Getting to know Anna Ovcharova
March 26, 2014
By Reut Golinsky
Photo © Anna Bertoloni, Anna Ovcharova, Emilie Korsakova
Anna Ovcharova was first noticed at the international figure skating stage a few years ago when she was representing Russia at the junior level. The season 2009/10 was very successful for her - she qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final (where she was 5th) and she finished top five at Junior Worlds.
For some time Anna was under the radar. Peter Grütter, in the interview we conducted at Nebelhorn Trophy 2012, mentioned that he was working with her and told a bit of her story. And Salomé Brunner, with whom we caught up later that season too, added some more details about working as Anna's choreographer. Both praised her highly.
When Anna was added to the cast of "Music on Ice" in Bellinzona this January, I used the opportunity to meet her and to learn more about what happened to her during these last few years.
I'm glad to see you in the cast of this year's "Music on Ice" in Bellinzona! When you took part in this production in Geneva, you said you were constantly asking yourself: "What am I doing among all these stars?" Now, here, at your second show do you feel better?
Yes, I feel that I am more in the loop this time.
Also, you have the title now, and they introduce you as the National Champion.
Maybe they introduce, but I still don't feel like it, to tell the truth. It's been a month already and it still hasn't sunk in.
And when will it?
I think never. (laughs) I will never feel it. I'm just skating for my own pleasure and doing the best that I can do. All those titles are great, of course, but it's more important that I feel that I'm skating better now, becoming more skillful.
Let's start our talk with looking back and recalling how you got to where you are now. To sum up your career till now, can you define five main steps in your sports life?
Well, first is the very beginning when I started to skate. Then, second, joining the CSKA club (Central Sports Army Club Moscow, a major Russian sports club based in Moscow, home to many elite figure skaters, including Ekaterina Gordeeva, Sergei Grinkov, Adelina Sotnikova - ed.).
Third will be the surgery... It was a very stupid situation. Suddenly my leg started hurting. We were practicing a lot, my coach wanted me to learn the triple Lutz-triple loop combination, and I was repeating and repeating it, already succeeding with it a few times. But one day I just stepped on my leg and felt an enormous pain. For a week it hurt awfully and I didn't know what was going on, I almost didn't practice. We didn't go to the doctor's to have it checked, and it somehow felt better in a week. For a month I felt a bit of pain, then more and more again. At some point it hurt so much I couldn't put my skate on. I was told it was an inflammation. I knew it wasn't, but I did all the treatments, I really wanted to believe it was, because it was the best option of what could have happened to my leg. But deep inside I knew it wasn't that, I just didn't let myself think about it... Later I was told they found a small cyst, which needed to be treated with a laser. It was a very, very painful procedure. And nobody believed me that I couldn't skate, which made me really angry.
We tried different doctors, but nobody could find the reason for this pain. Later when we were in Geneva, where my brother was studying, we went to a doctor there. After being checked out they saw that I had two big cysts and also the start of bone necrosis. And the laser treatment I had before actually had made things even worse. They said that I needed to have an urgent surgery otherwise there was a chance I could even lose my leg. All in all I had two surgeries, one in Geneva, in 2011, and then another one later in Moscow, in 2012.
After my first surgery, in 2011, slowly I started skating again and took part in some competitions (Anna was third at Cup of Nice 2011 - ed.), but we already were planning to move from Russia. My Dad was abroad most of the time, working, and it was really hard for me because we didn't see each other. I lived in Moscow, with my parents coming and going so I rarely saw them. So we decided it wouldn't work like that, our family needed to be together. My Mom and I wrote a letter to Mr. Grütter, he answered, in December 2011 we went to Geneva for him to see me skate. And he agreed to take me! I was really scared because it meant changing my whole life. And this was probably the fourth step of my career.
And the fifth step... let it be Swiss Nationals this season. Or probably even before, I'd say it started after my performance in Graz (Ice Challenge 2013 in mid November, where Anna finished 9th overall - ed.). I skated rather poorly there, I didn't feel well, I wasn't even sure I'd be able to skate the long program. I came back from the competition very upset, I was really down. Stéphane (Lambiel) came to the rink to practice, and I told him about the competition and how I felt, and he gave me a lot of good advice. And my very close friend Denis Ten also gave me some good advice. The advice from them both helped me so much! And I still keep living according to their suggestions. I also changed the way I practice; I had very intense practices, and Stéphane came to see a few of them too. Then we went to La Chaux-de-Fonds (where Swiss Nationals were held this season), Mr. Grütter and Salomé came, and Stéphane joined them for the long program. With such support from that threesome I felt, on the one hand, a huge responsibility, but on the other hand they believed in me. And I felt like even if no one in the whole world believed in me except those three I would be capable of doing everything!
And if I ask you to name five people who influenced your figure skating life the most, who would that be?
OK, Mr. Grütter, Salomé Brunner... Elena Blagova, the coach who worked with me since I was seven years old, from the very beginning since I joined CSKA. All my jumps, doubles and then triples, I got from her. Even now sometimes when she visits us, Elena Frolovna comes to see me practice in Geneva with Mr. Grütter. She just sits in the stands, watching, and after the practice she says what she liked, and what she didn't. I also really love to work with her off ice. The fourth person is Anna Bilibina, the choreographer I worked with in Russia. Before we met I was really awful, absolutely "gnarled". She worked on my lines, she used to tell me: "If you skate crooked like this, it means that you don't love yourself!" She worked a lot on my flexibility, on my hand positions; she gave me an understanding of the choreography, of how to make the movements to look pure. And the fifth... (takes time to think)
Well, it doesn't have to be five actually. But maybe you can think about someone else you wanted to thank for who you are now...
Then it will be more than five people. I would like to say a huge thanks to Stéphane. And also to Denis. They inspire me so much with their achievements, with what they do and how they train. I watched Denis performing in Graz, it was amazing, and only later I learned from his interview that he skated his long program with a broken heel or broken skate or something like that. And with that he did a quad, two triple Axels! When you witness something like that you say to yourself: nothing is impossible!
You know Denis from CSKA, I guess?
Yes. We were out of touch for about a year, and then after the show "Music on Ice" last spring Denis came to work with Stéphane, and they invited me to skate with them. And I suddenly understood how much I missed Denis and decided that we have to keep in touch. If I need some advice he's the person I can trust to give me a valuable opinion; he will think seriously before saying something.
You won Nationals but you won't go to Europeans, why?
Because I didn't get the required technical minimum score at the beginning of the season. I only started to compete internationally this fall and I was really nervous. It was a very hard time for me and I couldn't fully get my act together.
But there is another competition before Europeans you can attend to try to get that score.
No, actually it was too late already because they had to announce the team for Europeans a day or two after Nationals. But I go to the Bavarian Open at the end of January and hopefully I will perform well there [to get points for Worlds].
I understood that at Cup of Nice you actually had a good chance to get that minimal score but you made more jumps than needed.
Yes, but not only that. I also popped one jump and I had some under rotated jumps. And also I added that combination to my double Axel which was zeroed. Pity, I tried so hard, it was probably the best jump in that program (laughs). I thought it might add me a bit more of points, but in the end it was the other way around.
But in general it's a very realistic goal for you to get that minimum, right?
Yes, I have it for the short program. And for the long I need just a bit more [than I have now].
Well, there are competitions after the Bavarian Open too.
Hope it won't be needed! I really want to become more consistent already. Because right now nobody knows what to expect from me, and I want them all to know!
Talking about technical minimum score, in general what is in your technical arsenal at the moment? And what are you working on?
I've mastered all five triples and a double Axel-triple toe combination, but I want to be more consistent with that one before we add it to the long program. And I'm working on triple flip-triple loop.
It's easier for you to try it with loop?
To tell the truth I don't like the toe loop jump, except when it's with a double Axel. And I'm also learning triple Salchow-triple toe. But, yes, my triple toe... Well, now it is much better already. Mr. Grütter taught me to love the Salchow and I almost love the toe loop too now. (laughs) He asks me to jump it as often as possible while I always try to find an excuse not to do it, though I really love to train the double Axel-triple toe! But toe alone...
Well, you always can "fill" the programs with other jumps, after all it's the "cheapest" one.
Yes, this is what I do now: I have two flips and two Lutzes. And I say to Mr. Grütter: "Why bother, this way it's even more points!" But he wants me to have all the jumps, to be able to perform everything needed and such excuses don't work with him. (laughs) But I think figure skating isn't only about the jumps, though in single skating they are very important, of course.
If it is not only about the jumps for you, then what is it about? For example, how would you define a "good program"?
A "good program" is the one in which the skater looks harmonious on the ice, and there is enough of everything in it - spins, and skating itself, and artistry, and choreo, and jumps. For me this is the ideal, for me this is what real figure skating is about.
Tell me more about your programs for this season.
For my short program I took Gypsy music, which was used by The Moiseev Dance Company in their performances. It was Mr. Grütter's proposition to use it. Salomé Brunner choreographed the program; all the steps and transitions in this program are hers. In August I went to Moscow for a few days, for a family visit. There I met with Anna Bilibina, and I decided to show her the program. She is a former ballerina and knows [the dance] very well, so she corrected a few things, like arm movements, things like that. When I was back I showed the result of our work to Salomé, and she approved all the changes so we kept them. I'm crazy about this program!
My long program is to Glenn Miller's medley, [in the mood of the] early forties. We were working on it with Salomé, and it took quite a while to create it. We started to work on it in Zurich, then continued in Oberstdorf. This is the story about an American girl during World War II, she is coquettish but not too much because of what's happening in the world around her. She is one of those young people who were still trying to live their life to the fullest in spite of the circumstances.
I really love this program, and it is easy for me to skate it. The problem is that being a very emotional person, sometimes I can't put the music aside, I get carried away with it too much. With this program I don't, maybe only towards the end during the part I love the most, I can control myself well for most of it.
Is the problem with getting carried away that the jumps fall apart? Because I don't think it's bad if the music leads the skater. For example, I noticed that you sing while you skate, I think it's wonderful.
Because this volcano you have inside starts swamping you... For a show it might be great, but in a competition... Nowadays the figure skating is so complicated that you have to be fully in control. The public won't notice it, you will sing anyway, but you need to be aware of what you're doing, to know: you're here, you're going to do one, two, three, four...
In Russia you trained in a very strong group, with the top skaters. Do you miss it in Geneva now? In general, how would you compare training there then and now?
It's hard for me. The conditions are not the same either. I try to come to my practices very early so that less people will be on the ice, but sometimes I am forced to skate with a crowd of small children. Often I need to shout because they don't really understand that I can bump into them and they can get hurt.
In the beginning it was really upsetting for me, I was even crying sometimes because there was nothing I could do to change it. But later on it even motivated me in some way: I will succeed despite everything!
You also don't have top skaters there; you don't have anybody to look up to.
You know, I might share the ice with Stéphane once a month or so, but when he comes... Even once during the month is already a lot; it's better to have him once in a month than to have skaters of my level every day. (smiles)
Before I also trained occasionally with Paolo Bacchini (Bacchini is not coached by Grütter anymore - ed.). I also have Alisson Perticheto skating with me sometimes. When we have practices together it's great, though usually I love when Mr. Grütter gives all his attention to only me. It's motivating: if she skates her program well, I need to skate mine well twice. (laughs) It might not even be conscious sometimes, but I feel that I have this urge to make one more, one better [than her]. I'm very grateful to have her at the rink.
Will you follow the Olympic Games? Who will you cheer for?
I will watch the Games for sure. 100% I will cheer for Denis. I will also cheer for Daisuke Takashi, because I adore his skating. And I will cheer for Maxim Kovtun. I don't know him well personally, but I'm really glad that he won Russian Nationals. I really wanted him to win! I wanted Maxim to win because I was reading some interviews and everybody was so sure that Evgeni Plushenko will go to the Games. And I felt bitter about the young skaters who are not given the chance [to prove themselves]. It has happened many times, for example, with Kostia Menshov. And with many others. I know from my own experience how unpleasant it is, when you should [go to some competition] and someone else is sent instead. And I really wanted Maxim to go, because... two quads in the short program is truly cool! Also he really improved since last season, in choreo, in step sequences, in spins, he is working really hard and everybody can see that, everyone appreciates that.
In ladies I will cheer for Yuna Kim. To be honest I also really want Adelina Sotnikova to do well. Since we were small we went hand in hand, I really love her. We're not in touch often, because it's always either she or I don't have time. When I'm coming to Russia, which happens rarely, she is usually busy. But we always greet each other during the holidays, birthdays, and after good results at competitions.
Who do you see now as your rivals at the world's scene?
Nobody. I never think like that. You never know. All the girls are skating really well, they are very strong. It's impossible to say: "I will for sure be better than this one and worse than that one." I never have that thought on my mind, especially during the competitions when I'm concentrated only on myself. It's more important to think about myself and about what I need to do. And also frequently it's a matter of chance because at practices we all are doing everything ideally, but competitions are totally different.
(During our talk Stéphane Lambiel starts rehearsing his "Ne me quitte pas" program on the ice)
By the way after Stéphane's performance Samuel (Contesti) and I watched some recordings of Jacques Brel. Both of them, Samuel and Stéphane, introduced me to French music and told me that I need to listen to something besides Rihanna. (laughs)
Actually I had a question about that, because in one of your interviews you said that you listen to jazz, classical music, R&B. So it's definitely not only Rihanna!
I'm a music lover, I listen to absolutely everything from rap to Soviet songs. I think in figure skating you won't find many people who love only one specific genre, all the people around me love diverse styles. I probably still haven't met someone who loves heavy metal, but except for that...
There is something else I wanted to ask you about the things you love. Your nickname is london1996, why London?
I really love that city! I feel very comfortable there. When I'm there I feel as if I become its air walking on its streets... I have a lot of warm memories of London, and although I haven't visited there a lot, each time it was just wonderful.
What is your favorite place in London?
Probably the viewpoint at St.Paul's Cathedral, the Golden Gallery. It's very scary for people like me who are afraid of heights, but it's so beautiful that you forget about all your fears!
I also really love English and feel comfortable speaking English. One of my friends from my school told me that when he first saw me, the first time I came to our school he thought that I was British. (laughs)
But, you know, I also use another nickname, welt kind, "the child of the world" in German. And actually I think that nickname describes me better. For example, I always felt some kind of soul connection with Edith Piaf (Anna had a program to Edith Piaf's medley in the show - ed.), deep in my soul I feel partly French. And partly Japanese, and partly something else... (laughs)
After taking gold at the Swiss Championships, Anna started the year of 2014 with winning her first international medals for her new country: silver at the 2014 Bavarian Open and bronze at the 2014 Challenge Cup. She acquired the needed technical minimum score and will represent Switzerland at World Championships, in Saitama, Japan. We're wishing her and her team best of luck during the short program tomorrow.