Bulgarian Skater Brings Figure Skating to India

Articles, Articles by Barry Mittan

Hristina Vassileva

Bulgarian ladies competitor Hristina Vassileva had an experience that few skaters have had – the opportunity to introduce figure skating to thousands of people in a country, India, where the sport is almost totally unknown. “In 2004, there was an invitation for a few skaters to make a show on ice in India,” Vassileva related. “I heard about that in February but I thought it’s not for me. I said jokingly to my coach, ‘That would be fun. Just imagine.’ Two months later he asked me ‘Do you want to go for the summer to India?’ We don’t have any ice anyway in Bulgaria in the summer for three months so we decided to go. We skate. We have ice. They pay us. Great!”

“It was so much fun,” she continued. “We were in Old Delhi. The ice rink was in a park with amusements, roller coasters and a water park. The rink was a little bit smaller than real sizes. There were seats for 500 people and during all the shows it was almost full. We did two to four shows every day. There were four of us skaters and then some circus artists from Uzbekistan did a show after we finished skating on a carpet over the ice. We spent all day at the ice rink, thank God, because outside the ice rink it was so, so hot. Do you know that where we were, most of the people don’t know what is snow, what it feels like touching it, what it looks like?”

“Our apartments were not so nice,” Vassileva noted. “The first thing I wanted to do when I came was to take a shower. Unfortunately, after I saw that huge flying cockroach in the bathroom, I went back and sat on the bed. There was another young couple from Hungary skating with us and the girl used to call me her sister. At about seven in the morning, she awakened me scared and said, ‘Hristina, we have a small crocodile on the wall.’ I’ll never forget that. It was so funny. It was a lizard. Later we understood that it’s something regular. The worst of all the bugs were the ants. I had no idea how bad they bite. My friend was screaming even when she was sleeping. But we got used to all the uncomfortable stuff.” Vassileva skated in India for three months, returning in August.

Vassileva comes from a family of sportsmen and trailblazers. “My grandfather, Dimitar Drajev, is the most famous,” she explained. “When my school gave us homework to write a few sheets about a famous sportsman, I decided to write about him. He had the most interesting autobiography I have ever heard and I wrote more than 200 pages about him. Over 60 years ago, he was a partisan in the war. He was shot, then put in jail and barely escaped from death. Before the war, he competed in all kinds of skiing including cross-country skiing and won many top places. He also competed for Bulgaria in the Olympics, including in Salt Lake City in 1932. Even now, his picture is displayed on the wall with other famous sportsmen at the Moscow Sports Academy where he studied. After he stopped competing, he became the dean of the Bulgarian Sports Academy.”

“My father played volleyball and my mother was a swimmer and a skier,” Vassileva continued. “My older brother skated first, then at 14 he quit for two years, and then he did ice dance, then hockey, and then ballroom dance. At the age of two, my grandmother took me to the ice rink where my brother was skating. I started walking for the first time on the ice. I started skating with Ludmila Mladenova’s group. At the time, we were a big group with skaters like Ivan Dinev, Hristo Turkalev, Sofia Penkova, Anna Dimova, and even Viktoria Dimitrova. She was a very powerful skater and I admired her.”

“My first competition was at the age of six,” she remembered. “I never had problems with competing. I always did what I could. My mother always told me to skate for the people. You just go out there and show what you can and if the crowd is bigger, that’s better. When I was 12, I did my first double axel, then the next year my first triple salchow. I guess 13 was the luckiest single year for the salchow. I never fixed it after that. At 17, I did triple flip and triple lutz. That was my best year when I went to my first international competition.”

“After that my coach decided to quit and we didn’t have enough ice or off ice training or choreography or other help,” she said regretfully. “I went for six months to the United States to the rink where Ivan Dinev was training with Rafal Arturian in Lake Arrowhead. It was a totally new place, new people, new culture but we got used to it. The people there were very nice and friendly to us. But we couldn’t pay for our coaching as much as other skaters and I had bad results at Worlds.”

“So I returned to Bulgaria and started to train with Naiden Borichev, who is only four years older than me,” Vassileva continued. “He still competes and we skate together. You can’t imagine how much fun it is at Bulgarians when we are on the ice for the same warm-up for the competition. There are only two boys and two girls now so we warm up together at the same time.”

The three-time Bulgarian national champion had her best season in 2001 when she finished 19th at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships, 16th at the European Championships, and 26th at the World Championships. Last season, she finished 11th at both the Otto Nepela Memorial in Bratislava and the Golden Spin of Zagreb and 14th at the Karl Schaefer Memorial in Vienna.

Vassileva skates for about two and a half hours a day, five days a week. Because there are only two ice rinks in Bulgaria, she skates mainly on public sessions where up to 15 other skaters, most of them at lower levels, are also skating. She choreographs her own programs, with help from Borichev and occasionally from Anastasia Sharenkova. “I have to like the music, ” she said. “I don’t like ballets. They’re too boring. My long program is from a famous Indian movie that I saw when I was skating there. My short program is to music from Catwoman. I found it on the Internet and my coach cut it for me. I like it because it’s powerful. It’s about getting into a new self, with more freedom. Maybe next year, I will do my next free skate to salsa music.”

The 21-year-old is studying at university to become a figure skating coach. She has completed two and a half years of studies with a little over a year to go. She helps teach younger skaters now. In addition to coaching, Vassileva is also interested in sports psychology. One of her favorite courses in the university is one in military training, which includes shooting, scuba diving, and survival training. “I like powerful things,” she said. “I like to watch action movies with girl stars and I’d like to be in the movies some day.” She enjoys bungee jumping and skiing and has been a cheerleader for Bulgarian basketball and soccer teams. This winter, she plans to buy a snowboard after trying the sport last year.

She also enjoys listening to music, especially chalda and Greek music. She likes traveling and enjoys driving her VW Golf, although she crashed her first car the second week after her brother had bought it for her. Her quiet time is reserved for her cat and her boyfriend, whom she met on the Internet in a chat room after he had seen her skating on television.

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