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Oksana Baiul: Online Interview
- Published: March 7, 2003
When Oksana Baiul attacked the ice at Lillehammer, her performance left millions awestruck, including the judges who voted Oksana 1994’s Olympic gold medalist.
Her achievement silenced a roar of controversy that surrounded the Winter Olympics. Oksana’s life reads with all the twists and turns of a Dickens’ novel.
Born in Dnipropetrovs’k, Ukraine, she was the only child of parents who divorced when she was two. Her father faded out of her life, leaving her mother and her grandparents to raise Oksana. When Oksana was 10, her grandparents died. Tragically, three years later, her mother died of cancer. Soon after, Oksana’s coach immigrated to Canada. Oksana was totally alone. But her dream of being a successful skater lived on.
In 1994, the whole world watched as Oksana Baiul captivated our hearts and won the Olympic gold medal, proving that she is the best in the world. Soon after, Oksana moved to the United States and Barbara Walter’s named her “One of the 10 Most Fascinating Personalities of 1994.”
After her victory in Lillehammer, Oksana has kept busy participating in figure skating tours and competitions around the country, including the Tom Collins Tour, Champions on Ice, CBS Sports Ice Wars, CBS Sports Olympic Winterfest, Goodwill Games, and the Celebration of Gold. Oksana’s life story was depicted in a CBS TV movie, A Promise Kept: The Oksana Baiul Story. She has published two autobiographies, Secrets of Skating: Oksana Baiul and Oksana; My Own Story.
After a life assessment in 2001, Oksana decided that in addition to figure skating, she wanted also to focus on a number of new ventures including the Oksana Baiul Collection, a figure skating apparel line created and designed by Oksana herself.
From the beginning of her career, Oksana has always had a great sense of personal style which she has incorporated into every aspect of her life. Oksana serves as one of the principal owners of the company and is involved in the company’s day-to-day operations.
Jenny R.: Do you plan to perform in any shows or compete in any future competitions?
Oksana: Yes, of course. I took some time off to enjoy my life, but figure skating is something I love and something I will continue doing for the rest of my life.
Jenny R.: Was the biggest challenge in you career the changes your body went through after you won the Olympics? I admire your artistry very much, then and now. Best of luck in the future!
Oksana: My whole life is a challenge! <laughing> The weight was an obstacle which I overcame with the help of my psychiatrist. Also, I gained lots of weight between ages 18-20 because I was drinking alcohol at night. Alcohol has lots of calories and that does not help.
Jack: Will we be seeing you skate on TV this season? If so, can you share what and when?
Oksana: I skate now for fun and to keep myself in shape. There are no official plans for TV appearances yet.
Karina: What kind of opportunities has the Olympic Gold afforded you? What can you do that maybe you weren’t able to do before winning such a prestigious title?
Oksana: Olympic Gold changed me and my life dramatically. I became a celebrity overnight and people see me as a famous skater, not a real person. I was able to travel the world, meet a lot of fascinating and interesting people, and able to see incredible places.
Rgirl: Is it okay to ask about your fiancé? How did you meet him? What qualities about him attracted you?
Oksana: I met my fiancé, Gene [Sunik], through my close friend at a Christmas party in 2000. What I was attracted to the most was the fact that he had no idea who ‘Oksana Baiul’ is. All he knew about figure skating were Tonya and Nancy.
OC: Do you have an address for your fan mail? Thank you!
Oksana: Oksana Baiul co/GO Enterprises, 510 42nd Street, Union City, NJ 07087
Victor A.: What are your thoughts on the ladies final standings in the 2002 Olympics?
Oksana: I was happy for Sarah Hughes. She had a performance of her life, and I wish her many more competitions like [the] Olympics. Michelle had a gorgeous long program, but she missed out on [the] triple/triple combination and triple flip. Irina was strong, but unable to skate a clean program. I think Michelle and Irina were competing for a gold medal, but Sarah Hughes went on the ice and skated her best. Sasha has another Olympics ahead of her.
Kat (7 yr old FS 5):
1. How do I identify a good coach?
Oksana: There are many coaches so it all depends [on] what you want out of skating. There are many levels of skating. If you want to compete, you must find a coach that will be there for you 24/7 and that will challenge you in order to take you to a higher level. To search for a coach like this, try writing or calling the country’s figure skating association to assist you in finding one. The USFSA [United States Figure Skating Association] for example, in the U.S.
2. If our coaching staff is weak, can I still make it or would I need to relocate?
Oksana: It all depends on what you want. You have to first analyze your situation based upon your personal goals. If you feel you are not being challenged enough or have rapport, it may be time to shop around.
3. Is ballet an absolute must to make it to the top?
Oksana: No, not necessarily, but ballet will give you the ability to move on the ice with more grace. You notice this in the arms and posture with a lot of skaters.
4. Should I have a choreographer to help with my programs, or let my coach do it all?
Oksana: Definitely [use a] choreographer.
Anonymous: I adore your skating and miss seeing you compete and skate for Champions On Ice. Are you planning on making a comeback or are your plans more towards your clothing line now?
Oksana: Thank you! I’m working really hard on my clothing line, but if I would want to skate on Champions On Ice I’ll be able to do both.
Kathy: First, PLEASE let me tell you how you have ALWAYS been my favorite figure skater! I am a Jr. level skater and have 3 triples and of course my 2Axel. I am 15. It is very hard for my family to afford this sport. I truly LOVE to skate my and my school friends tell me I am too old. When is it time to give up your dream?
Oksana: Thank you! I think you should always pursue your dream and never doubt yourself. At 15, you’re a baby! I want you to skate and enjoy this beautiful sport. There is never a time to give up your dreams!
Anonymous: How often do you skate now and what do you do with your old skates and costumes?
Oksana: I use my past dresses to inspire new styles for [the] Oksana Baiul Collection. I keep my skates. My Olympic skates are still in my closet! My Olympic costume is now displayed at [the] All-Star Café in New York City. I skate about four to five times a week.
VC: Other than managing your business, what other things have you been involved in?
Oksana: I help my fiancé with his business, and in March I’m going to a charity fundraiser for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I come to Fashion Week events in New York City twice a year. I go to movie premieres and see lots of movies.
Anonymous: If you could change or improve one thing about figure skating today, what would that be?
Oksana: Probably, the biggest problem is amateurs and pros. I think the ISU should open up the rules for all the professionals to skate more so that they can contribute along with the amateurs to the sport of figure skating.
Paula: In what ways do you see figure skating evolving in terms of technique and choreography? What ways do you recommend that skating should evolve?
Oksana: The girls are getting younger and younger, and [the] jumps are getting harder and harder. At the last three Olympics no girl over the age [of] 16 has won, and by the time they’re 18, they have difficulty landing the same jumps that won them the medals. It wouldn’t hurt to focus more time on the artistry, footwork, and basic stroking.
JillLaQ: When is your wedding going to take place? I hope that you will submit some pictures to some of the magazines so that we can all see how lovely you look as a bride.
Oksana: The pictures of my wedding will definitely appear on my website. When and where, I can’t tell you yet.
Julia: Do you ever wonder whether you made the right decision in turning pro at such an early age?
Oksana: Galina [Zmievskaya] asked me if I would like to turn pro, and I said ‘yes’ without fully understanding the difference and the consequences.
Nancy Ann: Your artistic ability on ice is unmatched. Did you take ballet or dance lessons, and if so, for how long?
Oksana: I started taking ballet lessons when I was three and a half and I still take dance classes.
Damani: What is the most difficult combination you ever landed?
R-C Ma: Do you have plans to further expand your projects in fashion?
Oksana: I want to have a line of sportswear for the dogs! (laughing) People really do spend a lot of money on their pets – sometimes more then themselves. So why not? <laughing>
Slotgirl: Will there be a new official ‘Oksana’ site?
Oksana: At this time, there are no plans for an “official” site.
RRS: Are you coaching now and/or are there any plans to coach in the future?
Oksana: No, I’m not coaching. It’s a huge responsibility to coach somebody.
Olivia: At what age did you begin figure skating?
Oksana: Three and a half.
Rgirl: Obviously you are naturally a very creative person. Besides jewelry, make-up, and clothing, are there other areas in which you would like to try to express yourself creatively?
Oksana: I will try to make a doll of Oksana with a little dog. I adore dogs, as you can see, and so this would be a fun project!
Robin: On or off the ice, to me, you are a great natural dancer. Have you ever considered pursuing dance as either a creative outlet or even possibly a career? There are many “balletic” or lyrical styles of contemporary dance (no toe shoes) that I think you would be brilliant at!
Oksana: I would love to skate and at the same time, dance in [an] one hour show. Actually I dance really well on the floor.
Rgirl: As one of your longtime fans, it seems to me that your life and skating career have been both cursed and blessed. You had lost your entire family by age 13, yet this gave you the quality of having an “old soul” in a young body, which is part of what made your skating so special. You achieved phenomenal success by age 15-16, despite no family support, problems with alcohol, injuries, and other difficulties. Looking back, how do you see this tumultuous time in your life of great highs and lows? What wisdom do you feel you have gained as a result?
Oksana: Now, I don’t make decisions as fast as I used to. And I started taking care of my body much more carefully than I used to. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. And I eat healthy. As for wisdom, I simply try to learn from my mistakes. Wisdom comes with learning how to learn from your mistakes and we should all learn from them, accept them, and forgive ourselves in order to move on in life.
Maritess: Besides being a brilliant skater, your dancing is equally brilliant, so my question is, when you were growing up, who were your favorite dancers – classical and modern – and who were your favorite skaters?
Oksana: I liked Maya Plisetskaya and Anna Pavlova as ballet dancers. As skaters, I liked Brian Boitano and Jill Ternary.
Anonymous: Are you still close friends with Galina Zmievskaya?
Oksana: No. I worked with her since I was 14 1/2 and then after the Olympics, we came to America together. I wanted to explore unknown areas of life and Galina wanted me to stay a “swan” forever. There are no hard feelings between us. There just isn’t anything to really say to each other except “Hi”.
ES: Your picture portrays a sense of inner peace and serenity that has eluded you in the past, not withstanding your glorious successes at a very young age. With your current confidence level and maturity, is it possible that we will once again have the pleasure of watching you skate while fully utilizing your enormous potential which I believe has never fully reached its peak?
Oksana: This question surprised me! I thought everyone else thought I had already reached my peak! I will perform and entertain people very soon. But first, I must improve on my techniques and take care of old injuries [back and knee]. When I’m ready, you will see the new support I have now show in my skating.
O. M. from NY: I was wondering about your decision to compete in the Olympic long program despite your injuries the previous day. Did you have any fears about competing and did you ever think of pulling out of the event? Thank goodness you decided to compete!!!
Oksana: I was badly injured and I thought [the] Olympics were over me, but my strength and higher power helped me to go through the event. When I finished my long program, I was crying because of the tremendous stress and relief that it was over.
Mary M.: I was wondering what model of skating boot you wear and what model of blade is on the boot?
Oksana: I use Graf Edmonton for boots and John Wilson blades.
Grgranny: What kind of advice would you give to very young skaters (13-16) who are very good but need to grow up before they try for the big championships?
Oksana: I wish I could say it’s easy, but honestly, to get ready for a big championship is not as easy as it seems. I want kids to enjoy skating and I think it’s a great workout. Competitive skaters must be prepared for lots of work, challenges, self-discipline, and motivation. The desire must be there, but more importantly, you’re love for the sport.
Anonymous: What do you think of Michelle Kwan?
Oksana: Michelle Kwan is a very talented competitor. As she’s getting older she is becoming more graceful and powerful on the ice.
Kim H.: What do you think about the current adult skating competition scene?
Oksana: Professional competitions are overrated. I wish I could compete again, but my good feeling is, these competitions are better as exhibitions. While the amateur ranks focus so much on the technical aspects (like jumps), the pros don’t jump as much and focus more on artistry and entertaining. Therefore, their programs are not geared enough technically to really compete against the amateurs. So how can I, for example, compete against Sarah Hughes?
Merri R.: I don’t have any questions but I would like to know that you are very happy and enjoying whatever you are working on.
Oksana: Thank you! I’m happy and healthy, and I am working on my new clothing line for this Fall.
Anonymous: How many coaches did you go through before you found the right one? Did it get really expensive?
Oksana: In Russia, we didn’t have to pay for coaching. Here, in America, I left Galina and I went back to my old coach, Valentin Nikolayev, because he was my coach who prepared me for the 1994 Olympics.
Anonymous: Have you ever considered going into pairs skating? Your artistic skills would be perfect for it and you wouldn’t have to worry about so much about jumps.
Oksana: Pairs skating and singles are two different things. Although some skaters have achieved this successfully, it is a very difficult transition. You’re looking at double work.
M. Combs: What music would you like to skate to now and have you ever considered Sade’s Pearls, or music by Michael Jones?
Oksana: I’d like to consider myself a versatile skater and I like to skate to different kinds of music.
Maria: What is your favorite color?
Oksana: I like candy colors.
Anonymous: Did you enjoy training with Edouard Pliner in Massachusetts? I am considering the possibility of having him coach me this year.
Oksana: Edouard Pliner is a very strong technical coach. I worked with him for four months in 1997 and I really liked him a lot because he is a great technician. I highly recommend this coach if you need work on jumps.
Hope: One of your best-known strengths in figure skating is your artistry. What do you think your strengths and weaknesses are in the sport?
Oksana: I was competing for two years. [The] first year I was a World Champion and [the] second year I was an Olympic Champion. And still I’m not completely happy with my skating. I always feel I can do more and climb higher. My weaknesses are my jumps. The reason is that although I land them in practice, when I actually compete or perform, I should let my body go and stabilize my mind better. Also, I need to work on not letting negative thoughts and emotions get to me on the ice.
Jamie: Your ‘Arabian’ program stands out to me as one of your best – great music and moves that really fit the program. What programs are you working on now (if any) and what unique things are you adding to them?
Oksana: I liked [the] ‘Arabian’ program because I took the music and I created an image of myself. When I’m on the ice, I like being Oksana, and not imitate other skater’s music. I am currently working on a classical piece with Igor Bobren. When I skate publicly you will see it. The second number is a “dancey” number meant to entertain which portrays my character as a “wild” person. <giggling>
Mary: How did you become interested in fashion design?
Oksana: I have always been interested in fashion. Gene owns a clothing company called NorthSportif. He supported and worked with me to achieve this goal of becoming more involved.
O.M. from NY: You were the first skater I loved and your grace at the 1994 Olympics made me a true fan of the sport. I have missed your artistry and class so much. I hope you will renew your career because few skaters can match the emotion of your performances. I would also like to know, who are your favorite skaters of today and which ladies do you think have the most artistic potential?
Oksana: Thank you! Definitely Sasha Cohen!
Roselyn: Do you feel that it was unfair to use ONLY side-by-side comparison when comparing the Russian and Canadian pairs? I feel other elements were left out when comparing the 2 pairs. What about artistry? Different speed displayed by the Russians? Technical difficulty? Why were those elements left out? Do you think the IOC and ISU were too hasty in awarding the second gold?
Oksana: The two pair teams were totally different, but that night Anton made a mistake landing from a double axle and it’s a competition, not an exhibition. I thought the Canadians skated with more desire to win the Olympic medal. In my opinion, the Canadians won the gold. I feel that the decision to award a second medal under the circumstances was a right one.
Laura: Who is your current coach now?
Oksana: For the past four years, my coach has been Valentin Nikolayev, but I use different choreographers all the time.
Marina: When you watched the Olympics in SLC, who was your favorite skater in the men’s division?
Oksana: I liked the most Timothy Goebel and also I was pleasantly surprised for him.
Anonymous: Could you share with us one or two of your personal memories of the late, great Sergei Grinkov?
Oksana: Sergei Grinkov was a true friend and I miss him deeply. I recall being on a COI tour in 1994 with Sergei and Katia. Sometimes after long trips from city to city, we would go swimming in the hotel pool to relax. Sergei was a good swimmer and was constantly making a fool of himself in the pool and making people laugh. TV made him look “quiet” and “handsome” but the truth is, he was a complete goofball! He had such a sense of humor and was always doing something silly. <laughed as she reminisced but got a little choked up>
Donny H.: Winning the Olympics was obviously a great moment for you. After that, you had many ups and downs. What is the main thing that helped you get back to yourself?
Oksana: I had Frank Lodato [friend and psychiatrist] which became a “grandfather” figure to me. He helped me to slowly learn about myself and learn how to make better decisions in order to turn my life around.
Joann: What is your favorite program you’ve ever skated to and why?
Oksana: In 1993, I did a long program at World Championships. It was the best performance I’ve ever had, but I was nervous as hell!
Paula: Thank you so much, Oksana, for taking the time to answer questions from your fans! Is there anything you’d like to add?
Oksana: First, I have to thank God for giving me the gift that he did as well as a second chance for a better life. I also must thank Gene for his support, compassion, and understanding. I don’t care what the critics say or think because I care for and love my fans. Without them, I would not have been able to accomplish my achievements alone or continue to skate. — Oksana Baiul