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Biofile: Oksana Baiul Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: 1994 Olympic gold medalist in figure skating.

DOB: November 16, 1977 In: Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine

Favorite Movies: “I like as a director Tim Burton. And as character working a lot with Tim Burton, is Johnny Depp. I like all kind of movies and I really love to go to the movies here, by myself, not with anybody [laughs]. And watch whatever comes out. It’s funny, I missed Avatar. I just bought the new Blue Ray DVD player, watch it home. But I heard it was amazing. I like theatrical movies, or movies about love. Of course funny movies. My favorite was Hangover [laughs]. I couldn’t stop laughing it was so funny. I think I went there in a bad mood, I came out, I couldn’t stop laughing. I loved it so much.”

Favorite TV Shows: “I don’t watch TV much. I just put it on for something I want to see like Dancing With The Stars and the only reason I’m watching it is because of Evan Lycacek. A few things. If I have a choice – watch TV or be on my balcony – because I do have a view of Manhattan – I like to do that or whatever. Think. Relax.”

Musical Tastes: “I like classical music a lot – Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, anything. And I have a lot of music friends from like orchestras, like a lot of special Russians, they play pianos, violin or anything like that. Pop culture – when you drive your car around, you listen to the radio, whoever’s sings pop, you have a great time to it. Of course, I love Michael Jackson, he was the greatest of all time. Of course, Madonna. She’s innovative, always trying to bring something new into the picture. Then people are trying to copycat her. But she stays original. I think she’s really good at it. It’s not easy to do – to come up with a new style all the time, musical style.”

Last Book Read: “The horoscope book [laughs]. I open up – when I meet somebody new I ask them what is their birthday – so I come home and open up a horoscope book. And then I call them back and tell them and it’s pretty accurate.”

First Job: “Skating. I started making money when I was growing up in Ukraine/Russia, being an athlete. The system supports you, the government gives money to your club you start skating or belong to. They take you to training camps, they pay you money to eat. I think my first check came when I was seven or eight years old. I was helping a lot my family. I remember myself being a kid and already I was making money and I was able to help my family. In Russia it was well-do-do and poor family – and I came from poor family. For me, that was not a drive, why I was skating. Because I really was being a rebel all the time, my entire life. The first test I had to take when they take you into the club at 3 1/2 years old with the coach. She said, Run. I run. She said, Faster. I’m like, I don’t want to. She’s like, Climb this ladder. I said, No. She said, Come on. I said, I’m afraid of heights. So I was like being rebellious my whole entire life. I mean, it gets better but it’s just who I am. It’s in my nature.”

First Car: “Oh my gosh. That was hilarious. When I come to America right after Olympic Games, that was a fairy tale story. That was of me pretty much not having a lot, I had overnight – everything that I think anybody could dream of. And I went and got the most expensive car – Mercedes SL 500 (black).”

Current Car: “Mercedes, same thing, black.”

Favorite Meal: “I like protein. I like meat. I like salmon. I like chicken. I like salads.”

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “Snicker bar.”

First Skating Memory: “It’s interesting because, I liked all the time being free in my field. And every Christmas – I have like couple child pictures that I can look at – I would change my look for every Christmas. One Christmas I would be like Russian cartoon character. Next year I would change myself and be like an Indian character. Then like third year, I remember I was like Barbie doll. So it’s like by nature, I have that in me. But I’m a big believer, if you do have a talent inside you, you can really see that. It’s interesting. I’m looking at my past – nine years old, already doing what I’m doing. So pretty much I’ve been doing characters, different routines through my whole entire life. Some people like stability – I don’t think I like that. I like to be all over the place.”

Pre-Competition Feeling: “Every time, every time I have to train myself to say that, like everybody else, You can do it. You have to do it. And listen to the coach very carefully. Follow up his instructions. And go on the ice and perform and be happy. Be happy with what you have. But honestly, like with all my performances, even if they’re like 150% – I always want more.”

Greatest Sports Moment: “Olympic Games. 1993 World Championships (in Prague). 1993 European Championships (Helsinki). Because I did so well there. I did, out of 150%, I did 170%. I did everything, from A to Z. I was very well prepared mentally and physically. That was my greatest performance of my whole entire career. And then when you tour. I like touring. I like going around and doing shows.”

Most Painful Moment: “Oooh, you know what? I think the day before the Olympic Games, when I didn’t know if I would perform or not. Because I collided with a German skater (Tanja Szewczenko before free skate), actually she pushed me hard and I fell on the ice, cracked my vertebrae. And then when she pushed me away, she kicked me right here (calf). The doctor had to stich my leg. Gave me three shots of novocaine to my back and I didn’t know if I would skate again or not. At that Olympic Games. And I was already second at the Olympic Games. That happened before my synch program performance. I was in shock but I remember I tried to go on the ice. I tried to do like Lutzes – it’s a jump where you have to kind of put your leg behind you and push yourself up, and in the right side is like where you push yourself up. It just hurt a lot. So that why, if you watch my performance, my triple flip was a double flip. And the reason is because my lower back on right hand side – when you push yourself from the top of skate – hurts. To this day. Like, when I’m off the ice and then I go back on the ice, certain parts of my body just has problems. That I just have to make stronger and work through them. And after a couple of weeks they don’t hurt. This is just how it works with me.”

Funny Career Memory: “Oh my gosh. I think I am just very honest person and sometimes people who don’t know me and if I say something really funny – like I have no filter – like my brain says what I think and feel. And some people in the industry, if they don’t know me well enough [pauses]…then they think it’s like I’m rude or whatever. I don’t give a ***k. I say what I want. I say what I see and what can I do [laughs]? It’s me, it’s who I am. (What’s a funny example?) I don’t know, I would say something stupid, like, I would crash my car into the tree. Then I would go on Oprah and then she would say, Did you drink a lot? And I would say, Yeah. She said, Why? And then I would tell her the answer real is because I was Russian [smiles]. She was like, no sugar coat. You know what I mean? I think that’s hilarious.”

Embarrassing Career Memory: “It’s not embarrassing. It’s when sometimes you can’t do what you want to do. Fall on the ice, then you have to get up, keep going. It’s not embarrassing but it’s just the nature of sports sometimes. You fell and you have to find the strength and group it up and do it again.”

Favorite Places To Compete: “My own head. My own thick skull [laughs]. That’s my most favorite place to compete. I think I am my own worst enemy. Because I put too much pressure on myself.”

Last Vacation: “[Laughs] Well, I can tell you about this year, I’m going for Israel for two weeks at the end of May. I’m going to finish up with my training camp and I’ve never been to Israel. And the reason I’m going there is I’m a workaholic, I always combine business and pleasure. I’m working with Tikva Children’s Home, it’s the charity that I’ve been involved since 2005. They have two places, one in Odessa in Ukraine and in Israel. I’ve never been to Israel. That’s why I want to go this year, to see the facilities where the kids are. It’s in Elyiot, right near Jerusalem. I’m going with 50 students. Like, I can’t go on vacation and do nothing. Like, honestly, I can’t ever picture myself doing that. That’s why, like honestly for me it’s like a torture if I have to do nothing. I have to help somebody, I have to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and call Ukraine, ask them what they need, things like that. So that’s why I always combine work and pleasure.”

Childhood Dream: “Olympic champion, of course. That was the biggest dream. And I knew it since I was 13 or 14.”

Skating Inspiration: “Performing. Performing. Going on the ice and doing, like, looking at the beautiful people. It’s very interesting. You work your whole life for those four minutes at the Olympic Games and that’s a big inspiration – when I go and look at the others.”

Hobbies/Leisure Activities: “Like let’s say about tennis, I like to hit the balls, they like land behind my back. They don’t land across the net. In ping pong. Also I like running. And the funny thing is they keep telling me you have to run on the field where it’s soft. But I still run on the street. I know it’s awful, you get tendinitis from it all over the place. But I don’t care, I run, I have a couple of circles, I would say 3 1/2 miles and the other one is seven. So I do seven mile runs on Fridays. Massage and Russian saunas.”

Another Athlete Remind You Of You: “The truth is, I am not sure if I am an athlete in my heart. Because I think I am more of a great fighter and entertainer. I don’t think I am that strong physically but emotionally and artistically, yeah, nobody can come close to me. (As a champion, I was thinking Mike Tyson, Success early, best at sport young age.) I don’t know his career well enough.”

People Qualities Most Admired: “Well, I like when people are always trying to stay true to themselves. I like when people are trying to tell you the truth. I like very organized people. Organized people, I think, is the most important thing, especially in America. If you want to be successful you have to be organized. And very self-motivated people, very self-driven people.”

Oksana Baiul gold medal performance 1994

(Note: I became friends with Oksana in the 2000s via a mutual friend from the fashion industry. We went to the US Open and finally did this interview at lunch at It’s Greek To Me restaurant in Fort Lee, NJ. We both ordered salmon. This is one of my all time favorite Biofiles because of all the details and insights from one of the greatest figure skating champion performers in history. If you need proof, just watch her Olympic performance 1994 on You Tube. Today she lives in Las Vegas with husband and daughter. – SM)

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