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Last season was particularly difficult for Dmitri Aliev, the 2020 European champion. Due to an injury and a bout of COVID-19 he never really got into good shape. He missed Russian nationals and, in the end, did not qualify for the 2021 World Championships in Stockholm. Following a much-needed vacation, Aliev began training in May and is now preparing for the Olympic season with renewed energy.
You recently returned from vacation. We saw some cool pictures from Dubai. How was your holiday?
It was a good vacation actually. I am very happy that I was able to get out at such a difficult time. A lot of places are still closed or there are some difficulties. But I had no problems with a vacation in Dubai. I had a great time in the water. I swam, I saw my friends who also were there on vacation. Everything was very positive. It was very hot, which is really unusual weather for me. When I went out for the first time, the heat was sweltering. It was such a contrast but then I got used to it after two days and realized that I had to go out later in the day.
What was your most interesting impression?
It was my first time in the Emirates. The coolest and most memorable impression was that I went with Mark Kondratiuk to Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. We had dinner on the 123rd floor of a restaurant known as the highest in the world, with an evening view of the city of Dubai through panoramic windows. I think that is what left the deepest impression in my mind.
But there were so many memorable moments, like having fun with the guys, riding a kind of water ski. It kind of added a little “extreme” to our vacation. When I went to the sea before, which I had not done that often, I never experienced such warm water. I just dove right in, not like one step, then another step. The first day, I didn’t get out of the water for two hours. I enjoyed it so much. My body, apparently, demanded just that rest.
From previous experience you know how important a vacation and rest is. What exactly was important for you – the change of scenery or just getting away to relax physically?
The life of athletes, and a lot of people who work, is like Groundhog Day. Every day is practically the same. Well, some things change, but essentially you do the same thing. I work every day in training and with time comes fatigue. And somewhere you tire mentally. It was a difficult season, for example, with COVID. There were a lot of problems and few competitions (for me). All the time I was in the unknown.
Something will happen, something will not happen – it seems to me all that led to some inner exhaustion. Though it was only nine days in the year, I could be myself, just a normal person, have some free space and free time to do what I wanted and when I wanted — swimming, sunbathing, swimming again, listening to music at any time, sleeping when I wanted to. It is about letting yourself go a bit, gaining strength, drawing some energy from this rest and recovering. And then return with new strength to get ready (for the season). When I was on the plane on my way to Dubai, I wrote down what I wanted to take from this vacation to make my season successful. There were many points, like to come back fresh, invigorated, and recovered both mentally and physically.
In what condition did you return from vacation?
I returned in a good condition. I was fired up. I got the idea for the (new short) program on vacation. More precisely, I found the music. Then I sent it to Olga (Glinka, coach-choreographer). In fact, I think about figure skating on vacation. This is normal, because this is what we live by. I set myself the task that I would have to start looking for music after vacation and I set myself the task to find some — at least one option during vacation to get started.
How did you find the music? Did you look for something specific or did you just browse the Internet?
I did it through YouTube. I searched for all kinds of classical music and listened to a lot of it. Then I listened to a lot of modern classics and, at the same time, while I was listening to one, some other songs popped up. The music we have now is one I stumbled upon. It made me feel some kind of magic inside. I felt like something was building up inside, an idea, or really what I could show to this piece.
Are you keeping the music secret?
I don’t even know what it’s called. I liked the idea. I was still hesitant at some point whether to take or not take on this piece, but I liked the idea that Olga had for it. As soon as she started telling me I immediately said that’s it! 100 percent, period! I don’t think many people have skated to it.
What can you tell us about the concept, the story?
The idea is that I see starlight and somewhere, in some places, I manage to grasp it, but this light or star has a special energy. It always draws me after it and I cannot resist it – somewhere in the middle or at the end of the program — we have still to decide the detail of when I am catching it and taking it in. That is where the step sequence will start. That is the strong part. I continue with this energy, with this light inside myself. So that was the idea. And I got hooked on it.
Is it because it is a little bit about you personally?
Maybe it is about me. I understood that this is exactly the kind of character, and the kind of composition that Olga can realize a 100 percent. She is a woman; she has a different outlook on things and will feel differently, and knowing, from my own experience how she is able to choreograph a program, I immediately told the coach that I trust Olga with this program.
What about the long program? Are you going to change it?
Yes, we are going to change it. Usually, when we start doing the short, we already get into the flow and then we find the free skate music immediately and start building the program.
Last season, as you said, was very unusual and very difficult for you. Looking back, what lessons did you learn for the future?
It was difficult, but I did not repeat old mistakes. I was on track, but the obstacle I met was COVID-19 and falling sick before Russian nationals. I still had a chance to qualify for Worlds at the Russian Cup Final … but anyway it threw me off. It took me a long time to recover. It seemed that I was fine, my sense of taste and smell had returned, but when I went out on the ice and started to practice, I realized that everything was shifting and unsteady and I had no focus. When I was spinning, I didn’t know where I was, or which way I had to go. I just needed time. I had to wait until the effects of the illness had passed. And of course, mentally, it’s hard to let go and to understand ‘that’s it – I am over it.’
I wasn’t selected for the World Championships. That happens in the life of an athlete. I accepted it and I respect it. The most important thing for me is that I worked honestly that season in training; I was honest with the coaches. I told them openly before nationals that I wouldn’t be able to go there in the condition I needed to be. I don’t want to go there and finish 10th, and skate my programs after not doing a single run-through in practice. I want to go to nationals prepared and make the podium. I want to be really competitive and I’m not because of my illness. I was at the training camp in Sochi and I realized that my body was not ready to fight.
How did you feel when you found out that you would not be going to Worlds?
Back then, at the press conference I said that if someone else went, I really hope they would do everything possible to earn three spots for us for the Olympics, and then we will fight between us for them. The girls, the pairs and the ice dancers usually have three spots while for us men in general there are only one or two spots. (The last time Russia had three spots for the men was in 2002).
Now there is still a chance to get the third one. A big thank you to Mikhail Kolyada and Evgeni Semenenko for that. I said back then, at the press conference, I do not have a bad attitude towards anyone and if someone earns the ticket, then he deserves to go.
I was not disappointed not to go to Worlds. Inside, of course, it certainly hurt, but I wasn’t upset because I looked at the situation objectively. There were selection criteria. However, I was a bit upset for Makar Ignatov, my teammate. He came second at nationals and he didn’t get anything out of it. But the federation said the selection for Worlds would be based on the Russian Cup Final. I think it was fair.
The Russian men can earn a third Olympic quota place at the Olympic qualifying competition Oberstdorf. Would you like to be the one to go there and get it?
I am ready for it. But it is not me who makes these decisions. I would go if they send me and I will prepare to be in a good condition and ready for Oberstdorf. This is the very first step of the new season and it is very important to earn three spots.
You have training camps in Kislovodsk in June and after that you’ll go to Latvia for another month. What is your approach to this season?
That is a very good question. I had a talk with my coach (Evgeni Rukavitsin), a rather personal one. I shared my view of figure skating and he also shared something. I hope that he understood me. I said that the next season is not just going to be difficult it is going to be the most difficult. I am trying to raise the bar, raise it a lot higher. I am very motivated. Right now I have a huge desire to present and express myself the way I really can. We are not judged by our practices. I really want finally to be able to show everything that I can do.
I am not saying that I am the king and God of skating, but I want to be pleased with myself and that people are really saying about me ‘he is skating great.’ I want to show the audience, in a huge arena, all my qualities from the best side. I want to stay focused in the training camps and come back with a result. Now the hardest time is starting, the most important and most responsible time. I understand that very well. I am positive about it and ready to take any blow from fate.
Why do you think this is going to be your hardest season ever?
Because of the 2022 Olympic Games. I am 22 years old. Skaters have performed when they were 35, obviously. However, the body is wearing out and I need to do everything in time. Now my body is in full bloom and in the best fighting condition. It has matured; it is healthy, active, strong and brave. And the Olympics are next year. I need to make use of the moment, to catch the energy, my strength, the strength of my body and be there at the Games.
So I need to put in quality work, not taking pity on myself. Therefore, it is going to be one of the hardest and most interesting seasons for me. It will be not a standard year at all. I want to have a season so that in the end I can shake hands with myself and say ‘well done. You did it; you fought. Here is your result.’ This is how I want it to be.
You said you talked with your coach about your vision of figure skating. What is your vision?
I shared with him, how, from my youthful point of view, the world of figure skating is moving forward. For example, how fast skating is progressing, how people are creating something new, interesting, beyond the standard. I see how everything is racing forward, racing, racing, racing. You need to ride the wave. Some people are doing five quads. I thought it was very important in this season to tell him about my views and how I feel about figure skating.
That skating is not just about jumps?
Not only! However, jumps are very important now. If I have the jumps and all the other parts — the spins, the footwork — then I’ll be happy. I know that spins are my weakness.
Going back to your vacation with your friends Mark Kondratiuk and Alexander Samarin. What is friendship in high-level sports? After all, you are competitors.
Yes, we are competitors. Friendship is a very valuable concept to me. Sooner or later you need to be realistic and realize that sports will come to an end. I cannot skate until I am 50 years old, but the people remain. It is a very fine and important moment to keep that rivalry separate and remain friends. We are fighting for one podium and we remain friends at the same time. That is very important and valuable.
You performed an exhibition number with Ignatov, Mark Kondratiuk and Alexander Samarin at the gala birthday show for Alexei Mishin. Can you tell us about that?
It was very symbolic. In fact, our coaches probably were spot on with this program because this has been a little dream of mine, born a long time ago. And there, the four of us got together and this program was right on topic, on the journey of life.
You are known for writing poetry. What are you writing currently?
During the season I didn’t write anything, actually. But now I wrote two poems. I just caught an emotion and I wrote something on the plane. Usually, something lyrical comes out, but not this time. Just something positive — something about me. I was on the plane, flying in the clouds, watching and writing. Once again, I felt this moment of inspiration.
It seems strange that you didn’t write at all during the season.
Maybe I was very focused on something else or maybe I wasn’t. I don’t know. But now I have this inspiration and I like it. If a song comes out of it for myself or for my close circle of friends I’ll be happy to share it with you.
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