Vaytsekhovskaya's interview with Oksana Baiul

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Elena Vaytsekhovskaya's interview with Okasana Baiul: `Sometimes the Olympic crown is too heavy' for ria.ru (please click the link - scroll down for photos)

The 1994 Lillehammer ladies figure skating champion, who Elena Vaytsekhovskaya especiall seeked in Las Vegas told how she almost died in 2010, compared Zagitova to Medvedeva and explained why is it so important not to care what the others think.

Keep alive!

EV: Last time we met you lived near NY in New Jersey and you were single.
OB: After I got married we lived in East Coast for a while, in the north. We owed a huge house and it’s a headache, especially in the winter. You have to clean the leaves, clear the snow. We got a bit fed up with that. So we started thinking about moving either to California or to Nevada. We picked Las Vegas. We chose Las-Vegas, which was symbolic in a way – it was where I landed in 1993 for my first competition in the USA. So my life completed a whole loop.

EV: And by now your daughter is skating?
OB: Yes. She was born in Las Vegas, she is 3.9 now. I probably started skating the same age under Antonina Pashkovskaya. It’s my first coach who accepted me to her group. She wasn’t even working in `Meteor’ which gave a lot of great athletes, such as Tatiana Navka and Tatiana Volosozhar, but on `Morozko’. The `Meteor’ wasn’t even built yet back then. And now, look at it – 25 years since I won the Olympics.

EV: Were you sorry stopping competing so early?
OB: Frankly, no. Figure skating is figure skating no matter what you do – compete or perform in the shows. I was skating till 2010. After that my health went down.

EV: How serious was it?
OB: Very. You are the first person am sharing it with. In 2003 I was till practicing full time. I was working with my previous coach Valentin Nikolaev as if I never retired. The most my body would let me. After that some signs began. In 2010 when I already met my husband Carlo I was hospitalized in the intensive care. That’s when I was diagnosed with Crohn.
I spent 2.5 weeks in the hospital. Most of the specialists insisted on a surgery because I was bleeding internally and they were unable to stop the bleeding, but my attending doctor said she will not cut me. That I have to beat the disease in a different way. She saved me. She researched my stomach and my kidneys, she was almost 24 hours a day with me and slowly the disease gave away. Two years later I was hospitalized again, but we managed overcoming it again with no surgery.

EV: Many doctors claim Crohn is genetic.
OB: I don’t really remember my childhood, but I have a feeling my maternal grandmother had something of the sort. She also got some severe stomach problems. On the other hand while I was healing and listening to the doctors I came to a conclusion the doctors themselves don’t really know what causes the Crohn’s. Since 2012 all is well with me, but once I got pregnant, and it was without any treatments, it was, frankly, a miracle. Since then I am absolutely certain there are people above us who help us. Some kind of the guarding angels. And still: I was so afraid something would go wrong I haven’t shared a single photo online during the pregnancy period. We also haven’t shared our daughter’s photos till she was 2. I was afraid of an evil eye. Of course you can laugh, but I believe it.

The Olympic curse

EV: Have you ever met Tara Lipinski?
OB: Of course, we know each other pretty well

EV: It’s not an idle question. I once spoke to Lipinski about her career, and Tara said people are wrong thinking at the age of 15-16 everything comes easy, including the Olympic victories. That in fact it’s frightening when you are clueless who to behave and how to take all that pressure. And then a couple of years later I read your phrase `You carry your Olympic crown your whole life and it’s too heavy sometimes’.
OB: Well, it’s true. We aren’t so many – the living Olympic champions. Hence you do feel some kind of a responsibility. I was 16 when I won the Worlds in Prague and a year later – the Olympics in Lillehammer. The responsibility was different – it was your skating. Just that after that my life made a turn I did not expect.

EV: You mean the move to the USA?
OB: Yes. Right after the Olympics my coach Galina Zmievskaya signed a multimillions contract, that was given to her under my name. I had no say in the matter as I was still a minor. I had no choice whether moving to the USA. I wasn't even asked whether I wanted to. Once in the USA I had to start everything from the scratch. Learn the language, learn how to communicate, learn the business I was part of. I.e. on one hand you are an Olympic champion, but you are absolutely not ready for the life after that lands on you. Because the life is completely different. Millions of people look up to you, you become a role model, the responsibility grows and grows and grows… And no one considers being 15-16 too young for the teenager that has to carry all that weight. You simply lack the experience how to behave in certain situations. You must have a responsible adult beside you who would help. Sometimes set some boundaries, sometimes push you forward. Unfortunately, I had no such a person beside me. Nikolaev left to a different city while Galina Zmievskaya was mainly dealing with her problems. The same with Viktor Petrenko.

EV: Are you still in touch with Zmievskaya?
OB: It’s complicated. After Carlo and I got married and he went through some of my contacts he asked me a couple of question and it happened I was unable to answer. For example why was Zmievskaya responsible for all my funds in the USA once we moved. And it was quite an amount - only in Tom Collins shows I was earning enormous sums, but I had no idea since the amount I saw on my bank account was completely different. the same went to the other commercial shows, which were plenty - I participated a lot of TV shows.
After the conversation with Carlo I even called Zmievskaya and asked her whether she ever officially adopted me and how exactly her guardianship worked, are there any papers. Zmievskaya was unable to answer these questions either and said I have to speak to a person named Joseph Lemire. That he would know better.

EV: Lemire is her lawyer?
OB: Not only. Galina met him through Victor Petrenko and he started dealing with all the finances. That's when all that started. It turned out, for example, that Lemire was very much in touch with people from Ukranian government and for many years convinced the Ukranian partners he represents me 100% and was investing under my name: he opened a chain of `Oksana Baiul' beauty salons, was organizing some other shows. For a while Lemire was unable to get the painments from Ukraine and even took them to the court. We learned he received 12.5 million dollars. Just that for a long while I had no idea about it.
When I learned it I was shocked: why for so many years no one from Ukraine tried contacting me? Was I that impossible to find? How can an American own a business in Ukraine without any Ukranian partners on the way? On the other hand I understand the situation: the times were such that even more grey business was possible. It's all shady, but there are many questions, Hence we are still in the middle of the court procedures and still trying to figure it all.

Scorpio need no sorry

EV: How closely do you follow the figure skating now?
OB: I do of course. I always watch the Olympics. The Worlds are less interesting – they take place every year and almost every year it’s a new person. The Olympic champion is once in 4 years and it’s not only the sports. In order to win you have not only to be ready, but the stars have to align a certain way, as they say. So it happened to me: it was the times when the Summer/Winter Olympics were separated in years and the Games in Lillehammer were 2 years earlier.

EV: As for the ladies skating for a while we are discussing: why the girls who become Olympic champions retire and don’t stick around. Do you have an answer?
OB: I don’t think there is a rule. I know after the Olympics in Korea the Russian press compared me to Alina Zagitova. I.e. that she won so rapidly as I did. Though there is a difference: I was the reigning world champion when I won the Olympics. When she and Medvedeva skated at the Olympics my heart went with Medvedeva. Though I understood Zagitova looks better. Softer and more emotional. Though I think Medvedeva is more talented technically.
When I started competing myself it was different. The elements were just cancelled, there were just 8 compulsory elements in the short programme but they were not nearly as hard as now. Say, the step sequence now takes about 50 seconds. Mine in the `Black Swan’ took about 15 seconds. The same with the spins. Hence I had enough time to work on the choreography, to work on the second mark. I didn’t win my Olympics with the technical mark, but with the 2nd mark. But it was exactly the skating style that was in a high demand in my show business career.

EV: I often think the satiation with Medvedeva –her moving to Brian Orser in Canada is in a way similar to yours – the move to a foreign country. The only difference is that Evgenia wants to compete so badly.

OB: After I won the Olympics and kept skating in the professional tours my coach Valentin Nikolaev would repeat: `My dear girl, I can get you all the way to the border, I can help you with the practice and an advice, but it’s you who have to do the job’. Since Medvedeva made such a decision it means she really wants to skate and she loves the competition, the figure skating. I guess you could say the same about Liza Tuktamysheva. She is by far not a young skater, but she must love it a lot. Looking back I can say with a certainty: you have to skate for yourself firstly. The athlete’s career is short and you have to live it in a way that you won’t think you missed out when looking back.
I wouldn’t worry about Medvedeva. I read a lot about her during the Olympics and was surprised to learn we are both Scorpios. With 3 days apart. Hence am certain Evgenia will be just fine, whatever she decides to do.

Carry me, a wave.

EV: There is a point of view in figure skating the athlete must grow in an environment of a constant competition and the coach being very strict. How strict were the boundaries that Nikolaev and Zmievskaya set for you?
OB: Nikolaev was my main coach and he is a very smart specialist. Who not only taught me the technique, but knew how to set me for a competition. The competitions where I didn’t have to worry much about the placement we would try some new elements and were not afraid to take a risk and experiment. But where the results mattered I always skated well. And I was never one of the athletes who could do a run though after a run through of the LP during the practice. It was not only the emotions that got on the way but my technique: I had huge jumps, the entering speed was enormous. If the skater has small jumps they are much less energy consuming, then the huge ones covering half a rink. It demanded a right coaching approach, an ability to calculate a lot of things which Nikolaev did brilliantly.
I guess the young coaches do things that seem right, but when the time passes they realize what have they done wrong and why the skaters went through the certain injuries. I think such mistakes have to remain with the coach – he has to live with that.

EV: Do you agree the only country who can cut the Russian dominance in the ladies skating is Japan, where there are a lot of great skaters right now?
OB: I don’t agree with the `right now’. Haven’t the Japanese skater won the 2006 Olympics? What about Mao Asada, who participated two Olympics and won 3 World championships? I am personally very interested following Russia and Japan competing. It’s two completely different minds and approaches to figure skating.

EV: As a viewer are you mad the ladies skating is heading to a place where the skaters expire too fast?
OB: Let me put it this way: our sport career, not only the sport is like the move of the waves. One wave comes, then the 2nd , the 3rd… The ladies skating is now at a point where the quads and the spins are important. I call it `Cirque du Soleil’. And it doesn’t matter whether you like it or not, because you can’t control or change the process. It does not com from me or from you or from your Russian coach whose name I can’t pronounce. So we just have to sit back and see where it will lead the ladies skating.

EV: Would you like your daughter to become a professional athlete?
OB: I asked her

EV: At the age of 3?
OB: From the very beginning my husband and I treat her as a person. Perhaps the fact she is a Scorpio as well as my husband has something to do. When we ask our daughter whether she wants to go skating she is always enthusiastic. It goes like `I will put my skating dress, I will push and glide, push and glide. And if daddy comes I’ll show him the tricks – all the elements I can do’
She loves watching the tapes where am 16. She tries repeating things: a spiral on the floor, lifting the leg, jumping. It’s so funny and so interesting looking at her. Am all for watching the kid from the very young age and trying to figure what is she good at. My daughter loves painting, she loves the music, especially the classical and the operas. If she hears an opera singer she stops playing with the toys and runs to a TV to watch. We took her to a ballet. I.e. we try to let her develop in every direction.

EV: How often are you on the ice?
OB: I don’t train right now, but I have my 3 pairs of skates in the car constantly. If there is time and will we go to the rink with my daughter, pay for the entrance and skate.

Sonja Henie project

EV: Do you have your own business? Or you are mainly busy with your family?
OB: Carlo is the business men in the family. I’m taking care of the artistic part. Right now we are working on two projects: one of them is `Sonja Henie’. It’s a full time movie, where I play the main part.

EV: I remember when you won the Olympics the US press kept comparing you to Henie
OB: In fact when I grew older I realized what a great privilege it is to be able to talk to people who did history of your sports. Dick Button, Tom Collins were such people for me. Just that at the age of 16 I didn’t understand how much they have done for figure skating. How much had Henie done. She was not only a great champion, but set the mood for the ice shows. There are a lot of documentaries, which depict a fragment of the life. I want our movie to stand out. I want to show the whole Sonja’s life – from the first medals she won till the age of 69, when she died from leukemia. She was on the way back home to Norway, fell asleep on the plane and never woke up.

EV: What is your second project?
OB: It’s a project with my programmes. A live show where I’ll take part. There were a lot of programmes I skated through my career and they were very different: classical, humoresque, oriental, broadway show, all with gorgeous dresses. I had an exactly the same dress as the one Zagitova won the Olympics with, when I was doing the Don Quixote’s Kitri. I even uploaded it to my site. Right now the project is in the stage of developing, budget and logistics.

EV: What crosses your mind when you rewatch your skates at the age of 16?
OB: That had I had my current life experience I wouldn’t try to prove anything to anyone. At all. I remember my first competition in the USA - the one in Las Vegas, I came to the practice, did the steps and stopped abruptly, because my knew hurt. Perhaps I was too tired or unfocused. I was taken to a hospital and underwent a surgery. Everyone were panicked: the competition is in 3 days and I must compete. I must do this, I must do that. So the knee was taped and 3 days after the surgery I was on the ice. I would never agree to that now. Back then even after winning the Olympics I felt I owe people something. It doesn’t cross my mind anymore. I enjoy my life. I do what I like and think is right. I can’t say I changed really. People don’t change. I simply became myself
 

Marco

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I never followed skaters' personal stories and am sorry to learn that she appeared to have been scammed out of a lot of money due to lack of care (to say the least) by her guardian. I am glad she seems to be leading a happy life now, despite her health issues some years ago.

Also, it's interesting to note what she says about COP. That there's so much time to spend on steps and spins that there's little time left to work on the second mark. She was right to point out that her own elements were simplistic (or even lacking) back then, but with all that extra time her choreography was still also sorely lacking. Her time all went to posing and crossovers (which couldn't have helped the second mark). It's also funny that she seemed to find the current skating scene too Cirque de Soleil-esque when she herself was famous for the donut. Looking back, I think the ISU was trying to introduce COP so that they can cultivate champion skaters who would be an average of Baiul, Lipinski and Hughes - the big jumps and artistry of Baiul, the overall technique package and excitment of Lipinski, and the complexity of Hughes' spins, steps and choreography - without their weaknesses in technical content (Baiul) and technique (Lipinski and Hughes).
 
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bardtoob

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It is always shocking to realize how much of Oksana's life was managed for her by people with no legal right. There are names for such things now. The outcome was not good, but I'm glad it was not worse!
 

Bigbird

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Her daughter is so lovely :) I wish her happiness. I was literally obsessed with her when she skated. She introduced me to the world of figure skating. I've always admired skaters with a strong point of view and presence,Takahashi, Akiko, Kihira, Juna, Ilinykh etc to name a few. All the best to her for the future :)
 

Perky Shae Lynn

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I am not at all surprised her money were controlled by parties that had no legal right to do so. A 16 year old girl in a foreign country in 1994. Sigh....
 

WillyElliot

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What competition did she compete in back in 1993 where she stated she first competed in the US? I saw her at Skate America 1993 in Dallas and I could have sworn she said that Skate America was her first in the US. Wasn't she also 15 when she won Worlds?
 

aka_gerbil

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What competition did she compete in back in 1993 where she stated she first competed in the US? I saw her at Skate America 1993 in Dallas and I could have sworn she said that Skate America was her first in the US. Wasn't she also 15 when she won Worlds?
She was 15 when she won worlds, 16 when she won the Olympics.

Although I only watched on tv, I also remember her winning SA in 1993.
 

jenniferlyon

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What competition did she compete in back in 1993 where she stated she first competed in the US? I saw her at Skate America 1993 in Dallas and I could have sworn she said that Skate America was her first in the US. Wasn't she also 15 when she won Worlds?
Yes, Oksana was 15 when she won Worlds. It was held in Prague that year. That summer, she was added to the Tom Collins tour-- I remember I already had tickets to the show when I found out that Oksana had joined the cast. That might be when she first landed in Vegas. Viktor Petrenko was living there at the time. (This was before they all moved to the rink in Simsbury.)
 

muffinplus

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Thanks for the translation...She thinks Medvedeva is more talented technically :confused: But she lost to Zag at the Olympics because of technical base and not having everything in the 2nd half of the program.
 

feraina

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Thanks for the translation...She thinks Medvedeva is more talented technically :confused: But she lost to Zag at the Olympics because of technical base and not having everything in the 2nd half of the program.
I was puzzled by that too. But she said Med was more talented, not better. At Zagitova’s age, Med was winning more. She also said it’s about luck, good timing.
 

Perky Shae Lynn

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Thanks for the translation...She thinks Medvedeva is more talented technically :confused: But she lost to Zag at the Olympics because of technical base and not having everything in the 2nd half of the program.
Medvedeva was at her "technical best" (well, you guys know what I mean, points-wise) when she was 16-17 yo. As she's physically matured, and got injured on top of that, her jumps became less reliable. She'd never learned a proper technique that is less dependent on the skater's size. Zagitova won as a small 15 year old, and is still only 16. She'd be easily defeated by even younger & smaller Russian juniors in any competition this year. So I don't know how much of this is about talent. I am not even sure how Oksana is looking at it - jumps? edges? spins? spirals? Who knows.
 

Bigbird

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Maybe Baiul got things mixed up in her head. In my opinion Medvedeva is/was stronger artistically but technically Zagitova has her beat. Zagitova is also growing up into her artistry. No offence to her fans but Zagitova appears stronger, Medvedeva seems too fragile looking and weak. She needs to work with a good nutritionist and get much stronger but this may involve changing the technique with her jumps and I think she's a bit scared to do that. It's truly a pity the extreme weight control system used extensively in Russia, because maybe if she was allowed to develop as she should and with better technique a la Tuktik, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now.

EDIT: Apparently from Russian media, Medvedeva has health issues and she's been asked to curtail training. This may be why she's kept her weight under such strict control.
 

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