In an exclusive Olympic Channel Q&A, the Rio 2016 gold medal winner from Russia shares her plans for the future and how she differs from her pop star sister Nusha.
In an extensive Olympic Channel interview from her Moscow home, she revealed her plans for the future, spoke about her famous pop singer sister Nusha, and also touched on why comedy is so important for her.
Read on for a full transcript of that interview (lightly edited for clarity).
Olympic Channel [OC]: Maria, how did you first start artistic swimming?
Maria: I was seven years old and my mom just took me to the pool and pushed me into the water. No, no, I am joking! I was seven. There was a swimming pool and my mum took me there. At first I tried swimming, not synchronised swimming. And the coaches there said that I'm too small and it's better to try synchro swimming because my small stature was unique. So I did.
OC: When did you realise that it could be a serious sport for you?
Maria: I think I realised that this is the most important thing in my life during the juniors World Cup. I was 16 and when I was on the stage preparing for the start, I realised in one second that, 'Oh my God, I am at the World Cup'. It didn't matter that it was the juniors. When I was in America, in Indianapolis… I understood that something in my life changed and I was very happy.
OC: That's great. And how would you describe your current role with the Russian national team?
Maria: I am a comedian girl. I think that I am this person who can change the atmosphere in the team. Sometimes girls in the team feel sad or too tired and I can change it. I can be very funny. And this is my main role in our team, I think. But it doesn't mean that I can't be serious. Of course, during training I'm more focused, but I think that we should be able to have fun even at our work.
OC: You're so serious in the pool, but at the same time funny and goofy in real life. Which is the real Maria Shurochkina?
Maria: I'm sure that both of them are real. I can be funny and goofy and of course, and I can be serious. But for me, it's easier to be a lighter version of myself. If I laugh or smile, it helps me to be more attentive.
OC: You're one of the older members of the Russian national team. Do younger girls come to you for advice?
Maria: Every girl on our team is her own leader with her own character. I think every one of us can be a leader. I'm a humorous leader. Once again I repeat that I think I can change the atmosphere. And I know that the girls do love me. I like when people look at me, when they ask me for my opinion. Yes, I can tell younger girls if they should do this or that. But everyone is really smart. We help each other – I help them and they help me. Sports, friendship, but keeping in mind our main aim.
OC: Russia's women have been dominating the sport of artistic swimming since 2000. So what is the secret behind the success?
Maria: I don't know, really. I think that our school is unique. I think it’s our coaches. I don't know how they do it, especially when they are older. They leave their families and they have their own dreams, but they prioritise us. Just to give their hearts to us, the athletes, and to the sport. I respect them. I think firstly, our winning is because of them, because of these people.
OC: What is the most special aspect of artistic swimming to you?
Maria: I think that our sport is very unique, very beautiful. It’s elegant and I think that it's like art. It's not only sport. There is music, there is choreography, artistic impression. Water. Water is a magic thing. You can be whoever you want to be in this natural force.
OC: For you the water must feel like a second skin…
Maria: Yes. When I finish training, my skin turns dry and I feel like I'm a fish. I need to get back to the water otherwise it’s uncomfortable to be without it. It’s like my second house.
OC: Do you sometimes feel that your sport is a little overlooked in comparison with, for example, figure skating, which is super popular now? How can you promote artistic swimming more?
Maria: I think yes, we can do more about it. For example, be more active on social networks. You can not do just one thing but many different things. Unfortunately, time can be the issue. Ten hours a day we are in the water and we don't have the time for anything else. I don't know how I do it, but I try to make videos by myself. I try to be an artist and I try to sing. I try to make my own humour. And I have inspiration. But many people, many athletes just do their work, just do the sport.
I understand that they don’t have enough time to choose, try something else.
OC: Where do you get to your inspiration from, and how after ten or twelve hours of training do you still have the energy to make these videos?
Maria: I think I get it from my parents. They are very special people. My father, he's musician, he is a producer. He writes music. I don't know a more interesting person in my life. My father is my idol. And I dream to be like him. My mother too, she's an ex athlete and she's a very strong woman. She helps my father to do things which he can't do because he's more of a head in the clouds. They are like fire and water, and I have 50 percent from my mother and the other 50 from my father. And of course, I have something of my own.
And I am also inspired by things, for example, by my favourite actors. I like movies. I like cinema. I like theatre.
OC: Who are your favourite actors and how they inspire you?
Maria: My favourite actor is Leonardo DiCaprio. I don't know. He's a God of the acting. And, of course, Jim Carrey. I saw all his works, and I am really inspired by this strange man. He's so strange, but I like him.
OC: Speaking about the world of sports. Do you have any athletes who inspire you?
Maria: One of my teammates inspired me, her name is Natalia Ischenko. She is a goddess of synchronised swimming. I think everyone on the team will agree with me... her legs, her arms, she is a very beautiful athlete. And by the way, she's very beautiful in her mind. You know when people become famous, they win one more medal, one more gold, they become very full of themselves and they change. They get a big head. They don't think about other people, they just think about themselves. But Natalia... She's very kind and unique in her heart.
OC: Currently you train with Svetlana Romashina who was Natalia's partner. She is a five-time Olympic champion and still in the sport, aiming to go to the Tokyo Olympics. How does it feel to train with someone like her?
Maria: I just have one question for this woman: how does she do it? After so many years doing the same thing, she just had a child, she has a husband. But she does this every year. She is a very strong woman. And I respect her one hundred percent. I am so happy that I can train with her, that I can be in one team with this person, because I can just look at her and ask her something because she's near to me. She is an idol in synchronised swimming. And by the way, I love foreign athletes too. My inspiration when I was seven, eight, ten years old was always Virginia Didier. She's a French synchronised swimmer. Oh, my God. Another artistic swimmer is from Spain, she is called Gemma Mengual and she is my inspiration too. She's so passionate. When I was in Spain, I saw how people have coffee or talk to somebody - they do it all so passionately. And I love Spain very much because of this fire in their blood. And Gemma Mengual showed it in our sport. When she does something, I see this fire. I feel it and I adore it.
OC: You spend 10 to 12 hours in the training pool despite being an Olympic champion. What makes you keep going? Why do you want to make it a second time at the Olympics in Tokyo?
Maria: I want to prove that I can do it, to myself. We are all a little bit selfish and I do this because I want to prove to myself that I can do better. Sport is a good school and my teammates are my best teachers. And I want to prove to my father that I'm cool!
OC: Your sister, Nyusha, is a very famous singer in Russia. It's very rare to have two successful sisters in the family. What do you learn from her and what does she learn from you?
Maria: She is very calm and peaceful. We are different. Very different.
She teaches me how to accept any situation in a good way. For example, if something bad happens to her, she is always so peaceful and she knows that if the world or universe gives you this situation, it means that it’s given you for a reason. She is a very interesting girl. Sometimes she can tell me her thoughts or read me the lines of her new song. I read it and I understand that it’s like the galaxy wrote this song because it's so cool and unique. But I think she can also take something from me because I am more straightforward, and in a way I have more freedom than her. She wants to be free like me. We have very different characters but it’s cool because we can still learn from each other a lot.
OC: The Rio 2016 Olympics must have been a huge moment for you. Can you describe what that gold medal meant for you, and what were your feelings?
Maria: I feel the same happiness of that moment, even now. Recently I watched a program on TV in Russia about our victory and there were little fragments from the Olympic Games. And after just three seconds, I felt tears in my eyes because it all brought me very bright nostalgic feelings. The road to Olympic gold. All those years… I can't describe what it felt like, but it was so difficult. My body was exhausted every day. I didn't have time for my family, for anything. You think just about sport every day, ten hours a day. And at the same time this road was all worth it.
OC: What is the main lesson that artistic swimming taught to you?
Maria: To wait for results because… Sometimes people want the result in one second. They just do something and think that tomorrow or maybe after three days or maybe after a year, there will be a big result. But sometimes life can give us our result after 10 years. I was seven years old when I came to synchronised swimming and I didn't dream about Olympic Games because I thought it was unreal. And it's all like a fairy tale. Step by step, year by year, I reached the result. My dream came true. It's very important to me to be able to wait and to work honestly.
OC: Do you ever think what will happen after your career in artistic swimming is over? What are your next goals?
Maria: Oh, I have many sides to me. I can't do one thing for too long. I need to try everything in this world because the world is so bright and has so many interesting things. I want to try music, I want to try being a host on TV shows. I want to try being an actress. Something about art. Maybe I will try another sport. Maybe a politician. I don't know. But anyway, I will change many things in my life because I want to try everything.
OC: Would you ever consider being a standup comedian or becoming a Tik Toker?
Maria: My first and important side is humour, I think. But you know what? I don't want to be an on stage comedian. Life is very different and there is not only jokes in this world. Life is very serious sometimes and it can hurt us.
At the same time I think that humour is very important thing in our world. We can't leave without humour because I think people will grow up faster. They will grow old faster if they will not laugh or smile. But of course, I want to share more than just humour with people. I have I have my own poems. I like philosophy. I read books about philosophy.
OC: You were expecting to go to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. How did the postponement make you feel?
Maria: Sad, because we had expectations and almost every girl prepared their future plans around it. So everyone was ready to change their life, but suddenly something goes to a different direction. But every time I repeat to myself that everything means something.
In the end, everything is for the best. And we just need to accept it and understand that maybe in the future it will help you.
OC: What message would you give people who are now currently self isolating or in confinement [from the COVID-19 coronavirus]?
Maria: We have this opportunity to explore ourselves, our souls. For example, I can't believe that I'm so different in many ways. I can not only swim, I can do many things. And I'm a very deep person. I didn't know all of that. You can improve your relationships with people. We can do our favourite things and we can keep dreaming.