Iaroslav Tokmachov, FINA Aquatics World Magazine Correspondent (UKR)

She was one of the busiest artistic swimmers in Gwangju but also one of the most successful. Anastasia Savchuk stood on the podium six times at the World Championships, sharing a historic first world title for Ukraine in the highlight routine and collecting five bronze medals – two apiece in duet and team and a fifth in the free combination. Still, Anastasia rated her season as only a 7 on a scale to 10.

 

What can you say about the past season? How satisfied are you?

The season was complicated. Marta Fedina and I had the biggest number of top-level events, six from February to August. It was hard mentally and physically, and it seems that everyone who came to the World Championships in Gwangju was not in perfect shape. Most of the representatives of other countries who participated in the World Series were tired after the busy season. Overall, we are satisfied with our results. We had a goal, to clinch the third place in the team event to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics 2020, and in the key final we did well, and actually it is our favourite event. It is exciting and we are good at it. In general, I would like to rate last season 7 out of 10: it could have been better but we did what was required.

 

What was the craziest emotion during the World Championships in Gwangju? What is the most memorable moment?

The craziest thing was when we came third in the team technical final, because before that, at the World Championships in Budapest 2017, we did not get into the top three. It was the most vivid emotion. I should also mention a significant and special moment, from which there were tears of happiness and goose bumps: the moment when the whole team stood on a podium and listened to the anthem of Ukraine as we won the highlights event. I want this to happen again. 

 

What are your thoughts on the upcoming season? Do you have any unique plans or goals?

An Olympic medal, of course. This is the primary goal. I cannot say anything about the competitions but the pressure of the Olympic Games will accompany us all the season, that is certain, although the Olympic Games are always easier physically for us than, for example, the World Championships. In the new season, I would not like to participate in all events at all meets since there are quite a lot of them, and at the very end the pinnacle of the season and the four-year period is the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

 

What medal are you looking for?

We always work for gold, but any of the medals will be acceptable to the team. We are always fighting for the third place at the major events, so if there is a bronze medal I will be glad.

 

Tell us more about your programme. In the duet free performance, you girls have the highest degree of difficulty. What about the other events?

Indeed, our routine has the highest DD in the world, and we know that. We also change the team programmes, both the technical and the free, with a higher DD. At the beginning of the season we tried that choreography and after the Ukrainian Championships we will try it again, but if it is not executed well, we will change it. We do not present a single routine for a long time, as is done, for example, by the Russian and Spanish teams. Perhaps this is why we are growing faster than others. A day before the start we may well change some element or even a chain of elements. We believe that such changes are for good luck.

  

How do you prepare for the Olympics? Is there any special regime for the Olympic season?

So far, we have just begun; I cannot say how it will unfold. From the experience of the past Olympic cycle I can say that you need to listen more to the coaches and follow their advice. Well, and to have fewer team and personal differences, then everything will be fine. There is always a chance of a nuance of misunderstanding, as the team has a lot of young girls and only two ‘veterans’ aged 23. Everyone needs help, a guidance, but not everyone listens to it in every moment, so all this takes time. However, this is how it works. It usually comes together through experience and the team chemistry promises to get close to the maximum for the main events of the season.

 

What can you say about the rivalry with Russians and the Chinese? What do you think Team Ukraine needs to do so that your team will be able to compete with them on an equal level?

Interesting question. Probably we need to work more, and the more we work, the better we will understand each other – and this will improve all of us. The Russians train longer, it’s true. They have a ‘five-minute’ (break) between practice runs to relax, sit, or whatever... We do not have that: we watch a video, we analyse all the drawbacks and we do the run again. It is difficult to say, but I think that we still need to listen more to the coaches, this is a crucial factor to success.

 

What are your thoughts on competing with the Japanese national artistic team at the Tokyo Olympics 2020?

It will be challenging. Japan is stronger in team events than in the duet. Yukiko Inui, who had to compete against Anna Voloshina, is still in the Japanese team, although her duet partners have changed four times already. If there is rivalry for a medal with the Japanese it will be incredible.

 

Who introduced you to sports, and at what age did you start to practise? How did you get into artistic swimming? When did you realise that this was your kind of sport?

My parents were looking for an activity, mainly dancing, and one day passing by the pool we saw an advertisement on artistic swimming groups for kids. At seven years of age I had begun to train – it happened suddenly but there was no sort of feeling that ‘this sport is mine’. At some point I was chosen as a solo performer in the youth team, and then it continued. Also, in pre-school age, I was engaged in ballroom dancing, but I did not like it. Then we just went for a swim and eventually I started artistic swimming. Back in the day my parents and I did not know anything about artistic swimming.

 

How many hours per day do you practise? Is there any time left for social life or privacy?

We train from 7am to 3pm every day, but before the main events we practise an additional hour and a half more each day. We have shortened workouts on Wednesday and Saturday, and Sunday is a day off. Juniors have a slightly different schedule, as they go to school. Of course, I have a personal life, I’m married. I met my husband in the park in my hometown, the city of Kharkiv. Training does not interfere with my personal life that much. He is also an athlete and thoroughly understands the specifics of sports and the nuances of sports life.

 

How difficult is it to be in the national artistic swimming team? What challenges did you experience?

Life in artistic swimming continually presents me with various kinds of surprises. In the youth team I was a solo performer and I fought for a place. When I got into the national team after the retirement of Anna Voloshina, there was competition for the solo programme performer and that time Yelizaveta Yakhno was chosen. After that we had to compete for an Olympic duet spot and there was also an internal test for the opportunity to represent Team Ukraine in the Olympic women’s duet. After that, before the Olympic Games in Rio 2016, I was out of the team for half a year due to weight issues, as a result of which I indeed lost weight and returned. In the Olympic year the team rules are unusually strict, and even minor changes can entail different types of ‘punishments’. In general, life as an athlete gives me constant tests throughout my career.

 

What is it like to work as part of a women’s team? What do you like and what is a challenge?

We have never worked in male or mixed groups to understand how that goes. Yes, we have one male coach, a doctor, and also one masseur. I think that in the women’s team it is necessary to continually adapt to each other if something is wrong since each of us has her mood, the nuances of her personal life. But everyone understands this, and we try to smooth out any situation as much as possible. We had a male athlete, Anton Timofeev, who performed in a mixed duo. After a long pause he ended his career after an event in London and did not return, so now no man is training with us. Previously it was a rarity to find men in artistic swimming, but now coaches look to select children from the very beginning since this type of programme has begun to develop actively.

 

What are your hobbies? What do you like to do outside sport?

I’m studying to be a psychologist and also a master in physical education. When I started to work in a women’s team I realised that it was so interesting to understand the psychology of different people, how a person reacts, but there is not enough time to really go into the details of that. Also, I try to read on the plane when we fly somewhere with the team. And of course I’m trying not to forget about my parents. In addition to all this, I like to cook; I have pets – a dog and two cats. I love animals.

 

Where do you see yourself after your career ends?

Most likely, a coach, but I do not see myself here in Ukraine. I will see later and more clearly, closer to the retirement of my career: maybe even after the Olympics in Tokyo 2020, or I’ll take a break for at least half a year and think about my future. In general, it is too early to think about it yet. I am saving all thoughts and all energy for the upcoming season.

 

*This article can be found in the FINA Magazine. To access the online version of the magazine (2019/6) click here.