Interview with Zabijako


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Marina Chernysheva-Melnik's interview with Natalia Zabijako for

MCM: What happened last summer? Your pair was preparing for the new season and then you had to postpone competing.
NZ: It all started during our best season. Because of Sasha's health problems we were not allowed to participate the Europeans. Then we had our lucky Worlds, and the vacation. It seemed thing were coming together - we went to a training camp abroad, were preparing enthusiastically the SP. It was quite an interesting one to the `Ice Queen'. We took that character but not the well known fairy tale. Sasha was a simple guy who I was trying to freeze with my magic and cold. In the middle of the summer we had a lot of physical stress with the whole run throughs and Sasha's problems came back. He underwent the testing in Moscow and the doctors forbade high strain.

MCM: Did the doctors tell till when?
NZ: No, it was a complete uncertainty. After each test Sasha was told to come back in a month. He would redo the test but there was no improvement. The same repeated every time.

MCM: You kept in shape yourself?
NZ: I was doing all the elements, skating with a parachute. Sasha would come to the rink and the gym quite often and trained as well. We were skating together but being careful with the hard elements - resting between and no transitions.

MCM: How was it mentally - keeping working hard knowing you are missing at least this season?
NZ: Tough. Sasha would undergo the tests, he believed till the end he'll heal. It didn't happen suddenly. We didn't know March last year whether we'll attend the Worlds. Just a couple of days before the departure we received the green light. I started writing a book that time. The last months we were struggling and watching all the competition we could had participated.

MCM: at what moment you realized Sasha will not come back?
NZ: The understanding came a while ago, it's not a moment thing. Just that after every competition we skipped we saw there is no dynamics, it's not up to us. We believed in the best and tried not to be down, but the bad feeling prevailed. After several declines we accepted.

MCM: Taking you are quite healthy and still want to skate have you tried out with some experienced partner?
NZ: There were such thoughts, I discussed it with the team. Everyone understood the situation, we had no secrets from each other. Yes, I have an experience of the partner change and I could had tried again. But after a long and hard thoughts decided it was not worth it.
First I was set for the 2022 Olympics and did not think any further. If now, a year before the Olympics I'll switch partners no matter how well we skate we probably won't make it to the top. The federation has it's preferences.
The second reason - am tall for the pairs and it's hard to find a partner for me. It was my hardship for many years. With Sasha's height we were a perfect match. Both in height and the emotions for me Sasha is the best sports partner.

MCM: I.e. you decided to retire with your perfect partner and with the most important medal you won with him.
NZ: I realized the idea of a new partnership was an emotion I should not give in to. There are skaters with the fire in their eyes who want to skate for a long time. Kudos the them and figure skating became a part of my soul. But sometimes yuo have to accept the situation no matter how horrible it might seem. It's all really for the best and I want to develop in new directions now.

MCM: When you first joined Mozer's team in 2014 there were several best teams in the world, including the new two times Olympic champions. How did if feel skating in such a group?
NZ: Great! When there are so many top teams around you it motivates. With my previous partners we were the only ones in the group and I was bored. Though I was quite nervous and shy first, but ended up having great relationship with everyone. Usually we would be two teams at once on the ice and we mainly shared the ice with Tarasova/Morozov.

MCM: I read about a horrid injury you had in January 2016, which put you in ER for 10 days. Weren't you afraid to go back to the ice after?
NZ: Once I regained the consciousness my first thought was: I want to be back and prove myself I can skate again! I was not afraid to jump, just was a bit wary the first time - because of the vertigo. Besides, we only started recovering the hard elements half a year after the injury. The first months I was just gliding -the doctors forbade all the coordination moves.
Then in May our team went to a seminar in Germany and we all were allowed to practice alone. Without having a permit I tried some single jumps then doubles. By the end of the seminar my triple was back and it was the new starting point. It was important to begin, and by August we were training full time.

MCM: You and Enbert found each other like two colleagues after a series of failures. You even called each other `an attempt n.5'. What were your relationship like? You both seem quite content people.
NZ: Indeed things with Sasha turned out well from the very beginning. He is very calm, logical, a consistent partner. During our work together we never argued. Wed had disagreements - we discussed them and always found a compromise. It happened I was emotional in the practices, say, when the jumps didn't go well, I could even kick the border. And had to fix it all immediately. I would attempt the element again and again till I make it or kill myself. Sasha is the opposite - he prefers to leave the problem till tomorrow and have a fresh start the next day. He always calmed me down. We are friends.

MCM: Looking at the results table your high point was the 2016-17 season. You won the GP silver, were top 3 in Russia
NZ: Yes, that's when things went well. The first season we were getting used to each other, attended some small competitions. Than that injury and we were out. It's great we were able to be back in shape on time and made it to the Olympics in the end.

MCM: How was it - skating on the Olympics ice?
NZ: For both of us it was an incredible feeling - so many emotions! Both Sasha and I came to the Olympics as adults with failures behind us. I was having a great time skating our programmes not thinking of anything else. Only when I got into the final pose I looked around. At those moments you realize the whole planet is watching you. Soon after returning to Moscow I made a memorial tattoo with the Olympic rings. I decided a long time ago - if I make it to the Olympics I'll make a memorable on my body.

MCM: How were you preparing to the post Olympic season taking the coaching situation in your team?
NZ: You know, a lot of athletes say that they are drained after the Olympics and need a lot of time to recover. It was the opposite for me - I had so much will to move on. I felt as if I took lots of power drinks. The whole group took a long vacation and we only came back to practice a month and half after the Worlds. We started the season with a training camp in Kislovodsk, where I was working on my body harder than any time before. I even changed my looks. Mozer spent less time on the ice, but was coming often to the practices, made the plans, gave valuable advice. She was always around.

MCM: You had very creative last programmes. I was really impressed with the exhibition tango.
NZ: I heard that music by chance 7-8 years ago when I was training in the USA. I recall listening to it and wanting to skate to it so badly. But the coaches said I am not mature enough for a tango. And here, finally, some time later my dream came true. The SP `Alexand Nevski' was Mozer's idea. Sasha and I didn't like the music on the first attempt. But we trusted the coach and then Peter Tchernyshev joined the process and a small battle story came alive on the ice. The LP theme `Toi et moi' - we loved from the first time, the music gave us goosebumps. It's my favourite programme of my whole career.

MCM: I think your success in your last competition was partly due to the smart decision of your coach to come to a different continent well in advance and beat the jetlag.
NZ: Yes, the whole team was placed in a remote sports base with one coffee house in the whole area. We knew our first competitions would be at 10am. Hence I prepared myself to that schedule: waking up at 5am, the off and on ice practice. By 14 we were free. I was not used to sit idly - that makes me even more tired. Hence I would go for a walk in the centre of town, would get familiar with Japan, write some notes. It was a full dwell in the atmosphere and it had it's part in our good skate. Emotionally the Worlds were more precious for me than the Olympics.

MCM: Tell me about your family. What do your parents do, your brother and sisters?
NZ: They all live in Tallinn. Father and brother are metal workers. Mom is a tailor, but she is resting now. The older sister is in restaurant business, the younger is finishing her 11th grade. I'm a multiple times aunt - my brother and older sister have their families and kids.

MCM: Do you see them often?
NZ: I try to visit them when I can. When I was an athlete and especially while in the USA we wouldn't see each other for quite a while. Ever since I moved to Moscow I go home twice a year for a week, my parents come over every summer and if possible - at the winter. I had a nice visit in March - made it to the home country before the quarantine: spent two weeks with my family in my favourite Tallinn.

MCM: One of your first coaches was Anna Levandi-Kondrasheva, the pupil of the famous Stanislav Zhuk. Did you, a Russian speaking Estonian, feel the what the Russian figure skating school was like?
NZ: I love her working style. Anna has a great base and she knows how to prepare an athlete to the needed results. I worked with Kondrasheva for 9 years and can tell her coaching methods stand out compared to the others'. It was with her I won my first medals on the juniors level. Later when I switched to pairs Anna kept helping me with the advice.

MCM: How come you never participated the Tallinn Trophy? I know it's not a major competition, but just for the sake of competing in your home town.
NZ: I was thinking about it every beginning of the season when Tallinn Trophy was scheduled, but we were never able to include it in the schedule. It fell on the same time with the GP and Challengers which we considered being more important.

MCM: You have so many interests besides the sports. Let's start with the poetry. How did you become involved?
NZ: I wrote my first poetry when I was 11, just simple rhymes. The real art began in 2011. I was living in the USA, had a back injury and was writing about my worries. I would trust the paper with things I was too shy to discuss with anyone. Ever since I keep writing about various situations.
My first muse usually comes in the middle of the night. I suddenly wake up with all these thoughts in my head. Sometimes I have a writing urge during a day, but usually when it's quiet.

MCM: You even said goodbye to the audience with your poetry - skating to it.
NZ: I expressed my emotions which I felt during the career and the sadness of retiring. I wrote it and read it. But when we were skating to these words they sounded differently. I hope the audience felt our story.

MCM: Would you want to use your poetry talent in something else? For example publish a book or have it in the movie?
NZ: I recently wrote an autobiography with my poetry. I began last year - when upset not being allowed to compete. I was first considering just a poetry book, there were about 30 at that moment. But then I understood that the poetry was not enough and decided to share my life story. My childhood, the first steps on the ice, the travelling around the world, the school, friends, first emotions, the coaching switch, the partners switch... different periods of life were coloured by different lyrics. I hope to publish it towards the Autumn - just before the release of our movie `The not broken'

MCM: Tell me about the movie. I understand your fiance Daniil Grinkin was filming it in Saitama before the Worlds?
NZ: The main parts yes, right during the preparations for the Worlds. The main characters are Sasha and I and Ashley Cain/Thimoty LeDuc. That team was also training in Mozer's group and we invited them for an international story. The filming team went to Tallinn to my parents - to film their emotions during our skating at the Worlds.
The movie came out quite intense. It's more about the people who overcome things on the way to their dream, rather than the sport. After the filming we made the sound and the cutting, we were working with an amazing team who were part of the `Star Wars' creators. The music was written by an American compositor Ryan Wyman, all the instruments were recorded live with a quartet. The sound was done in `Mosfilm'. I want to thank the singer Zarina for the inspiring song she performed especially for the movie.
We finished the postproduction this February and soon had a closed screening for the friends. We plan the big opening in September. We'll show the movie in the cinemas around the country and on VOD. We plan some festivals and the release in Europe and the USA. I hope you'll like the movie, we tried to leave the real parts of ourselves on the screen!

MCM: Back to your writing. I recall when preparing to the Worlds you were blogging from Saitama. How did you come up with the idea?
NZ: I was offered by an editor. Every day, I, a competing athlete was telling how I spent my time. I tried writing not only about the practices but about the country from the tourist's point of view. It was an interesting experience and it helped me to take the competitive pressure off. I never wrote a traveling diary, it was the first. I even bought a selfy stick, was filming and cutting it all. I showed the video first to my friends and recently uploaded it.

MCM: Your other hobby is cooking. What do you like eating?
NZ: I fell in love with cooking at the age of 14 when I was living in the USA in a Russian family. One of our friends was an amazing cook and made great deserts. She taught me a lot of things and when I moved to Moscow she kept sending me some new finds. That's how it began. I love creating the deserts - the honey cake, tiramisu. The vegan ones, the chia with coconut milk and a mango muss.

MCM: What is filling your life now?
NZ: The creation. I had plenty of time for that spending the last 1.5 months sitting home. I am diving in the cinematography, read a lot about it, watch the master classes. Learn how to read the poetry and the monologues right. It's a delicate thing, hence I try to learn from the best.

MCM: Do I understand it right you plan the cinema to be part of your new life?
NZ: For now am just interested to learn. I don't know where will it lead. To say I want to be an actress or a script writer is not enough for success. I need an experience, time and understanding what I'm capable of. It took me 20 years in the sport. I hope the journey to the top in my new life will be shorter. Hence now I don't want to voice some super goals. I'll just say am focusing on the quality.


Well-Known Member
What a wonderful interview. Most wonderful are Natalia's genuineness and wisdom. What a fabulous person.

I don't even know what to highlight, because it is all so good. I'll have to think about that. Most heart-rending is her journey through her emotions in coming to the decision to retire. I look forward to seeing the movie they made.

Five stars.


Well-Known Member
Thank you for translating, she sounds like sich an interesting person, I am looking forward to the film and wish her all the best!


Lina Fedorova's Instagram Live chat with Natalia Zabiiako yesterday:

More about the upcoming Unbroken documentary film was posted on July 12 on the film's English Instagram account (IGTV preview video):

In February 2020, Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert announced the end of a sports career. The guys performed in pair since 2015. They won the silver of the Olympic Games 2018 in team competitions, as well as bronze in the European Championship 2018 and the World Cup 2019 (personal and team). šŸ†
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Many athletes are struggling to end their careers, but we hope that the guys will quickly find their destination. The end of one path is always the beginning of another. šŸ˜Œ In anticipation of the film and good news about the fate of the guys, we will enjoy their final performance.

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