I love Vaytsekhovskaya’s interviews and this time she had a very interesting guest – Nikolai Morozov. Here’s a translation of an interview.
Frankly, I was very surprised that you agreed to coach Canadian dancers. Anyway, it seemed to me that after Olympics in Sochi you were fed up with big sport.
– And so it was. Even now I’m not really disposed to coaching someone.
Nevertheless you’re coaching?
– In the winter I got married, and my wife (Vasilisa Davankova) wanted to try herself in ice dance. She didn’t see any sense in continuing doing pairs, but agree it’d be a pity to leave sport at the age of 18 when you gave most of your life to it. Therefore, I supported Vasilisa’s idea. So, I didn’t refuse Canadians, when they asked me, because, all the same, every day I was on the ice with my wife. I coached before – after moving from Moscow to New Jersey, but it was a simple job with small children for money. I didn’t have my own athletes, just was helping everyone who asked.
Do you have some specific tasks, working with Weaver / Poje?
– If we talk about this season, I would like the pair be talked about again as a serious leader. When I agreed to work with them, the first thing i did – re-viewed all their previous performances. Over the past two years only one program of Kaitlyn and Andrew was pretty successful – Je suis malade. If this season the programs hadn’t turned out the dancers would have became Canadian not second but third pair. Now it’s obvious that this is not going to happen. However, all three Canadian duos are very strong.
Does your current stay in Novogorsk mean that you once again have decided to change place of residence?
– No, It’s just more convenient for me to work here now. I still live in America.
Having started to coach your wife did you set ambitious goals?
– Of course. Vasilisa wants it, and she is the main person in my life. She works a lot and with pleasure, as I do, in other words, we are doing everything possible to ensure that the result of the duo Davankova / Shibnev appeares as quickly as possible. I have simple reasons: the more Vasilisa learn now, the easier it will be for her in the future. If she decides to be a coach she’ll have plenty of knowledge – much more than a usual athlete can have.
It’s not only I teach her myself, including things I’ve never taught someone before, but also people with whom she began to talk. This is Brian Joubert, who come to me to do programs from time to time, Florent Amodio, Kaitlyn and Andrew – from everyone she can learn something, expand her own horizons, not just sporting. All this helps her to develop.
Except Vasilisa and her partner you work exclusively with foreigners. Is this a deliberate choice?
– Quite. It was a time when in my group were mostly Russian skaters: Sergei Voronov, Ivan Bariev, Maxim Kovtun, Alena Leonova. Periodically Daisuke Takahashi came to us in Navagorsk, and I always told my athletes: watch how he trains. It would seem that he had enough fame and money for not to spend the whole day from morning until late at night at the ice rink, but Takahashi came for the morning warm-up, then started practice, doing two or three full runthroughs of the free program, in the afternoon he always went to bed and in the evening again skated fully his program couple of times. At the same time not always I could find “my” athletes to remind them that it’s necessary to go to the rink.
You probably more than once asked yourself: why coaches has to “break” the majority of Russian athletes to get the results?
– I do not know. Perhaps just such fosterage. Expectations that someone else will get the result for you. After all, the same Maxim Kovtun was ready to skate the program with two quadruple toe loops six years ago. We’ve already talked with you about this: foreigners practice not because they’re paid for this, but because they want it and understand for the sake of what they’re doing sport. If a person has paid for the rent of the ice, he will never leave practise earlier. If he pays a coach a hundred dollars for a lesson, he’ll get from the coach everything that one is capable to give. That’s the whole difference.
Let me ask you about your former students. When Nikita Katsalapov almost immediately after the Olympic Games has decided to part with Elena Ilinykh, perhaps, there were no man in the Russian figure skating, who didn’t try to discourage an athlete from this step. You in principle didn’t make any attempts at all. It turns out, you did not see prospects for the future work? Why did you let go the whole story so easily?
– Lena and Nikita would not skate together. The conflict has ripened for a long time, and so many different parties were involved in it, including me, so now it just does not make sense to stir this all. There were a lot of advises from the outside, including very close people. When everything is constantly falls on the athlete for many years, he loses the ability to assess the situation on his own. And why I left … I was just very tired. Bronze medal, which Lena and Nikita won at the Olympics in Sochi wasn’t easy for me.
In eighteen months before the Games, you told me in an interview that you will be extremely disappointed if Ilinykh and Katsalapov won’t be able to fight for the top-three at the World Championships in Canadian London. They took the ninth place.
– Actually it was a great happiness. If they had been third, doubt I’d have been able to to motivate them to work in the Olympic season. I can admit completely honestly: when in 2011 Tatiana Tarasova brought Lena and Nikita to me and asked to take them, my first thought was: “Yes, with this pair I will win the World Championships in three months!” But I started to work and realized that it’s not so simple. That it wasn’t a an accident that before me Sasha Zhulin didn’t cope with Ilinykh and Katsalapov, and then I also didn’t cope, though, I tried my best.
It happens not so rarely with athletes who’re very talented from nature. In the same ice dances, for example, it was a duet, who with their skills could win anything, but did not win anything with all coaches they trained with. Only because partner had his own ideas about how to train. Instead of making the run-throughs, he could work for hours on the step sequence, perfecting and bringing to perfection each of the elements. But he wasn’t quite able to skate till the end of the program – didn’t know how to endure and how to work.
But Brian Orser managed to make Javier Fernandez work?
– Fernandez is an incredible talent, simply outstanding. All those jumps that he has now, he jumped seven years ago, and could perform them at any time – on a dare. In Canada, it seems to me, he got into the right hands and right company. Then he felt the taste of victory – and he liked it.
Who are you particularly interested in women’s figure skating?
– Speaking of the Russian singel skater, then Anna Pogorilaya and Elena Radionova. And not just because I work with them.
Then explain why.
– Radionova has everything to become a world star. She’s beautiful, she has all the elements, she has good skating and most importantly a terrific and very kind energy goes from he when she’s performing. Why everyone loved Victor Kraatz, although he’s skating was weaker then his partner’s Shae-Lynn Bourne? For the same reason: it was completely impossible to resist his charm on the ice.
Anya Pogorilaya for me is an example of an ideal athlete, in everything: in relation to herself, to figure skating, to the coach, how she behaves at practices. I remember she came to me in Navagorsk, we have already finished the work, but the ice was still rented for the other athletes. I look, Anya doesn’t leave the ice. When I asked why, she replied: “I have to jump.” Then she made all jumps, including combinations 3-3, and it’s in the summer, when few of the athletes actually think that it’s necessary to work on jumps.
Look what begins to happen in the women’s figure skating: our girls pushed foreign girls to do the same jumps. When the technical content is the same, the winner will be the one who skates better or has more interesting programs. We see it now on the example of Canadian girls and Ashley Wagner.
The current judging system allows athletes to change the program without actually changing their content. Do you think this is acceptable?
– It all depends on whom do you want to see your sportsman in the future. For example, when I was taking Daisuke Takahashi to my group, I realized that it’s a long-playing project, which sooner or later may become a main business of his life. But for that I have to teach him to skate, move, listen to music, pick up the costumes, do hair, and most importantly – love it all. Now Daisuke is not only in demand in the show, but receives a huge amount of money. The same thing was happening with Miki Ando. Tatiana Tarasova taught me such approach. It was always important for her that her athlete not only won the Olympics, but also was successfull in his life after sport. The same Yagudin, he still skates well, do a lot of shows, TV programs, he’s involved in a variety of other things, and all because he has a huge base of a wide variety of skills. If there is no such base, the athlete disappears as quickly as appeared.
It’s very interesting for me to see how Medvedeva’s skating will continue to develop. Whether she will develop, whether Zenya will want it herself, and whether she’ll be given such an opportunity.
What do you mean?
– Just the fact that we had a lot of athletes who were a great jumpers, which hadn’t been taught how to skate. Our generation was able to skate, mostly because we had a mandatory for all Figures. There’s no Figures now, so no one tought how to skate. Why all started to like Pogorilaya? Only because she started to skate in a completely different way. Her skating look easy, and most importantly it no longer takes much energy.
Let’s go back to ice dance. Why our athletes every year find whom to lose to?
– It seems to me that we are just very far behind in understanding how ice dancing are developing. We’re always “picked up” the partners to each other, gave too much importance to this. And foreigners worked with what they had. Frankly, I haven’t watched competitions for two years. I looked tournament in Moscow and I can say that the most interesting for me were the Italians Guignard / Fabbri. Small, inconspicuous, in Moscow they would have been expelled from all groups, just telling you. But from the “middle” tier of dancers they’re almost the best. They not only have most interesting programs but it’s clear that the people live by it and work very hard.
Russian dancers tend to assign primary importance to the level of difficulty. There is a lift for a fourth level – then everything is fine. To make such lift is actually not very difficult. But to make it look beautiful and interesting, not just on level 4 but “Wow!’ – it’s a completely different task. So there is a difference between us and foreigners, they initially tend to turn each of their elements to “Wow!”. All this is quite possible to train, just need to try a lot of things. Foreigners try. For most Russian duets, such approach is not peculiar in principle. We have a fourth level so why try something else? I’m talking about top-dancers, of course.
It turns out, all the talks that we’re losing because our rivals are incredibly talented is just an excuse?
– And who is incredibly talented? Tessa Virtue / Scott Moir? I agree. But I’m not ready to put Meryl Davis and Charlie White into this category.
And Weaver / Poje?
– For sure they have talent, not talented people don’t rise to this level. I was interested in working with Canadians for another reason: I could not understand why such an interesting duo began to fall down to such an extent that became to lose even to the third pair in their country?
Kaitlyn and Andrew came to me not because something didn’t work out with their previous coaches. Back when I worked with Florent Amodio and came with him to the European Championship, Pasquale Camerlengo asked for help. Then Angelika Krylova asked about the same. So I offered to Canadians to train with me this summer in Novogorsk – we returned to Moscow because Vasilisa had to pass exams in university. I decided to add “scale” into their skating: both partners are high, amplitude, but there was no speed. Now, it seems to me, they look in a different way.
However, in Moscow, you said that you did not expect such high scores. Why?
– Because we have quite a subjective sport. No one has seen Weaver / Poje earlier this season, I think the majority of judges were thinking that they will continue to “fall”. But I can’t say that it upset me. When the athlete skates well, sooner or later it will be noticed and appreciated.
To be honest, I have little idea what would be the result: it’s impossible to judge the strength of the sportsman, when he’s on the ice alone. All this is evaluated in comparison, when you come to competitions. For this reason, I am very interested to see Denis Ten on the ice with the strongest skaters. As for the Canadians, will see what will happen next. We are sure that we have good programs, and skating. That’s the main thing. To correct a key-point is much easier.
When Denis Ten appeared in your group?
– He came to me in the beginning of June to make a program for Korean shows. And when he came back from the show, he came again. He said he wants to try to practice more seriously. I asked Dennis and his mother not to advertise our cooperation, wanted to see how the process will go: after all, I haven’t worked at such a high level for two years. But in the late summer Denis himself informed Frank Carroll, that he wants to continue training with me. Carroll calmly let him go.
It seems to me that Americans take the coach changes easier than in Russia.
– It’s not the Americans. Now, for me, it doesn’t really matter: the athlete came to the group, leaves it. Although I remember how painful was parting with Daisuke Takahashi. Then, I actually began to think: Why I’m so worried? Because I love the athlete and perceive parting with him as parting with my own child? No, the whole thing is only in possessiveness. When you’re investing in an athlete your strength and soul for many years, you could not help the feeling that he’s yours, that he owes you. But it’s not like that, though,I think all young coaches go through such feeling.
When you only start to work, you want to help your athletes with everything, to solve some problems. For example, if the same Ten skated with me when I just started to work, seven years ago, I wouldn’t even let someone else to pick up his costume for competitions – I’d have rushed myself, despite busy schedule, I’d even skiing if the car broke down. Now I won’t even come to my mind. Someone left? So, tomorrow someone else will come.
When I realized this, I not just internally calmed down, but people who left me started to come back. The same Daisuke Takahashi, Florent … Now we are friends, both athletes are constantly calling, consult, come when there is such an opportunity. The same story – with Aleksei Yagudin. There was a time when we both felt a strong tension. Now, it’s nothing like that.
A few years ago it seemed to me that Ten is a little too small for the men’s figure skating. Now it seems that future is for such skaters.
– Daisuke was also not tall. He is shorter than Ten.
He didn’t look small on the ice.
– It is quite another thing. We worked on this, too.
– The way we perceive figure skater, depends on a huge number of “little things”. Somewhere costume is fitted badly, didn’t raise a hand in time, didn’t gain speed, the music isn’t cut well and so on. Ten is a unique athlete. He has very deep thinking, he understands figure skating well, thinks about every detail, don’t get distracted at practices. If Fernandez was by nature and remained a sloppy chop in some sense, Ten is already looks sometimes like a skater without any weaknesses, he understands why he makes this or that movement. There are no such things in man’s figure skating now. Even Yuzuru Hanyu lacks it.
But you will not argue with the fact that when Hanyu skates without mistakes, he is out of reach? Whereby it is possible to catch up?
– Only with quality of elements. By the way I don’t share the general enthusiasm for the Japanese: if Hanyu starts to pop jumps, it becomes impossible to watch. And I wanted to watch Evan Lysacek’s skating even with mistakes. It’s like in auto racing: “Toyota” can beat “Mercedes” by inserting a more powerful engine. But because of it “Toyota” won’t become a “Mercedes”.