Daria Popova: "The ice will judge everybody"

July 16, 2014
By Oxana Shkrebtienko
Photos © Mireille Geurts, Alexandra Ilina, LMDJ

The off-season news continue to surprise the figure skating specialists and fans. A lot of talented pairs broke up, and many of them formed new, completely unknown pairs! Everybody has his own reason - one is tired and wants to finish his career, the other, on the other hand, wants to continue and is keen to try him or herself in a new role. Daria Popova, having been left alone after her partner decided to skate with Aljona Savchenko, didn't give up as she did not want to leave her competitive career for shows. She just bought a ticket from Paris to Moscow and started from scratch with a new partner and a new coach. We met with Daria in Moscow after practice and talked about her health, changes in her life, the recent events and plans for the future.

At the beginning of the last season you’ve got an ankle injury that plagued you for a long time. How is the recovery process going?

My ankle is doing quite well, almost no pain. I've worked a lot on my recovery, swam in the pool. I did not want to reduce the practice intensity, but I was told to limit my skating, to do no more than two jumps per training. Such injuries require complete rest, and I started to train very shortly after it, hence the problem. But at the moment everything is in order, I recovered all my jumps, it goes even better now.

The whole season was unsuccessful partly because of the injury. What was the worst of all for you?

Yes, indeed, the season went down the drain, but worst of all was missing the Olympics. I found out only at the European Championships that my papers will not be ready in time. Until the last minute the Federation let me hope about the possibility to compete in Sochi. But apparently it was not my destiny. It’s such a pity... But maybe it was even good, because we would not have been able to show the result we wanted. I was not confident in myself, since due to the injury I could not prepare properly.

Maybe it influenced Bruno’s decision about changing the partner? How did you break up with him?

It was not very nice of him. As I later learned, during the two months I couldn’t skate healing my injury, he went to try skating with Aljona Savchenko, behind my back. Was it known in the Federation? I don’t know, and don’t want to know. It was Robin’s girlfriend who told me about this, two days before the short program at the World Championships in Japan. The whole situation was very unpleasant for me. The person with whom I skated for three years and was going to achieve everything treated me very unprofessionally. I guess he decided that he will achieve faster results with Aljona, even though she already is 30 years old. Perhaps this is true, and he chose the easy way. But I think it will be Aljona who will achieve the results for him. I don’t know what's in his head because he did not talk to me about it. I don’t wish him anything; it was his choice, he did it himself.

Daria, tell us about your new partner. Which country are you going to skate for?

I’ve known Andrey Novoselov as a very good partner for five years. He is now in the Russian skating Federation, but we can start international competitions this season already. The Russian Federation allows him to switch country to France and he will not be delayed. Once I ended up alone, the French federation told me to find a new partner. I bought a ticket to Moscow and arrived here. I talked to one of my previous coaches, and she suggested trying to skate with Andrey. So I did, and we both liked skating together. Of course it is difficult to get used to each other after skating for a long time with someone else. Everything is different - another hand, other elements execution. It is necessary to adapt to each other. Andrey’s previous partner was 1.70 tall, and I’m 1.54. But it seems like everything can be OK. I like his attitude towards training, Andrey is a very hard-working guy.

Where are you going to train and who will be your coach?

Part-time in Paris, part-time in Moscow. I want to ask Claude Péri, coach of Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres to take us. She remains the only pairs coach in France, because ‎Jean François Ballester, who coached me and Bruno, is going to work in Switzerland.

I like to train in Moscow. All the dedicated training facilities are here: two skating rinks, gyms for physical training, choreographic training, a medical center. I think it is the best figure skating school in Russia; generally figure skating is one of the favorite sports in the country. In Moscow we train with Inna Utkina at the rink “Inspiration”. By the way, this summer Vanessa and Morgan will also arrive here, they are going to work with Stanislav Morozov. Everybody here makes a joke that they will raise pair skating school of France. But the fact remains - it is the best base for pair training here.

Don't you know which country Aljona and Bruno are going to skate for?

No, I do not know. I do not track information about them at all. From time to time I hear some news on Facebook from my friends, but I don't look for the information myself. I'm not interested. Our roads separated, and each of us follows his own way. They now appear in shows, making money. Let's just say, lucky guy!

Do you think the financial interest played a role?

I think so. I could also leave competitive skating, go to shows and earn good money. You know, Robin offered me to skate in show with him. But it's not in my nature, I want to achieve everything myself! I told him, "Robin, you're 34 and I'm only 20 years old, I still have not shown what I’m capable of in this sport and I want to continue!" I chose the hard way. I'll start from scratch with Andrey to prove that we're worth something ourselves, without the famous partners.

What are your first impressions of working with Andrey Novoselov?

I love working with him. It is clear that we both need to change very much, to adjust. He is very calm, ready to help, he can listen. We are different in nature, and thus complete each other. Andrey is unruffled, and I’m more dashing, a leader by character. And the most important thing in a pair, psychologically we feel very comfortable with each other. I come to the rink and I want us to work together. This is what we didn’t have with our previous partners. We could not sit down with Bruno and talk about problems, about this and that. Maybe because Bruno has a strong character too, and he did not accept my character. Now it's easy for me to communicate with Andrey. We have a lot to talk about besides the work, to laugh, to make jokes. And of course an important factor is the language. Sometimes during a practice I start telling him something in English or French, and he laughs in response, telling me to relax because everybody here understands Russian. Something that takes me 5 minutes to explain in another language, I can say in one or two words in Russian. I just enjoy it!

I love the process of us getting closer to each other, starting to be a pair as skaters. It's like a dating stage in a relationship with a boyfriend, to get to know each other. It is also very important to know his reaction. Everything was already known with the previous partner, I knew how he reacted to my mistakes. But now everything is new. Will he be angry, offended? No, on the first training he helped me get up if I fell. I said, "I'm not a princess, you do not have to help me, I'll get up myself." At the competition nobody will help, it is necessary to get up fast and continue. Briefly, my main impression - I can work easily with Andrey, as well as with the coach; I feel their support, I see prospects for us, and this is great.

What motivates you to work?

I am inspired by the example of some pairs, and I want to train and achieve high goals. We skate at the same rink with Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, and I see how they work, something I take as an example. I am generally impressed by the Russian method; sportsmen here train hard, day after day. Often the conditions are not too comfortable, but the athletes just work. And another important point - there is a lot of competition within the team. In France everything is very nice, cozy, but there is no incentive to work. The attitude towards training is more relaxed there. There are only two pairs in the whole country, and we don’t have competition as such. Of course, everyone wants to have a beautiful life; it is possible to leave for shows and earn very good money. But it is necessary to push yourself! You must achieve everything yourself, with your hard work. When I set a goal, I do my best to achieve it. It is important to me if people say, “Yes, she's a strong person, she made herself!”

Daria, in Caen you trained with Brian Joubert for a week. What can you say about his prospects regarding pair skating?

I was surprised by his offer to train together, but we tried. He just wanted to try skating with a partner. On the third day he could already do some lifts. We learned a death spiral, parallel steps, progressives. We tried throws, even a single twist on the floor. He really wants to learn, listens attentively, tries to do everything and is very happy when he succeeds. Everything is so interesting for him! It was a lot of fun to work with Brian.

I also learned something from Brian; he helped me with jumps, improved my technique. So our joint exercises were useful to both of us.

Before his arrival to Caen, we met only in competitions. There was no possibility for us to talk, we were closed and concentrated, and this is understandable. In Caen we talked a lot, drinking coffee together after training. Everyone knows that Brian is a very frank person, he always says what he thinks, but at the same time he never hurts anyone. I laughed and made jokes with him for a whole month! He also knew me very little before that, and he imagined me as a serious, stern person, because he also made his impression about me at competitions. Good that we had the opportunity to talk in a different atmosphere and got to know each other from other sides.

He asked me to look for a right partner for him. But there are a lot of difficulties, because there is no partner for him in France; there aren’t any pair skaters. But the French Federation will never let Brian Joubert go. Is he ready to take responsibility for a girl from another country? It's not that simple to move, changing federations and all the documents.

My opinion - If he takes up the case, if he finds the right partner who is ready to work seriously and they will start pair skating in earnest, they can achieve a lot in 4 years! It is very important that he really wants to do it, and you can tell by looking in his eyes.

What has changed in you with the change of partner?

I became freer, less shy. I watch videos of the last season, our programs were interesting, but I was very closed. There were some choreographic movements, but I was not open emotionally in them. I am very impressed by how Stefania Berton plays with the audience; she is not shy, their program is a spectacle. I also want to skate like this. And I feel that I start to skate smoother, more feminine. I'd like to present myself from this side in a new pair.

Do you already have any ideas for programs this season?

We listened to various pieces of music. Starting this year it is permitted to use vocal music with words, so the choice is very large. We want to take some French theme, something bright, strong, and to make me the spotlight of the program. We do not want the classics or a Spanish theme, it is too jaded. We’ll see. We want to create the programs here, maybe with Alla Kapranova. She is such a creative person! While she comes from the locker room to the rink, so many ideas already pop up! I'd love to work with her! For example, the programs of the last season were created in France. They were very good, but I really missed the help of a choreographer next to me to accomplish them - where to turn, where to smile, where to make a gesture with my hand. Therefore the theme disappeared. Here, I hope we will be able to develop a theme. Now, when music with words is allowed, it will be much easier.

This off-season many couples split and many new ones formed, what do you think about this?

Indeed, something strange is going on, I get shocked by all the news. Some decisions seem to me unwise at best. Let's see what the competitions will show. For the time being no one saw these couples in action, their chances are all about equal. Everything depends on the athletes, who will be able to take advantage of these chances. Nobody will drown you specially, lower you down, if you work hard and rise step by step. We need to create programs, to train and prepare for the season. If something does not work today, we don’t worry, tomorrow it will be better. We specifically don’t want much of PR now, to publish our videos and photos everywhere and then suddenly fail at the competitions. The ice will judge and put everybody in their place.

You also need to process all documents for Andrey, in order to let him skate for France.

Yes, he has to pass through all procedures that I've already passed, to study French, to settle in the country. During this month we were busy getting a visa for Andrey to come to Paris, to meet with the Federation. After the approval by the Federation we need to start with his documents. It's a big job, but now it will be easier because I know the entire procedure. I also have to look for apartments in Paris and Moscow. I want to find accommodation closer to the rink, especially in Moscow. Now I live here with my grandmother, and the road from home to the rink takes about an hour. So I can't go home to rest even during a break between practices because I just become more tired while commuting. So we still have a lot to do. But I began to take everything easier; I became confident in what we are doing. I feel that we do it right and we will succeed.

Do you see a difference between working with a male coach and a female coach?

Yes, I feel the difference. This is my first experience in the pair skating with a female coach, and I love to work with her! I can talk to her about our women's things, about problems other than skating. With my previous partner we trained with Jean-Francois, who knew Bruno since childhood. It's obvious that he was much closer to him than to me. And I came from Russia, with a character... Of course the coach often took his side, because Bruno was almost like a son to him. I could discuss an issue first with one of them, then with the other, but we never sat down to talk all together. Sometimes it was very hard for me to cope with them.

With a woman everything is different. She is closer to me than to my partner, we talk not only about training, but also just about life. In addition, Inna believes in me, I see it, I feel her support.

So, you are happy with the changes?

Yes, I am. It’s so interesting, what has happened. I'm back in Moscow, the city where I was born, and I will skate for France. My friends are here, people who started to skate together with me. I found the right partner and we have a complete harmony together. I train with a specialist who believes in me, helps and supports me. Now we only need to solve the everyday problems and to process Andrey's documents, his transition to the French Federation. I feel like I'm in the right place moving in the right direction and I'm glad that everything turned out this way. Now the main thing is - never give up and keep going forward.

Thank you very much and good luck in the new season! As the new pair Daria Popova / Andrey Novoselov can start taking part in international competitions this season, we hope to hear about them soon!

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