Ice Network

Sotskova warns skaters of heeding online criticism

Two-time Grand Prix Final qualifier explains affinity for classical music
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Maria Sotskova advises against athletes reading comments about themselves online. -Getty Images

Just two years ago, Russia's Maria Sotskova finished second at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Barcelona. This season, she won silver at both of her Grand Prix outings (Skate Canada and Internationaux de France) and qualified for the Grand Prix Final -- just as she did last year. When she's skating, she seems quite discrete and shy, but in this interview with icenetwork, she proved to be just the opposite.

Icenetwork: In your last outing (the Internationaux de France), you looked quite happy with the result.

Sotskova: I was, because I qualified for the Grand Prix Final but also because my coach was happy. When my coach is happy, then you can be sure it means that I skated well. Usually, coaches say [what you're doing] is bad, so if they say it's good, it means that…it's really great! (laughs)

Icenetwork: Two years ago you skated to Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. Last year you elected to skate to Schnittke's "Adagio." This year you go with Debussy's "Clair de Lune." Do you like classical music?

Sotskova: The thing is, I can't really skate faster programs. They are not my style. When I skate to classical music, it comes directly from my soul. The feeling is so good. It allows me to show all the beauty of the music.

Icenetwork: What kind of music do you listen to during the day? Classical?

Sotskova: No! (laughs) I listen to top-40. Basically pop music, I mean. It's easier to listen to and to understand than classical music. Pop music relaxes your mind. It makes your head more focused on competition. Actually, I sometimes listen to classical music. I've done that twice before a competition, and I must say it didn't work. Pop music makes me calm. Classical music makes me more nervous.

Icenetwork: How do you select a piece of classical music, then?

Sotskova: I like all classical music, really, but I enjoy the most classical pieces, like Rachmaninoff or Tchaikovsky. I love my short program to Swan Lake. I need something that starts slowly and builds over the program.

Icenetwork: Do you often go to concerts in Moscow?

Sotskova: Not really. We try to go to the theatre with my mom, but we don't go very often. We mostly go to plays. I love comedies. But usually on weekends I try to relax and go on walks with friends.

Icenetwork: What will it mean for you to skate in Moscow, at the next European championships?

Sotskova: Well, it will mean a lot, because if I skate at Europeans, it will mean that I will be qualified for the Olympics as well. We have our nationals before that, you know. A lot will be decided there, and the field is so competitive.

Of course, I will be more nervous if I get to skate in Moscow, because my parents and all my friends will be there. There will be more stress. At the same time, there will also be a warmer atmosphere.

Icenetwork: What brought you to skating?

Sotskova: My parents decided that I needed to do some kind of a sport. My mom wanted me to take some ballet classes, but there was an ice rink near our home, and my parents thought it could be a good idea for me to try skating. Well, I cried all I could the first time I went! Fortunately, I had a really good coach. She talked to me, and she made me believe in myself.

After a while, I went to a competition. I ended something like 32nd. It was a rather bad result, of course, but it turned out to be good, because it was a national competition and I skated a clean program. My coach then started believing in me more and more. She also started working more with me, and things got better and better. I won the last competition of that kind I went to, and all competitions thereafter.

It's true that the atmosphere of skating is not the easiest. We are always stressed. There are lots of people in an ice rink. You have to compete all the time. You can't relax, really, or be a little bit inside yourself. You always have to show everybody that you're the best. You have to show it to your federation, to coaches, to your own competitors, of course. That's normal, after all: There are many skaters, and everybody wants to go to Europeans and the Olympics! But it makes it difficult to always have to be on your game.

You have no chance to make mistakes. But I love to compete, I love to skate, and I love my programs. I have to ignore what people say.

Icenetwork: Do you try to stay in your own bubble?

Sotskova: I try to. Sometimes I manage to just be inside myself, and then I don't worry about what's going on outside me. But sometimes the bubble collapses, because there are lots of people who want to say something like, "You made this mistake" or "You should smile more" or "You can do better," and then (she opens her arms) my bubble bursts.

Icenetwork: So many people have an opinion to share?

Sotskova: I must say that the internet is far worse. There are so many readers, and they always write stuff. You'll read comments like, "Her competitor is better, she should go to the Games" or "She is not good enough." That's quite demoralizing. People have to know something: We always want to show the best programs, and also beautiful skating. We don't skate only for us but for everyone. We just try to make the world better and people happier than they were before watching us. That's our goal! Some people who criticize us don't know how much we are working for that goal.

The problem is, modern life without the internet is just impossible. I, of course, don't want to read those criticisms, but they are there, as toxic as they are. Athletes shouldn't read internet comments. They make you more nervous and make you lose some of your confidence. If you follow them, you can lose your way.

Icenetwork: May I ask you where your excellent English comes from?

Sotskova: Of course! I went to the USA in 2015. I skated in Los Angeles, and I took from Rafael Arutunian. I was staying with an American family, and they allowed me to practice my English. They were so good. I love them, and I love the U.S.

Icenetwork: When we see you skate, or during press conferences, you always look so discrete and shy. Now I see you're not exactly so.

Sotskova: I'm not shy! I'm a rather confident person; at least, I have confidence in myself. I'm certainly very focused on my competition, that's for sure. But when I'm out of the rink, I'm a rather funny person; I'm always laughing. In fact, I love laughing! In real life, I'm really different from what you see (on the ice).

Icenetwork: Yet, looking shy is quite consistent with the rather lyrical programs you skate to.

Sotskova: That's true. But I also feel like there are lots of different lives within myself. Sometimes, I try to take something funny onto the ice. But for now, it's just romantic (feelings) while I'm skating. I hope one day will come when I can do different things.

This season is no time for experimenting, obviously. It's too important a season.

Maybe next season I'll try to change something in my style. I'll try new kinds of programs and moods. It would be a real surprise if I skated to salsa or tango, don't you think? I'd like to do that. You know, I am taking dance classes, with all kinds of modern dances, even hip hop. Let's say we do it next year?