Alexander Majorov: "The technical score should be technical, not subjective."
The 27 year old skater from Sweden was basically raised on skates, no wonder with his father having skated under the famous ‘figure skating professor' Alexei Mishin and his mother being a graduate of the Russian Ballet School, a choreographer and dance teacher. Alexander has been on the scene for a long time, and we at Absolute Skating have followed him for what feels like an equally long time, with the first interview dating all the way back to 2006. Usually my Swedish colleagues, Maria Jangbro and Magdalena Osborne, talk to him but this time the honor was mine. Our talk was a mix of pleasant and fun conversation, included heavy topics like Sweden not sending him to the Olympic Games, what effect his father getting leukemia and Alexander being his bone marrow donor had on his way of dealing with things, but also his opinion on the latest changes in the judging system and an interesting idea for another change.
We tried to get together a few times, but ended up doing most of the interview at the last long day of the Nebelhorn Trophy. The gala wasn't over until close to midnight. Alexander, having won silver earlier that day, skated a crazy gala program to Queen's “Don't stop me now”, with so many jumps in there I stopped counting. He found me in the pressroom, where I just switched my camera lens, and we went next door where the press conferences are held, but instead of just sitting down somewhere in the room, Alexander proceeded to place 2 chairs across from each other and one as side table, so we would have a pleasant area to sit.
Setting the scene?
So… was your gala program a message?
Yeah, Don't stop me now. As in, I will keep on going.
Aha! No. (laughs) Actually, I skated this program last year at the Winter Universiade Games. I was in a panic though; I didn't have music, nor a computer. So I just picked something from my phone, but it became a pretty funny program. It's just very hard to skate it.
I can imagine, you must have been so tired at the end!
Yeah, I was super tired.
Yes, I was. And here we are. Well, I thought it would probably be my last season because well…the body gets older. (laughs) And you still have to keep up with things and it's harder to learn something new. It's a challenge.
What made you decide to continue?
I don't know. I was not prepared to quit.
Did the whole Olympic Games drama have something to do with it?
(Last year Alexander also competed at the Nebelhorn Trophy, won bronze, and secured an international pass to the Olympics. However, it would not be that easy. The Swedish Olympic Committee – the SOC - has their own set of requirements and this time they demanded that Alexander reach a total of 258 points in one of the Challenger series, Grand Prix's or at Europeans. For reference, this would have been a top 7 place at the World Championships 2017)
Not the drama I think, but the preparation for the Olympic Games. Because I had prepared myself since summer without any rest after the World Championships, I practiced every day, skated really hard. And then there was all the stress because I fixed a spot here at Nebelhorn, but then needed to reach yet another goal, and then another and another etc. And then you don't get the final result you wanted, so of course you are sad, perhaps even burned out. And when it's over you start thinking more clearly …and you start over.
You got the international pass here by winning but learned pretty late the SOC wouldn't allow you to go, right?
Yeah. After Europeans.
I can ask how you feel about that, but well...
Actually, I didn't care so much. I did my job, I could not do more. I could not affect their decisions. So yeah, it's sad but what can you do?
And then you had the whole fan petition (less than 50 signatures shy of 15.000)… how did that make you feel?
(When the SOC decided not to let Alexander go to the Games despite his great results, a petition was set up to protest the decision. A lot of people signed, not only skating fans, but also fellow skaters, coaches etc.)
Pretty good. I didn't know about it at first, but even when I saw it I knew it wasn't going to change anything, the decision was already made. But it felt fantastic that people got to see the other side of everything. Without this petition, not very many would have known. The power of social media can be great, things go viral so fast! In this case I think people understood my situation and it felt so good to see how many people supported me, even people I didn't know before. It was amazing.
I think when you just train at home, you have no idea how many people enjoy your skating.
That's true. Many people signed the petition, and even many skaters I have met only in passing, but we never talked. And some didn't just sign the petition, they even wrote me personally, and that's pretty cool.
It must be quite a blow to have worked towards that goal for such a long time, and then have that door shut. And the petition was about sending a message.
Yes, exactly, that's it.
Matilda Algotsson didn't get to go either, right?
Right, she was excluded from the Swedish Olympic Committee Top and Talented team even before me; in November or December. So of course when you get that information you already know they won't be sending you. A strong minded person can just ignore it. I prepared myself for that. I learned to ignore a lot of stuff. It doesn't matter now.
But you have a lot of experience, skating for 20 some years.
Yeah, but it's not even that. A lot of life changing situations also happen, which let you understand how to release your thoughts. If you always overthink and get upset, at some point you'll realize you don't need to feel like that anymore. After the situation with my father getting sick and everything else, this OLY stuff, I don't even care. Yes, I worked for it but the funny thing is that I didn't care, I went to the next competition the same day, the Nordic Championships. I skated good there, so... (shrugs his shoulders).
That was one of my favorite moments actually, Nordics happened after the petition started, and when I went to the kiss and cry after my long program, people stood up and clapped. That was... amazing! Coaches, athletes… they knew everything. I really will remember that moment for the rest of my life.
That was a special moment, how great! But to not get sent, even when you did so well and earned your international ticket to the Games, must be demotivating. I mean not only for you, but also for younger athletes in Sweden.
For the younger ones, yes. It's an evil downward spiral. If you are the right age maybe it is good. I was the right age for the first Olympic Games. But take for example Anita Östlund right now, she's at the wrong age. She is still young, but she has not learned to compete at the big competitions. Because the SOC has a lower requirement if you are seen as a ‘young talent with potential to win at the next Olympic Games', she gets to go to her first Olympics, but then for the second Games she'll fall under the same higher criteria as me, and if she won't make them, she will not get sent. A younger skater who falls under the first criterion I mentioned will go and then meet the same fate. And it will continue like that over and over again. That's just sick. You cannot do that; you should send the person that is the best at the moment, that's the right thing to do. And if nobody makes the criteria for the qualification round, then don't send anyone. But to keep a high standard, the best one should go.
And the international standard (criteria) is already high.
Yeah, really high. If you pass the qualification round at the World Championships, you are a good skater, no doubt about it. Because right now if you just do a step-out or something, you don't qualify. So it's crazy. But it's the same in other countries as well. Politics.
Now on to more fun things; how was this competition for you?
The short program was really fun, a lot of energy. I was tired in practice this morning, but the long program was good. I had the strength to perform, but afterwards I felt dead.
You and Keegan Messing both said in the press conference you were tired halfway through the program, is that because of the altitude?
Probably, yes. But last year, the Olympic qualification one, was also here at the same base, but I didn't get tired because I had prepared since that summer. I started doing full run-throughs of my programs already in June, but this year I started the full run-throughs only in August.
That's a bit of a difference. (We said that at the same time and laugh.) You said the long program is now shorter, it feels much more like a short program. Can you explain a bit more?
It's a lot shorter. The short program is more of an anaerobic exercise, no time to catch your breath or cool down. Before this change the long program was about needing stamina. It was 2 different skill sets, one skater is better at the short program and another is better at the long program, but now it's pretty much the same. The long program is now like the short program, only a bit longer.
They took out one element, but does that count for the 30 seconds it's shorter now?
No, it doesn't. It depends a bit on the person though, if the skater is only doing crossovers it's not too bad, but you can't do that if you want to get points for skating skills. I don't know why they changed this.
You have the same short program as last year, and you already talked at length about that with Maria, but your long program is new.
So what was your inspiration?
(Starts laughing) Umm…
Or did you just grab something out of thin air?
(Still laughing) Yeah, yeah, almost like that! We had this music in mind actually (The Mask), I skated to it in Moscow as an exhibition piece and I could skate it pretty well. With that in mind, we took the music and panicked since we could not come up with anything we hadn't done before, something new. We never wanted for me to pretend I was wearing a mask in the program. If you look closer, I never use a ”mask” choreography in the long program. We always try to interpret the music with our own touch; we don't like to use the same movements as other skaters have.
Well, the end result is that "something new" I intended. Everything is completely different; I don't feel the same way. Of all the new programs, usually something is my style, but this one doesn't feel like me, but that's good! I got to try new things.
That's what keeps it interesting! And how did you do the choreography, do you make your own?
My mother, my father, me - we made it together. I cut this particular music 7 or 8 times and tried to skate to it, because it was really hard to place everything perfectly. It's mathematics, you need to know what you're doing. All the jumps need to be right; the spins need to be in certain positions on the ice. So it was a hard thing to do.
But the program doesn't tell a story?
It was supposed to have a story, and I was supposed to use another costume, but it didn't work. The rhythm in the original soundtrack was too fast in it was just impossible to follow it, so I had to find the Mask music besides the soundtrack album, which would not stand out as much. We ended up adding the blues, which is slower, but that's also hard because you need to slow down a lot.
That all made it really hard to find a theme, but why should I follow a stereotype due to the name of the song? It's sometimes better to create my own story for the music. (smiles)
Four years ago Alexander decided to teach himself how to play the guitar, before that he had never even held one. He didn't take any lessons and is not a schooled musician or singer. Yet we thought it was fun to share this little video of him, playing and singing the blues part of his long program (above).
Do you have fun changing the color of your tie? (smiles)
I always hope that the color changes when I do that, so yes – I have fun when it works as planned. (laughs) And the audience likes it; that's the most important part!
You mentioned your father and your mother, I've always looked at that and wondered if it's different to be coached by your parents? I mean, are they your coaches in the ice rink, and parents at home?
No. It's almost the same. I think they are more coaches at home too. It's hard to separate things, they try to, but they're still coaches.
And your brother, do you help coaching him?
No, I try sometimes, but not that much. It's mostly my parents.
How do you feel about him now doing the junior Grand Prix?
It's good, I think he'll like it. The goal is to make it to Europeans with me. At least (laughs) I hope it's with me!
(Nikolaj and Alexander will both be at Europeans – ed.)
What are your plans for the rest of the season?
To continue skating clean. I am skating pretty good since last year, well, except for today, I had one fall. (We both laugh.) I think I almost had no falls last season in all the programs, only one. I made a chart of procential stability, and take the triple Axel for example; I never missed one in competition which is pretty good. I am quite happy with the preparation on ice back home and also the preparation at competitions, because it has changed a lot for the better. I take the ice, same pulse as always, I am not nervous, maybe I feel a little bit warm but that's all, so I think it's been very rewarding.
And did that happen naturally, or are you doing something differently than before?
I've tried different approaches to find out what is the best thing to do. To be nervous, to be calm, to be glad, to be happy… I've found my own place. After practice this morning I said to my mom: “I made mistakes I know, but don't say anything, I just need to go to sleep.” I woke up and I went back to her and said: “I am happy, I am ready, so I will skate clean, trust me.” And she trusts me, because when I feel ready, I just want to go out there and do it. It's not just not being nervous, it's sensing that everything is in the body; calm but still powerful, full of energy… It takes a long time to find it, it's hard!
So it's like finding peace within yourself?
Somehow. Some people start to compete very well when they are still kids at 16 - 18 and they're just doing great and place higher and higher at competitions, and then all of a sudden disaster strikes, bad performances! It's hitting their heads and they start going downhill and disappearing. Some people do the opposite, they're just pushing themselves till they're 19, 20 with not such great results and then they start to find their own rhythm. Those are the ones medaling; like Javier Fernandez, Alexei Bychenko, Michal Brezina...
I feel the 'older skaters' are more interesting as well, the experience that comes with it, you see it in their skating.
Of course, but when you're older you need to know when to stop. It's the hardest thing, it's like playing roulette. You're winning and it's fun, but you need to know when to quit, before you start losing. Same thing in sports.
Despite finding this feeling, your results since the Nebelhorn Trophy haven't been stellar. You did have a few great short programs, a personal best at the GP in Canada, a third place in Moscow, but then the long didn't go great. Do you know what happened? Does it have to do with what we discussed about shortening the long?
Yes, the shortening of the long program was the problem, my muscles needed to adapt to the new time. I still feel very secure in the programs, because the problem was solved the last 3 competitions. My muscles are now better adapted to the new time and I trust myself by pushing to the end of the program. For example, at the last competition I skated a clean long program.
You are a physical therapist; does that help you to better listen to your body, and make you look differently at things?
Yeah, absolutely! I have treated a lot of injuries and rehabbed myself. It's actually pretty good and I learn a lot. I also help my teammates if they really need it. For example Ondrej Spiegl had a knee problem and I helped him with acupuncture. They trust me, and I trust them. It was really good, because who would let an opponent stick needles in your knee? Nobody would do that!
You mentioned that you had an idea about training differently and it would take 3-4 months to show results. What would that involve?
With the changes in the system, I have to test how it works. I am still trying to see how it affects the new shorter long program. Every change you make in practice has to happen every day for at least 4 months to show results.
There was something I was thinking about with the developments of the quads and then even more quads. It makes you start worrying about the younger athletes jumping quads a million times a day and the toll it takes…
But it gets easier. I mean, first they talked that way about the triple Axel and now the triple Axel is like pfff. It's the way of training those jumps. I think the best way is to keep the quads down, but like I also said in the press conference, remove the plus GOE, because the plus zone is so subjective. Take a good skater who jumps doubles, and one who does triples. The one with the triples gets plus 1 or 2, the one with the doubles gets plus 5, so the one with the doubles wins. It's crazy, a double jump should not be worth more than a triple with plus! So it should be zero for a clean jump and minus 3. Let's say a turn is minus 1, a step out is minus 2. A really bad jump with a step-out and a fall is minus 3. It needs to be exact, it doesn't matter how high you fly or how good a jump is, a step-out will always be a step-out, no matter what. It should be clear, because that's the technical score. The technical score should be technical, not subjective.
Right now when I watch skating, I don't feel like a figure skater because I can not predict who is going to be first, I am just sitting there like 'I don't know, how could she be first'? I don't understand, and that's because of the minus and plus. I hope they will remove it next year. Or they will go higher, I don't know. (laughs)
And you don't get descriptions for when it's a plus 1 or plus 3, or..?
No. I should probably have some idea, but I don't. I feel like a beginner right now, I just do my stuff and then wait for the scores. I would like to understand who is winning when I watch the ladies, but it's like watching ice dance for me; I don't understand it. As a skater I should have some idea! I can count the level of the spins, but for the rest I don't know how it's going to be judged.
Are all the latest changes bad?
No, in the short program we get extra points for one jump in the second half, and that's a really smart idea, because it makes you plan better. Which is a good jump for the second half, which will get the most points, but also, which can I risk doing there? And it makes the program more balanced. Thumbs up for that idea!
How is your dad doing, if I may ask? We haven't seen him for quite a while.
He's doing fine. I hope he will be going to Europeans, because Belarus is not that far away for us. He did come with me to Nordics and Nationals last year, and to my first competition this season.
Ahh, that is great. Having lost my mom to cancer in 2015 I really wanted to tell you it was a very brave thing you did for him.
Thanks, and I am sorry. It's a hard thing, life. He's recovering, I hope you'll get to see him at Europeans, maybe, I hope so!
What are your expectations for the European Championships?
Top 3 is possible with the programs I have, but it always depends on what the leaders do in their programs as well. Leaders can jump hard jumps, and I can jump as well. But I'm one of many skaters skating on level 4 spins and steps with plusses, that gives me many advantages.
Right before publishing this Alexander confirmed his dad will be at Europeans, just like his mother and his brother Nikolaj, a family affair thus! And another bit of great news for his fans: he also plans to go to the World Championships. We wish the whole Majorov family a great and rewarding time in Minsk. Toi Toi Toi!