"If I return, I will have no competitors!" Interview with Surya Bonaly (SB) by a correspondent of the Russian language newspaper "Gazeta," Nikolay Sadovsky (NS) printed on March 30, 2005.
Observing the women’s competition at the recent world championship, I, for some reason, started missing very much the performances on ice by Surya Bonaly. It was possible to go mad over her skating! She was unique, although she could not win the world championship or the Olympics. But five times, she defeated everybody in Europe. Having finished her career, Surya left France, and chose America, where she now lives in the city of casinos - Las Vegas. To talk with Ms. Bonaly we were helped by our champion Maria Butyrskaja, who keeps in touch with Surya.
NS - Perhaps the main question now is what are you doing and where can you be seen?
SB- Perhaps, you will be surprised, but I am still skating, and I take pleasure at how it turns out. As before, I tour across Europe - Lithuania, Switzerland, Germany, Finland... I began it in October and only just finished. There was also an American part which ended three days ago. But even today, when you called, I again was on the ice training. I cannot live off the ice.
NS- When can we see you again in Russia?
SB- Oh, any time! As soon as you ask me, I will come. I adore your country. I love Moscow very much. And I would like to mention: the public in Russia is special, like nowhere in the world.
NS- You are ten timesthe champion of France, five times champion of Europe...
SB-... Three times silver prize-winner of the world championships...
NS- Yes, I simply had no time to say it. And so, how did you manage to achieve such tremendous results?
SB- In general, I am very happy with my amateur career. Many could only dream of such results, but I achieved them. Certainly, I very much would like to add to this collection of awards the rank champion of the world and of the Olympic Games...
NS- But you do have the rank of world champion - among juniors.
SB - Yes, you said it right - among juniors. I wish I won the adult world championship. When I performed among amateurs, figure skating only gained strength in technical complexity. It was difficult, and it was not at all as it is now. Figure skating did not move forward a step since I left it! If I would return now the world championship would be mine. I would win easily, do not doubt of that.
NS - So come back!
SB - I would with pleasure, but it would mean a transition to a new level of complexity. What I do now in female figure skating, nobody does. They are afraid of me at the ISU and do not want to see me on the ice. In general, if they are afraid of me, it means that they respect me, isn't that a fact? But to return and win would be great. Unfortunately, my dream of a world gold medal will probably remain a dream.
NS- What is your opinion about modern female figure skating?
SB- Well, certainly, now it is different than it was during my (day). You do not need to jump out of your skin to see '6.0, 6.0, 6.0'... Everything changes. Now it is absolutely a different style of skating. By the way, it is more suitable for me. I can jump well, I have excellent spins, everything is all right with the choreography. In present day single skating it is not necessity to jump quads - what for?! You can easily win with triples. Judges do not demand from you super complex elements. They are not executed by the competition, so for a victory is enough a simple set of elements.
NS- You have started talking about quads, and in fact you were the first woman who performed a quad. (Alina's note: The quads Surya attempted were not ratified)
SB- Yes, now, if I am not mistaken, there is only one Japanese figure skater who jumps four turns, and that only in practice. While I made it a long time ago and people still cannot jump quads now. (Alina's note: Japan’s Miki Ando landed a Quadruple Salchow at the Jr. Grand Prix Final this season, which was officially ratified as the first Quad done by a woman).
NS- And what do you feel, when you execute such a complex element?
SB- Yes, it is such a rush of energy! I am simply charging myself. I love very much the ultra complex elements, especially quads. Each time, conquering the next height, you understand that you’ve lived to the fullest. It is unimportant, whether it was a quad or a complex rotation. Overcoming any difficulties, you rise to a new step. You change. I like to change and to overcome difficulties. I am 31 years old, and I look on the ice better than many young girls do and up till now I am jumping quads! I feel with my skin that it gets to the spectators. I love these sensations!
NS- Is it possible that the new judicial system means that there is no need to take such a risk and complicate the program?
SB - Certainly. You do not need to strain for the sake of one mark of '6.0'. You are getting a combined mark that considers many elements and therefore there is no need to jump and jump. It is possible to win without it. Rotations and choreography may be enough. But would it be interesting to the spectators? Here is the main question.
NS- In general, if I am not mistaken, judges somewhat disliked your skating. And you decided to say “farewell" to them in an original way: you did not land many triples at the Olympics in Nagano and, having lost all chances for a medal, you directly in front of the judges suddenly made a somersault in your free program...
SB - You answered your own question. First, figure skating is a conservative kind of sports which hardly changes. I was the innovator. I do not understand why the back-flip till now is forbidden: probably, because of fear that the sportsman can be traumatized. But I consider that this question is necessary to resolve - let the sportsmen choose if it is necessary for them or not. In general, judges did not love me for innovation. And that story at Nagano, here you in fact remember this moment, which means that I was right, having decided to include it in the program. So, spontaneously, I included and did it. Yes, I was punished for it. I took tenth or eleventh place. But it is unimportant, what is important is the memory of the spectators, rather than of the judges. Who now will remember those judges? But I am still remembered and loved.
NS- I was surprised, seeing among people with whom you worked, the name of Tatyana Tarasova. It was written that she choreographed your program, but you never talked about it.
SB - Tarasova is certainly the ingenious trainer. It is silly to argue that point. But she is a real Russian person, with all of the minuses. She told me: "Surya, I want to work with you, I want to help you!" But in fact she did not help. I worked on ice every day, every single one! But she did not come. When I saw her, she said: "Oh, Surya, everything is fine, I will help, but I am busy today, lets do it tomorrow." And tomorrow she would say again: let's do it tomorrow. I waited for a whole year! Probably, she wanted to work with me, but she did not work. Probably, she really wanted to help me, but she did not help. My mom helped me. It is a pity, that it turned out that way, in fact I consider till now Tarasova as the strongest trainer on a planet. She is delightful, she is a real professional, but in my destiny she did not play any role and I remember her only by a phrase: "Surya, today I am busy, let's do it tomorrow." Perhaps she simply did not want to work with me, she changed her mind at the last minute, but did not know how to tell me that.
NS- Would you like to work as a trainer?
SB- Yes. I like this work, and it is impossible to exclude anything. I like to learn and to share my experience.
NS- Not so long ago in Moscow there was the world championship. Did you watch the competitions?
SB - Yes, but I can not say that I followed it very closely. From time to time.
NS- Did anything of what you saw make an impression on you?
SB - Of course, the men's single skating. It was a catastrophic show, I was so disappointed: it was not worthy of the world championship! The level was so low, that I did not believe my eyes! The level of men's skating was awful, except for the Swiss who won. The rest all looked... I do not even know... Ugly. Perhaps, this is the most suitable word. In the past, the world championships were the battlefields, and it was interesting to watch them. And what did we see here? Everyone fell, all of them! At least those who I saw, all fell! Nobody landed or tried to jump quads, except for the winner. It is logical, that he won. Also he has very good spins. And the others... I do not know. By techniques they were more like female programs, rather than men’s.
NS- Perhaps the participants were affected by the fact that Pljushchenko withdrew from the championship?
SB - Oh no, it is not so. It is simply a result of the new rules. The main thing now is to be an actor on the ice, and it is possible not to be a sportsman. You do not need complex elements - come out on ice and just do not fall. That is it, there is nothing to talk about.
NS - And what do you think of Irina Slutskaya? She returned to the ice after a year of absence because of illness and won.
SB - Yes, by and large I have nothing to say... Yes, she is a professional. Skated well, but no more than that. She did not make mistakes, well done. She is a very good sportsman.
NS- And what do you think of her Olympic chances?
SB- No idea, I can only wish her good luck. The main thing is not to get nervous. She will go on to Olympics as the world champion, and it always helps psychologically. If she will be in a good shape, she will win.
NS - Let's move away from figure skating. If I am not mistaken, you love Russia very much?
SB - Oh yes! I love St. Petersburg, very much, but I love Moscow much more! I come to Russia and I feel myself at home, it is so great! A lot in my memory is connected with your country. I remember many different places and I wish to come back to Russia, again and again.
NS - Do you have friends among the Russians?
SB - Yes, and everyone with whom I am in good relations are figure skaters. Surprising, yes? Let me try to list: Yagudin, Pljushchenko - them I know very well, they are magnificent figure skaters, Maia Usova, Oksana Kazakova - after passing of many years we have wonderful relations, Alexey Urmanov - he is very lovely, Maria Butyrskaja - also very lovely, I like to talk with her.
NS - Do you agree, that the Russian school of figure skating is the strongest in the world?
SB - Certainly. The Russian trainers are the strongest on the planet, many want to work with them. The style of Russian figure skaters is special, it is felt in everything, from the mastering of the skate, up to the program elements. And then, it is necessary not to forget, that in America, for example, figure skating is more like an entertainment: trainings are weakened, and performances areas well. In Europe, in Russia, the trainers are dictators, strong, strong-willed, rigid. And it is all because they know their purpose: to make their student a champion, rather than to be engaged in figure skating for the sake of entertainment! And it is correct. People from Russia know what they are fighting for and what they want to prove. Therefore I love Russian and European systems of preparation. I am glad, that I was born and grew up in Europe because in exactly such a situation my mom and my trainers could instill in me the thought of what I was coming out on the ice for, and owing to it I made myself and achieved what I did. I am not sure that it would turn out that way if I was born in America.
NS- Let's go back to your love for Russia. It is the true, that you speak Russian?
SB -(Answers in Russian.) Yes! Just a little bit.
NS- Just a little bit?
SB- Yes, just a little bit. (Switches to English.) Earlier I spoke better, tried to talk in your language, for example, with Oksana Grishchuk and Evgenie Platov. But I did not practice and forgot the language. I live now in Las Vegas, and here nobody speaks Russian, so forgot Russian.
NS - Do you still live in Las Vegas?
SB - Yes, I like it here very much, it is a beautiful city, festive.
NS- And why did you leave France live in the USA?
SB- I just decided. I do not have any more relations with France and I live in America. I work here, here is my home would be my answer without going into details.
NS - Are Midori Ito and Brian Boitano still your idols?
SB- Certainly! It is like a first love, once and for all.
NS- I know that you had a dream to meet Nelson Mandela...
SB- Yes, and I keep dreaming, it would be interesting for me to communicate with him. Simply the opportunity to visit South Africa did not come up yet.
NS - In conclusion, what would you like to tell your admirers in Russia?
SB - (speaks in Russian again) Say hello to everyone, I love all of them.
NS - Your Russian is very good.
SB- I hope it will be better. I want very much to come back to Russia, maybe to the show of Arthur Dmitriev, maybe to Masha Butyrskaya's show. Tell all of my admirers that I need their love! In fact, the main thing that I remember are the happy faces of spectators. It is tremendous, and for the sake of it I am going out on ice! (again in Russian.) I Love you! Greetings! So long!
Translated by G. Sivorinovsky
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