A lot of young figure skaters say Aljona Savchenko when asked about their biggest inspiration in sport. And it’s easy to understand why. When you look at Aljona Savchenko’s titles, the list looks truly impressive. Being one of the most decorated pair skaters, she is a six-time World Champion, a four-time European Champion and a five-time Grand Prix Final champion. Not to mention two Olympic bronze medals and finally – after participating at five Olympic Games – she won that long-desired gold for Germany at PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea. But what struck you most when you meet Aljona is how friendly, bubbly and positive she is. Originally from Ukraine, Aljona has lived in different places, experienced rises and falls, but managed to achieve her biggest dream. And… she's not stopping yet. Read further to find out about her future figure skating aspirations, daughter Amilia and new book.
Hi, Aljona. I know your dream as a figure skater was to become an Olympic champion. It finally came true in 2018 at PyeongChang Olympic Games. Could you believe it all happened and what were your feelings?
I really couldn’t believe that it happened the way it did and probably half a year has passed since I really came to terms that it’s all true. As for the feelings I had…
It was all just surreal, like watching a movie.
Winning the Olympic Games was shocking, I stood there and my whole life, from the very beginning just went in front of my eyes, like a movie, with all it’s major parts. I felt happy like never before.
Can you tell me more about your journey before you became an Olympic champion, YouthTime readers would love to know what was your main drive, your motivation?
I recently published a book and you can read all about it there, so let me give you a little spoiler here. In short, I can say that since I was a child, my biggest motivation was to be the best.
When I was three years old, I saw a figure skating poster and I told my dad: ‘I want to be like that.’ When we watched figure skating competitions, I constantly wanted to be part of it, had this unstoppable drive for winning.
I don’t know where it came from, but since I was very young I decided I want to be the best figure skater in the world.
So I had this goal for a very long time and now after I went through five Olympic games I can say that I finally reached it.
You are a pairs skater, but could you ever imagine yourself being a single skater/ice dancer?
I was a single skater until I was 13 or 14 years old. And I had a dilemma – whether I should continue to skate on my own, or whether I could try ice dancing.
But if I am being honest, none of it really interested me because already back then I adored pair figure skating. That’s why I went into pair figure skating.
What is the hardest thing about being a figure skater in your opinion and why?
In my opinion, figure skating is not just a sport, it’s also an art. It’s all these different elements combined in one.
Being a figure skater doesn’t only mean being a fighter and having a strong character, it means you must have a little bit of everything.
You need good coordination, a lot of endurance, artistry – all of it makes our sport, figure skating, very difficult.
Sounds tough and probably requires a lot of discipline; how did you manage that as a child?
I believe it’s not only figure skating that requires a lot of discipline, all types of sports are.
If you want to achieve the result you have to stick to certain rules. My parents were the ones who saved me and set me on the right track – they supported me in everything.
If not for my parents, none of this would have happened and I am forever grateful to them, because they taught me the needed discipline.
Later in life I followed it on my own, but first it was them – they led me by example, showing how to be well-organised and focused on your goals.
And of course, my very first coach, played a very important role in my upbringing and taught me a lot of discipline. When I was six years old, we went to competitions together, without parents, just me and her and she would teach me and the other kids a lot of things, including how to be independent.
I am very grateful for that.
Do pairs skating have something similar to life? What lessons did you learn from it?
Oh yes, pair skating resembles life a lot! Especially family life with another partner. You learn a lot from it, you also teach your partner many things. It’s about the teamwork, for sure.
You go through all kinds of situations together and it’s not easy. What I learned through pair skating, the fact that I was part of the pair – made me more cooperative and really helped me in real life.
A lot of sports events didn’t happen this year which was obviously upsetting. Your World Championships in March didn’t happen in Montreal. Now the Grand Prix series is back, but some of them are getting cancelled. It’s a tough time for this sport. Who did you miss watching the most?
I know, all the figure skating fans were waiting for it so much! All the athletes were preparing for the whole year, World Championships is such a big event for us athletes.
I was so curious to see who was going to win, I couldn’t wait to watch the ladies’ competition – they are the most interesting ones for me to watch right now, they have such an intense rivalry.
They are all full of character. I really looked forward to watching Alena Kostornaia, and all the other girls who made it. And of course, Yuzuru Hanyu and the men – they are all amazing.
The first six that make it to the competition are all so very close, so full of professionalism and skills and therefore very interesting to watch.
Nowadays women have started doing very complicated figure skating elements. Alexandra Trusova claimed to do five quad jumps in her free skate program. Where do you stand on the ongoing figure skating debate artistry vs. technical? What do you think such changes mean for the sport?
I think it means that we should move forward. You must constantly feel pushed to your limit in any sport. I am very happy that we have such strong girls who can execute such complex elements and I see it as a good thing.
Sometimes I have to turn away because I have the goose bumps and cannot watch what some of the athletes do. As an athlete myself I understand all the risk, everything that’s at stake.
But it’s sports and we have to keep growing, which means learning the new elements. In general, I support this, but of course, I think there should be a balance between sports and artistic parts.
We can’t forget that figure skating should maintain great choreography and feeling together with the technical side of it…
I like to see harmony on ice.
I know your life has changed a lot since those Olympic Games. You just published your book. Can you tell us more about it?
It’s true, my life has drastically changed but also in a good way, it just took a different direction.
Once I won the Olympics, the goal was fulfilled and the next year I thought: ‘It would be so great to publish my own book.’ It’s like that ‘movie’ I told you about earlier, the magical vision I’ve seen in front of my eyes, straight after I won the long-desired gold.
I dream of a real movie to be made about me, if not fictional, then maybe a documentary. I think my story can help a lot of athletes to fulfil their dreams and to go towards their goals.
This is what helped me. I watched a lot of documentaries about figure skaters, about successful athletes.
Such all-mighty Olympic champions as Usain Bolt, for example, his story helped me a lot. I said that before and I will say it again – he motivated me during the last stage, last moments of my career.
I learned a lot by reading about famous athletes and how they won their Olympic gold. Once you read how people achieved what they wanted to, you want to win too.
I wanted to write a book, but I couldn’t write it all alone. I simply don’t have the time, plus you must know how to write well, it’s a special skill that can be developed, of course.
I accidentally saw a post of one of the journalists, Alexandra Ilina, who has now become my friend.
She watched our show and wrote about our free skate program. I liked so much how she described everything, and I spontaneously asked her if she can help me writing my book. She quickly agreed and that’s how we started our work. Now the book was published in German and Russian.
I would like the book to be published in as many languages as possible, including English.
You can’t narrate your entire life in just one book, but we tried to make it as interesting and inspiring as we could, this was our main goal. Have a read and let us know if we succeeded.
At the Olympic Games your figure skating partner was Bruno Massot, since then both of you have had babies, do you keep in touch?
Yes, of course, we keep in touch. Bruno just had his second baby in May. We write to each other and can’t wait for an opportunity to get back to the ice and to skate again.
Can we hope for a Bruno-Aljona reunion one day?
Such a hard question. We didn’t train for a long time, and time is everything when it comes to figure skating. So, we will have to see, only time will show (smiles).
You and your husband Liam just had a baby – Amilia. She is so adorable and even has her own Instagram. Has being a mother changed you and in what way?
Thank you so much, Amilia is just a wonderful girl. Me and Liam are so blessed with such an amazing daughter. We decided to create an Instagram for her because nowadays in the social media age it’s quite important to have one (laughs).
Motherhood has really changed me, I started to look at many things differently. Every day I go through the same challenges my parents have probably gone through. I realise their grandiose impact on me. It’s a huge work, which is also unpaid by the way. You have a huge responsibility and you are there 24/7 for the baby. At least we spend 24/7 with her, I can’t imagine it being any different.
I will do anything for my daughter so that she can have everything, anything for her to be able to learn, just like my parents taught me.
I think I probably became softer, even more softer than I was (laughs)… Before I had Amilia things felt superficial. Now that I have her, it feels like a real life, and I feel it in a much more profound way.
Tennis star Serena Williams had a daughter called Olympia and when asked about Olympia starting a tennis career one day, she wasn’t sure because of all the pressure she went through. Do you see Amilia becoming a figure skater one day? Will you coach her?
You know what’s funny? When me and Liam searched for a girl’s name, we also wanted to call our daughter Olympia. But in the end, we decided against it and picked this rare name she has, Amilia.
If Amilia decides she wants to be a figure skater, I will not stand aside, of course, I will support her and will do anything for her to become a professional figure skater and to help her to achieve as much success as I have, or even more.
I will never prevent her from doing it and just be there for her if she wants me to.
Both you and your husband Liam recently started TikTok accounts. What was the reason behind it and what are you planning on posting there?
Our friends sent us some TikTok challenges. In order to repeat this challenge, we had to download TikTok. We just want to make fun and extraordinary content, to keep ourselves busy and to follow the world’s trends.
If you could give advice to your younger self – what would it be?
I would follow the same path I went through in sports, because everything led me to the desired result of finally becoming an Olympic champion. As for personal life – I would have probably advised myself to dedicate more time to my family, I would have told myself to appreciate and respect parents more as I was younger. It all comes with experience. I became a mom recently and it gave me the feeling that I should care for my own parents a lot more than I used to. So yes, my advice would be: ‘Spend more time with your family and the loved ones, every free minute that you get’.
2020 was tough year for everyone. What would be your advice to people who feel down at such difficult times?
It’s not easy but try to stay positive and believe in the best, then everything will be alright.
What is your biggest dream for the future?
I really hope the situation in the world gets better, the quarantine times will be over, and everyone can get back to their normal lives. I hope we can meet our families and friends again, that we can keep working, training and skating. I just want to do what I always do and what I love.
Photos: From the Archive of Aljona Savchenko
Banner photo: Shutterstock – Leonard Zhukovsky
You can find Aljona on Instagram here.
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