Anna Ovcharova's music on the ice - Tatiana Girko talks to Anna Ovcharova for nashagazeta.ch
Not so long ago our guest took part in the Music on Ice show in Geneva. The not so familiar Russian name among the local stars was catching. The 17.y.o skater replied to our interview request that she has to ask the coach's permission first.
A short, thin and smily girl with a huge bag. What's in the bag? The skates? `No, it's my stuff - am staying overnight in the school'. This is how our conversation with the 2013 Swiss silver medalist and the Russian team member 2009-2012 began
Nashagazeta.ch: Anna, how did it all begin? Do you remember your first time on the rink?
AO: Oh, it was really funny. We lived in Moscow and my mother was walking me to the kindergarten. On the way there was a building with a cute teddy bear on it. Once mom decided to go in and see what's in the building. Apparently there was an ice rink and they were just recruiting kids to Marina Cherkasova's group. Mom remembered that pair (Cherkasova/Shakhray, Olympics 1980 bronze medalists). She was asked whether she has kids. `I do', said my mom `But she is really little - just 4 y.o'. `Well, she is a bit old' she was told and this is how I end up in the try out.
Nashagazeta.ch: Did you want to skate?
AO: I was curious. I thought figure skating was so easy - I'll just walk on the ice wearing a beautiful dress and just glide. The trouble was that I wasn't a sproty kid at all. My grandmother couldn't lift my leg higher than 90 degrees - it would hurt. Mom thought I won't get accepted, so she wasn't worried much when she took me there. I was a bit nervious before the try out. When we came to the rink there was another girl and a boy. The boy started crying and compared to him I felt very confident. I was happy to jump, smile and clap. And then Marina started lifting my leg. I thought if I start screaming like I did when my grandmother tried she will not accept me. I closed my eyes and held it for all I was worth not to scream. Marina felt I can't lift my leg any further. I opened one eye and saw she was looking at me. `Ok, you're in' she said.
Nashagazeta.ch: Did you like the ice?
AO: I got my first pair of skates. I was not confident while walking with them to the rink. I also hated that mom put some stupid pants and sweater on me. I wanted to wear a beautiful dress! The ice door was opened and I saw the kids crawling on the ice. I thought I'll just walk on the ice and will do a sparrow and beautiful spins, but then I had to spend my first practice holding to the boards and trying not to fall. And still I liked the skating, liked being competitive, the costumes my mother would buy for me. Marina wasn't the calmest coach, but she kept saying `come on, do this, do that'. I thought it was her way to support me. I was trying very hard so she would praise me, even though she never does. I kept in mind I had to work hard and she'll see that. I started training harder. I was progressing - not as fast as the other kids, but I had what is called `plus start' - it's when during the competition you can concentrate and show everything you can, despite the nerves.
Nashagazeta.ch: How did you end up in Svetlana Bukareva's group?
AO: From the very start I was skating together with Nastia Fomenko. Our mothers and grandmothers are good friends. Then she switched to TSKA, and told us the school there was really good. I wanted to join Elena Vodorezova's group. She looked at me. But I was just 7y.o. while most of her group were much older, so she passed me to her ex pupil, Svetlana Sergeevna Bukareva. Svetlana Sergeevna accepted me on one condition: that I start working with a choreographer Elena Frolovna Balagova. But Elena Frolovna didn't want me in her group.
AO: She had to break my body so it would look good on the ice. My natural posture is bad, am not flexible, I have no choreography talents. I am very artistic and can endure a lot - that's from my grandmother. First I hated training with Elena Frolovna, while I liked Svetlana Bukareva a lot - she was so young and stylish. For the first year I adored her. She would shout at me a lot, but I got used to that by then - most of the coaches in Russia shout. Elena Frolovna, on the other hand, was very strict, but would never raise her voice. She would criticize me a lot, I would work with her through holding back, but then I haven't even noticed when thanks to her I started progressing. I saw there were girls around me who were able to do those things, i.e. it wasn't impossible. I saw Elena Frolovna praising the kids and I really wanted her to praise me. I dreamed one day she would put me in the middle of the class and say `Go on, Anya, show how beautiful your Bielmann is'. We also worked on the jumps with her and during that year I became almost the best in my group. I was the 2nd best in my rink among the girls my age. Adelina Sotnikova was the best. I was really lucky to work with people who achieve so much. I saw how Adelina was working and thought I should work just as hard.
Nashagazeta.ch :What happened that made you switch coaches?
AO: At some point the mood in the group changed and became hostile. I was just 11y.o but I was surrounded by people who I was afraid of. I had some misunderstandings with the coach. I would come to the practices and cry. Elena Frolovna was working with Svetlana Sokolovskaya and offered me to switch to her.
Nashagazeta.ch: you remained on the same rink?
AO: Yes, I stayed in TSKA - the conditions there are really good and there are great skaters who practice there. First I didn't think Svetlana Vladimirovna believed in me. I was growing very fast, I was told I will become quite tall, which is not good for figure skating. I was in pain all the time, but I kept practicing. The coach started paying attention to me - she saw I was delivering at the competitions and started taking me to the ice with the adults. I was just 13y.o. I was sharing the ice with Andrey Griazev, Artem Borodulin, Nikita Mikhailov joined the group at some point. At the age of 13 I started copying from the adults - I was trying to do a long crossovers, complicated jumps. Speaking of which, I'm lucky - the harder jumps are easier for me than those which considered easy. Toeloop for example.
Nashagazeta.ch :which is your favourite jump?
AO: I guess loop and flip
Nashagazeta.ch: What about the axel that so many skaters hate? (have an impression the interviewer is not quite sure what's the difference between 2A for ladies and 3A for men and read Lambiel's interviews mainly.... )
AO: It's ok. I've been landing the 2A ever since I was 12y.o., I can do it through my sleep. Toeloop. on the other hand, much beloved by everyone else I hate. It's the hardest jump for me. Svetlana Vladimirovna started taking me seriously, I think, when I won the Moscow cup and the Russian novices championship in 2009. That allowed me participating one JGP event. I was so happy! Then I was 2nd in the nationals. I was progressing, I wanted to go on working despite some injuries I had. Later I was allowed participating 2 GP events.
Nashagazeta.ch :you mean the JGP events in 2009, in Poland and Hungary?
AO: Right. On my first event in Budapest I was too nervious and couldn't skate well - it was one of my worst skates during my career. We were all very upset - me, my mother, the coach. No idea how did I end up being 5th in the end. I remember someone told me back then `listen to the music when you skate, it will make it easier'. When preparing to the next JGP event I was trying to do everything to the music. My skating changed for the better and I became 2nd. I made it to the GJPF and went to Tokio, where I became 5th. I was thrilled! I then realized a new chapted begins now - everything was so much more serious there. The JGPF takes place together with the GPF. I saw all the stars there! Lysacek, Kim, Kawaguri/Smirnov, Savchenko/Szelkowy. I remember I was running before the competition and was so tired - I wanted to stop and rest for a bit. And then I saw Robin, who was also running. I thought `If he is running, I can't stop!'. I was so motivated by every competition, I was willing to practice day and night. The same season I became 5th in Russian nationals. I saw all the Russian stars, the coaching stars and Tatiana Tarasova, who came to the rink gave me some advice.
Nashagazeta.ch : how did you end up in Geneva?
AO: My little brother studied in a private school in Switzerland. My mother would visit him quite often. Father would be in Europe quite often as well, while I stayed and trained in Moscow. At some point it was decided we all should unite and Switzerland was the most convenient place. We wrote a letter to mr. Grutter, and when he agreed to coach me I was in 7th heaven. There were no doubts we had to move.
Nashagazeta.ch: Tell me about the school you are attending.
AO: I go to the international school Collège du Léman. According to the Advanced Placement programme I have to choose one subject. I chose European History. I wanted to take French and English as well, but I'm a perfectionist and would want perfect grades, so I left it for the next year.
Nashagazeta.ch : What do you want to do once you retire from skating?
AO: Guess I should learn the hotel business, since I'm here anyway. But no, I'd like to try various things.
Nashagazeta.ch: how do you combine school, practices and competitions?
AO: School was always easy. Figure skating , on the other hand is a challenge, the elements dont' come easy for me. Back in Russia I saw the girls learn things in 2 weeks that would take me 2-3 months. But it only motivates me more, I like setting the goals and reaching them.
Nashagazeta.ch: Describe your day
AO: It depends on the weekday. Usually my practice is at 7am, hence I miss the first lesson at the school. After the pracitce I go to school and study till 16.00. We have 9 lessons every day. Usually I miss the last 2 lessons and go to the next practice. Then I work with the private teacher, have a choreography or a gym.
Nashagazeta.ch: what about the homework?
AO: In the evening or on the way - in the tram or the train. It's quite convenient really! Sometimes I stay overnight at the school if I have to attend the 1st lesson. It's a boarding school.
Nashagazeta.ch: do the teachers support you?
AO: Depends. Some understand, some get offended and think I miss their classes because I don't respect them. Hence are my problems with biology and economy.
Nashagazeta.ch: was it easier in Russia?
AO: In Russia no one was offended. But yes, it was easier indeed - I just had to pass the exams, submit the assignments. It's quite harder for me here - not because the subjects are harder. First it was because they teach in a foreign language. Besides, if you miss more than 10% of the lessons you are expelled. My coach even had to go to the principal and explain I'm a part of the Swiss national team and have to miss a bit more lessons. The school administration was understanding.
Nashagazeta.ch: you achieved quite a lot in Russia. You moved to Switzerland about a year ago and won, I think, all the local competition and became silver medalist in the nationals. You train under Peter Grutter in Geneva, who trained Stephan Lambiel to become the Olympics, Worlds and Europeans medalist. How is it working with such a coach?
AO: It's the first time I met a person who is so much in love with his job. It seems he is having so much fun working! When I work with him I don't want to leave the ice. He has a personal approach to everyone.
Nashagazeta.ch: how would you describe him?
AO: He is very calm and very kind. Very caring. But if I have to skate the programme I will and there is no escape. He is very knowledgeable - he knows how should the elements be done, how to set the skater's mind. Sometimes I get mad when an element doesn't work. I noticed the coach starts talking to me, and when I forget about the element I stop freaking out and it works. I'm amazed by him. I think everyone loves mr. Grutter. Sometimes Stephane Lambiel comes over. His skating is divine. When I look at him I think `if I should ever skate half as good as he does it's all I can dream about'.
Nashagazeta.ch: which language do you speak to the coach?
AO: French. If I don't understand something he explains in English. But I think he speaks every possible language! He learned Russian 30 years ago. Stephan sometimes helps me when mr. Grutter is busy with other pupils. They are so passionate about that work! I think that passion is transmitted to me in a way - I feel that my body is so tired, but my soul is on fire and I repeat the elements again and again. Not long ago we were skating together with Stephane Lambiel and Denis Ten in Zurich.
Nashagazeta: You went all the way to Zurich for that one practice?
AO: Yes. All the rinks in Geneva canton are already closed and they invited me to skate. I think it was worth it - I got to skate on the same ice with such skaters ! I would go even if it was just for one hour. They shared some ideas ,gave some advice.
Nashagazeta.ch: You participated the `Music on Ice' in Geneva together with such stars as Stephane Lambiel, Sarah Meier, Brian Joubert, Pechalat/Bourzat, Suguri, Contesti and others. What participating such shows gives you?
AO: Oh, the roster! I thought `Why did they invite me at all?'. Laurent Tobel choreographs very funny numbers. We met 2 years ago in Alexandr Zhulin's show. I had just started learning French and Laurent was helping me with my homework. We talked a lot about the sport and I asked him to speak French to me, but I didn't understand much so we slided to English. He found me when I moved to Switzerland and started inviting to his shows in Italy. All of his shows are a one theme act. Music on ice, for example, is a Japanese story. Participating such a show is an amazing experience for me, a wonderful opportunity to see how the world class skaters train. I get more experience, learn how to set myself. You can never be sure you'll skate well even if you are 100% ready. I spoke to Sarah Meier and she said `Every time I go on the ice it feels like my very first competition'. Indeed, after every competition oyu think you know everything - how to get ready, how to deal with the nerves. And yet the next competition you are clueless again!
Nashagazeta.ch: which team is easy to get into - Russian or Swiss?
AO: Russia is a bigger country with much more kids, so it's harder. Though in order to join the Swiss team I had to take a test which I passed form the 2nd attempt. But I was ill with a pneumonia the first time - the ice rinks here are cold and I'm not used to dress warm on the ice.
Nashagazeta.ch: Seems that both the skaters and the viewers in Switzerland are not spoiled. The 2011 Europeans in Bern were so cold the viewers were given the blankets....
AO : Yes, after the Europeans our team came home shocked. The Russian skaters enjoy great conditions. I didn't note it before and thought it was the same everywhere. But coming here I felt the difference
Nashagazeta.ch :what's the difference?
AO: The rinks are warm in Russia, the team have an ice rink of their own. But there is no Mr. Grutter. Here we skate all together. I try to come when the ice is not really crowded - in the mornings.
Nashagazeta.ch: Is the teaching different?
AO: In Russia the coaches often give orders. Here the coach and the skater discuss things, we talk about the programme, the plans. The coach understands we are people and not robots. Sometimes you come to the rink and despite sleeping well have no energy. Mr. Grutter never says `you must do'. He says `ok, warm up and we'll see how it goes'. You start warming up, feel better and start jumping and then do the run through the programme, perhaps even more than once. And sometimes it's the other way around - you run out of energy fast. Mr. Grutter understands it.
Nashagazeta.ch You said music helps you a lot. Who chooses the music?
AO: We discuss various ides. I come up with the character which I'd like to depict. The coach says the dancing music becomes me, but I'd like to try different styles. So far I had completely different programmes every year. But if Mr. Grutter dislikes the music we will not use it - he knows which piece will sound good on the ice.
Nashagazeta.ch: do you have your next season programmes choreographed?
AO: Yes. I will skate to a gypsy music in the SP. The coach found an Igor Moiseeve ensemble CD and offered the theme. For the LP we took various compositions by Glenn Miller. I like my new programmes - they are very different but both are great! I still have to work a lot o nthem, but I can see how Stephane works on his programmes and understand should I work equally hard I'll make it.
Nashagazeta.ch: Can you represent Switzerland in the international competitions?
AO: Starting July 1st. Next year I can compete at the international competitions, which, quite frankly, I missed. I think I'll first compete in 2 national competitions to show the programmes and see what needs more working. If I recall correctly Switzerland has one spot for the Europeans and the Nationals will decide who will go. The Swiss national champion will participate the Europeans and the Worlds. Even if I win I will not be able participate the Olympics - I don't have the Swiss citizenship.