Nearly every morning when Latvia’s Deniss Vasiljevs wakes up at home in Champéry, Switzerland, he has a clear view on the Dents du Midi, the tall, sharp and stony mountains, that gave the valley in the Swiss Alps it’s name — Region Dents du Midi.
“This view, this mountain reminds me every day of my goal: to reach the top! My personal top. It’s right in front of you, but you understand that the path there is full of dangers and obstacles,” Vasiljevs explained. “It’s a journey that requires a lot of preparation and planning, and you also cannot go alone!”
Vasiljevs is sure about one thing—his “peak” in his figure skating career has not yet been reached. He did pretty well last season, placing fourth at both Grand Prix events in Torino and Grenoble before winning the bronze at the at the 2022 European Championships in Tallinn, Estonia. He also improved on his Olympic standings by six places in his second appearance at the Games in Beijing.
“I built up confidence last season, but not necessarily because of the good results,” pointed out Vasiljevs, who just turned 23 today. “The fact that I got bronze at the Europeans or good results at the Grand Prix is great, but it didn’t really touch my heart. I value the overall experience much more. Those precious moments when I get through my fears and overcome the pressure. I would trade medals for that feeling. I had many moments like that last season and I am happy and proud of that.”
The 2022-23 season will be his seventh at the senior level and the skater says he already feels “like a dinosaur” in the sport. His road to his personal mountain peak should lead him to his third Olympic Games in Milan 2026, aiming for constant self improvement and excellence on the way.
“The word ‘excellence’ expresses best what I am aiming for,” said Vasiljevs. “I really wish to push past the 275-point mark. That’s a roughly calculated number from making 95 points in the Short and 180 in the Free. I almost reached that number at Europeans, but it means I need to show near-perfect performances. I can increase it by either adding more quads or perfecting what I have with more difficulty. It’s for me the bronze medal line. The top would be past the 300 mark, but I don’t know yet if I am able to accomplish that.”
His physique doesn’t help him when it comes to executing the most difficult quads. The athlete is 1.76m (5’8″) tall and has rather wide shoulders in comparison to other skaters.
“Frankly speaking, I am a monster truck in figure skating!” the skater laughed, “but I am perfecting myself so I can do it better. It’s my personal journey. I of course want to succeed and to showcase, but mostly I want to feel that I am doing better than before, that I am pushing myself. My overall philosophy and desire for skating is that I bring up a performance as an entertainer. I wish to be technically competitive and I want to show it can be more excellently executed with transitions, a whole picture, and never sacrificing the performance and entertainment!”
Vasiljevs and his team have created two new unique programs to entertain the audience during the upcoming season. The short program was choreographed by Salome Brunner and is set to Sting’s “Englishman in New York” (performed by Sting and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra).
“I never before put that much of myself into a program!” shared Vasiljevs. “I contributed a lot to the choreography, so I am excited how it will turn out and how it will be received!”
The new free skate was choreographed by his coach Stéphane Lambiel and the music is one of Vasiljevs’ personal favorite pieces of classical music: Antonín Dvořák’s “Symphony No. 9” in E minor, “From the New World” popularly known as the New World Symphony.
“I’ve been crying about this piece of music for the past three years!” Vasiljevs admitted. “I just love it! It’s so powerful and I really wanted to skate to it so badly!”
It had been a challenge to adjust the 40-minute piece into four minutes, but Vasiljevs feels that Lambiel has managed to create something “revolutionary, because there is literally no space to breath.”
“It’s like pull up your brakes and thrust into the unknown,” said the skater. “Literally! It’s one of the most challenging figure skating programs I will ever skate. It builds up and up and up, but I love challenging myself. I think it will be a beautiful piece in the end!”
Vasiljevs is currently scheduled to compete at the Grand Prix events in Canada and in Great Britain. Before that, he hopes to compete at a Challenger Event that has not been decided yet.
Vasiljev’s journey into the world of figure skating began nearly 20 years ago in the city of Daugavpils in south-aastern Latvia. The then three-year-old had often been sick, so his parents wanted him to take up a sport in the hopes to improve his immune system. They were told the child was too small for swimming, so they moved on to the next sporting venue—the local ice rink. Coming from a small country with a small skating federation and very limited financial support, Vasiljevs had to rely on himself from a very young age.
“This was good for me!” he said. “It makes me hungry when I need it! Sometimes I feel like others are rushing by on the highway. I am the one on my own two feet walking through the jungle, fighting against the obstacles along the way! And I really appreciate it. It made me the person I am!”
His path through the jungle led him through training in France, Russia, Canada, and then all the way to Switzerland. He left his home very early on at the age of nine, exploring different training systems, people and countries along the way. This journey gave Vasiljevs the tools he needed when it came to personalizing his own training system.
“I had good and terrible experiences with the Russian system of preparation,” he recalled. “On the other hand, I have seen a system of total freedom and anarchy in France. I have of course a lot of experience now with the system here in Champéry. I am actually quite grateful and fortunate that I experienced all these systems and it lets me choose. I can unite the best sides of everything that I have seen.”
Vasiljevs commits himself completely to his sport and his career, striving for excellence, but he is also an impressive, very mature, well-educated, and very well-spoken young man off the ice. This spring, he finished his Bachelor’s degree as “Teacher of sports and social science.” He dedicates himself to daily reading of highly-advanced “food for the mind” philosophical books, as well as journaling and meditation. He is also working on a fantasy novel.
Two very influential people in Vasiljevs’ early life, and who were responsible for his development, were his grandparents.
“They helped me a lot,” he shared. “My grandma helped me from school to training, helped me with homework, taught me the discipline. My grandfather demanded logic and rationality from me. He taught me to use my head to understand things and to have a purpose. The rest has been taught to me by books. They were, and are, shaping my mind and consciousness. My parents were very courageous to let me go and I am really grateful for that. In doing so, I was able to learn much more from the world. There is a saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ and in my case, it was really like that. I got so much help from the outside, so many experiences, and so many influences that shaped me into the person I am today!”
However, being disciplined, mature, and organized has not always been easy for Vasiljevs, but it’s the path he consciously chose and follows. The skater feels his lifestyle at his age is not always on the same page as that of some of his peers. For instance, partying or going for drinks, etc.
“I have to stay disciplined for the sake of my sport, because I have to go and work the next day,” Vasiljevs explained. “Sometimes it’s difficult because you want to go out and explore and experience, and you understand that you cannot do that because you are really committed to something. But if you move past that and understand the purpose, you learn from it, because I know that whenever I set my eyes on something, I will move a mountain. Today, my mountain is my figure skating career. After I am done with that, my mountain will become something else, maybe a relationship, and I will hopefully be able to do amazing things in whatever I choose. I have the constant desire to learn and improve. It’s a mindset that is very self-demanding. You demand excellence from yourself. Most of the people I communicate with are older than me and it’s mainly because I seek mentors in them. I want to learn from them. I want to gather information and grab them for myself.”
In general, Vasiljevs wants to surround himself with people that have a positive attitude: “People that can just enjoy the sunshine and avoid toxicity.”
“Getting along with people is not a matter of culture, race or anything like that,” he explained. “It’s a matter of attitude. I am not smothering myself in this diplomatic mask pretending I am something that I am not. I accept myself the way I am. And if I am not, I hope someone will tell me, ‘you’re off, my friend.’ Probably one of the reasons why I am trying to be so aware of what I do, is that I carry a certain fear that I myself will be betraying myself of being truthful, of being pragmatic, and being realistic about my own situation. After all, I am the person that knows myself the best, about my life, and about how I feel.”
Seeking excellence in every aspect in life surely doesn’t make life easier for Vasiljevs, but he cannot accept anything less for himself. He feels that “perfectionism is usually what motivates you to grow.”
“But lately, I learned that because I want to do things perfectly, I don’t start action,” he admitted. “I wish I had action and that I have something I can improve on. Working on my book taught me that. You can’t make it perfect from the first shot. You write, you write and you adjust. This applies also in other aspects of life, like figure skating. You work and you adjust your work to improve!
“What I really hate, though, is work procrastination and wasting time,” he continued. “For example, when I read a book, I start analyzing before: How many pages does it have, how many chapters? How much do I need to read each day to get it all done? And then I stick to the plan. I just learned by adapting those habits I manage to get much more done. I also firmly believe in punctuality. I want to do great, I want to push myself to the limit, and the limit must be wise and smart. I need to know I have done everything in my power to get there. I know I won’t be able to make it perfect, but I will try my best!”
With his discipline and his total commitment, Vasiljevs is going to use all that he has learned to work hard over the next four years leading up to the 2026 Games.
“It’s through organization, commitment, discipline, and constantly standing up after every single mistake, learning from your mistakes!” he summed up. “And that’s my journey. My very own and personal one, that I walk in my own pace!”
And one day, after he has reached his peak in his skating career, Vasiljevs will shape his body physically and mentally, prepare the right food, and with the right company, will climb the Dents du Midi.
“One day,” he said, smiling, as he gazed at the high mountain that was in front of us, “I will be up there!”