From Youth Olympic Games to PyeongChang 2018: Deniss Vasiljevs – Latvian figure skater
A silver and bronze medallist at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Lillehammer 2016, Deniss Vasiljevs is now looking forward to competing at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. Here, the Latvian teenager looks back at his experience in Norway last year.
What is your favourite memory from the Winter YOG Lillehammer 2016?
It was a really special experience for me. My favourite memory was the moment I received my silver medal on the podium. I also have great memories of the people I met there and I left Lillehammer with new friends from all over the world. I got on really well with [my Mixed NOC team-mates] the Canadian ice dancers Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha.
You won two medals in Lillehammer. What were your hopes before the start of the YOG?
My expectations were to skate as clean as possible and bring joy to the public. I wanted to do my job perfectly.
How has your life changed since the YOG?
My life has changed completely. Most importantly, I met my new coach, Stéphane Lambiel, there. I also now train and live in Champéry in Switzerland. I left the YOG full of new motivations and energy for the new season.
How have your experiences in Lillehammer helped you in your career since the Games?
The competition helped me realise that focusing and staying in the zone is very important and it’s something I try to repeat every time I skate. In the short programme, I missed my first jump, a triple axel, but I was able to stay focused enough and completed the rest of my programme cleanly.
What have been the highlights of your career since the YOG?
Since Lillehammer, I have participated in two International Skating Union Grand Prix events; finished seventh at the European Championships in the Czech Republic in January; and, after finishing 14th in the 2017 World Championships in Helsinki, I qualified for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. I am very happy with my results and excited for the upcoming season.
Who have been your biggest inspirations?
My first inspiration was Stéphane Lambiel, who won two World Championship titles, and Daisuke Takahashi, who won bronze at the Olympic Winter Games Vancouver 2010. I watched them on television when I was very young. I loved watching the way they skated and it was then that I realised skating is a form of art and that it was what I wanted to do.
Your schedule involves travelling all over the world to skate. What is the one item you can’t travel without?
My smile and my skates.
Can you give us an insight into your diet as an elite athlete?
Nutrition is of course very important for athletes. I eat three main meals and avoid snacks during the day. Generally, I like to eat a couple of hours before practice so that I have digested properly by the time I’m on the ice and I have enough energy for training. I am very careful with carbohydrates and chocolate and I am careful to feed my body with all the nutrients it needs. The one thing that is really necessary for me is a good Japanese tea.
If you had any advice for young athletes preparing for the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020, what would it be?
Enjoy yourself. Work hard but don’t forget to enjoy the moment and make the most out of the whole experience. Go to all the activities you can and meet as many people as possible.
What is the toughest part of your sport?
I think the hardest part is to keep a healthy balance. I’m 17, so I still have to go to school and sometimes it’s hard to keep everything on track. Another difficult aspect of this sport is the mental element. I always push myself hard but sometimes your brain limits you, it makes you feel tired and that you cannot go on. You know that you can but you have to focus and every single day overcome these challenges.
How do you relax when you are not competing or training?
Drawing, playing video games, cooking and enjoying life.
As a young athlete, how do you balance education and sport?
It’s very hard to do both because sport takes lots of my energy, but I am doing the best I can to educate myself. For example right now, the season is over and I am studying much more and will sit end-of-year exams in May.
What are your targets for the future?
My target this season was to qualify for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games and I’m very happy to have achieved this at the recent World Championships. Now I will focus on learning new jumps and making them perfect. I always want to bring as much joy as possible to my fans as well as perform an interesting programme for the judges to watch. The season has just finished, so now it’s time to concentrate on working hard on quadruple jumps for next season as well as studying for my upcoming school exams. I am also searching for the perfect music for the next season.
What are your hopes ahead of the Winter Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018?I would like to successfully perform two quads at the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang and have the audience enjoy my performance so much that there will be a standing ovation at the end of my programme.