Adian Pitkeev: "I never tell anything until everything is clear"
In November 2015, 17-year-old Adian Pitkeev of Russia became a sensation at the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, placing 2nd straight after the world champion Javier Fernandez. He was predicted a great future ahead, but due to a serious back injury he had to retire from men's singles and switch to ice dancing. He told us about what was happening in his life for the past two years.
Adian, for a long time there has not been any news from you, no interviews. Last summer, however, there was information about your changing men's singles for ice dancing. Could you tell me how it all happened?
For about a year and a half, Elena Vodorezova (Elena Germanovna Vodorezova; married name: Buianova) and I tried to get my back to the condition which would allow me to train well even through the pain – it did not matter for me. But during all that time nothing happened. I mean we got the condition but then I started jumping, advancing, adding complicated types of entries to elements, body working, in short, everything, and it all started from the very beginning. The triple Axel was my "ceiling", I could do nothing more. It was difficult for me to walk, to lie, my back did not stop troubling me.
Did it trouble you not only during your practices but permanently?
Yes. But Elena Germanovna did everything she could and even what she could not for me. Unfortunately, nothing worked out.
When you came to train with her, did you start your treatment first or did you combine minimum muscle exercise with the treatment?
We combined. Roughly said, it was just like that. When I came out onto the ice, we did not hurry to jump. We started training skating skills with Maxim Zavozin, we tried to cure my back. That is what I remember. I just try not to look back at that period of my life because I was in a condition like... For example, I would wake up in the morning and would not understand why all those things should be happening to me. I felt frustrated, and now I try not to remember about that. I can start feeling pain in my back any time. But at the moment, I've already got used to it and I'm basically okay. Moreover, I do not jump at all, I do not do anything like that, so I feel more or less normal.
If I'm not mistaken, Leonid Moiseevich Raitsin worked with you (Leonid Moiseevich Raitsin - Merited Coach of Russia, strength and conditioning specialist).
Yes, we worked together but not for a long time. I don't know the reasons for that. I was told to train with him. I said: "OK". Then they told me: "Now, you will be there". I said: "OK". I did what I was told to do.
What kind of exercises did you do with him?
General physical training, like everyone does.
Elena Germanovna said that you had been to Germany and the United States for treatment. You had also undergone treatment here, in Russia.
Yes. I can say that I have been everywhere where Elena Germanovna has been able to send me. We tried to do everything we could. Now I can say that, as a result of what I have gone through, I have learned that the problem with my spine is actually inborn, I was born with it. And the fact that the injury was to happen was just a matter of time. It might have happened earlier, it might have happened later. I was told that my spine was a bit deformed congenitally.
Did nobody notice that before? Does this problem demonstrate itself in the course of time?
No, it does not. That is the case. There was a period – my first senior season – when, as I remember exactly, before the Junior World Championships, I had a backache. The pain wasn't great but it hurt, and the pain was the same as it is now.
Were those the first symptoms of the back problem?
Yes, they were. Not that the pain disturbed but it hurt. Yet, it's possible to skate through the pain. Then I had a relief.
Didn't you have any thoughts at that time that it was necessary to deal with that problem seriously?
We had thoughts like that and we did deal with the problem. All ended well then.
When your former teammates posted photos and videos with you last year, you seemed to train with your whole strength. Then all of a sudden, you quite unexpectedly withdrew from the Test Skating, soon afterwards – from the Grand Prix events. Did something happen or…?
Nothing happened. More or less I was getting in shape. In other words, I didn't jump quads yet but I was able to do something. I just needed to be treated more and to skate with much easier content at the Test Skating. In general, I wanted to show the programs, because the programs, choreographed for me, were very good. I think they would have been very successful, and I myself would like to see how I would have looked in those programs.
Will you tell me more about the programs? Was it Peter Tchernyshev who choreographed them for you?
Yes, and I really enjoyed working with him.
Was it the first time you had worked with him?
Yes, it was. I had had a chance to work with him before. I mean… That had been Eteri Tutberidze with whom I had discussed the choreographer. For several years running, we were going to work with Peter but somehow it would not work out. We tried working with Alexander Zhulin; we went to Marina Zueva; and Daniil Gleikhengauz started choreographing for us at that time. I don't really remember how it happened but for some reason I wanted to do a short program with Danya (Daniil Gleikhengauz). I just wanted to.
Do you mean the short program of the 2015-2016 season? Appassionata?
Yes. I had a lot of freedom in that program. Daniil suggested some ideas, I suggested some ideas.
So you both choreographed it.
Well, you can say so.
Let's go back to your work with Peter Tchernyshev. What programs did you choreograph eventually?
The short program, as it turned out, was perfectly suitable for me. The thing is that when we were choreographing it, I became older. I mean I realized better what I was skating and what it was about. The most important thing was that I myself could imagine a story and "transfer" it to the composition. We made a short program to Adagio from the Concierto de Aranjuez and the voice of Rodriguez, if I am not mistaken. It turned out to be a very interesting program. There were complicated types of movements, which I could quite easily do as I had already learned how to do them more or less well. In the program, there were practically no empty bits. The final jump was immediately followed by a step sequence. I liked the step sequence a lot. The elements matched the music perfectly and they were so well combined together that it was comfortable for me to skate in time with the music. In short, it could be a very good program. It's a pity I was not able to show it.
And what about the free program?
I liked the free program even more. It was choreographed to the music which I had wanted to use for three years. But in the first year, when I wanted to choreograph it, I understood that I wouldn't be able to skate it at all. The next year, which was my first senior season, I understood I had better not do it, because I was not still prepared for it. Then, when we, with Marina Zueva, were choreographing a free program for the 2015-2016 season, I asked to try it. Yet, I was told not to do that as it was a great risk: I could simply fail, get strained at the competitions or something like that. Then we made The Mission because it was simpler for me. Moreover, Eteri Georgievna said that she had heard the music which had been just for me.
Did you hear the music yourself? Did you feel it?
The Mission? Yes, of course. I fell in love with it in the end. I had watched the film The Mission several times. Then, I understood what it was about, what happened there. I tried to convey the story. I think those who had watched the film understood what I wanted to show.
Let's come back to the new free program.
Finally, we choreographed Piano Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninov! The Figure Skating Federation came to us. Our Russian Federation. They didn't say anything at first, and I didn't ask much about that, I was just doing my job. Afterwards, Elena Germanovna told me that they had really liked the program.
Did the Federation watch your programs last summer?
Yes, they did. If I had skated the free program to Rachmaninov, it would have demonstrated what I really had experienced because of the injury. It seems to me it was all about me, because I had matured, I had more freedom and strength. The music, actually, is powerful but, at the same time, it is free. There were difficult steps in the program, but I felt more…
When the members of the Federation watched your programs, they were "drafts", without the jumps, weren't they?
Yes, they were "drafts", but with the jumps they would have been more spectacular.
Did you consider reusing the old programs? You knew them so well and after the injury it would have been easier for you to perform them.
No, we didn't. When they reuse old programs it usually means that the skater hasn't made any progress from where he or she was. I won't speak about what is happening now but personally for me it is not interesting to watch old programs, except Yuzuru Hanyu's ones. As for me, I wouldn't leave my old programs in spite of the circumstances. Moreover, as a result it hasn't changed anything. Besides, I have long wanted to choreograph new programs myself.
When they choreograph a new program or suggest music for it, is this you who has the decisive word? Do you choose or do you suggest? How does it usually happen?
When the coaches understand that you are losing your marbles, they say you're wrong. If you want to use this or that music so much that you start arguing they will probably say: OK but there is one chance from a million that you will really cope with it. I mean that if you are told that you will not be able to perform it, it is likely to happen just like that. But with me, it has always been so that if I liked the music, it suited me perfectly. My skating reflects my character a lot.
I just remember in the season 2014-2015 Alexander Zhulin made a program to Muse for you but in the end you changed it.
Muse was a very good program but I was not mature enough for it at that time, I simply didn't understand it. The music there played separately from me. I did all my best to understand what I had to do, tried to live through this music but I couldn't. There are compositions to which I listen and get some strength from them. For example when The Four Seasons plays on the ice, I just rush to do some improvisation: sequences, steps which I have never done before. I just rush somewhere…
It comes naturally.
Yes, it does. Because it is The Four Seasons. If everything was good with me, I would choreograph The Four Seasons.
Will you tell about your switching to ice dancing? How did it happen?
Before I retired from men's singles I had given it up and restarted it six or seven times: I recovered and trained and then again didn't appear on ice because I couldn't sleep or walk or do anything more. It had been very difficult.
Did you discuss your probable switch to ice dancing with Elena Germanovna? Was it Elena Germanovna who suggested the idea?
No, it was a spontaneous decision. Elena Ilinykh called me, we met. I had already retired from the men's singles. She suggested that I should try ice dancing. She still wanted to train me.
And did you decide to try?
Yes. First, I was skeptical about the idea but we started working and there was some progress. Then Elena found a partner. I called Ekaterina Borisovna Rubleva (Ekaterina Rubleva - Russian former competitive ice dancer, a four-time Russian national medalist; coach). She is a good person. I have been told a lot of times about that and I make sure of it every day. I was examined and told that everything wasn't that bad. I was taken.
When did you start training with Rubleva?
In August, after the Junior Test Skating.
Now, you are trying to dance with a new partner. Is she an ice dancer?
Yes, she is.
You cannot tell me anything about it yet, can you?
I never tell anything until everything is clear. I hardly ever tell anything. That's why there hasn't been any news from me. They just ask me and I answered: I don't know, nothing is clear, I will not say anything. What is the point in saying anything if I myself don't know what will happen and what will not.
Are you undergoing any treatment now?
No. I simply don't have money for that. I'm trying to earn by training, sometimes I leave the city. I'm doing what I can. I don't want to give up the sport yet. I must try to do something. My back starts aching without exercise. If I stay at home for a long time or somewhere else: in the university, for example, or like we are sitting now, my back disturbs me a lot. It aches more only from jumps.
Does it only ache or does it mean any inflammatory process?
No, it is just pain.
It sounds strange. You have consulted so many doctors in different countries and…
It is strange for me, too. I don't understand how it works. It seems like someone snaps his or her fingers. And it will not end until someone does it again. Now I am used to it. I mean I do not notice the pain. Now, as I am sitting here, I feel pain but it doesn't disturb me a lot as I have got used to it. It's like wind blowing into your face – you just don't notice it. It's like your nose which you do not see, though it can be seen – your eyes just ignore it.
Do you take any painkillers?
There was a moment when painkillers stopped having any effect. It was before the Russian Championships in 2015. The first week when I felt pain in my back I survived on pills, only. Then, they were of no use anymore. I took stronger ones, they also stopped working. I went to injections. During the Russian Championships I had five injections. They were of no help.
Was it you who made the decision to take part in the Russian Championships?
Yes. Now if I were there I would have withdrawn from the Russian Championships. As soon as my back had started aching, I would have said: "That's all. I can do nothing in these Championships". Yet, I said: "OK. My back is aching, but I can skate. Let's skate!".
I see, but you could have withdrawn after the short program.
Frankly, my back was more or less OK after the short program. It was difficult for me to jump the Axel and I actually didn't train it. All the rest was normal. All started in the morning, when I woke up. It hurt to raise my arm. The pain was so strong that I had cramps.
You could have withdrawn during the competitions. Why should you have skated the free program up to the end?
I don't know. Something made me do that. I cannot explain it now. I just wanted to win in the Russian Championships. I remember I wanted that so much… It was a matter of principle. I had trained with my greatest effort. If any element was wrong during the practice, I had to do it twice as many times as usually.
Maybe the overload worsened your condition?
Yes, it must have been so but… I thought I needed that.
Now, you sometimes give commentary for the Grand Prix events in the broadcastings organized by "Telesport". How did you happen to appear in "Telesport"?
I was invited to have a try. It gave me a great enjoyment to comment. Yet, I had a problem: I always wanted to chat. The point is that I am good at telling something. I can talk for a long time about one and the same thing. If I have nothing to say, I just keep silent. I mean I don't beat around the bush. When we met with the head of the channel, he asked me: "Are you always so calm? How are you going to comment? You don't say anything at all". However, as a result, it seems to me, I did it well, except for the first warming up of the pairs at the Skate Canada. The thing is, that at first, I was only to comment ladies' competitions but then I stayed for men and pairs. I am not an expert in pairs, though.
So, it is true that skaters from one discipline of figure skating do not know much about other disciplines?
The point is that I have not watched pairs a lot, I have never been interested in pair skating. I have got friends from pair skating but we have never spoken about their discipline. It so happened that I just do not like it. I can only watch men, though it is sad to watch them. I mean, not because they skate bad. Because I also want to skate. The same thing with ladies. I cannot say I have ever watched them as it is not interesting for me. However, there is a junior skater Alena Kostornaia (Russian figure skater, the 2017 JGP Final silver medallist) whom I really like, more than others.
Do you keep an eye on junior competitions?
Yes, I watch them a lot. Alexey Erokhov ( Russian figure skater, the 2017 JGP Belarus and JGP Poland champion) is making good progress there. We have known each other for a long time. When he joined us he couldn't even jump a double toe normally because he did it incorrectly.
That's it. He didn't have any idea about how to do it correctly. There was a hard period when he had serious injuries. It seems to me he has had so much that he is 30 not 18. He is great. Just great.
You stay in touch with the guys from your former group, don't you?
With some of them, with those who were closer to me. Actually, I keep up relationships with many skaters, they all know me. I am rather sociable, though you would not say that looking at me. I enjoy socializing, laughing. When I want to have a laugh I start saying something funny.
By the way, recently you posted a video from Switzerland where you were skating to Adagio from the Concierto de Aranjuez. Was it your short program?
No, it wasn't. At that time I didn't remember the program. The music was different. In my program, it was supposed to be music with a voice and the music there was totally different. I just wanted to skate a little.
How did you come to be in Switzerland?
I was invited. I received a phone call and was asked if I'd like to go to Switzerland. I agreed.
Does Linda van Troyen, the coach you worked with in Switzerland, have her own skating school in Zurich?
There is a complicated structure. As far as I know, they have their own skating club but they skate separately: first on this ice rink, then on that ice rink, then on another ice rink. It is the same system as in the Unites States. You pay for ice and then skate as much as you want – one hour, two hours or more. Besides that, you pay your fee to a coach.
Did you coach children in Zurich?
I coached Polina Ustinkova. This girl skates for Switzerland. We worked on her programs. She had good ones, I just explained her how to do something. And a lot changed, even Linda noticed that.
Do you have plans to go to Switzerland again?
If I am invited. And if everything comes round: time, strength, etc.
Sometimes you post videos with you playing the guitar. What did it all start from?
Long ago I was listening to music and heard a song. When you listen to music for a long time you always think how all the sounds appear. I remember that after the Junior Grand Prix in the United States, I came back and bought a guitar. To do this, I had saved all the money my parents had given me plus subsistence allowance. In general I have a problem, though: I cannot save enough money for anything because I always want to buy something. Recently, for example, I went shopping to buy guitar strings and bought them… and a gig bag, a strap, guitar picks, pants and a guitar. A new one.
A new one? And how many of them have you got?
It was the fifth one.
The fifth one?! Why do you need so many guitars?
Why do women need different shoes? Why are there so many cars? They all are the same, you can drive any of them. It is the same with guitars. In short, I bought a guitar, played it for two days and didn't succeed. I was disappointed: why are other people able to play the guitar and I'm not? I was upset and stopped playing. I did not listen to music for a long time. And then I started listening again, I heard "Fade to Black" by Metallica from the album "Ride the Lightning" released in 1984. I heard the guitar solo from there. I took the guitar and without any basic skills at all I found a lesson on YouTube, some kind of seminar on synchronization of the right and left hands while playing the electric guitar, open the music text and began learning. In short, I started learning all that. Then, I handled that less or more successfully.
And did you study with teachers or on your own?
I had two lessons with a teacher. It turned out that I didn't have enough time any more.
If you had more time, would you continue your studies?
Unfortunately, I'm lazy. I just do it for myself. And if I have a task to learn some piece of music or some solo or to practice an exercise at a certain tempo, to a metronome, then to change the tempo, I start thinking if I really need it. On the one hand I understand that I need it but on the other hand I do not understand what for. However, these two lessons were highly informative: I remembered everything that they taught me forever. For example, now, when I play, my hands are as relaxed as possible, and the movements are very wide, free, smooth, and when it is necessary, they are sharp but also relaxed. Relaxed hands are very important. Sometimes, when my friends play the guitar, I see that they get terribly strained.
Do you play together?
Yes. We have a band.
Who plays with you? Are all they skaters?
Egor Tarasenko (Russian ice dancer) plays the drums, Vlad Kasinskiy (Vladislav Kasinskiy - Russian ice dancer) plays the bass guitar. And we got acquainted with the other guy in the Internet.
Do you often play together?
Now, we don't often meet, but as a rule we play together regularly. At the moment, we are recording only rough materials just to listen to what we have got in general. I have a sound blaster at home, it's possible to record anything. Lately, I've become interested in recording my own pieces of music.
Do you compose music yourself?
Yes. Well, I walk and a melody starts playing in my head. Then I match the keynote, pick out the tune by ear and also learn the theory. I think I am good at composing jazz, jazz-funk. I don't know how that is even possible. I didn't use to like jazz and I didn't listen to it. Yet, my best pieces of music belong to jazz. Sometimes I play the guitar and it feels like I'm playing in some pub with a saxophonist next to me. Well, in general, I have composed three really good music pieces.
Have you been to a music recording studio?
No, we haven't, we still record everything at my place. We even haven't finished any song, yet. For example, there is a song but there are no lyrics; or there is a song but there is no guitar solo. We don't have the leading vocalist either. I mean we have a guitarist in the band, he can sing if he feels like that.
Don't you sing?
I don't. I'm responsible for the lead guitar.
Do your fingers hurt from playing the guitar?
My fingers have always been stretched, they are flexible. So I don't have any problems with techniques.
Do you have extensive plans connected with music?
No, I don't have any. Of course, I would like to show that I can play the guitar but… I don't believe it is possible to be a success in the world of modern music. On the other hand I think I will record my own album when I finally learn to play. I'm not in a hurry, though.
We wish Adian a lot of good luck in his new career path and hope to see him on the ice soon!