ГThe day before Michal shared some thoughts on his performance in short program. It wasn't clean, but all the elements were executed, and that was in line with his goals for one of the first competitions of the season to try out new programs with full technical content. We spoke at greater length the next day right before the gala.
Michal's free program at Shanghai Trophy 2019.
— Let's start with your free skating today. Not everything worked out too well…
— Not everything, but it's still a beginning of the season, it's the first competition, so I'm kind of happy that it wasn't perfect, because it still gives me something that I know I need to work on. What I'm happy with is that all my steps, my spins in both short and long were on the level that I built them. I'm happy with the way that I presented the program. The technical parts of the program is something you can work on and you can fix, but if a program as a whole doesn't work, then it's hard to fix that, you'd probably have to build a new one. So I'm happy that part was received pretty well, I think, by the audience and the judges, so now all I have to work on is just getting the jumps clean.
— And you seemed to enjoy your Beatles routine as well.
— Oh, yeah! It was fun! It took me a long time to find the music that I wanted to skate to. I was trying to skate to "Rocket Man", I wanted to do different musics, but by the time I decided I would skate to this or that other people had that music. I didn't want to be one of those: "Oh, I have the same as Nathan Chen", for example, because his long program is "Rocket Man". So I decided to go with The Beatles.
— Did you do the selection yourself?
— I picked some parts. We're still not sure if we're going to keep the slow part. Rafael was thinking maybe to do something that has a little bit more melody. The part that I have is from the song "Let It Be". It's a very nice piece of music, but for him it's not as glidy, it doesn't represent what he would like for me to do. So we're not sure if we're going to keep that part, but for now it works, and we can always switch to whatever music that he would like. And then you just play a little bit with the arms and the step sequence.
— There is a dramatic transition in there…
— Yeah, and that's, I think, what he doesn't like, because it goes from the fast music, and it just cuts down to "Let It Be", which is a very laid back kind of piece, and then it goes back into the really fast part. I think he wanted something in between that would be not so slow, that would kind of match the two parts. So we'll see, but for now it's okay.
— As for the technical part, couple of things didn't go well, the quad didn't go too well this time?
— The quad was not the best… I had a little bit of difficulty this whole week with it. In part it's because of my boots, they're breaking down already. I already have a new pair at home from Harlick that I switched to. But the rest of the stuff… I think, I was a little bit nervous, because even though, you know, I'm old, and I'm doing this for a long time, every time I get to a first competition I'm like: "Oh my God, I have to do something, and I can't mess up", you know, and then I start doing it, and I realize I want to do it so much that sometimes I just go too quick, or I go too slow, because I'm trying to be careful instead of just trying to do my thing and attacking the jump and going for the jumps. So there was my… nemesis here. Trying to save everything, being very safe on the ice, instead of just going for my jumps, and doing them, and being done with it.
— You are one of the last skaters on the planet Earth who does a fair Salchow, what they call a Salchow from one foot.
— Oh yeah, very classical!
— Is it something that you learned and don't want to change, or…
— It's something that I learned, and when I learned it that way I was very young, and for me it's just very comfortable. I never really got the sense of jumping from two feet. I never really understood it. I don't know how to manage myself when I jump from two feet. I know that it helps a lot of people, because it kind of saves you, but I think if you can't jump Sal from one foot then you don't really know how to manage your edge. Because it's an edge jump, it should be jumped from an edge, from one foot. It's the same with Loop: yes, you are on two feet, but when you're taking off, you're taking off from one foot. Same as Axel, you're jumping from one foot, you can't jump from two feet. I think that's in part why some people (not all, but a lot of people) that do Sal from two feet, and Toe, they have, a lot of the times, problems with Axel. Because, I think, if you cannot manage your edges and be able to jump from one foot, from an edge, it's going to give you trouble in some other jumps. But that's not to say that it's something bad if you're jumping a Sal from two feet. I've seen many people do a Sal from two feet, and do quads, and they do it pretty easily. I'm sure it helps them, but for me it's just something I've never really got comfortable with.
— If you were to teach little kids, would you teach this technique or would you change it to what's now considered a more optimal technique?
— Well, I already teach some kids. I help Rafael with his group of skaters, and we all do it the same way.
— So he's all for it?
— I mean, there's some kids that jump from two feet, but his technique works a little bit better when you're doing it from one foot. Because if you do it from two feet, it's never going to work really with the way that he teaches jumps, because he's more of a… what would you say… it's an old school technique put into modern skating. He teaches everything the way it was supposed to be done a long, long time ago, but he uses the skater's body and the rhythm and the way you're going into the jump from the skating now. So it's kind of a mix of what skating is and what skating was. And when you put it together it works. Takes a while to learn what he wants, takes a while to execute what he wants, but when you look at it it works. I mean, my Sals were not great here, but ever since I moved there I pretty much stabilized all my jumps. When I went to Raf after all my years of, you know, being at a certain level and being down, I came to him and he helped me stabilize all my jumps again. So I'm not even looking at this competition as a failure, just as a starting point, I have to start somewhere. Obviously, I'm not going to start by doing a clean program at the first competition of the season. I wasn't even expecting that. I just wanted to at least show my standard. It was a little bit off my standard here, but I still did what I do in practice. I just got a little bit of push back, I was a little bit scared of pushing into to all the jumps and actually fighting them, I wanted to save myself and, you know, mistakes happen.
Michal's free program at Shanghai Trophy 2019.
— And since you've been with Rafael for some years now, would it be safe to say you sort of found your coach? Technique-wise and maybe atmosphere-wise. Do you like what's happening there?
— Definitely, yeah. I like the entire environment. It's a very, I would say, competitive training environment, but at the same time we have a very good team spirit. Because even though we try to compete with each other on the ice, at the same time we try to help each other on the ice. When one person doesn't have a great day the other skaters would try to push him and help him. And it works either way, doesn't matter if it's me, if it's Nathan, it it's Stephen Gogolev, if it's Mariah Bell, we all try to help each other when we see that the other person is a little bit down in practice. Or if Raf sees that other people are lost he always tells his skaters: go talk to them, go try to help each other. It's a really good environment, and I like that environment. It gives you more energy for practice.
— They say that a good game is one that's well balanced between competition and collaboration. Is that it?
— Yes, definitely! That's definitely what he has.
— I'm a native Russian speaker and I could kind of get a gist of what you were saying earlier. Do you get a gist of what Rafael is saying when he speaks Russian?
— I understand pretty well when people speak Russian. I've been around them a lot. Starting already in Oberstdorf where Mr. Sinitsin was, he never really spoke Czech, he spoke like half-czech, half-russian, so I understood him. Then I moved to New Jersey, I was with Viktor Petrenko, a lot of the times he would speak Russian. Galina Zmievskaya would always try to speak Russian and English at the same time. And then I moved to Rafael, and all the coaches there speak Russian. If they just don't feel like speaking English they just speak Russian. So I have to understand what he's saying, because a lot of the times he would explain things to me in Russian when he doesn't want other people to know what he's saying. It helps to keep certaing amount of security. Because not all the time you want other people to know what is being said.
— Being a European skater currently training in US, how would you characterize present day European skating? Would you agree that it's sort of dying or stagnating, or what would you say?
— I think it's a mix, because there's always somebody who pops up. It's not like before, when Russia was dominating and always had people that were winning Europeans, winning Worlds. In ladies and pairs and ice dance, I would say, Russians are back where they were, but in guys it kind of goes back and forth. Sometimes they have years when they are amazing, and there are years when they're not so good…
— And Europe excluding Russia? Since it's a whole different world.
— Yeah, that's why I said that Russia is it's own competition. The rest of Europe I feel like… skating is just not a sport that people follow as much anymore. It's kind of sad, because it's been always big in Europe, we had many great skaters.
— Any idea why?
— I think the main problem is that it's one of the oldest sports in Europe. If you look at Asia, even US, they kind of hold their level at certain times, but they always have one, and then a long time nothing, and then again, and again nothing. They always find somebody that pops up like Nathan, with last World champion being Evan Lysacek in 2009. Then Nathan was next 10 years later. They always have ups and downs, same with Canadians. But in Europe it's been a long time since a European Skater, or West European skater, not taking Russia, that's been there… the only ones I can think of are Carolina and Javier in the past years, and they're already done skating. I think now it's that time, two years before Olympics, it's always when everything kind of changes. It's going to be interesting which country is going to come up with somebody. Italy now has a pretty good team. Not sure about girls, but they have pairs, they have good ice dancers, they have a good man Matteo, they have a young one, so we'll see. Italians, probably, at European championship will be one of the stronger teams. France also has their good skaters. They have the pair team, they have the dance team obviously, they have Kevin, they have one in each category. As a team it's probably going to be between between Russia, Italy and France. The rest of Europe is mainly, kind of, one skater here, once skater there, but if you look at the team as a whole these are the only three countries in Europe that can somehow compete with the rest of the world.
— If you could do something about the state of European skating, what would you do?
— It's hard to do anything, because you can only do so much. Especially if you're a skater of a certain country, you don't really want to help other countries to get their skating better, you want to help your own country first. Which is what I'm already doing. I'm working together with the Federation, we're trying to get the younger generation of the skaters that we have, we're trying to help them, you know, in ways that if I had that opportunity I might have been somewhere else with my skating. So hopefully they will take something out of it and use it to their advantage. If they will. That's their choice, not mine. I do what I can to help.
But I think the main problem in European skating is that we don't have a system of support from media. Because a lot of the times the only time that figure skating is talked about is when there are big competitions like Europeans, Worlds, Olympics. That's the only time when Figure skating is mentioned in any kind of media. If you would change that then figure skating would have a very different view from the people. Because if you look at football or you look at hockey in Europe, they have so much exposure in TV that people want to follow it, because they see it on TV. Same with Formula One. Even basketball in Europe. It's not an original European sport, but it has more followers than figure skating. And figure skating originated in Europe, it's a European sport, and yet we don't have the support of the media, we don't have the viewers in TV, because it's never on TV. If you look at Grand Prix, it's very hard to find Grand Prix on live TV. You have to find a stream, you have to find it on Youtube. Not everybody has access to the internet even in this age. A lot of people want to watch it on TV where they sit down on a couch, turn on a TV, and whatever's on they watch. If there's football, if there's hockey, if there's Formula One they're gonna watch it, because they've turned it on and they know it's on. With figure skating, I think, if you can change that, if there could be more competitions on TV, if you can make it a little bit more exciting for the viewers with putting some exhibitions now and then in between and have them on TV. Or have big exhibitions, like they have in Japan, like they have in Korea, and you televise them… If you can do that, I think, people would actually want to watch skating. Because every time there's Olympics, every time there's some big competition a lot of people watch skating. And I feel like people would watch skating if it was on TV. But because there's not so much that you can watch on TV they don't follow it. And then they don't follow it when there is a competition, because they don't know that there's a competition. But if you can show that there is a Grand Prix series, there is a Challenger series, that we have competitions where big international skaters are competing at, I think, people would watch it. And then you can have money from it. You can gain from the viewing…
Michal's exhibition routine at Shanghai Trophy 2019.
— Positive feedback loop.
— Yeah, because you get money from the TV rights: they show it, you have to pay them something, but then they get money back when people watch it. So it's always going to turn around. And at some point you're going to generate money, and people would watch it more and more and more. Like it is in Asia. Right now in Asia because it's a new sport, figure skating, there's a lot of money in it. And it's very popular. In Japan the only more popular sport is baseball.
— Which is a funny combination.
— Yes. And the number 2 sport in Japan is figure skating. It's crazy. The same as in Korea. In China it's a little bit different. But in all the Asian countries they watch figure skating, because it's a new sport for them, it's exciting, and they want to see it more and more and more. And the Japanese have found a way to supply that and they make money out of it. I think if European countries would actually use what the Japanese did it would actually help skating. Because if you look at how they make money, it's from shows. And that's how they get skaters to come and try to learn how to skate. They kind of make it exclusive for the top skaters, but they open it to the public, and they say, you know, we'll give you shows that you can watch. And little kids want to be like the big skaters. They want to be like Yuzuru Hanyu, they want to be like Satoko Miyahara, they want to get to that point, because they see them as stars. So if you can generate that in Europe, I think, it would go back to where it was a long time ago.
— On a more personal note. What are your plans for the future? You're probably aiming at the Olympics. Anything else?
— Or maybe not.
— No, I'm not! I'm old!
— Yeah, you said that.
— I'm old.
— It's just a couple of years, though.
— I know it's just a couple of years, but I've been skating for so long I don't know if my body can handle it. I'm kind of taking it season by season. As of right now I'm only planning to skate until Worlds and that's it. We'll see what happens in Czech with younger skaters. If they manage to come back and can get the spots that we need for the Olympics I'm gladly going to step away and let them have all the fun. Because I'm also expecting a family in Feburary, so figure skating right now is not the most important thing in the world.
— Congratulations are in order!
— Thank you!
— All right, thank you very much, good luck with your old body, and new family, and see you next time!