Evgeni Semenenko: “The eyes are scared - hands are doing”
Evgeni Semenenko has an eventful 2021/22 Olympic season under his belt. He went through some ups and downs such as winning his first ISU Grand Prix medal at Skate Canada or dropping out of the top three at the Russian National Championships after leading in the Short Program. He got to go to the Olympic Games in Beijing as a last-minute replacement for his training mate Mikhail Kolyada, who had caught Covid-19 – and went on to be the highest placed Russian man, ranking 8th.
We met Evgeni during the Kislovodsk training camp in the beginning of June.
*Why do we report on Russian skaters and publish interviews with them in spite of the terrible war (which is even not allowed to be called war in Russia) in Ukraine? We believe that these horrible events are not the fault of the Russian people and we feel that the civil society in Russia should be strengthened and not excluded.*
This was your first full senior season, so the traditional question is how do you rate it?
Evgeni: It wasn't an easy season, but it was interesting and exciting at the same time. There were a lot of good things, but there were also some troubles and unpleasant moments. Nevertheless, I had a chance to go to the Olympics, and I am very happy I made it to the Olympics where I showed my best result of the season.
The Olympic Games, in your opinion, are different from other competitions?
Evgeni: Of course. Even to be in the Olympics is an achievement and a great joy for an athlete. If European and World Championships are held every year, the Olympics are held once every four years and not every athlete has a chance to compete there. The atmosphere at the Games is completely different. You feel like you are a part of a big team. There are athletes from different sports. Everyone lives in the Olympic Village. They meet each other, get to know each other. I remember the cafeteria, it has a very diverse cuisine, food for every taste. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 restrictions, I was unable to see Beijing. I was "lucky" in that sense, as in Japan at the World Team Trophy, and in China at the Olympics, I could see the city only from the bus window on the way to and from the rink. But that was okay. In Beijing I could walk around the Olympic village, go to the shopping mall and buy Olympic souvenirs.
Evgeni and coach Tatiana Prokofieva in Kislovodsk
During the season you had to combine training and medical school. Do you regret that you chose such a serious school? Maybe you should have studied to be a coach, and then get a second education later?
Evgeni: Yes, I thought for a long time about where I should apply. Of course, at Lesgaft (Sports University), it would have been much easier for me to combine studies and sports. But I also understood very well that after several years in school, and especially if I had already graduated from an institute, and I had an education, it was unlikely I would have wanted to get a second education, to enter med school, and go through all the process of very complicated studies again for another six years.
So you studied seriously the first year? You didn't just check in for the record.
Evgeni: At med school, you can't just check in for the record. The first semester I kept up with my classmates, I only missed classes when there was a competition, but I passed all the required check points and tests. The winter exam session overlapped with the Russian championship, so I passed my chemistry and history exams a little later. The second semester was more difficult. I missed a month of classes, even planned to take a leave of absence, but then decided that I could do it, and almost did it, only a few more credits are left and so I came to the training camp with a textbook. (NB: Evgeni meanwhile announced that he has passed the remaining exams as well)
Evgeni during off-ice training in Kislovodsk
Did your classmates follow your performances?
Evgeni: Sure. They were supportive, the university put up posts on social media.
"Men in white coats on ice"...
Evgeni: You know, I actually like the fact that I live in two worlds -- the sports world and the medical world. I meet a lot of different people, and it affects the way you think, the mentality and stuff like that.
You probably want to be a sports doctor, don't you?
Evgeni: I'm in general medical school now, and I'll get a subspecialty after my sixth year.
Your mom is a doctor. That must have played a role in your choice of studies?
Evgeni: When you have a doctor in the family, a specialist who understands medicine and can explain and advise, it helps and, in a sense, makes studying easier. It's clear that studying at such a university requires a lot of effort. You hardly have any free time. You have to plan everything clearly in order to manage everything. Probably, if I was told earlier how much I would study, pass all my exams and train and compete at the same time, I would have thought it was crazy. But eyes are scared - hands are doing. It's all working out for me now.
Tell us, when you fell at the show in St. Petersburg, as a doctor, what was your diagnosis?
Evgeni: I was unconscious at the time and not thinking about anything. And as I am just in my first year of studies, it is too early to diagnose myself.
Later on a lot of people asked you, why did you risk such a difficult jump (a quad) in that show?
Evgeni: I already answered that question, the reason for the fall was the shorter ice surface. On entering the jump, I realized that I'd end up in the audience - there was not enough room, so I decided to round the arc, and because of that the angle changed and that’s why I fell that way. I've done difficult jumps in all the shows before.
What do you remember about the fall?
Evgeni: I remember going into the jump, then I woke up, kind of alive, crowds of people around me...
Evgeni practices in Kislovodsk
How many days were you in the hospital?
Evgeni: Ten days. And I want to say thank you to everybody who was worried about me. I still get letters and gifts from the fans. After my first interview after the injury, people wrote to me, that I didn't mention all the countries, so my thanks also to the fans from France, the United States and Serbia, and all those who support me.
After coming out of hospital, when did you start training?
Evgeni: May 3 was my first training session after the injury. All is good.
Are you going to keep the new short program to “Adagio” by Albinoni for the new season or do you do another one?
Evgeni: I think I will keep it in the new season. We were preparing this program especially for the Channel One Cup. Adam Solya came to St. Petersburg for a few days after the Olympics and we mounted this program very fast. Alexei Nikolaevich suggested the music.
Does this program have a story? What do you envision when you are performing it?
Evgeni: If you're talking about the story, with the coaches we came up with the idea of a Calais citizen who goes to sacrifice himself to save his hometown. I think the audience received this program very well at the first performance at the Channel One Cup.
Did you do your new free skating with Ilia Averbukh?
Evgeni: Yes, it was done by Ilya Izyaslavovich. I suggested the music. It's k-pop. I've already seen information out there that it's supposedly BTS. No. I'll deny the rumors. But I won't say who the artist is yet, I'll keep it secret. It's an interesting program. I like that the short and the free are different – one is classical and one is modern.
Is this your first time working with Averbukh?
Evgeni: Yes, it was the first time. And for me it's an invaluable experience. Ilia Averbukh is a professional in everything. He's got it all worked out. I was surprised how quickly the music for the program was done. He told us the time for the fragments of the music that we should take and in 10 minutes everything was ready. And in general, during the choreography process it was clear that Ilia is a pro at everything. He has a huge experience. How many programs has he done? When I suggested the music for the new free program, he was a little surprised, but he said: ‘Let's give it a try’. And I think it turned out interesting.
Evgeni with Lisa Tuktamysheva, Andrei Lazukin and Matvei Vetlugin in Kislovodsk
You got a lot of attention last season. What do you expect from the next season?
Evgeni: Life has taught me not to think ahead, to take it step by step, set a goal, work hard and keep going.
Are you as tired now as you were at the Olympic Games as you have to pass your exams?
Evgeni: That's not the point. It's just that almost all the other guys started to have some rest after the Channel One Cup, and I am busy. I have a lot of work to do.
It’s good that you came to the training camp in Kislovodsk, to change the scenery. It’s not your first time here, is it?
Evgeni: It’s not the first time. However, I missed the training camp here last year as I was taking my final school exams. In general, we go to the mountains every year. A few times we went to Courchevel (in France). It's higher there, that is harder. In Kislovodsk it's easier, but there are still problems with endurance - it's always harder to skate in the mountains. I like in Kislovodsk. Everything is close. It takes me about an hour and a half to get to the ice rink (in St. Petersburg) from (my home) in Pushkin, and here I take the elevator downstairs and got to the dining hall, then I go over to the skating rink. The stadium is nearby, there are different gyms, a swimming pool and a sauna. I wanted to go to the sauna for so long, but I couldn't get to it, I had no time. Here in Kislovodsk, on my day off, I'll definitely go!
The Russian version of this interview has been published at the website of the Figure Skating Federation of Russia.
Русскую версию интервью вы можете прочитать на сайте ФФКР.