kids in good hands. Because there are already three or four schools with our name in some cities in Russia – we left them in places where figure skating is not so popular.

So it’s like the Academy has mini-schools already.

Yes, mini-schools [smiling]. It was Maxim’s idea, and I supported it, because sooo many talented people came to our camps, and they can’t all just move to some place else.

I know how hard it was for my mom to move to Russia, and to pay all the coaches – it was big money for us [Elena was born in Kazakhstan]. But not all parents can move to Russia, or, inside Russia, to St. Petersburg or Moscow or places where there is figure skating, where there are figure skating coaches.

And that is why we wanted to have our coaches in these smaller cities – and we’re also going there from time to time, and see how it’s growing.

It’s also one of the reasons we’re going all around Russia with our training camps: to discover talented people, to see where people are ready to work. Maybe not all of them will be great skaters – but I think this experience will be helpful for them in their everyday life. Figure skating, like any other sport, is making the person stronger, more open and all the good things that come with it also.

If you think about this team that you’re building together, what are the assets, the qualities brought to the table? What do you bring to the school? What does Yulia bring, or Maxim?

Aaah, secrets! [happy laughter again]

Each of us brings something, of course… but I cannot separate things because we’re really working in a team. Sometimes Yulia is asking me to show the preparation for the jumps, like three turns, warm-up, and I am also doing good spins. Sometimes, she’s really good and kind to the kids, sometimes I am good, sometimes we are all screaming… [smiling]. It’s more like we’re all in a team, and what each of us brings to a specific camp is always different, is always changing. I am doing a lot of skating skills with them also, and upper body movements, and step sequences – everything, really!

Everybody is bringing what they have, what they learned over the years. Our skills, our energy… How to separate them? It’s not like: I’m doing warm-up, she’s doing jumps, Maxim’s doing spins… No! All of us are working together.


You have this beautiful friendship with Yulia – a friendship that turned into a working relationship now. Will you lead me, and our readers, into the story of it? What are your first recollections of Yulia, when did you first meet her?

I don’t remember the year but it was Russian Nationals, I think. And I didn’t know I was going to be friends with her then, but it felt like I just saw… an angel [smiling]. At the same time, she looked like a very strong person – with a big heart also.

She was just a kid then, right?

Yeah, she was just a kid, and I was a little bit older. And I remember I was watching the ladies with my mom and some other people, and I was just: “Look, she’s amazing!” And then I came to the locker room, and asked her for a picture – and she was so smaaaall… and she was: “Ok!” [shrugging her shoulders, smiling, to show me Yulia’s natural, genuine reaction] – and now we have this cutest picture together. I think I was 16 then. And she was 12. But she was already amazing.

Photo courtesy of Elena Ilinykh

And I cannot say we were like the best friends starting that moment – but, with the years, even if we were far from each other, even if we were on different competitions, or didn’t even talk because we didn’t have time, I always felt her support. So it’s not like we were always together, hand in hand – she was working, she had her own life, and it was a hard one, I had my own… But we supported each other, in every situation. And if she was feeling bad she would text me, and I would answer – and we knew somehow that, even far away, we were close to each other.

I don’t really know how this friendship came into our lives – maybe life situations, maybe something else – but now we’re talking a lot with each other…

And people might have noticed that you have a beautiful relation even from that picture in Sochi, when you looked at each other on the podium, after winning the gold in the team event…

[Elena bursts into laughter]

And it wasn’t for something, it was just spontaneous! We talked or, I don’t know, said something to each other – and, all of a sudden, it was the most popular picture of us!!!

And I’m always joking about that – like we went to this city in Russia and, in the ice rink, there was this huge picture of our Olympic podium… and everybody was looking at the camera, and I was looking at Yulia!

And I remember she said: “Why are you always looking at me?” – ’cause in that picture everyone apart from me had their eyes on the camera, even Yulia, and they were looking beautiful. And I was not interested in what was going on in front of me – I had to tell her something! [laughing heartily]

Speaking of you two and the Academy – why this particular name for the school? Is the “Academy of Champions” because you’re champions [“No!”, she starts answering even before I finish my question]… or is it because you want them, your students, to become champions?

Yes! Yes, that’s how we want them to feel!

And, actually, when we were creating the name, we were a little bit afraid that people would think: Aaah, they say they’re champions…, but I was like: No, it’s for the kids! Because we give them certificates at the end of the camp, we have little pins for them, with the name “Academy of Champions”… And I think they’re gonna remember this: they need to have the mentality of champions. And not even champions of figure skating – of course we want them to be like that, but maybe in life, somewhere, to show… Because being a champion is not only about the medals – it’s about preparation, it’s about connecting with other people, it’s about how they need to be in life. So I think they’re many lessons to be learnt here, and we’re trying to share those lessons.

But Maxim didn’t want his name in the official name of the school?

Ooh, we wanted to have his name very much, and a first version of the school’s name included his name also, but he said: “No, I don’t want to. You’re champions, I’m not”. For now! [“for now” is added quickly – she wants to make sure she said it loud and clear]

But he is a champion! And I want to say a couple of things about him as well. I think Maxim is just an amazing coach! He knows those little details on how to work with the kids, and I think me and Yulia are also learning from him a lot of things.

He was born to be a coach – and he’s a really good organizer.

And I don’t know if I should say this or not… But, as you probably know, Max had an injury – and now people keep saying that he’s done with his career

And is he?

He is not. He’s not gonna stop with his career.

And I think this is also a great lesson for him, to work with the kids right now – because when you try to teach the kids, you’re also doing it on yourself: like how it needs to be, where you need to go… You’re showing them, and you’re doing it the correct way, and you see some mistakes, and you understand them in order not to make them again.

So for him I don’t think this was a break – I think he has improved as a person, as a skater, and he’s… he’s coming back.

He had a surgery, right?

Yes, he had the surgery, and then rehab… and I think he’s going to [continue to] skate.

That is definitely good to hear, since he and Lina [Fedorova] were such a talented pair, with so many medals in juniors.

Yes, he is talented. And because he said “I want to have pairs and ice dancing, I want to mix them together, I want to have transitions and everything…”, we were skating together before the surgery – he was learning from me some ice dancing things, we were makings some steps… and I said: “You need to come back. You cannot just stop because you’re really good”.

So we will see how everything is going, and I think this is on him, but we really want him to come back on the ice. Hopefully he’s gonna be Ok with his leg – for now, he just needs to think about his leg, do rehab, not rush it, but hopefully he will come back and we will have another Olympic champion in our team! [on a victorious tone, like she really means it and hopes for it.]


What are the children’s first reactions when they see you, see Yulia? Are they nervous, excited, happy to the moon and back, scared they’ll disappoint you…? All of the above?

Usually, they’re a little shy. And we start with one question: “What is the most important thing in figure skating?”, because they’re reserved, they don’t know what to do, if it’s correct or not – and so that’s our first question to them. And they’re like: “Skating skills!”, “Jumps!”… and Max is like: “No!, No!, No!”, and they’re like: “What? What?” And we’re like: “Smiiile!” – and, all of a sudden, they become relaxed. And we want them to be relaxed, we want them to understand that we’re not here to kill them or something, or to tell them that everything is bad. [laughing]

So we start with nice things – and, by now, some kids are like: “Look at me, Yulia, I can do what you do, I can do Biellmann, I can do this, I can do that!” So they’re different, all kids are different, but we try to feel all of them personally.

But how much time does it take for you to break the ice? One day, two days?

[laughing] No, more like one hour – and they’re already kissing us, hugging us, giving us high-five.

And I cannot say we’re too nice, because I think the student needs to understand when something is good, and when something is bad, when he’s improving, or when he’s not. Or when he’s not listening, or he keeps doing the same mistake. So sometimes we need to step up and say: “That’s not correct”. But if it’s good, we try to support them very much, giving high-five, telling them “Great job!”


And how was it for you to work with the Romanian kids? For them, this was an incredible opportunity – because you are who you are, of course, and also because it has been a real struggle in recent years to keep on doing skating in a country that has only a couple of ice rinks. And after the rink in Bucharest was closed, in order to be demolished, they had to practice in malls, they had to travel to find the necessary ice.

Some other countries have this issue as well, but Romania experienced it quite harshly, and the kids attending this training camp were really affected by the whole thing.

Yes, Andreea [Ionescu], who organized this camp, told us the situation. Andreea, who is the mother of Romanian figure skating [smiling]. And I am not afraid to use these words, because when she took us from the airport and drove us here, she told us: “Listen, we didn’t have a lot of ice, we practice here and there…”, but then when I saw the kids I was like: “Wow!” Because it’s really high level of skating, I was shocked!

…and then she asked me to work on the kids’ programs, and they were doing step sequences, and I was like: “Who did this step sequence?”, and she said: “Me!”, and I was thinking about some fabulous choreographer who might have worked with them! Because it was very nice, and because she is also very involved in her work with the kids: not only each of them had a good step sequence, but everything was really on the music, and she knew what they could do, what they could show.

And I was just amazed by this – and I’m really thankful to her for inviting us here. And Andreea said she was also learning from us, she was ready to take the information, and so we talked a lot about the kids, about how it’s better to work with them, how to make better practices and everything. So, once again, I think in what they have here, with the ice and everything, and how these kids are, I was just amazed. And I wished we stayed more, ’cause we’re already counting: “Only two more days, and we need to do this, and this, and this, and this!”

But is this the regular schedule for a training camp, ten days, or do you have longer camps as well?

Sometimes we have like three weeks, sometimes we have two weeks, sometimes we have a one-day master class… But we always want to stay more because we start to get to know the kids, and they need more days – but I think, in this case, Andreea will get them to the highest level.

And for those kids who are making these efforts to keep their passion alive, travelling, looking for ice, investing family’s money in it, would you say to them that skating is worth it? That skating is worth all their efforts?

Yes. Yes. Yes. I wouldn’t change figure skating for anything else. And I know it’s hard. I know it’s hard for them, but I think it’s worth it. I can see how they work, on ice, off-ice, how they prepare, how they look at me, Yulia and Maxim, how they’re trying to show us… So, yes, figure skating is worth everything.

Elena, working with the Romanian skaters in Brasov, at the end of August

(Literally) under the attentive eye of Elena Ilinykh

Elena, how do you see yourself in the future? Doing this, being a teacher, a coach, or are there any other areas that interests you apart from skating?

I think I definitely see myself in figure skating. And, as I told you, we have so many ideas, but we will see, day by day. But I will be involved in figure skating for sure.

I can say that I do love to coach, and I also was in China recently, to do programs, with Misha Ge, helping the pair skaters and ice dancers. And it was really amazing, it was really cool to make all these programs, and to work with the guys, and to get them ready. So I also love choreographing parts, but our ideas [with the Academy] are a little bit more than coaching and choreographing. I cannot share right now, but we’re working on it really hard.


Looking back at your skating career, are you satisfied with what you’ve accomplished? Are there things that you wanted to do still…? More reasons to smile, or more things you feel you left unfinished?

Mmmmm… [she’s taking the time to think about it]. It’s 50-50, I think.

I think our history with Nikita is… a history, our history – we have our medals and nobody is going to take that from us. And I think two Olympic medals, bronze and gold, is good – even if, for an athlete, it is never enough.

And of course I am happy with this part, and a little bit sad because… I’ve lost the moment maybe.

But I’m not the person who’s like sitting and crying after this… and now I’m really happy for him with a new partner, and I’m really cheering for them. I like this couple so much, I love how they look together, how they’re skating. I still think Nikita is the best partner in the world, and I also like Victoria, she’s working hard, and I love this couple! They have their style and I think they’re one of the top [teams] right now.

I’m gonna cheer for them. Yeah, for the next Olympics I think I’m gonna cheer for them.

Of course, there are some sad moments also, and I can talk forever about this, and how it could have been… but it’s history! We have our medals, we’re happy with this, we have a great relation right now me and Nikita, we had a talk and we realized what we’ve been through. I cannot say we’re like great friends, but we’re always supporting each other with some things. And he knew about our Academy, I called him and told him, and he supported us also, he came for a master class…

And when he came, people thought that you maybe…

[She doesn’t let me finish] People love to talk! They see something, and they have like a thousand of stories of how it would be, how it could be… And that is why I didn’t do a lot of interviews either. But everybody who was in this story for real knows how it was.

So, coming back to your question, I think it’s 50-50.

Of course there were many, many things I wanted to do on the ice – and hopefully I will have a moment to show that I can do more. And there were great moments also, that I remember with a smile on my face. And, like I said, I am not the person who is gonna sit and just think: It could have been all this… I like to move on, but not rushly move – I already had one rushed movement, and I didn’t like it.

The partnership…

The last one, yes.

But rushed as it might have seemed for you, for a lot of other people it was something like: “Oh, she is skating again!” If only you could have skated by yourself…

[Laughing] Oh, yes, yes, “I’m skating by myself!” But sometimes you need to think with your brain also – I mean not only loving what you do, but analyzing it as well. I think I still have this attitude, from childhood even: “Never give up!”, “Do everything that you can!”, “Try that!”

And we’ll see how it goes. I have ambitious plans, I’m open to every possibility in life, and I loooove figure skating.

You’re aware this particular line, “I’m open to every possibility”, will make people start talking again…

[we’re both laughing – hilarious, contagious laughter]

Yeah, five-five-five, three-seven, five-five! This is my phone… [laughing still] Just kidding!

No, I think it’s good to have this relaxed view on life, because otherwise…

It’s not kind of relaxed, I cannot feel relaxed now, but, yeah, I’m just a little bit taking it out from myself, because it’s really hard to live with this feeling, like “Oh, I didn’t do this, I didn’t do that”, and just sit and feel sorry for myself. Is this the end of life? No! I’m only 24 and I’m doing everything to improve in every aspect of my life.

If it were to choose your most precious skating memory, what would that be? The one that you feel most happy about?

There were many, many… but I think it’s the moment that I told you about, after the Olympics. When I came back to the ice – and it was this feeling that now we can do more. More, more, more! This was, I think, the happiest moment ever! That one! Not on the podium, not with the medals, it was this one: the feeling that you can do a lot more on the ice. You feel confident in every aspect of the figure skating movement, you feel a real power! Yes, now I want to make it! – that was a good moment.

From all the programs that you skated in your career, is there one that you’re very fond of?

[Loud and clear, without even thinking] Yes.

Which one?


It was very popular among the fans also.

Yeah. I mean, I do love Carmen, the short dance. I really loved that program, I loved everything about it, I loved how it looked, but Frida was my favorite one, the program that I was skating really, really from my heart. And the idea of working again with Antonio [Najarro]

After he made us Carmen, we asked him for Frida – everybody wanted this program. And when he came and showed us the first movement, I was crying, because I was like “How…?!” I had no words, because what he showed us was also in my mind – that’s how I wanted to show this woman, with her history, her pain, and maybe it was a little more pain in me also. And I wanted to show not only those great movements, but also the character and everything from inside…

Unfortunately, we didn’t skate this program much, but, hopefully, one day… Ambitious ideas. [eyes sparkling, while smiling and hinting again at the future]


From a coach point of view already, is there an ice dance couple at the moment that impresses you?

[enthusiastically] Tessa and Scott count?

Let’s analyze PyeongChang if you want, yes…

I love Tessa and Scott, everybody knows that. I’m just in love with them. Like I’m in love with figure skating, and I’m even more in love with Tessa and Scott.

I liked [their programs] the season they came back – but what they showed in PyeongChang was a different Tessa and Scott! And how they risked on the elements, how they did it, and how they skated… I was crying! I was commentating, and I was crying because what I saw, and how they improved themselves.

Because they have all the medals – they can go on the ice and just stand, and they will be already on the podium. But they didn’t! They worked, and they showed a different Tessa and Scott! They didn’t come like the double Olympic medalists. And that’s why I have so much respect for them, that’s why I love them so much.

Basically you’re a fan.

Yeah, I’m a fan! [laughing]

And who else…?

I really like Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, because they’re really innovative, and I love to see their programs, their costumes, and how they’re doing their things, always interesting, and sometimes I’m just like: “Wow, great job, guys!”

And I really love the relationship, the power of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. I love how they skate, I really love it! And in the Olympics I was like: “What are you doing?!!!”, because they were giving so much, so much!, and they weren’t controlling it… but for me, I don’t care about the mistakes, I was like: Yeee!

And, as I said, I’m cheering for Victoria and Nikita, because I think they have the Russian school of skating, they have a soul, and their skating skills are great. So if they’re gonna make it through their mistakes, I think they’re gonna be on the podium soon.

And I want to talk about Gabriella and Guillaume separately. Because such apparent lightness in their skating is the result of great work.

And it wasn’t a shock for me, because for three years already I was kind of into them, and I am also in love with them – and I think in the Grand Prix Final they won! Like they really won! Truthfully, deservedly. Because I was watching them, and I was amazed [with them], and Tessa and Scott didn’t win that time.

That’s why I was nervous in the Olympics! [laughing] Because, with all my love to Tessa and Scott, and I can give all the medals to Tessa, I knew the French could win. And I really want to see what’s going on with them next, I’m waiting for them very much, because they’re like the strongest couple out there.

[All photos by Florentina Tone were taken in Brasov, Romania, at the end of August. More to come – stories and pictures from the training camp]