Two-time European champion, three-time Russian champion in figure skating Yuko Kawaguchi openly spoke in an interview with Sport, how she is torn between Japan and her native Russia, why the Americans are putting pressure on the court in the case of Kamila Valieva, but the Japanese are not, what kind of “doping” coach Tamara Moskvina gave her and how she herself did not allow doping officers to enter the door.
“The difference between Russia and Japan is in the toilets”
– A couple of years ago you said that you work in a salon where you do facial massage.
– It turns out that you and after finishing your sports career, do you continue to go to competitions?
– The passion for sports remains. Of course, it is better to be an athlete, but massage is comparable to dancing. The hands move very beautifully, so I enjoy the process. But I didn’t give up figure skating, I still skate in shows, and I also work as a judge. Ice for me is a kind of meditation.
– You have been living in Russia for 20 years. What surprises you most here?
– When I arrived, Tamara Nikolaevna Moskvina’s family protected me. I didn't know anything. Then I got acquainted with Russia, there was no inconvenience or discomfort. And now many new situations have arisen. I try not to sit at home, but to communicate with people, misunderstandings arise. Previously, I knew nothing and communicated with a narrow circle of people.
– What kind of misunderstanding?
– For example?
– Hard to explain. Russians have a different character, an open soul. Russian people are more free, sometimes even too free. They do whatever they want without thinking about who will react how. This behavior may be unpleasant for the environment, although in general it is good. Nowadays, a lot of books are written about loving yourself and not thinking too much about others. I think that sometimes you still need to think about those around you. The Japanese are more modest, although no less friendly, than the Russians.
Initially, I thought that Russians were cold. I took it as a lack of politeness, but in fact, Russians treat people very warmly. It's just a different culture. For example, I lived in the USA, where people smile as a courtesy. The situation is the same in Japan, but in Russia this is lacking. But the biggest difference between countries is visible in the example of toilets, from which you can immediately understand the standard of living. In Japan, almost everywhere there are very clean toilets.
– What has changed in the country since you arrived?
“It was dark and cold then.” It was winter, I didn’t understand what was happening. Now the country has become more civilized, people have become very open and bright. Previously, it seemed that everyone dressed only in black clothes, but now everyone loves bright colors. Same with other things. I think this is due to the development of the country and openness to the world. The Internet has developed, people began to communicate more with each other, study other countries and cultures. ?
“People started smiling at each other and showing respect. Even in hotels and shops, the staff has become polite. In Japan, the buyer is very important to the seller, and in Russia, employees of stores, banks and other places did not always behave in an appropriate manner. I often noticed that they did not want to work and answer, looking down on everyone. I also note that in public transport young people give way to older people. It’s as if Russians already have it in their blood; they do it naturally and beautifully. I would like the Japanese to adopt this quality, because there is much less of it there.
I fought with my parents over Ukraine
– Do you follow the events in Ukraine?– I looked at Japanese sites on my phone, but I got tired of it. I also read Russian media, but now I don’t read anything.
– Has the situation with sanctions in the last couple of years affected your life and work?
– Certainly! I can't go home. I had a tradition of going to Japan once a year. Firstly, tickets have become very expensive. Secondly, the flight now is not ten hours or even a day, but more than 30 hours with transfers. Parents are worried and want to meet, so misunderstandings arise with them. They watch TV and follow the whole situation from the West. But my situation is different. I know nothing and live calmly. It's hard to explain to them. They drag me home.
– Do you have conflicts with your parents because of what is happening?
– We even stopped communicating for a while, because when you call about something, you immediately start talking about this topic, swear and the mood deteriorates.
– Are your parents still calling you back?
– They really want me to return home to Japan.
– Do you want to?
– Yes wish. But now I doubt it.
– What’s stopping you from returning?
– Here I have a job as a massage therapist in a good place, and work as a judge at local competitions. If I go to Japan, I will have nothing and will have to start from scratch. There are people in Russia who know me, so it’s a little easier for me. What I received here – all the diplomas and other documents – mean nothing in Japan. I don’t want to come and just sit at home. I like working in Russia.
– And in the USA?
–I’m definitely not considering the USA. I lived there for four years. I'm not interested there.
– I liked it in the USA, but I didn’t feel any interest. I was just skating there. In America and Japan, everything is about the same in terms of civilization. New York is a big city that is similar to Tokyo. Everyone treated me well, but nothing really stood out to me. My heart doesn't belong to America. Despite the inconveniences that exist in Russia, I find it more interesting here. I prefer Russian culture, ballet, figure skating, so I skated with a Russian partner and worked with a Russian coach.
– What do you miss in Russia now from Japan?
– Before the coronavirus pandemic, my mother sent me a large parcel once a month. I haven't received anything from Japan for three years now because the post office doesn't work. Of course, I want to eat something Japanese, but I realized that I can do without it. If I can’t do it at all, then I’ll go home.
– What did mom send?
– What you need for life – cosmetics, clothes and other things. I couldn’t buy this in Russia, because the quality of the product is very important to me. I don't buy expensive brands, but I can still understand that the quality of the item is different.
– Is there something- then Russian, what will you definitely miss if you leave?
– Ice and modern dances, which I go to. If I leave for a short time, then I will probably only miss this.
Fans will not call you a traitor
– You were coached by Tamara Moskvina. What is its strength and uniqueness?
– She is intelligent, she has everything programmed. This is a man with vast experience and a young soul. It's interesting to work with her. She is strict, but never raises her voice or swears. It's much more difficult than screaming. Tamara Nikolaevna speaks in a whisper and with humor. This is much more useful for me. She always has many approaches. If one doesn’t work, then she will find a hundred more options.
– Don’t you think that Tamara Nikolaevna knows how to work with ready-made pairs, but she’s not very successful with juniors?
– I think she’s just not interested in juniors. Her level is much higher, she wants to create. We need to work more with juniors at a basic level, they need evaluation, it’s too early for them to create. And what she demands is already art.
– After finishing my career, I wanted to become Tamara Nikolaevna’s assistant, but she said that there was no such opportunity. If the opportunity arises in the future, I would be happy to do so.
– Were you offended that she didn’t hire you as an assistant?
– Honestly speaking , it was a little disappointing. But I see that in pair skating a male coach plays a larger role than a female coach. Man is the base, men’s technique is very important, but I don’t know it, so I can only convey my feelings. There is also a language barrier. I want to convey my experience, but this may not work.
– Would you be able to go to competitions in a neutral status without a flag and anthem?
– You can’t ask me that, because I’m Japanese. I don’t have a Japanese passport now, I skated under a different flag, but inside I remain Japanese, everyone knows that. I skated for Japan, for the USA, for Russia. I know that the Russians loved and love me. I am not indifferent to this whole situation, but I am calm about it.
If you have the opportunity to perform, you should perform. I would still go to the competition because everyone understands where I come from. It doesn't matter which country. You don’t skate for the flag, but for yourself and the people who come to watch. It’s great if they’re allowed to compete. Of course, it’s sad not to hear your anthem, but if you have the opportunity, you should skate.
– Many Russian figure skaters are now changing their sports citizenship in order to compete, including at the Olympics, and they are called traitors . Were you criticized in Japan?
– I read messages to myself accusing me of betrayal. But this is not written by fans, but by people who are not interested in figure skating and do not know the whole situation. Or they don't know me. We just read that Yuko Kawaguchi decided to play for Russia and started writing. And those who know the whole history and understand figure skating will never accuse anyone of betrayal. Everyone has their own opinion. I think it's easier for people to find the bad. It takes effort to find something positive.
– Weren’t you offended reading such comments?
– A little, but since a person paid attention to me, it means I became famous. This is something to be happy about. You need to look for the positive in everything.
“It’s probably not true that Valieva used doping”
– Olympic champion Kamila Valieva is accused of violation anti-doping rules, which is why the Russians have not yet been awarded medals in the team competitions of the Beijing Games. Could a little girl knowingly use doping?
“I think that in this life everything is possible, but in her situation it’s probably not true.” After that, we performed with her in a show.
– What impression did she make on you?
– A very bright, good and pleasant girl . A very talented figure skater. I can't compare her to anyone. I really like her, it's nice to look at her. We didn’t really communicate with her, we were just in the same locker room.
– Do you understand the emotions of American athletes who demand their medals for the Olympics?
– Honestly, I don’t understand their reaction.
– Why the Japanese are not indignant, although they also deserve a medal?
– Perhaps Western people like to voice their opinions more. The Japanese also want their medals, but they like to remain silent. I would do the same. And what? It's been two years now. Why waste energy on this? We must live here and now.
– So it’s better to just wait until the whole situation is resolved?
– Yes. Voicing doesn't help. Perhaps the Americans – yes, but the Japanese have a different opinion.
– Recently, American figure skater Vincent Zhou said that in Russia figure skaters use doping on a massive scale. Have you encountered this?
– I had cases when I encountered doping officers who actually monitored our every step. You had to say what time you would be in what place. Once they knocked on my door at six in the morning. I was just afraid, because usually no one comes at this time. Nobody warned me, I didn’t open it. They knocked for 15 minutes and then left. I was later told that if I didn't open again I would receive a yellow card. They have my phone number, but they haven't called. I was just afraid to open the door, it was very scary. As a result, they said that I ignored taking the test. It is not normal. The next time the officers also came at six in the morning, but I opened the door and took the test.
– It seems to me that this is how you can run into scammers.
– Yes, that’s why it’s very difficult.
– The situation that you described is indicates that there was control. Do you believe in the massive use of doping in Russia?
– I have not encountered this. But Tamara Nikolaevna could give us a chocolate bar and say: “Here’s your doping.” Of course, it was a joke and just a chocolate bar without any additives.
– Did you have any restrictions on eating in unfamiliar places and taking medications?
– There are athletes who need some kind of medication. I didn't take anything, so there was less chance of getting caught in something. Doctors know who needs what, we consulted with them. There was complete trust.
“Isinbayeva should have remained silent so as not to offend others”
– Russian pole vaulter Elena Isinbaeva has always supported the country, had a military rank, and now she called it nominal. There was a wave of criticism against her. Is it possible to understand Elena’s position?
“She should be grateful for the titles because it’s very important.” When I arrived, I had nothing, but then it turned out that I became an Honored Master of Sports. I didn't understand what that meant, but now I understand. Because I have this title, I am treated better. I graduated from the university, even without a honors diploma, but they began to invite me to various events. It's probably all due to merit. In Japan, these titles do not provide any advantages, just like the Japanese ones here. Of course, we are not talking about military ranks, but about sports ones, but nevertheless.
– It was reported that Isinbayeva now lives in Spain. Can such a person live outside of Russia?
– Do all these titles oblige her to live in Russia? Does this deprive her of her freedom? In this sense, I can understand her. Yes, you should be proud of your military ranks, but she is an athlete who did not participate in hostilities.
– Is it really possible to call these titles nominal?
– Perhaps she feels and thinks so, but it’s better not to voice it. If this is an honor in Russia, then as a sign of respect it is better not to speak like her. If you want a scandal, say whatever you want. And if you want to calmly go about your business, you need to set boundaries and be able to remain silent so as not to offend others.
– In Russia, you studied at the university at the Faculty of International Relations. How did the idea come about to choose such an unusual direction for an athlete?
– When I came to Russia from the USA, I broke up with my first partner. To stay in the country, Tamara Nikolaevna advised me to go to study. Then she cruelly joked: “If you don’t succeed with sports, at least you will know Russian.” I didn’t understand this joke and almost cried, but now it seems funny to me. At the university, I acquired new connections with people from other fields that could not have formed if I had gone to a sports institute.
– What are your plans for the future?< br>
– I want to apply to the ISU (International Skating Union), but I need to pass exams there. Next year there will be such an opportunity, but who knows how it will turn out in the current situation. If I pass the exams, I will be able to work as a judge not only in Russia.
– What keeps you in Russia, besides work?
– Nothing . If I suddenly have a family, then there will be another reason to be here.