Photo: Tatjana Flade
Russia’s Sergei Voronov announced his retirement from competitive skating in September. The Moscow native, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Oct. 3, looks back at a long and distinguished career that included two national titles (2008 & 2009), silver at the 2014 European Championships, bronze at 2015 Europeans and bronze at the 2014-2015 Grand Prix Final.
Voronov collected multiple medals on the Grand Prix circuit including gold at 2017 NHK Trophy. In this exclusive interview with IFS Magazine, he spoke about his career and his future plans.
You had an unusually long career. I still remember when you skated in the junior ranks and were coached by Alexei Urmanov. What are your favorite memories and moments?
Let me tell you, my whole career is one favorite memory, with all its highs and lows. A career consists of highs and lows. Probably there are some memorable moments, but I love my career as a whole from the moment I was taken to a figure skating class at 4 years old up to the point when I posted about my retirement. My career ran from August 1991 to 2020 – 29 years.
I love figure skating in general — I like competitions, the whole process of the fight against yourself and the failures. It is good that they happened. If there had been no failures, I never would have skated as long as I did. Talking about whom I am grateful to, then first of all, I name my parents. They gave me the opportunity to skate in such hard times when the Soviet Union fell apart (in late 1991). At this time, nobody cared about sports and that we went from one end of Moscow to the other. What my mom, dad and grandma did was something from a fantasy world that I only realize now as an adult. The rest is history.
If someone told me now, “Sergei, you can return to the time when you were 4 years old and change something,” I would not change anything at all. Everything happened as it was supposed to happen, from the very beginning to the end of my path in the sport.
It is probably a blessing to retire with such a feeling of satisfaction and relief in some ways. I was not affected by insurmountable injuries — I did not have them. I was able to overcome all injuries, thanks to the support of the people close to me. I am grateful, first of all, to all my coaches and I am lucky that I had many coaches. Some have only one coach in their life, but I had many. You know, each of them gave me something. I learned something from each of them. I am grateful to my competitors who made me stronger. They really did.
Maybe, again, if not for some people, I would not have skated so long. Now I can tell them, ‘Guys, really thank you.’ It was really cool that they motivated me for this long fight when it looked like my career was coming to an end. People told me probably since 2013 ‘that’s it. Enough, 26 is already old.’ I am really a happy person.
Do you have any favorite programs?
Each season it is like carrying a child to full term: nine months from the beginning of the season to the end, and you live a mini-life with your programs. It is hard to single out one program. I tried to deliver all the programs through my soul, through my emotions, whether it was cheerful, tragic, lyrical or historical — and I had many of them. I tried to tell a story and I passed it through myself. In any program, you can find some sense for yourself. Probably my favorite program of all of them was “Somebody to Love” by Queen (his short program for the 2019-2020 season).
In that season, four junior boys from the national team were skating to Queen — that was cool. After all, Freddy Mercury was a bright personality and there won’t be so soon someone like him. I felt this program very much, skating it in a conscious age, feeling the meaning of this song. You remember last year’s test skate when I performed after a long time – like how Mikhail Kolyada did this season.
I enjoyed it so much when I was skating. It was really something to love — everyone has the chance for love — the love of the audience, the love for what you are doing. Even then, though it was not a competition, but just the test skates, I was tearing up a bit. In the short program I had a lump in my throat, and I thought, “God, how much I love this.” I realized that the performances of this program are numbered and because of that it became even more valuable. I don’t feel sadness that my career has ended, because, as you said, I had a very long career.
I achieved everything that I wanted with the exception of participating in an Olympic Games and a having a World medal. I have everything else. Maybe it is good that there is something I did not achieve that our outstanding athletes in the skating world have achieved. I would like to achieve it with my students, maybe.
What was the secret to your long career?
The love for figure skating as a whole — not just for medals and prizes, the lap of honor to “We are the Champions” by Queen. It is the love to the slave work, the breaking in of programs and overcoming yourself. It is a whole life. I was lucky that I was put into figure skating and that I liked it that much. I think this happens rarely. It is difficult to understand what you enjoy when you are 4 years old. At first I didn’t realize it either, it was a kind of hobby, a distraction, a pastime. And then it grew into a deeper feeling. At a conscious age I realized that I love figure skating.
You had many coaches and learned from each one. What did you take from each of them?
There were many, yes. Let’s take, for example, Rafael Arutyunyan. He was the first one who led me to the love for the sport. He gave me unusual exercises that at first didn’t work at all for me. But Rafael instilled in me the love for figure skating and the interest in it as an art and an opportunity to express myself. This is very important. Then I went to St. Petersburg, on the advice of Rafael. I didn’t even look at coaches in Moscow. I wanted to go to St. Petersburg where Alexei Mishin was. It was in 2001 — the time when Plushenko started to shine won all events that season. It was something magical.
It always seemed to me that the St. Petersburg technique is noble and I felt I had to train there. When I skated in St. Petersburg and was announced as representing St. Petersburg, I heard aristocracy in it — and I was nervous. Moscow is Moscow, yes. St. Petersburg — that is class. The whole city is a bit prim and proper. It is cool. Alexei Urmanov (his coach in St. Petersburg) is an outstanding athlete himself. And, of course, in that time when I went to him, he was young and just beginning his career as a coach. He had big ambitions as the first Russian Olympic champion in modern times. It was very interesting for me. I hope it was interesting for him as well with me. It was his coming of age as a coach and my coming of age as a skater, starting in the juniors.
Six years of working together were absolutely fruitful. Then there was Kolia (Nikolai) Morozov. I am grateful to him as well: he taught me things that I probably would have learned nowhere else. Today we are in America, tomorrow we are in Japan, and the day after tomorrow in Latvia. You need to adapt, this is a very important quality in life. Then I was with Eteri Tutberidze and her team. They believed in me and made me work so hard that I was able to win medals at the European Championships and Grand Prix Final with them. In spite of what the Federation, Mr. Piseev, told me: “That’s it, forget it. You need to retire.” I was 26 years old and they told me that’s it, it’s too late. Tutberidze and her team believed in me and made me work so hard that I got results.
I remember that you told me in an interview you felt like a galley slave.
And that brought results right away. Then I skated in CSKA Moscow and I am thankful to all people there, especially to Anna Bilibina (choreographer and coach), who also believed in me no matter what difficulties there were. No matter where I skated, how I performed, what difficulties there were outside skating, this person always believed in me and was with me until the end. A big thank you to her for that. This meant a lot to me. You don’t forget these things.
When the time comes for an athlete to end their career it is sometimes a difficult step to take. How was it for you?
I knew for myself, if there was a normal Grand Prix Series, I would have skated. I would have enjoyed skating in the Grand Prix events – for example in Japan — and I would have stopped with that. However, the current circumstances do not depend on me. The situation in the world had an impact on many people. What happened, happened. Basically, I didn’t even have a choice. I knew that if there is a Grand Prix, I would compete. If there was not, I would not compete. A mini nationals and a real Grand Prix event are different things. There is no need to betray myself. So what should I do? Hang myself at the next tree? No. It means it is time to move on and it is the best time to do that.
Did you think for a long time before making your decision?
No. I just waited to see what happened with the Grand Prix events. In the end, when I knew that there would not be a normal Grand Prix, everything fell into place for me. Obviously, I needed some time to get used to it — after all, I had skated for 29 years. But it’s fine. There is some nostalgia, some sadness. Yes, it is there, but in a good sense. I watched the test skates on TV. I didn’t go to the rink because as I had posted my retirement announcement, I would not have been able to watch the test skates in peace like I wanted. So I watched on the screen. It was very interesting for me. I was watching the others already not like competitors, but kind of from the other side and I noted very interesting things for myself for the future. For example, how the coaches behave, how the athletes behave. You notice right away many things when you are not looking at the others as competitors — from a psychological and physical point of view, and what contact there is between coach and student. This is very important. It seems like a detail, but it is not a small detail by far. In some it is theatrically, and in others it is genuine — and you can really feel it.
When you posted your announcement on Instagram, there were many comments. What was your reaction to that?
Obviously, it was very nice. It is nice when people receive you well. There were examples of people saying, “Thank God, he left, we are fed up with him.” But there nobody said a bad word. Maybe there were some negative comments — I just couldn’t read them all. There is always a fly in the ointment.
Now let’s talk about the future. You said before that your life is connected to figure skating and you’d like to become a coach so what are your plans?
First of all, I graduated with a bachelor degree from the sports university this year, so I have a higher education. I was studying by correspondence because I started rather late. Originally I had a few different plans for life; I didn’t think I would skate for so long. My parents set the condition that I need to get the minimum higher education. So I had to finish my studies. I am grateful for that, because having a higher education is important for the future. Now I can officially start work. Right now, I don’t have any precise offers but I am open for offers.
Do you want to coach in Russia?
Right now it is not clear how the situation will develop. I’d like to help in my country. I competed for a long time for my country, the one I was born in and I tried to represent the Russian Federation with dignity. I would like to continue to represent the Russian flag in the future. These are not empty words for me. For me this means a huge honor and responsibility. I’d like use the knowledge that I accumulated over all those years.
How important is it that athletes remain longer in the sport and don’t disappear after two, three years at the senior level?
It is definitely not easy to perform at a high level for a long time. It seems to be easy, but it is not. Everybody has a different fate in the sport. Someone cannot continue because of injuries or because of other circumstances. Someone doesn’t want to continue to fight. For some, the sport doesn’t make sense anymore and he tries to do something different. I cannot judge this. I had this kind of career and someone else has a different career.
But if we are talking about the development of figure skating?
If we talk about the development of figure skating, it is better when a career is a long story, so that the fans are growing with you and get older with you in a good sense. These are hard work and human emotions that you cannot buy for money and not with quadruple jumps. This feeling … when you are excited from one season to the next for your favorite skater, and you wait for the new programs. And this does not go on for two years, but for six or seven. This is a big part of life. This is probably the feeling that these athletes bring across when people thank them in this way.
The true fans will continue to follow their favorite athletes also when they move on to coaching. You can see that very well with Stéphane Lambiel for example. So your fans will also support you when you will be with your students.
And the fans will be mine (laughs).
Is there anything you would like to add?
There is the nice saying: “A farewell should not take long. It should be honest and clean-cut.”
2020 CUP OF RUSSIA SERIES