Interviewer: Ekaterina Kulinicheva
Many were wondering what would the results be when Jana Khokhlova, Fedor Andreev and coaching team of Marina Zueva and Igor Shpilband started working together. Two YouTube videos of their short dance and free dance from their first competition, The Golden Spur in Zagreb, had more than 11,000 views. Of course, this is not a YouTube records, but it's not bad at all. If someone would upload the videos from Saransk, they would probably be even more popular. Several weeks after competing in Croatia, Khokhlova and Andreev went to Russian Nationals, their only second competition together. Making noticeable progress since Zagreb, they were third in free dance and fourth overall, which resulted in being named the first alternates for Europeans.
The team also demonstrated their enviable sense of humor by including a jump by Andreev in their exhibition, hinting at his past as a singles skater.
Q: All things considered, including your experience as a team, making the alternates list can be considered a success. I still have to ask: how does it feel for the European champion to be an alternate this time?
A: I really feel pretty comfortable in a "rookie" status. I don't see it as a step back or something like that. This is a new turn in my career and my life. I've really made global changes - moving overseas, totally changing the training process and my entire lifestyle. I'm confident that a person gets this chance only when she is on a certain level of development. Also, there is a say that God doesn't give people challenges that they couldn't take. I also remember what Tatiana Tarasova said, "You live until you learn". That's how I see it.
Q: Marina Zueva admitted that at the Nationals, you and Fedor did more that she thought you could've done.
A: Yes, I think she is in shock. Next year, we'll definitely compete for the win.
Q: After your first competition in Zagreb, you and Fedor trained in Novogorsk for the Nationals. How comfortable was training there under a close scrutiny by Russian experts and reporters? Before that, almost no one saw you live.
A: It was really pretty calm. I didn't feel the pressure; it was the other way around. Many people came to see us and everyone helped a lot. Everyone tried to give an advice and contribute something. We got ready in an absolutely positive environment. Moreover, two new rinks were built in Novogorsk and the ice was simply luxurious. There was practically nothing there just six months ago, and when I came I honestly was a little shocked.
Q: You probably had to help your partner to adjust. You are a Russian person, and Fedor is used to a different life.
A: Naturally, being away from home for so long was stressful for him. He practically didn't have friends in Russia, but he's catching up in that sense very fast. Fedor fit into Russian team pretty fast and easy. The guys were welcoming and he is sociable person. I try to support him in everything, but it's also interesting for him. Yes, he went thru a stress: in Zagreb, he competed as an ice dancer for the first time, and he didn't know what to expect in Russia at all. He overcame all difficulties, and I'm proud of him.
Q: Both you and your partner have to start from scratch and compete with younger skaters for a spot on the team. In your case, it seems that age and experience are to your benefit.
A: Yes. Marina Zueva said once it would've been a lot harder if we were younger and the process wouldn't go as fast. Both of us are adults. We realize what we want to do. It's not a one-way-street like it happens with children.
When we come to practice, we clearly know why we do it. We are improving ourselves. Both of us are interested in it and we enjoy it a lot. So, yes, age and experience really help.
Q: Which of the dances do you like more - the short or the free?
A: Good question... I like both! They are so different! The short dance lets me feel young and naive like Natasha Rostova. I read "War and Peace", and I read the second volume several times - that's where her first ball is described. I've watched several movies. It was very interesting to try that character and be so naive, moody, and a little strange. Free dance is completely different. The main them of it is "Oh Darling!” by Beatles. The character here is sensual free woman with a "hot" man next to her.
Q: Too bad I don't have a camcorder with me so the readers won't see how you lively and colorful your explanation was.
A: Next time. The coaches found both music selections. I am still amazed how they saw what fitted us. I'm very grateful to them. We are very comfortable in these characters and we like both of them in each own way.
Q: It seems that by teaming up with Andreev, you found something new inside yourself. Do you agree?
A: Probably. To be honest, we didn't work on it with choreographers or someone else purposely. People say that I become more feminine. It happened so natural with Fedor, nobody fought for it, injected me with it, or pushed me to it. It seems amazing that Andreev, who only started to ice dance, gives an opportunity for more experienced partner to feel fragile and tender in strong man's arms.
There was an immediate connection. Everybody asks why Fedor? Because! You can teach and influence in certain things, but you either have connection or you don't. Despite Fedor being a singles skater, he has an amazing feeling of a partner. Of course we spend a lot of time for some things, but we don't take four hours to learn a lift. He "gets" everything very fast. I know some are skeptical since he is a singles skater. Sorry, he is not singles skater, he is a talent!
Q: Back to the beginning, was it scary to come to the USA for the first time?
A: It wasn't scary; it was more about being anxious. I'm an adventurous person and I could totally dive into something that interests me. I really can. I can no other solution. Sergei retired, and I had to make a choice: do the same or keep going. There was partner in Russia who'd be on the same level. Naturally, I didn't want to take someone who was on a significantly lower level, and in any other case, an existing team would’ve been broken up. I turned to the management who insisted I continued on because I didn't say my last word in skating yet. It was very nice to hear as a skater and a person. They advised me to search for a partner overseas and it turned out to be a pretty wise decision. Our young skaters are strong and talented, and it was better to create a new team and increase the competitiveness in the country than to break up an existing team.
Q: Was that a matter of a principle for you not to break up another team? There were rumored options with certain pretty famous names. Did the morals play a part?
A: That too. I'm not a bitch, and breaking up a team is not among my principles. I didn't want it in any scenario. Moreover, I had another option, so why not try that.
Q: When they go to America for the first time, many Russians conclude right away that they won't be able to live there. What about you?
A: I didn't feel that. I adjust very fast, and I just view it all differently. If there are certain circumstances, I try to feel comfortable. I haven't been in Russia for six months. Of course, I missed it at times, but one, there is internet and Skype, and two, both coaches and Fedor helped a lot. They felt right away if I wasn't all right. Marina is always ready to help and talk if needed. She knows how to raise the spirits up.
Q: Can you say you are completely comfortable there?
A: Yes. I can't complain about my living conditions or anything else. I share an apartment with a roommate who is also training at our rink. So I have a home there too, and I miss it to some degree now. It's my own little corner, I brought pictures and some other little things. They remind me of my house here.
Q: Is there something about USA that you especially like?
A: If you do your thing there, the entire system works for your comfort. Nothing disrupts your work, you don't have to spend time and effort on settling in, on bureaucracy, social or housing barriers that we often encounter here. It was new to me even though many people said that before.
Q: It wasn't easy for you to suddenly end up far from what you've been used to. How hard did your decision affect your family in Russia?
A: I was pleasantly surprised by how well my parents have been dealing with it, especially since my mom always takes everything to the heart
Q: Did you have problems because of the language?
A: I can't say that I've spoke very badly before I went overseas. I even tried to speak at press conferences couple of times, but of course it was not enough for living there. Still, it means a lot when Fedor compliments me. He was impressed by how fast I adjusted. Fortunately, I was always interested in languages. The girl, who is my roommate, speaks Russian but I asked her to speak English. I'm starting to understand slang. This was the hardest part. It's like I have to explain things to Fedor when he doesn't understand something in Russian. I already miss socializing in foreign language. I took a book with me to Saransk, but of course I had no time for it. It was tabloid literature and it had all those words in it.
Q: When you went to Zueva and Shpilband, were you afraid that there'll be talks that Khokhlova chose the easy way and went to the trendiest and the most successful ice coaches of today?
A: Changing coaches is always a touchy issue, but don't forget about my circumstances. After Fedor and I tried out and made a decision to team up, I had no choice but to go to USA. Fedor would've not come to train in Russia. Later, I thought I could and should learn something from the new coaches, especially since they are Igor and Marina.
Q: Are you already tired of answering a question about how does it feel to work in the same group with Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir and Maryl Davis/Charlie White?
A: No, I'll answer it with joy. It's comfortable. First, it's prestigious to be with the skaters of that level. Everyone asks how competitive it is. I don't see it like that, even though I constantly pushed by a chance to observe them all the time. I think, "Oh, can I do that?". There is no aggression here. It just helps. I even try to notice some things that juniors do so I could try them. Every team has its strong sides, and if there is an opportunity, why can't I learn from them?
Q: How are they in real life?
A: They are very friendly. When I just came there, I didn't feel any anymosity. Maybe that is something specific of the foreigners - overall, they are welcoming and smiling. I didn't feel it was fake. At first, I was so much into work, there was no time for friendships. Now, when I caught up the language, I feel close to being part of the group. We can chat about something. They help if we need to.
Q: So, the talks about some skaters getting more attention from the coaches for one reason or another are more the story for the magazines?
A: Right. Their training system is completely different. There is a coach and a skater who buys a lesson. You come, pay, and learn what you could. The next person comes in an hour, and gets the same class. So, everyone receives equal attention. I really like this system very much. Marina and Igor spread their efforts so everyone is comfortable. Naturally, skaters are a bit competitive, but still there is a friendly environment.
Q: You are so involved in describing it, did you ever wanted to open your own school under that system/
A: Honestly, I've never thought about it before. I'm more focused on my own skating.
Q: Does Sergei Novitski's opinion about your new career important to you?
A: By the way, we stay in touch
Q: I had no doubt you'd say that.
A: He called me when I was getting on the train to Saransk and wished me all the best. Later, he sent congratulations. Maybe he saw the performance, I don't know, he is busy now. Everyone's opinion is really important to me even if people mention what was lucking. If someone sees something, take it as an advice and work on it, the more the better.