Maria Shurochkina: ‘If I can become an Olympic champion, I can achieve something else’

2016 Olympic champion and eight-time world champion Maria Shurochkina has been representing the Russian Federation on the senior international scene since 2013. She has not missed a beat ever since, and is often found doing all the acrobatics during the innovative and unique throws in the team routines.

If you follow her on Instagram, you may have grown to love her goofball personality and her hilarious videos, where she is in a way breaking the serious and stoic image the general public may have of the Russian swimmers.

Now one of the veterans of the team, Shurochkina had an interview with OK! Magazine in late October where she discussed her bubbly, self-confident yet ambitious personality, what she likes to do outside of the pool, and what her role on the national team is.

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Maria Shurochkina flies off a throw during the free team preliminary round at the 2018 European Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Pasquale Mesiano/Deepbluemedia/InsideFoto.

Maria ‘Masha’ Shurochkina doesn’t look like a ‘normal’ athlete. She collects hats, wears heels, and according to her Instagram could make a career as a stand-up comedian in the future. On the photos for the magazine OK!, the athlete looked like nothing the fans are used to, but it should be noted that it fit her perfectly. 

It is hard to believe, but Maria Shurochkina, a slim and graceful woman, doesn’t count calories and can eat a 300g piece of chocolate cake in one sitting. In all fairness, we met with Masha in a pastry shop in the center of Moscow, where she rushed to in her white BMW X6 – a gift from the state to the Russian winners of the Olympic Games – despite traffic jams and a downpour.

Maria: It’s horrible what is happening! After the interview, I was going to sit in the park at Patriarshiye Ponds and read. Look, I even brought the book – Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.” I started reading it for the third time. Before that, something was distracting me all the time, but now I’m just fascinated. There are two sisters of a completely different tempers – the rational Elinor and the emotional Marianne.

Q: And which one are you?

I am rather the youngest, Marianne, who is the emotional one. But at the same time, I think and analyze a lot. Sometimes it bothers me. I think a person should live by his or her feelings. Once, a friend and I were traveling by car somewhere and we were talking about the fact that there are people who rely on the mind, and there are those who are completely lost in the heat of the moment. We were discussing what would be better and how to find a perfect balance. And then a truck switched lanes in front of us, and “Live by feelings” was written in the dust on the truck! I even have a photo somewhere.

Q: Do you believe in signs?

Yes I do. Although there was a time I used to think it was all a coincidence. But for example my dad (Maria’s father – Vladimir Shurochkin – a musician, producer, former member of the band “Laskovyi May.” Note: OK!) believes that there are no coincidences. I don’t know.

Sometimes, you’re on an airplane and you can see a huge city, which was built by some strong, talented people. Everything in it, starting with the streets and squares and ending with this napkin, was made by their hands. And then I think: “Who needs my sport? Do I bring any benefit to the world?” I console myself with the fact that I inspire some people, help them set ambitious goals and achieve them.

But it has always seemed to me that a person should do something tangible so something would remain after him- or herself on Earth.

Q: Masha, you’re a romantic! If you could decide what period in time to live in, what would you choose?

England of the 17th or 18th centuries. It seems to me that modern people are running everywhere all the time and don’t have time to enjoy the present day.

Q: And you, do you have time?

I have learned to enjoy the moment. It’s easier to live this way than when you are worried about something you have to do tomorrow, or because of a fight that happened yesterday. And then, you may not notice that you are sitting in a beautiful place in beautiful company…

Q: Thank you, Masha!

…sometimes I look around and realize that if you use your imagination, you can write a story about any subject – take for example this book, or coffee in a mug.

Q: But it’s better to tell me about your hat. You look like The Amazon of Edouard Manet in it.

I love hats and buy them in different countries. This one from France is my favorite. I think everyone on Instagram has already understood this fact. I didn’t count how many hats I have. Maybe 15. I like hats of a certain style, and it usually takes me a lot of time to find them. But for example, I was recently in London, and there everyone wears a hat, especially men. Wherever you look, there are expensive hat shops everywhere. I was in paradise – there were a hat for every taste, and any ribbon could be tied around them.

Q: Well, yes, in your sport you can’t really experiment with hairstyles and headpieces…

Yes, we definitely need long hair. We make a bun, close it with a net, pin it, and cover it with gelatin. When I was young, I wanted to have a short, gamine hairstyle, because it annoyed me to comb my hair and wrap it under a swim cap constantly. Now, the desire to cut my hair has returned. I want to try the blunt bob, but maybe later when I leave the sport. I always want to try something new.

Q: Meanwhile you entertain yourself with earrings? How many do you have in your ears now: four, five?

I’m a fan of earrings (laughs). There were instances where I forgot to put them on and bought some directly on the subway. I feel naked without earrings and perfume.

Q: Are there any other taboos or problematic styles besides short haircuts that synchronized swimmers have?

Tattoos. They are not exactly forbidden… For example, our Olympic champion Anastasia Davydova has tattoos. She has butterflies all over her body, but she constantly hid them. Because at the competition, our score could be deducted for this.

As for swimsuits, there is no official dress code. I have a lot of them, but I always wear a dark swimsuit and a white cap for training. And the other girls do the same. If you put on something bright or just a different color, you will likely receive comments during the whole workout by coaches, as if only you are making mistakes. This has already been verified.

Q: And what about the facial expression? One gymnast, also an Olympic champion, told me that her coach made her work for hours on a signature smile in front of the mirror.

A smile is not too hard. It is more difficult to convey pain, suffering or anger. Our program at the Olympics was called ‘Entreaty.’ It was created when our coach had a very difficult period in her life. There were almost no smiles in it, except in a very small part, and everything else was a range of complex and strong feelings. But for me personally when I smile, it becomes easier. Therefore, I love the “smiley” part.

Q: I understood this from your Instagram! Do you like to laugh and fool about a lot?

You know, I perfectly understand the seriousness of the circumstances, but yes, I do. In the national team, I am considered a person who can defuse tension. During practice, we work a lot, but we manage to find time to laugh, play and … stretch swim caps on our face. Of course when the coach isn’t watching!

When I got into the national team for the first time, there were girls who I watched on TV when I was a toddler. Despite all the responsibilities, we just need to be distracted from time to time. Even such famous athletes like Natalia Ischenko and Sveta Romashina joined in, and sometimes they were the instigators of fun!

And by the way, after the Olympic Games in Rio, they admitted that it was one of the best Olympic teams. That we, me and Vlada Chigireva, introduced into the training process some sort of comic relief and made the mood lighter. But at the same time we are real hard workers; in sport, this is a rare combination.

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Ты не птица! Никому не говори🦋🚫Ты не можешь летать… ЭЭЭЭЭ, бро, чё за негатив…? ©️ С моей крошкой @chigirevavlada пошалили немножко🤪👩‍❤️‍💋‍👩🍑 спасибо @kravzzz за #тангообниманго 😛, хоть как-то свои аква будни разбавили 🎧😏 #кравц #олимпийскаячемпионка#спорт#девушки#танцы#конкурс#хаха#синхронноеплавание#вода#движ#пара#настроение#марияшурочкина#лайки#тело#москва#попа#спортсменка#смешноевидео

A post shared by Maria Shurochkina (@mashuniashura) on

Q: Are you amongst the oldest and most experienced in the national team now?

Yes. And when new girls joined us, they told me: “We heard and thought that you were so arrogant, privileged, and that you would set an example for us on of how to behave. And when we saw that you were funny and easy-going, even a little bit crazy, we were surprised!”

Q: In our country, athletes are practically national heroes. Nobody hinted at you that such an original and a bit scandalous Instagram account does not match with the title of Olympic champion?

Officially, no. But my mom sometimes reminds me that it is necessary to have some limits. I have a status after all, and children look up to me. I need to keep that in my head.

Q: Do you care about her opinion?

Yes, a lot. Not only my mother’s. In fact, the opinion of any person is important to me. I try to stop it actually because it is wrong to ask all the time what to do, to consult on what to wear…I actually have my own opinion; I just don’t really trust it.

Q: Why? Because of the fact that you live at the training center and you don’t go into the world every day?

I think it is not related to sports. It’s just such a common fad – the fear of not being liked. Everybody wants to be liked. Nobody wants to make mistakes or to appear stupid and ridiculous in someone else’s eyes. Everyone wants to be perfect. Therefore, I constantly consult with my mom, dad, and friends. This time, I even asked the waitress whether I should take this cake or that one! But in the pool, I’m confident.

For me, another thing is difficult: everydayness. We perform only two routines a year. And at the beginning when you choose the music, it gives you goosebumps because it is so beautiful. Then at the end, you can no longer hear it. But during the competitions, when you march out, everything feels like the first time. So I love the competition. I am ready to endure all this routine, pain, heaviness just for that last part. And the Olympics is sort of a drug.

Q: If water is a job, what is resting for you ? Do you go to the beach on vacation?

Of course! I love the sea, the ocean. During my childhood, I had a desire to show everyone what I could do, even somewhere in the middle of Turkey where nobody had heard of the sport. When I was little, I really liked to catch admiring glances in my direction.

Then I stopped with the narcissism. I just swim, and only before the start of the season I repeat the routines to get in shape. The body becomes unaccustomed in two months without training. We have the expression that it feels just ‘like in space’ – this is when you stop feeling the water. It seems you are doing everything as usual, and from the outside it looks as usual, but the sensations are completely different.

Q: Are you afraid of depths at all?

It’s more a fear of dark waters. I noticed when I’m in the sea on inflatable buoys and see a black bottom, it’s not the depth that scares me, but the fact that someone from in there, out of the water, will grab my leg. I call it ‘Fabulous fears.’ Adults have them. Adult men admitted that they couldn’t swim far from the coast, because it seemed to them that out there someone would grab them and drag them underwater. So only that, but I’m not frightened of depths.

Q: I saw a video on the internet of how the Chinese train their future gymnasts – very young children. A whole army of uncomplaining and disciplined little athletes. Is there a similar thing in synchronized swimming?

The Chinese are our main rivals, they breathe down our necks, and they are like soldiers. I saw how they train in the national team…No wrangling with the coach. They come to the side to listen to the comments, and while they are listening, they stand at attention. There is such a discipline! It seems to me that we should learn this from them. But they are completely unemotional. Their performances are not moving. Although probably, every year we are pushed forward by the fear that someone, or they, will be better.

Q: And while you are the best, do you have to compete with yourself?

I struggle with myself, with my laziness, with my pain – both physical and moral. Yes, it turns out, I am my own rival.

Q: How many Olympic medals do you have?

Right now, I have one and I am waiting for the next Olympics in Japan.

Q: Honestly, what do you want more: to get to the Olympics or to Japan?

Thank God that we can kill two birds with one stone – compete and see Japan. I have never been to Asia.

Q: And will you continue your career afterwards? Until what age is it possible to perform?

I can perform as long as I want. The main difficulty is that you don’t belong to yourself. Everyone wants a family or to try something else. Therefore, the girls leave for a year, have a child, and then return. It happens if they haven’t done everything they want in our sport.

Q: So, do you consider athletes as ‘your’ people?

We have one common feature: the desire to win. Real athletes are very strong people. I think that if to send out an athlete with his or her skills in real life, he or she will achieve a lot. And if I can become an Olympic champion, I can achieve something else – this is how I encourage myself.

I often find myself confronted with the idea that in the world, there is a lot besides sports. There is music, theater… And if I retire, I will not return. But first of all, Japan.

TRANSLATED BY VLADA SOROKINA.

Original author is Yulia Sonina. 

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