Deniss Vasiljevs at the press conference at the Grand Prix in Sheffield
Deniss Vasiljevs: “I deeply appreciate my whole journey“
Deniss Vasiljevs goes into Europeans as last year’s bronze medalist and as one of the top medal contenders.
Judith Dombrowski caught up with Deniss after his two show performances at Music on Ice in Bellinzona, Switzerland, that weren’t even two weeks away from the event in Espoo. During that weekend the 23-year-old was also awarded as Latvia’s Male Athlete of the Year 2022, an amazing success for Deniss.
You just received the award as Latvia’s Male Athlete of the year 2022. What does that success mean to you?
I was very surprised, it was the first year I was actually conscious about this award happening, and to win it is of course a huge thing. It’s a title. For me the most important is that I got recognition. I don’t see it that much as a personal victory, but a great thing for the whole sport of figure skating. I passed my half point of the professional skating career and of course I am thinking more about my continuation past it. Knowing that I have contributed towards the sport in the country means a lot to me as I have the feeling I have done something to benefit the society. That is the biggest victory and positivity about this award. It’s very pleasant to have a title that every athlete in my country wants to have. It has a lot of merit and you don’t receive it just like that. You have to provide in a way. I am very happy and proud of it.
It was a bit unfortunate that I couldn’t it make to the award ceremony in Latvia, because I had a commitment with Music on Ice. And of course they couldn’t tell me in advance that I would win. That video we recorded, that’s how I learned I won.
Of course I would have loved to have the feeling to walk down the aisle… it would have meant something and I feel like I missed some of these moments, for example to shake the hand of a president. But I am still very grateful.
Deniss Vasiljevs performs at "Music on Ice"
You’ve been doing Music on Ice a lot of times now ahead of Europeans. How does it help you to prepare for the competition and how is adapting to the smaller Ice Rink?
Adjusting to the smaller Ice Rink is of course not ideal. But as I have good confidence right now in my jumps, I felt really good also in that smaller rink. I like the change of scenery. To destabilize in a safe environment has a lot of merit not particularly as a preparation for Europeans. It’s rather a good training. I also deeply appreciate the opportunity to skate in front of people ahead of an event. It also gives certain stress but of course less than a competition. At the same time it charges me, as I love people, I love performing for them.
Music on Ice also became kind of a tradition for me and I feel a certain connection with previous years. I really perform with my heart and it’s not just a show. It’s Bellinzona - Music on Ice. I have particularly warm feelings towards it. And I don’t really know about Stéph’s plans but to skate in a show with him, skating with your mentor is a really rare opportunity.
And about the location itself: it’s always much warmer there, the sun is shining brightly, and this time we discovered some new places. I am so happy to explore the same country differently and a culture that has it’s own unique spice about it.
I also really like about that show, that it’s a relatively short amount of time: you go there, you do your job and you go home. I know it is a lot of work behind the scenes but it’s so convenient for a skater. I love that aspect. It’s a show that has great merit but doesn’t require too much time.
You debuted your new program to “Dos Oruguitas“ in Bellinzona, what can you tell about this new exhibition number?
I didn’t dive too much into the music yet, but it’s a lot about the feeling. I know that it’s about these two caterpillars but I will explore it more. I have this general feeling that it’s different from what I have skated for a while. I probably also developed my body in a way that I feel better quality in my movements. They became smoother and it doesn’t feel that heavy which is also a big challenge to me because it’s a lot about the mindset and the whole program just becomes something different, something new to push myself out of my comfort zone. And then there is also the idea of the opening of the wings in the end. The costume is a bit lacking behind and I don’t know if it will ever happen. I have a certain image for it in my head but I haven’t actually made my mind up about it, as I really also like that shirt I skated in at Music on Ice.
Deniss Vasiljevs performs at "Music on Ice"
We are about at the half point of the season, how did your two competitive programs grow onto you over the past months?
They are slowly growing.
At the shows in Bellinzona where I performed my short program to “Englishman in New York“ I felt differently during both performances. During the first show it felt a bit silly playful and the second day it was light. I felt like I just enjoy “singing in the rain“. I am gravitating rather towards this “singing in the rain“ feeling instead of being a bit comic. The difference is just the amount of stress and tension you have when you go for it. It’s such a small difference but the outcome is so different. It’s a minor detail that changes everything, I am still growing on it. And if it doesn’t happen at the competition it’s not the end of the world because I am first and foremost skating for the performance and for myself to enjoy it. It’s something I wish to show but the beauty of it is, that that’s difficult. (laughs)
The difficulty about the Free Skate is that it’s composed in a way that it grows, grows, grows and grows until I loose my head. (laughs) It’s a really big challenge, it doesn’t matter how you look at it, because it was made to maximize the artistic side of the performance. There is not that usual mid-program-breather. It’s a very athletic program. It requires lots and lots of physical preparation and mental resilience. Even though I skated that program for half a year now, and I am in a very good physical condition it takes my breath by the end. I can’t do six of these programs in a week and walk away easily. I actually did less run-throughs this season overall, as both programs are a bit more demanding.
But I definitely also gained more confidence with this program, compared to the beginning of the season. I had some successful run-throughs with the quads and everything, something I was sometimes lacking in previous seasons. Still it will always be a challenge, and every time you step on the ice it’s a new day, it’s a new run. But to be honest I would even be afraid to miss this kind of fear. Because once I step on the ice without that anxiety about what is going to happen, I think it’s a good time to stop, because I don’t care anymore. And I do in fact care a lot. But sometimes when you push yourself to the limit we do reach the point that we don’t want to see, hear or feel anymore regarding that part of our life. So my approach is to rather ride the adrenaline and don’t try to suppress it. Of course then sometimes it can go sideways but that’s the sport to me. There is no need to suppress it.
Deniss Vasiljevs at the victory ceremony of the Grand Prix in Sheffield
In Sheffield you had an amazing success, winning not only the silver medal but receiving standing ovations after your free program. How did you process that success?
Of course you get hyped and you give yourself to the moment. I was very happy with my event in Sheffield. Of course it was not easy, as none of these events are. But overall I try not to get too carried away with my emotions. I try to keep a steady head. I deeply appreciate the moment and victory matters to me - yes, but it’s not as dear as the overall experience. I appreciate it to my core. You can probably count nights like this in your career on one hand. It’s something that you dream about. But I do try to accept these moments with humility because I don’t know how many times I failed and how many times I faced difficulties. And when you get it, you deeply appreciate the whole journey. When you don’t go crazy and loose yourself, but when you are thankful for all those failures that came before you actually made it. It’s almost like you hold it as sacred and you want to cry of joy. Maybe It’s my character, maybe it’s because I want to share this moment with the people closest to me. Right after the performance it’s easy to just be like “ Wow“ and go wild, but I don’t finish the performance right there. I also care about how I will perform the next day when the exhibition comes. I am not looking at it like one event that is super dynamic, I am looking at it as the whole journey. Because of that it maybe helps and also suppresses some of the emotions. Slow and steady wins the race, it’s a little bit of that. The energy accumulated and you don’t want to just waste it, you want to inject it into something else, something more dear or something towards even better. It’s hard to explain. Of course I was overjoyed, but it’s also a matter of respect. Everyone did their best and there are a lot of things that are judged by humans. Modesty is something that is essential in order to progress.
Good luck, Deniss, with the continuation of your journey in Espoo! We are looking forward to see both of your programs and hopefully also the new exhibition there.
Deniss Vasiljevs and coach Stéphane Lambiel at the Grand Prix in Sheffield