Figure skating is like a roller coaster ride. One day you are on top of the world, flying through your jumps, soaring through every move of the program. And then comes the next day, when nothing works for you. And if this second phase falls on a competition day, you are in trouble.
Alena Leonova, 2009 junior world champion, a two-time Russian silver medalist, the girl who finished fourth at last year’s world championships, looked poised to medal at Skate Canada. In fact, she had never skated better. Her programs were beautifully choreographed; she looked fit; and even her hairstyle appeared more sophisticated. Alena hadn’t even taken a much-needed break after the last season – she had done everything to get ready for the upcoming season. Last summer, Alena moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow to work with a new coach, Nikolai Morozov. Nikolai is a talented coach and choreographer, a man who is known for his attention to detail and for his creative choreography. After just a few months together, Alena’s quality of skating has greatly improved. And yet competition is a tough thing: no matter how ready you are, there is no guarantee that you will win.
On Friday, Alena appeared on ice wearing leggings and a black vest over a white shirt. Set to the music from Pirates of the Caribbeans, the short program looked promising. Unfortunately, Alena’s performance was far from perfect. Alena two-footed the second jump in her triple-toe-triple-toe combination – the jumping pass she can do in her sleep – and singled her double axel. What made the situation even worse was the fact that it was a short program: a set of compulsory elements, where even a small glitch is severely penalized by the judges. The mistakes didn’t remain unnoticed: the judges only gave the skater 49.75 points, which immediately threw her down to the seventh place. Naturally, Alena was upset and so was her first coach, Alla Pyatova, who accompanied the skater to the competition. A medal no longer appeared within reach.
The following day, during the morning practice, the skater looked inconsistent. She kept trying her triple-triple combination, and each time she would two-foot the second jump. The very last attempt resulted in a failure, which isn’t a good sign. It is usually the last element that stays in the skater’s mind. If you have aced it, you feel confident believing that you will do everything beautifully when it counts. This time, it didn’t happen.
And yet Alena proved that she was not a quitter. She fought for every move and managed to skate an overall clean program with only a couple small mistakes. Immediately she moved up to the fourth place missing the bronze medal by just one spot. After her performance, we had an opportunity to talk. I met Alena in the mix zone, the place where reporters bombard skaters with questions the moment they leave the ice. The transition must be hard, for skating a long program takes a lot out of the skater. No wonder, Alena looked tired and somewhat wary, though obviously relieved.
O.J: Alena, are you happy with today’s performance?
A: Well, it’s definitely better than yesterday’s.
O.J: How did you manage to skate so well after what happened yesterday?
A: I made myself forget about the short and focus on the assignment at hand. It worked.
O.J: I saw you working on your triple-triple combination this morning, and you couldn’t do it right. What would you recommend young skaters who try a jump over and over and keep falling?
A: If you can’t land a jump for a long time, the best thing is to forget about it for a while. Then it will just happen.
O.J: How do you like your new program? The fans know you as a ‘naughty girl,’ and this time you skated to a serious piece of music.
A. It does seem unusual to me. But the more I skate this program the more I like it. I’m beginning to get used to the image of a serious skater. Besides, in my short program I still look mischievous.
O.J: Do you like your new image more? What will your future programs look like?
A: It’s hard to tell at this point. Time will show.
O.J: What kind of skater do your consider yourself? Are you more into technique or artistry?
A: It’s fifty-fifty for me, I would say. Of course, I like jumping most of all.
O.J: What’s your favorite jump?
A: The toe loop.
OJ: How about triple flip-triple-toe-loop combination? Are you planning to put it into the program?
A: Perhaps. It needs to become more consistent.
O.J: Could you share more about your training with Nikolai Morozov? I know he spends a lot of time polishing his students’ skating skills. One skater even mentioned that Nikolai had changed his back stroking technique.
A: I don’t know about basic stroking; Nikolai hasn’t worked with me on that. However, I do feel that my skating skills have improved. I feel much more relaxed.
O.J: Does Nikolai give you private lessons?
A: No, that’s not the way he works. There are five skaters on ice during practice, and Nikolai works with all of us at the same time.
O.J: How about ice dancers?
A: They have their own ice time.
O.J: It must have been hard for you to move to Moscow and leave your family behind.
A: You can’t even imagine how hard it is. I don’t know what I would do without the Internet.
O.J: Are there any traditions in your family?
A: The only tradition I can think of is celebrating the New Year together. I am looking forward to it.