Alena Leonova: „I could enjoy the Olympics as a fan“

Following a tough season with some ups and downs Alena Leonova, 23, is on the comeback trail.

Q: The last season was tough for you. What went wrong?

A: Probably it started already when we could not decide about the short program. We first did a Tango, I did it at the test skate and the judges said that they don’t see me in this program and I myself did not really feel it. Then I got injured (ankle sprain). I had to withdraw from Skate Canada and I went to NHK with my old, old program “Pirates of the Caribbean”, because we did not have time to put together a new one and I had to show something. Then we came back home and we did a very good new program, the Russian dance. I went to Russian Nationals and I was really well prepared for Nationals. I qualified for Europeans and I skated well there. Once I changed the program, everything changed (laughed).

Q: You indeed skated well at Europeans, but it was already clear that they won’t select you for the Olympic Games.

A: Yes, I realized this at Europeans already, even when I went there.

Q: How difficult was it to deal with that?

A: Basically I was already happy that I went to Europeans, so that the judges could see me, that I am still there and that I did not disappear. There are another Olympic Games to come, so I wasn’t too upset. I didn’t really think about it and just skated.

Q: Then you decided to change coaches and went from Nikolai Morozov to Evgeni Rukavitsin. Why?

A: After the Olympic Games the financial support in Moscow stopped for us and I could not stay any longer in Novogorsk and Nikolai Alexandrovitch (Morozov) couldn’t stay there either. He left for America and I had to decide what to do. I had one way, back to St. Petersburg. I called Evgeni Vladimirovitch (Rukavitsin) and he agreed to work with me. I returned to St. Petersburg. In May I had a show in Korea and we started to work at the first training camp in Nice. We went there in early June.

Q: You were a substitute for the Olympic Games, so were you training all the time?

A: I was training and I went to the Olympic Games. I had some PR events and I went to watch. I really liked it. There is no comparison to Canada (Olympic Games in 2010), it is like earth and sky. I had completely different feelings, maybe because I did not compete, but I went around everywhere and watched. It was a real Olympics. I went to watch skiing, the team had a great spirit and I really like to support our athletes. I had flags and painted my face, I was a real fan. I could enjoy it. Some people even cannot watch on TV, for them is everything bad, they are not there and so they don’t want to see it. I am not like that. Of course, it was a shame on the one hand (not competing there), but at the other hand I was happy for our girls who could represent our country. They did a good job.

Q: How did you get used to your new coaching environment?

A: I knew that they will demand a lot from me. I knew about that they are going to change my Lutz right away. I was ready for that. I didn’t have any problems with the new team. I basically got along well with Evgeni Vladimirovitch and his choreographer Olga Glinka. We had a good relationship. I had skated at this rink before, I returned home you can say. Everything was very comfortable for me. I am living at home with my mother. I have an apartment close to the ice rink, but I am there only in the break and I return home (in the evening) anyway, because it is boring to live alone and I’d miss my family. And my mother is cooking (laughs). I can’t live alone. Loneliness is the worst thing for me, it is like I am killed. I like to talk to people.

Q: How different is the training in this group from your previous group?

A: I feel the difference especially in the attention I get. I get advice from all sides all the time and I have a good off-ice coach. I feel very comfortable working with him. I used to work with him before when I skated in St. Petersburg. I get a lot of attention. We know have a lot of strong athletes in the group and the group was even divided. Kostia (Konstantin Menshov) and Mashka (Maria Artemeva) are skating in one group and I am skating separately in another group so that everybody gets attention.

Q: But isn’t it nice to have competition in training and to practice with other strong skaters?

A: My coach is pushing me (laughs). In the training camp I was skating with Masha in one group and of course it is really pushing me and also at the test skates.

Q: Who supported you in tough moments?

A: My mother is very supportive. My mother and my fans who do not stop believing in me even when things are bad. I do not give up.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for the Charlie Chaplin short program?

A: Olga Germanovna (Glinka) came up with the idea to do something completely new for me what nobody had seen yet. She wanted event to do something very modern, but I was careful about it, because I never tried it. But it was clear that I had to do something new. When we tried it on the ice, some moves, I did not really feel this style, to be honest. So I suggested my version, that is I suggested Charlie Chaplin. Olga Germanovna liked the idea, but Evgeni Vladimirovitch said, this is just you again, you will smile… He said, you don’t want to change, you only want to do what you do well. I know you will do it well and everything will be really good. But Olga Germanovna insisted and said, let’s try it. When we were in Latvia and mounted the program, Evgeni Vladimirovitch joined us and also choreographed steps. He started really to like it. When they saw how I am skating it, they realized it was still different from what I did before. There is something childlike in it. This program really touches the soul and everybody likes it right away.

Q: Is it now your favorite short program you ever had?

A: Before the “Pirates of the Caribbean” was my favorite program, and also the spectators liked it a lot. Now I think they both will be on the first place for me. It is important for me that the spectators and the judges like it. When I receive feedback I can digest it and then take a decision. As for the lightness of skating, this is a great program. I feel good in it.

Q: For the long program you have a Tango, although the Tango short program in the past season did not work out.

A: Yes, I still insisted that I will have a Tango in my career. Olga Volozhinskaia choreographed the program, I had especially invited her. This was before Nice (training camp). She came for four days. She also cut the music back home in America. I sent her my suggestions she sent me hers and we threw it together while in Korea. So she put it together and I was happy with it. I enjoyed working with her. I hadn’t worked with her in a long time, the last time was in 2011. I saw how she liked working with me and I liked it. We did it really quickly. We had three hours on the ice every day and we put together the program in one practice and then polished some details.

Q: Some fans and journalists already wrote you off and say, you won’t have any chance anymore. How do you react to this opinion?

A: I want to prove, first of all to myself probably, that I still can skate well and that I can do other elements not just toe-toe. Today (in the free skating at Nebelhorn Trophy) I did to my own surprise and to everybody’s surprise (triple) flip- (triple) toeloop.

Q: What did your coach say?

A: He said, don’t do any surprises like this again. But I came here with this goal in mind. I thought that I will do a flip-toeloop, even though I did not do it a single time in practice and he (coach) did not tell me to do it. I thought he is not expecting it from me and it turned out he really didn’t. The only thing I did in practice was double-triple flip-toe at the second practice at the main arena. I had asked him, if I can do double-triple and he was like why? Do toe-toe. I did it and said, maybe I can do double flip-triple toe and he said, go ahead, if you want. Now I have to work on it and in the Grand Prix I have to do it anyway.

Q: Which goals do you set for yourself for the season?

A: I set my goal to skate well, to skate clean programs and obviously to do the maximum in the program. I do not only have a flip-toe, but also a double Axel-triple toe in the second half of the program. I think with this array I can count on high placements in the Grand Prix. I am competing at Skate Canada and in Japan, my favourite ones. I especially like Japan, because everybody is so supportive.

Q: Thank you for the interview.