Irina Slutskaya: - Sport is not a life sentence!Translation of an interview by N. Shulga (NS) with Irina Slutskaya (IS) printed in the Russian language publication Sem40.ru on May 15, 2008
She is known as the “Iron Lady” of figure skating. Seven time European Champion; two time World Champion; Silver and Bronze Olympic medalist, she did not receive the main prize - the Olympic gold medal, although she suffered enough and deserved it. Nevertheless in the minds of many Russian people, she was an Olympic Champion, and not only in figure skating, but also in her character, in her persistence and in her whole life.
NS – Irina, we all were expecting you to come back on the ice. Instead, you became an actress in a theatrical play. Your theater debut hit us like a thunderstorm on a clear day. I understand that it is possible to hide from outsiders your private life, but why would you hide a career?
IS – It is because I do not like to talk about something before I have achieved it. I do not like to shout: “Look what I will do! I will jump over the fence and will reach a star in the sky.” If something would not work out I would have to apologize. So, as not to apologize later, one has to do the job, to feel yourself comfortable on your feet and then tell the world what you did. Do not talk about what you want to do, talk about what you have done.
NS – When did you start thinking first about the theater?
IS – Right after I graduated from school. But when you are in a big sport you can not do anything else.
NS – Were you going to the theater with your class?
IS – Normal students go to theaters; I would not consider myself a normal student.
NS – So, you probably went to the theater with your parents?
IS – You may remember that in those days one had to have connections to get tickets for the theater. We did go to some theaters, but it was not serious. I could not waste my time going after two things. Imagine my schedule: - I would get up very early in the morning and would go to practice; then I would go back home for 4 hours, would sleep for a while and go back on the ice. And that was every day from Monday to Saturday. The only day off was Sunday, but on that day I wanted to sleep as long as I could. I was always tired. To combine this regiment with anything else was impossible. One missed practice would cost me too much. Only after the Turin Olympics did I have time to catch up on theater going and shopping.
NS – At the show “Stars on Ice” you worked with a lot of famous actors. Did this collaboration influence your desire to try yourself as an actress?
IS – Actors are very interesting people, they always attracted me. I liked to go to their performance to see them in their roles.
NS – When famous actors are participating in the ice show they are not criticized for being unprofessional and for the absence of technique. I wonder why the theatrical critics were so hard on you?
IS – Actually, I was not harshly criticized by real theatrical critics. It was the “yellow press” that was hard on me, but it is normal. I would be more concerned if they would not mention my work in the theater at all. If they would be silent, that meant than they missed it. But I was interested in the opinion of real theatrical critics and would use it for improving my acting.
NS – I heard that you were working very hard on your role of Antigone even at home. Have you learned how to leave the role behind yet?
IS – Of course I did, or I would go crazy. Could you see what would happen if I would show up on the streets in the image of Antigone?
NS – The premiere of “Antigone Always” was in April. When will we see more of that show?
IS – In May. We are not a real theater, but rather an International theatrical laboratory run by Ms. Nika Kosenkova. The first show was in the city of Orel. The next one is in Moscow. I know that many other cities requested the show. The director would know better. I am a small actress in this show.
NS – But you played a big role. I think that Antigone is very close to your character. You both have a steel rod in your spine. I wonder if you would be able to play some opposite character, say a comic role.
IS – One can say anything, but you would not know until you try. It is similar to you asking me if I would go now to the World Championship, could I win it or not? I would not be able to answer until I tried. One has to try, to move forward and then it may happen that one would win. Do not forget that figure skating performance is also theater. But in the theater a performance is going for 2-3 hours, while on ice the performance is going for 4 minutes, in which the skater has to present the whole story of a character. So, I could say that I do have some experience in acting.
NS – When I recently saw you at the ice show I thought to myself that it seemed you were coming back on ice. You lost a lot of weight, you look great, and your skating is great! As if you did not give birth to your son recently. It looks like very quietly you are practicing with your coach Zhanna Gromova for the new starts.
IS – Yes, we are practicing with Ms. Gromova, but we do not have plans at this time to come back to the big sport. I retained my amateur status, but I do not have a specific goal yet, although I could find it at any moment. So, I would like you not to print any conclusions, since I have not reached them myself yet.
NS – It looks like your return would be very timely. The women’s singe skating is the main problem of the Russian team.
IS – Most of the people are thinking only about the Nationals. But it does not mean much these days. One has to reach higher, to win the Worlds and Olympics. To win at Russian nationals is not a big deal because the level of our skaters is very low now. Give me a month for preparation and I would win the Nationals, but why bother?
NS – Would you be able to return to the world’s elite level?
IS – For this I would have to work 6-12 months. Unfortunately due to travel with the show, I was not able to watch the World Championship this year, but I understand that the level there was serious. Nevertheless it is possible to fight.
NS – What would you tell people who are upset that sports people are getting involved in politics, art, and show business? They claim that sportspeople are getting into areas that they are not competent in.
IS – I believe that one could learn anything in this life. If a sportsperson quits sports at the age of 25, it does not mean that he should retire and sit home. Sport is not a life sentence; it is only a part of life. Of course it is a very important part when we are there. But everything comes to an end. Every person in their right mind is trying to find something new, to find a new goal and an objective for their life. My own opinion is that one has to learn something new first, and than try to get to the high levels in the new occupation. I disagree with anyone who tries to limit sportspeople to the boundaries of sports. It is the same as to tell women that their place is in the kitchen. I repeat – sport is not a lifetime profession. It is very scary when a sportsperson finishes their career and can not find himself in the after sports life. The next morning after winning the Olympics the sportsperson realizes that there is nothing else to conquer. At the age of 25-30 many sportspeople start their life from ground zero. Many Olympic champions in many sports are not occupied by shows. Not everyone wants or could become a coach.
NS - Personally I would hope that every champion would rediscover themselves after leaving sports. And I hope that the continuation of their careers would be also very bright. Could you say that in the two years after the Turin Olympics you have found yourself?
IS – I was not searching. Figure skating is still my main job. I am always on the ice – from the plane to the train and from the train to the show and so it is every day. I want to thank Ilja Averbuch who created a real ice show in Russia. Happiness is when one has the job that he likes and it pays well. You know why figure skating is good – it is because at any age it gives you a job. If you are a European, World or Olympic champion you may participate in the exhibition shows, skate in various tours. The ones of a lower rank may skate in different theaters on ice and shows. Many work on cruise ships and in the circus.
NS – Could your work in theater be considered as your search?
IS – I consider theater as my second profession. I tried myself there and I like it very much. Now I have to work a lot to succeed in it.
NS – What do you think – is it an easier life now for the Olympic Champions after completion of their career than it was 10-15 years ago? Is there any help from the Government? (Ed. note: The government has to help Olympic champions do what?)
IS - Olympic Champions are getting a lifetime salary of 15,000 rubles (about $600)
NS – Not much.
IS – You are forgetting that the ones who did not win are not getting anything although they gave to sports the best part of their lives. So, be happy that you are getting anything! You have your hands, your feet, go to work!