"Very few athletes will tell you that they are forced to compete at Worlds"
2015 European and World Champion Lisa Tuktamysheva returns on to the world stage six years after her victorious season. In 2015, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva won the European title in Stockholm. Six years later, she returns to the Swedish capital to participate in the World Championships. Tuktamysheva qualified for the Russian World team at the Russian Cup Final. In this pre-World interview, Lisa spoke about her emotions when she knew that she will go to the World Championships, about the preparation for this most unusual competition and why photo shootings and her own business help her in the sport.
The Russian version of this interview was published at the Olympic Channel.
Русскую версию интервью можете почитать на сайте Олимпийского Канала.
Lisa and coach Alexei Mishin in the K&C at Russian Cup Final
Lisa, can you share your emotions when you found out you were going to the World Championships, six years after winning the title?
Lisa: I was so happy. I thought that it was possible and that if I did well it would become reality. But when it really happened, I had more emotions than I expected.
Did you cry?
LT: No, but almost. I will say that I experienced strong emotions.
When you finished your Free Skating at the Russian Cup Final, you probably felt that you made it?
LT: Yes, yes. I thought that I had almost done everything, but I only missed the (last) spin. But still, until you know the score, you can't be sure – all things can happen. I was, in principle, happy with myself. When I saw Alexei Nikolaevich (Mishin - coach), and how he was obviously happy for me, I thought that yes - it's likely to happen.
Officially you learned about it when?
LT: The next day, when the lineup was announced.
Did you find out from the Internet or were you told in advance?
LT: I just I was selected. After the results of the Russian Cup Final, I assumed I could go to worlds, and after the performance I was more emotional than when the results of the selection were announced.
It's been six years since your last World Championship. Now the event will take place in Stockholm, which you can say is lucky ice for you. You won your European title on this ice. What are your feelings about going there?
LT: I'll go calmly. I think there was more excitement at the Russian Cup Final. But then again, I do not know what will be at the World Championships. As far as I understand, we're going to skate without any spectators, so there won't be the same kind of excitement as if we had spectators. It seems to me that all the athletes will be more relaxed, because the audience draws attention. When you go out to a huge audience, it gives you an adrenaline rush. And when it's calm like that, without an audience, I think there's not as much excitement.
So it could be, maybe, even easier?
LT: Probably, yes. I haven't had much experience in that regard, a World Championship without an audience – that never happened before. It will be an interesting experience, too.
And how will you adjust, prepare for that?
LT: I'm already thinking about it. I am thinking in my head, with what spirit, with what emotions I have to go out in order to skate a good program in cold blood. Of course, I know it's the World Championship, but I have to set myself up the same way as for the Russian Cup Final. Besides, at the Russian Cup event in Sochi, for example, there were few spectators, but it was quite comfortable to skate.
Lisa Tuktamysheva performs her Free Skating at the Russian Cup Final
In any case, there are judges and journalists at the rink. What memories do you have from Stockholm, from the European Championships there? That season - 2014-15 - was your best season of your career.
LT: Yes, it was my best season in terms of results, but not my best season in terms of technique. And, in principle, now when I look at my old performances, I see my progress. That is, in my skating, my artistry and my spins, I see how I got better as a skater during these six years, and thank God I didn't stagnate at the same level. Probably Europeans was the best event of the season, because at the World Championships, despite the fact that I did the triple Axel in the short program, I made some small mistakes. At Europeans, everything was perfect. I skated as well as I could have. And it was probably one of my most emotional competitions. I remember those seconds, they will be imprinted in my memory all my life, when me and Lena (Radionova) were very, very close. It was so interesting, every competition it was madly interesting - who will win, who has more nerves of steel. Some intrigue remained until the end all the time. And I remember those seconds of anticipation, I think I did the best I could do. If I'm second, I probably won't survive that. And I look up and I'm first, just one point ahead of Lena. I was just so happy, and these emotions were much stronger than at the world championships. Because at the world championship I had a 10-point advantage (after the Short Program), and I knew that if I didn't make any serious mistakes, I would win. Not that I was calm, but I realized that I had a good enough chance to win. And at Europeans I was very serious, but it was cool. It was a good event in Stockholm.
Good memories like that should help at the World Championships now.
LT: I hope so. Maybe. I've wanted to be at major international event for a long time, just a long time ago. Not just at the Grand Prix. And when I was a commentator at Europeans (2020), I was so happy to be at least a little bit in that atmosphere and now I'm looking forward to that competition. Even with this whole situation, it's still cool to go back there.
If you look back on this season, how do you rate it yourself? Would you say you've been gradually moving toward that goal of going to the world championships?
LT: I didn't tell myself that I had to qualify. I told myself that I really want it this season, I really want it, and for some reason I had the feeling that it is real. And when I have that feeling of possibility, then my thoughts become much more tangible than when I don't have that feeling. I think that's the case for a lot of people. When I didn't know if Europeans where happening or not, I even made some little wish-notes. And laid them aside, forgot about them. I made these notes probably in November, before the Grand Prix. Then I won the Grand Prix, but I wasn't quite sure I was going to the World Championship either. At the beginning of the season I had no idea that things would turn out like this, because you can have figure skating today and not know tomorrow. Something happens all the time, nothing is stable. But I understood that this season is a strange one and I did not have any expectations. I thought that the main thing was to get in a good shape and to be at my level this season in order not to go down but to be among the leaders. Maybe not the leaders, but in the top six. Now I am slowly reaching my goal. Let's see if I reach it at Worlds or not.
There are people who say that going to Worlds is dangerous or that it shouldn’t be held at all. How do you feel about going there during the pandemic? Some people even said that the athletes are being forced to participate.
LT: No, no. I think very few athletes will tell you that they're being forced to go to the World Championships, I think the percentage is zero-something. Because it's still great. The worst thing that can happen to a professional athlete is to lose motivation. And when you know that there's a competition, and you're preparing for the World Championships, then you, the professional athlete who has put his life into it, have a sense of purpose in life. And, of course, it's very cool that the ISU still organized the World Championships, I'm very grateful to everyone who, so to speak, had a hand in it.
Plus you've already had Covid.
LT: Yeah, I'm not afraid of anything anymore.
Lisa Tuktamysheva performs at the birthday gala of her coach Alexei Mishin
Are you planning any changes in the programs?
LT: Small, maybe some changes in the free. In the short we will leave the content that we have now. But I'm not sure yet, maybe some little things will be adjusted, but it will not dramatically change.
By the way, you changed the short after New Year and said that Alexei Nikolaevitch suddenly one day suggested the piece "Lovely" performed by Billie Eilish and Khaled.
LT: Yes, I wanted to go up to Alexei Nikolaevitch after the Russian Championship and suggest to change the short, but I had no music. I was already tired (of the old program), and the performance in Cheliabinsk was not the most successful. I somehow piled everything up and I wanted to freshen up, to put some fire in my eyes during the program. In the end Alexei Nikolaevitch, without me talking to him, offered me a new music and said that yes, it is necessary to change. Maybe Tatiana Prokofieva (coach and choreographer of Alexei Mishin's group) talked to him, and brought up the idea to him, but personally I did not. And in the end, I immediately agreed because it is terrific music, we have finalized it a little bit, so it goes rising, and I liked it. I just love it.
You and Nikita Mikhailov put the program together very quickly.
LT: Yes. And for some reason, when you do something urgently, it works even better than when you do it for three months. One month goes by, and I already feel the entire program is practically in my legs.
Usually top athletes are clearly focused on their goal, on their work. You're focused, too, but you have a lot of other things to do - you've released your clothing line, you're doing commercials, photo shootings and so on. How do you combine all that? I mean, that's a job, too.
LT: It's really a job. In addition to all of these activities, I've traveled to other photo shootings, to master classes. I just realize it's easy to recover from fatigue. But it's much harder to recover from emotions. It is easier for me when I'm not just immersed in figure skating and thinking about it all the time. I want not to lose time, not to lose opportunities. That is, I am a person who needs this kind of activity if there is an opportunity. I'd rather do it now, take what I can - in reasonable quantities. I like to combine business, photo shooting, and figure skating. It's not easy, though. I mean, I sometimes I write or say, I can't do it today, do it yourselves. I have my own team of people who help me. But it's very interesting, I think. While you're young, you have to take as many opportunities as you can and make mistakes and try something. So that then when you're thirty or forty years old, you have a clear understanding of what you want, what you want to do, what's best, what brings you the most benefit, and you don't regret anything. I used to worry a lot about being distracted and not thinking about figure skating all the time. But it actually helps to switch my mindset. I exhale a little bit, rest physically and mentally, come to practice, and I have just such an ease and of desire to come back.
Speaking of photo shootings, how did the offer to do the one for the men’s magazine?
LT: The editor-in-chief wrote to my agent.
Did you say yes right away or did you think about it first?
LT: At first I said yes right away, I was excited, and then I realized, stop, I have to think about it. But I told my agent and I said right away that my photo shoot would not be too explicit. That is, we will maintain all the ethical standards. And they had no choice, actually, if they wanted to shoot me for the cover. But I'm glad this happened in my life.
What kind of feedback have you received?
LT: A lot of good feedback. Naturally, I knew there would be some negativity, but I got a lot of positive feedback, and that's something I really didn't expect.
Lisa Tuktamysheva performs at the birthday gala of her coach Alexei Mishin