Alisa Agafonova and Alper Ucar: "We are happy that we are making history right now"
February 15, 2014
By Titanilla Bőd "Új Szó"
Photos © Mireille Geurts, Joy, Julia Komarova
They made a breakthrough last season and have become a well-known couple since then. Making an impression with their enthusiastic presentation, making history in their country's figure skating, Alisa Agafonova and Alper Ucar are looking forward to their very first Olympics, which will be the very first Winter Games for Turkish ice dancing as well. We caught up with them in Budapest during the European Championship.
It was a special event for both Alisa and Alper. The short dance took place on January 15th, Alisa's birthday, in a city which Alper considers his second home. That's what we talked about after their short dance, in which they finished 16th.
How does it feel to skate on your birthday?
Alisa: I really enjoyed it. Our world is figure skating and all our friends are from figure skating. So it's nice to be in a warm atmosphere. Everybody wished me a happy birthday, gave me presents. It was so sweet, I enjoyed it.
How satisfied are you with your short dance?
Alisa: I feel we actually did our best, but some of the marks don't show it.
Alper: We expected a bit higher second mark, because I think in general we have a good presentation.
Alisa: On the other hand, we got really good marks on technique, which means a lot to us, because we really worked so much before the Europeans to improve our technique.
Alper: We had some goals and we reached one with the technical score. As for the presentation mark, I feel we can get to where we want to be. We have two other big competitions - the first is the Olympics, which is our main goal, and the second is the World Championship. I know that our presentation is going to improve a lot, because we love to perform and we love to enjoy our choreography with the audience. We try to create unique programs. We have no doubts about the second mark.
Alisa: The public gives us such a warm welcome every time, and we feel it. It's such a pleasure, and I want to say thank you to all the spectators. They begin to recognize us because of our presentation, so I'm sure the marks will come.
Alper, you lived in Budapest for a certain time when you attended university here and trained with a Hungarian coach, András Száraz, as a singles skater. How does it feel to compete in this city?
Alper: It's my second city. I remember everything, my memories come back. I'm bracing myself not to cry, I see all my old friends. Everything goes very well, Hungarians care about figure skating, as I can see. I talked to some coaches and I'm pretty sure that in two Olympic cycles, that is eight years' time, Hungary will become much stronger in figure skating.
In the free dance Alisa and Alper were 18th and their overall placement was 17th. In the mixed zone they talked about their performance and some further plans, too.
How would you comment on your free dance?
Alper: Technically we did very well again. But as you see, we don't have an ISU judge right now. Turkey is a developing country, we have an international judge but it takes time to become an ISU judge. I hope it will happen this summer, after the seminar. It's like sailing in Antarctica. We are crashing the ice. It takes time for everybody to adjust to Turkey on ice and at the Winter Olympics. We are really good at Summer Olympics, but Winter Games are just too new for us. There will be only six athletes from Turkey in Sochi and we are the only two who have gone through a major qualification, with lots of questions and lots of answers.
Alisa: People are asking how we did this, because it's pretty amazing.
You must be very excited to be the first Turkish ice dancers at the Olympics!
Alper: This season is very good for us. We got silver in Dortmund [at NRW Trophy], we got bronze in Zagreb [at Golden Spin]. We enjoyed it a lot. It's been a year and a half since we've started working with Alexander Zhulin and in that time we accomplished some amazing routines. And we would like to improve a lot. The architect of our success is Alexander and we hope that later in the season we will get better and better.
Alisa: We are happy that we are making history right now.
Alper: Turkey is really a developing country in ice skating and the more we accomplish, the bigger will be the motivation for the younger skaters.
Alisa: It's good to have a system, to have a new generation that will grow up with it. It's hard to be alone.
Alper: Right now we have only five or six ice rinks and we'd like to have more as a country of seventy million people. It's a huge country which would need many more ice rinks. In the future it's our plan to open an ice dance and figure skating academy, where we can share our success, knowledge and experience with the younger skaters.
Alisa: But for now we just want to enjoy our skating, enjoy what we are doing.
Alper: As Budapest is my second city, I enjoy being here very much.
Did you have time to meet some friends?
Alper: Yes, it's such an emotional time. We have a lot of supporters here - other skaters, like Tigran Vardanjan, Máté [Fejes] and Zsuzsanna [Nagy], all of them came to watch us. We really had such an emotional time, even at the practice rink. I used to go there when I studied at the Semmelweis University. I used to go there running and do conditional training on the stairs. Right now I'm crying with each step on those stairs! It's really nice to be here and I'm sure we are going to enjoy the rest of our time in Budapest very much.
What about Sochi, are you thinking of it every day now?
Alisa: Yes, the Europeans were kind of a preparation for us for the Olympics. We will go to Turkey after the Europeans because the sports officials want to see us and discuss some things with us, and then we will go back to Moscow and prepare for Sochi. We plan to go to Sochi with Katia and Dima [Bobrova, Soloviev] for the opening ceremony, because they also participate in the team event; and then we will return to Moscow for more practice until the ice dancing competition starts. It's an advantage that it is so close, we don't have to stay there all the time.
Alper: We hope we will be allowed to leave the Olympic village with our accreditation and then just come back for our competition, because in Sochi we would have only half an hour of practice each day, which is obviously not enough.
Alisa: Alexander also wants us to be a 100% ready mentally, because the Olympics are a big, big competition and it's hard to hold up.
Do you think that skating has become more popular in Turkey thanks to you?
Alisa: I think that at least now people know about it, because it's more on TV, there are more people talking about it. When success is coming, public is watching.
Alper: People are more interested in any sport when they see somebody from their own country.
Alisa: There are more emotions if there is someone from their country. They might watch the competition, see that there are dancers from Turkey and say: "We have a couple! Let's cheer for them!" They get involved much more.
Alper: It's hard to be alone [the only ice dancers in Turkey], but on the other hand it means we get the chance to be the idols, to motivate others to do this sport. After you get this "virus", it is in your blood and it never goes out, because it is such a nice sport which also includes art, performance, and interpretation.
Alisa: It is getting much better in Turkey. We have a good support from the government now.
Alper: Each year we are beating our personal best, so people are interested in our progress.
So you plan to continue after the Olympics, right?
Alper: Yes, but of course the last word comes from Alexander.
Alisa: But he said we just started to climb up and he wants to see us at higher places. He says it doesn't matter how old you are; what matters more is how many Europeans and Worlds have you done. And we didn't do that much, we've been with him for just a year.
Alper: In Moscow we also work with Maxim Staviski and Albena Denkova and we see how in a developing country like Bulgaria you can motivate people and grow this sport. We want to be like them. We look up to them.
Alisa: Maxim also sees themselves in us. They also tried to break the walls.
Alper: He helps us a lot, because we are like a mirror to him. And we are really proud to represent the Zhulin school and our great friends and coaches like Sergei Petukhov, Oleg Volkov and Maxim, who finds time to come and help us. I think we are going to climb much higher.
Alisa: After the Olympics we will talk with Alexander about our goals and plans, and we will see.