"When I was just going to Tyumen, a group of your loyal cheerleaders asked to come to you, hug you tightly on their behalf and say: "Seryozhenka, please do not leave..."

- I'm not leaving. It is clear that all athletes finish at some point, this is inevitable, but now I have nowhere to go. And if there's nowhere to go, what's the point of ending? As I prepared for this year's season, I can probably prepare for another five years.

Before the Beijing Olympics, you were mostly complaining about your health.

- No, well, there are problems, the load that is practiced in the national team, I will not take out. You're always chasing someone there. It's quite another thing when you train alone, perform intervals in your mode, focus solely on your well-being.

But you could do the same thing while staying in the national team?

- Not exactly. In the team, one person got up in the morning in excellent condition, respectively, he works at his maximum. And you don't want to, but you behave like in a competition: you snack and chase. You always work softer alone.

- But there is another side. Everyone has days when you don't want to get up, put on your uniform, go on charge, don't want to, don't want to, don't want to... Someone else's example in this case invariably encourages.

- This probably happens at a younger age when the realization of what and how you work has not yet come. I clearly understand that my work is needed first of all by myself. For example, I can go to training not at nine o'clock in the morning, but at 11. Similarly, on my own schedule, I decide when to have lunch, when to relax. You don't have to adjust to anyone.

When in the summer we started working with Egor Sorin in Malinovka, I was most annoyed by questions like "Why do you come out so late?". But what was the point of rushing? Especially when Yegor's training according to the plan takes two hours, and I have an hour? Finish early and sit for an extra hour, waiting for lunch? I didn't see the point, to be honest.

- Actually, this moment surprised me the most. It was necessary to try not to find a common language with Sorin, next to whom you spent so much time training with Marcus Kramer.

- The fact is that Egor was Marcus' assistant for a long time. To regard assistants as independent specialists who begin to manage the process from start to finish, for me, frankly, is difficult. Perhaps the problem with our relationship was precisely that we did not discuss all these points from the very beginning.

Was your subsequent training zeal dictated by the desire to prove to Sorin that he was not quite right in trying to adjust you to the general regime?

- I was not offended by Yegor, but there was a certain indignation inside. Especially in the first month of independent work. Few people understood me when I made the decision to leave and work on my own. Many tried to dissuade. I remember that Zhenya Dementyev called, and at some point in our conversation I told him: "If you do not stop persuading me to leave everything as it is within the next ten minutes, our relationship can deteriorate greatly." In the end, we talked for an hour, and for myself I realized that I had done everything right.

- Was the desire to "prove" at least to some extent related to the Olympic relay?

- Nope. As they say, it was a long time ago and not true.

After the Olympics, I was almost done with training. I gained weight, weighed 92 kg and did not plan to continue working at all, especially from the first training camp. I remember walking around Malinovka, looking around and thinking: which year is the same. And what, again, you have to harness and plow all year? Why, when you can work out the end of the season to the maximum?

- And prepare for the Championship of Russia?

- Well, yes. That's what I really set myself up for. I quickly lost weight, I really liked all the fees. Previously, we were mostly not in Russia preparing. And in this case, it's pretty hard to get an idea of what's really going on in the country in skiing.

— I would say that, coming into contact with the Russian ski reality, you can feel your own importance much more acutely.

- I agree. This year I went to children's competitions, went to the Syktyvkar ski track, and I was there at the training camp just at the time when children's competitions were held in Syktyvkar. I even thought, I remember, that it is wrong when the national team prepares in places where there are no children. It's cool to actually communicate with them, to see their reaction. With me, the kids even made some intervals, tried to get hooked. And they have something to peep, to borrow. Remember some exercises that I once did myself.

— What is the most difficult for you now: the need to motivate yourself for training work, to leave the family or to banally keep weight?

- I don't follow the weight at all now. When the main start is approaching, the kilograms themselves burn during the race. As for the rest... In fact, everything is complicated from what you listed. It's just that now it is perceived as a kind of work turnover.

After the Championship Heights, I quickly realized that if I wanted to run properly at the Russian Championships, I needed to leave home as soon as possible so that there was no gap in training. I would love to be with my family longer, but when I returned from Malinovka, I had a little cold and even did one workout without going outside – I was pulling the simulator.

Plus, in Yekaterinburg there was no good circle of classic skiing. Therefore, I decided to come to Tyumen early. Lena also wanted to go with me, but I immediately warned that in this case she and her children would have to live not in the stadium, but in the city, where I could not even get out once again. Moreover, children require quite a lot of attention: you need to play with them and chat, and this does not always fit into the mode.

- I understand you perfectly. Moreover, I know examples when the presence of children at the training camp really did not allow their parents to train at full strength.

- I, among other things, am very sensitive to everything. If the child suddenly coughed at night, I immediately jump up. It also happened that, starting with Championship Heights, I was very careful not to get sick. Even Lena asked when he called from Malinovka: "Is no one sick at home?" He arrived, and on the same day Mishka fell ill with us. The next day I rode some more, and then I realized from my well-being that I was also hooked by the virus. Fortunately, it's not critical.

- Your first performances in Tyumen suggested that at least now it is possible to go to the Olympics.

- It's just an appearance. It's just that all summer I really trained in order to perform well at the Russian Championships. Not second — third places to take, I mean. I was very happy that I won the sprint. In skiathlon, too, it could have been interesting, if not for the fall. But even in this case, nothing terrible happened. Everything was in the fight.

— Is the ski track so slippery to such an extent in Tyumen or did you just lose concentration for a while?

- Can I tell you the truth?

- Of course.

I have a slight problem with my foot that caused me not to fully fasten my shoe before the race. The ligament became slightly inflamed, there were certain difficulties with the classic move. In training a couple of days later, I skated the classics again in an unbuttoned boot and applied myself again on the descent. And in that race, I was just led and pulled. Plus a little ice. So I couldn't stay on my feet.

A good friend of mine from your own sport once said that it is very difficult to force yourself to train when everything is broken inside.

Are you talking about Pyeongchang?

- Why? At the Games in Sochi, you also got it. If not for the fall in the final of the personal sprint, everything, you will agree, could have turned out very differently.

— In Sochi, I was young, green. I would say that it is even good that everything happened there. If I had taken a medal there, it is possible that I would have finished with skis. It's just that in Sochi I was one of the youngest, but if I went to Pyeongchang, I would be one of the oldest there.

  • Sergey Ustyugov during the 50 km classic men's race at the Russian Cross-Country Ski championships in Tyumen
  • © Pavel Bednyakov

How do you get out of the feeling that your whole life collapsed overnight? Count on time to heal?

- It seems to me that first of all there should be family support. Not pity, but this kick: "What did the nanny hang? Come on, you can!" Lena is a very clear person in this regard. To all my "can't", "I don't want", "tired" reacts calmly: "Tired? Rest and drive on."

- When everything does not go as you want, do you look for support in the family?

- I prefer to go to training. Take a walk, go for a ride, listen to music. Many people note, even amateurs, that often all problems that you cannot find a solution to are solved on a run.

" Our former biathlon oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov once told me: "If emotions get out of control, I run 10 or 15 kilometers to extinguish these emotions."

- That's right. Physical activity in general helps to look at many things differently.

— Is cross-country skiing a pleasure for you now or solely an income?

- And earnings too. I said at the beginning of the season that it would only be the last if I knew where to go. Since there were no offers, I decided that I could try to extend my own sports career. I just don't really want to make any mistakes right now. Health is no longer what it was in my youth. This year, for example, there were suddenly pressure problems. I trained very well that on the track, that in the hall. And then — once, such a click on the nose. And I want not only to run at competitions, but also to live to my grandchildren.

What kind of proposals are you waiting for? And from whom?

- Actually haven't thought about it yet. Now I think a lot more about how to properly enter the next season.

- But this is definitely not a job in the national team?

- I don't think so. Still, constant traveling is too hard for me. Children grow, parents grow old, and all this somehow happens quickly. Therefore, I would like to spend more time with my family. And anyway, my plans were once to run until I was 30 years old. And I'm about to turn 31.

- After 30, the extra five years definitely do not play a role.

- Only recently I talked about this topic with Masha Gushchina, she told me about the same thing. But how do I think that there are still five years of plowing ahead...

It's only good when everything goes smoothly. There are no injuries, no health problems. There are also domestic domestic problems. Solving them while at the training camp is not so easy. In the national team, we are like at a resort: you are fed, watered, washed, the hotel room is cleaned, everything is provided for training for free. The only thing left for the athlete to do in this scheme is not to miss the plane.

- I know that you did not immediately decide to run a "marathon" in Tyumen.

- Not exactly. I immediately decided that I would definitely take part in the 50 km race, if there were no force majeure.

- The tenth result in the 15 km split did not become force majeure?

- Theoretically, it was possible to compete for the top 5 even on the same skis.

What was wrong with the skis?

- Done, and I'm not the only one. It even served as a reason for the proceedings. Maybe the dirt was picked up, maybe the service with the lubricant didn't guess. At the finish I was very upset at first, then I talked to the guys who finished after, and realized that everyone's skis were not good. I just ran ahead. Before the race, I set myself up that I would start as quickly as possible, see Bolshunov's back and endure to the last like never before. Well, when I passed the first lap, I realized that it was better to save energy for the final start. I won't say that for the rest of the distance I walked at all, but I didn't stop either.

- Is it difficult to force yourself to endure when you realize with your head that the race is lost?

- Well, I couldn't stand that spot. When I arrived at the hotel, I wrote to Kramer as it was. That I wanted to catch Bolshunov's back, but quickly realized that sliding does not allow - and decided not to fight.

- And what about Marcus?

- Replied that I did everything right. That health at this stage is much more important.

When did you learn English so well?

- I won't say that's good. Partly Marcus understands Russian words, I understand English and German to the same extent, but when we discuss something serious, I just upload messages to the translator. This is more effective than talking on a video call. In addition, after heavy training, the head does not perceive foreign speech at all.

- After you left the national team, there were no more problems with skis?

- Oh no. I continue to communicate with the team very well, with the guys from the service too, as if I did not go anywhere. Accordingly, they always meet me halfway. In Chusovoye, the service team of the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug prepared skis for me, in Kirovo-Chepetsk too. We have been working in the national team with the same Zhenka Uftikov for many years, so there are no problems in this regard. Before Championship Heights, I immediately said that I wanted to prepare skis with everyone else to run on the same lubricant. That was important to me.

— How fundamental was the intention to win the "poltinnik" in Tyumen for you?

- Had it been otherwise, I wouldn't have gone to the start at all. I knew it was going to be tough. And I told myself in advance that if I could not win, then we should treat it as a good workout. At the Olympic Games in Beijing, before the skiathlon, I remember coming to Kramer and saying that I probably should not run this distance. Because if I feel like I can't fight for the top three, I'll walk. It's the same situation now. If you don't fight for the podium, why start at all? For example, at the Games in Sochi, I was fifth in the final of the individual sprint. Well, who needed this fifth place? It definitely doesn't warm my soul in any way. I feel the same way about the Russian Championship. I came to Tyumen to fight for medals.

- I know that at one time Alexander Popov in swimming, as well as Alexander Karelin in wrestling, were looked at as people who, by the mere fact of their presence, killed a whole generation of rivals. Can we say the same about Alexander Bolshunov?

- On the contrary, this is a big plus that it exists. In Russian cross-country skiing, there has always been a strong leader. There was Dementyev in 2006, Nikita Kryukov and Sasha Panzhinsky in 2010, Sanya Legkov and Max Vylegzhanin in 2014.

Bolshunov has been running at a high level for the past five years, and I won my first medal at the Senior World Championships in 2013, and three years later I won medals on the Tour of Canada and the Tour de Ski. It turns out that I have been running at this level for ten years, and even with Sanya I am hacking. Cool.

- Do you not dream of Bolshunov's back at night?

- Nope. And why should it? I understand that to withstand the whole season, running with him on an equal footing, for objective reasons, I am hardly able. And to prepare for some individual races is quite. Which, in fact, I showed this year. That's the most important thing – to feel that I can still do a lot of things.