Ice Network

Savchenko intent on taking Knierims to next level

Olympic champion aims to improve U.S. pair's mental strength, jumps
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Aljona Savchenko believes Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim have what it takes to be one of the top pairs teams in the world. -Getty Images

U.S. Figure Skating sent shockwaves through the skating world Monday, when it announced that Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim would train with Olympic and six-time world gold medalist Aljona Savchenko beginning this summer.

Savchenko agreed to talk with icenetwork about her new endeavor -- and, as you will see, some other projects she has in store.

Icenetwork: Are you still on Cloud Nine, after those two brilliant gold medals you won this past season?

Savchenko: Yes! It's an incredible feeling. I can't yet describe it exactly. It was a dream, and I can tell you it's really nice to reach a dream. It took really long (Savchenko had to wait until her fifth Olympics before winning the gold), and it's really nice. I don't know if it would have been the same feeling if I had reached it earlier in my career.

Icenetwork: Is it still the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?

Savchenko: Oh no! Life keeps going. But when I relax, or watch a video, or when people talk of it, I remember the feeling, and then I cry. It gives me happiness, and it makes me sad at the same time. It was hard, you know. There were hard times, there were nice times, many ups and downs, and now I need to live with it -- all of it.

Icenetwork: Now you are turning to coaching. We had not heard about that before.

Savchenko: Indeed. In fact, I always thought that one day, sometime later, I would like to coach. I like to share my knowledge and help people become better. I never thought I would start this early, though. I was telling myself that if I were going to coach, I would give 100 percent to it. I've always given 100 percent to what I was doing -- I can't do anything halfway -- so I put the idea of coaching to the side.

In fact, after this season and all the good things it brought us, I wanted to keep creating new programs, try different throws...we're still fit! But Bruno had other projects. He wanted to go to La Chaux-de-Fonds, the Swiss town where Jean-François Ballester, one of our coaches, is coaching. Also, he's having a baby soon. He said to me that he had reached his goal, our goal, and that he needed to rest. So it was hard to keep working now -- I can't skate by myself!

Icenetwork: How did you decide to start coaching, then?

Savchenko: I like to share my knowledge with skaters who are already there, who have potential, and who I feel I can help. At worlds, Alexa and Chris skated really bad. Alexa came back crying to the locker room as I was putting on my makeup. She was so sad and distressed. I wanted to tell her that they were good, that she shouldn't be so upset. In our sport, there are ups and downs, but life keeps going always. I felt it was not the best time to tell her, so after the exhibition I went to them and I said, "You guys are so good, don't give up!" Then she told me, "Yesterday, I dreamt that you were coaching us."

I mentioned that I could help but that my goal was primarily to tell them not to stop. Plus, I didn't want to take them away from their coach, Dalilah [Sappenfield].

Icenetwork: Did you notice their potential?

Savchenko: Oh yes! First, there are so many good skaters in the U.S. Alexa and Chris were excellent; they have learned great technique from Dalilah. They can be good, they can be a top pair, but something didn't go right for them to succeed. They have potential, for sure. So I want to help, or at least try.

Icenetwork: How do you think you will work with Alexa and Chris' style? They don't skate the same way you do…

Savchenko: The best (approach) is always to create what fits the athletes best and how they feel, not what we created for ourselves. We have to see what style they have, what they're good at and what they're not good at, what choreographic style they feel confident with.

Icenetwork: Are there any specific dimensions you'd like to work on?

Savchenko: My interest as a coach is…everything! I'm interested in technique, both for a man and a woman. I'm creative as well, and I like to put on some music and try things, different moves. ... I also like to prepare plans for practice and plans for competition and work on the discipline itself. I need to learn, also. And I can't do everything at once, so I'll need help.

Icenetwork: Who are you going to work with?

Savchenko: We already did a test practice with Alexa and Chris for 10 days. Bruno will help. Benoît Richaud, the French choreographer, also helped with the choreography. I like his style, and I want to work with him. We also have an athlete (fitness) coach we worked with. He is excellent. Alexander König, our other coach, will be around, too. If I can't go to a competition, I'll need to find someone to go with them. Maybe Jean-François can help, when he comes to Oberstdorf (Germany). I like his coaching and technique. But most important will be what suits them best. My job is to find people who can help them improve. There would be no sense in doing it if it didn't help them improve.

Icenetwork: In what areas do you think you will help Alexa and Chris the most, at least to start with?

Savchenko: In making them mentally strong. If they are strong, anything can happen. I have watched many videos. They always skated good, but something was missing. Their technique is good, but they had problems with jumping. We'll do our best to fix that. They need to find the right exercises for their bodies and improve their skating skills. Also, they love each other, as they are a married couple. They need to show that more. All this will make them more powerful and more enjoyable for people to watch.

Their programs are ready, and now we are working on their costumes.

Icenetwork: You are also known as a great costume designer, as you have designed your own for many years.

Savchenko (laughs): We are creating them together. It's important for me that it fits them -- both the costumes and the creative process, actually. It's really important for me never to close people off. If they have a vision, it's always useful to share it. Of course, if they come with jeans, I'll let them know it doesn't fit! A coach is there just to help an athlete improve. Freedom is very important for athletes; they need to feel they own what they are doing.

Icenetwork: You are working with Alexa and Chris, but would you open your coaching school to other pupils as well?

Savchenko: I'm open to all students, and I plan to work with the German federation to see how we can create great teams, so that it doesn't stop with us. But as I won't have too much time this year, I'll concentrate on Alexa and Chris and will give them 100 percent.

Icenetwork: Where will you coach them?

Savchenko: We agreed that we would work together half (of the time) in the U.S. and (the other) half in Oberstdorf. Although my life is here for the time being, I am well aware, as an athlete, of how hard it is when you travel. It's important for me that they feel at home. They need to be close to their family regularly. We'll see how it goes.

Icenetwork: How will you manage to balance coaching with all the shows you are performing in?

Savchenko: This year is full of shows, that's for sure. In June, we'll be in Kazakhstan, then we'll be in Japan in July. I'll be working with Alexa and Chris right after we come back from Japan. I like shows, but that can't be my whole life. There is not that much to do in doing only shows. I'm too active. I need a goal, just like an athlete. I really love competition. You know, I already miss competition. Competition makes me feel powerful, so I want to help people win.

Icenetwork: You mean that helping skaters win will give you back that feeling of competing?

Savchenko: Exactly.

Icenetwork: Do you think you're going to coach from now on?

Savchenko: I need to tell you: Some people think that [me and Bruno] stopped competing, but we don't want to stop -- we're just taking a break. Of course, we don't know what will happen, but we want to remain open about our options.

Icenetwork: If you decide to come back to competition, do you think it will be with Bruno or will you find another partner?

Savchenko (laughing): Oh no, never! I'm crazy, but I'm not that crazy. I've found the best partner, and I won't change. If I compete again, it will be with Bruno. We were joking the other day with some friends, and I proposed to continue my career in ice dance. It would be very interesting for me actually...but maybe it's only a joke!

But this year will be of a different kind for us: We will be coaching. We will work on different sides of ourselves and see how it goes.

Also (she smiles), I would like to have a baby. It's not there, but it's in the plan. The next generation needs to come, too!