Translation of Andrei Simonenko’s interview with Eteri Tutberidze. About bringing up a champion, huge role of parents in this process, difficulties in work with male skaters and break ups with coaches.
Eteri Georgievna, many experts explain the superiority of our rivals in men’s figure skating with anthropological reasons. Do you believe in Asian bone and Asian muscle fibers, due to which it is supposedly easier to jump?
– I would talk generally about the East. I think they are really a bit different. In certain sports it’s easier for them.
And yet, first of all, is it physiology or mentality?
– Mentality. They are brought up in such a way that they do not ask questions. Even in their own thoughts. Our athlete in his head starts to discuss with himself the coach’s task, whether it necessary to do it or not. Especially if this task is connected with repetition. “Yeah, but I just did it, so the coach didn’t like it?” Appears internal conflict and it interferes with the work. Eastern people do not have such. They were told, it does not matter to do or to redo, and they go and do.
Why then Japanese didn’t have success in figure skating before? It all started with Takeshi Honda in the late 90’s.
– It was started then and the results came later. Funding began to increase, skaters, Yuzuru Hanyu for example, got the opportunity to train abroad. Also in Japan, they realized that they do not need to close inside the country. In general in Asia. I don’t mean any offense to Asian athletes, but almost all of them at some point left and continued their careers abroad.
And still, what should we do with our men’s skating, how to catch up with the rivals? Should we look for a boy with a mentality similar to Asian, or work with those we have?
– Here I can only say for myself, there is nothing left to do except to work with the material that exists and try to create our own product. I have just said two words deliberately, which the readers may not really like – “material” and “product”. But this is so. For example Zhenya Medvedeva is the product of our factory.
So you haven’t came across the material from which you could make a champion product in men’s single skating, yet?
– Well, you see: Adian Pitkeev is a very talented boy. Both the judges and the viewers liked him. With Kalmyk roots. Among the athletes of our group he was the closest to the material, from which I’d want to create the product.
Why didn’t turn out?
– Puberty started and the athlete began to have too many questions …At that time several guys were skating at the same level, but the coaching staff had to prove their love to him on a daily basis. He had sincere tears when it seemed to him that he is not needed. Although, of course, he was needed, how else it could be? But he thought differently, and the whole training period that he spent in such a state led to the anti-result, on which everything ended. Somewhere there were even breakdowns of practices. The guy was running away, throwing the skates into the trash can …Of course, he did not want to give up skating. But he wanted someone to get these skates out of the trash can, wipe them, bring them back to the locker room and say him “Adian, come back.”
Moreover, now it turns out that guys from another generation suddenly start behaving the same way. They want manifestations of our love in such form. And I do not understand this.
This is what you said at a recent press conference – pity is not about you?
– During the work pity does not help. Really. What will it lead to? To the result?
I just think as an image, Petkeev’s free program at the Russian Nationals season 2015-2016 in Yekaterinburg. He falls badly on the quad, fails the performance, it hurts him, and you meet him at the board with a strong words: “Once you came on the ice – endure”.
– Yes. Once you on the ice, you need to skate.
But maybe he wanted other words at the time? Pity?
– To that competition he has already came in a condition which lead to such result. There was already some provocations in the training process. It have been very difficult the whole year before this championships. Almost a year before Yekaterinburg, Adian had a European Championships, where he did not want to go. He shouted at trainings: “Withdraw me, I don’t want to go there as a tourist.” How is it to “withdraw”? Why as a “tourist”? Before this European Championships he had a great Russian Nationals. Why does he suddenly start acting like this? By persuasion, by love, again by persuasion, and as a result, practically by force we brought him to this championships. But before the competitions it was not a training process, it was an outrage. And in the end at this European Championships, Adian was showing us with all his appearance and skating: you shouldn’t have brought me here, I told you that I’m not ready to compete!
At some point normal figure skating with Adian for us started….. with his father. For a very long time the guy have been performing at the competitions in such a way – popped jump here, popped jump there …He skated sloppy, didn’t show himself, although he already was jumpig great. The father, who does not understand anything in figure skating, got tired of it and he told his son: one more time you come without medals – you quit. His mother came running to me all in tears … “What to do, the father is strict, we can’t disobey, how will Adian take places on the pedestal at each competition?”
I do not know what happened, but from that moment Adiaan became so concentrated that there was a big growth. He was all in work. And almost at all the next competitions was on the pedestal. This, I’m sure, was due to the intervention of his father.
But then at some point the parents “turned off”. And it seems to me that it was necessary to treat Adian more strictly then. This is a difficult period when a guy searches for himself. Maybe, not getting love from a girl yet, he wants to receive this love from us, it’s hard for me to say exactly what is the reason for such behavior. But this happens, as I have already made sure on the example of other children. Parents believe that children are already adults, that they understand what they need. But they do not understand, neither boys, nor girls! Therefore, they really need the support of their parents. From morning till evening and, moreover, from evening till morning. Parents should provide the son or daughter with rest. Meet him at home or, perhaps, near the subway. Feed, put to bed. Make sure that the child feels the support. So that he would not get up in the morning when his parents are still asleep, but when breakfast is already ready. Parents should ask the child how the trainings are going, and, maybe, sometimes come to the ice rink. Yes, it’s difficult, but it’s such a sport.
If a child wins a medal, parents can not start thinking “Well, that’s it, now he can do it himself.” He will not do anything himself. The athlete must, you know, ricochet from the coach to the parents, from the parents to the coach. After all, they say that real athletes are not adapted to real life, that when they finish their careers, they are horrified that they have to do everything themselves.
But this is our typical story. Nothing like that abroad.
– It happens differently. They do everything for Hanyu, up to the fact that they carry his bags. Not because he is spoiled, he just has no need to solve any issues other than ice. He is concentrated only on the fact that he should warme up and skate.
Marina Zueva, speaking of Tessa Virtue / Scott Moir, Meryl Davis / Charlie White, when they were skating, told that she never interferes in the life of her students, because they are self-dependent.
– I also do not interfere in the life of my students outside the ice, that’s why I’m talking about the role of parents. As for Canadians and Americans, they are completely different. There an athlete pays for figure skating himself, moreover, very often he also earns money for it. And he understands that every minute on the ice costs money. He appreciates this minute. And how to make our sportsmen appreciate their time, if they just have this ice and that’s it? They go out, they are taking off covers fron the blades for five minutes, blowing their nose ten minutes, then doing the laces. Because for them time is not money.
I remember the incident that happened when I was coaching in America. I had one girl. Her parents really wanted her to jump, and I was afraid that she might get injured. She was very tall, with long legs … I tried to do everything so that the practice would pass with fewer jumps. She goes on the ice, and I start asking her: how are you doing, how are you feeling, how the things are going at school? And she suddenly says to me: “Eteri Georgievna, it’s been a minute from practice and we’re still talking.”
The girl was 13. I felt ashamed that I was wasting time. I can not imagine a single athlete in Russia, who would answer me so! On the contrary, very often they are like glued to the board. They do not appreciate this time.
This is often pronounced as a joke, but maybe our skaters really could be helped by the presence of some kind of naturalized Japanese next to them? To have someone to take an example of, in terms of his hard working …
– No, the problem is not in working capacity, but in upbringing. The eastern people have great respect for others. In Japan, when people say hello, they bow. In America, when they say hello, they ask how do you do. They ask a stranger “How are you!” I’m afraid we’ll never have such. Very often people just pass by and do not say hello.
And if to project upbringing into sport …
– Turns out a discipline. Understanding of what is not discussed. I have enough athletes who do the task, but inside they still doubt. I can see it! He got the task, went to work on it, but the brain boils: “Why?” Someone flinched his face and everything immediately becomes clear – whether the task will be done or not. After all, what kind of mindset a sportsman will give to the body, that’s how the body will do it.
Athlete shouldn’t do a soul-searching?
– If you came to the competitions and something didn’t turn out, you must find the reason. But do not look for this reason in others. Because it will turn out that you will never correct it, because it does not depend on you: the coach did not prepare you well, the parents did not feed, someone shouted when you did a starting pose and you could not get together. If you think that this is the reason, then you gave in to the situation. But you can find the reason in yourself, and in the future, even if you stay without dinner or the coach can not come with you at all, you will skate the way you want, because you will correct this reason.
So if we sum-up the topic about working with boys …
– Very difficult situation. I try to analyze, to find the reason why it does not turn out. This is the same story if I tell myself that these factors do not depend on me, then I will not solve the problem. If I say that they have upbringing, the East, and we are not so soft and coordinated, it means that we will never grow up our athlete who will compete on equal for the first positions in the world. So we will continue to give up. Therefore, I have been asking myself all these questions for a long time, and now I have come to the point that we should try to take a very small child and try to change his mentality, his attitude to jumping. You shouldn’t “crown” the quads. After all, we’re not clapping when an athlete performs a triple loop, right? Why should we clap for quad loop? We should treat the quads as usual jumps. Then the athlete will not say to himself “I must dose the quads” or “I can be injured.” All these thoughts materialize.
Now you have a 14-year-old Ilia Skirda, at the Grand Prix Final he fought with those who are two or three years older. Does he have time and prospects to break out into the leaders?
– He has a very difficult period now. He must overcome himself and start jumping. To overcome. To show character. And the family should support him. But not only with the words “I love you, go and skate”. This is not enough. Maybe, to treat him stricter. If we see that the athlete goes to the ice not setted up, not concentrated, then, it’s necessary to “blow his brain out” for such practice. And it’s a job. Swearing constantly, proving something – you get tired of it. But you need to do this day after day. Until the result comes. And we all need it. So, not only the coach, but also parents should work in this direction.
In general, I want to say that for me, until the guys start to perform men’s jumps, they are doing women’s figure skating. I sometimes offend them by calling them women’s names – sa joke. Just to make them understand why …Yes, it is necessary to fall. The risk of injuring is huge! The fear factor should be present. After all, if we didn’t have it, why would we use the elevator, we would just jump out of the window. But it is necessary to overcome it.
It does not mean that we are not afraid for him. Sometimes it’s twice scary. But you can’t avoid the overcoming, therefore I again speak about the support of the family. Remember yourself in adolescence. After all, when you had to go through something difficult, but somewhere near your was mother or father, it was not so scary!
That’s true. Once, I had four stuck milk teeth removed and the fact that my mother was there helped very much.
– Exactly. But many parents, unfortunately, drive their children to the rink while they are very small. Then they start to think: Well, the child can go to the rink on subway himself, why should we go with him? But in fact, at this moment a child needs support even more then before. The realization that mom and dad are near, would help him greatly to overcome fear.
Do you allow parents to visit practices?
– I encourage this. I see how guys change when there is a parent standing in the corner of the rink. Especially when the child is at such a critical age. But unfortunately, almost all our boys don’t get this support. One is 11 years old, for example, and I see his parents only once in two or three weeks. There are questions that I need to ask them, but in the end I have to solve them myself.
Another option is to raise children from the very beginning so that they are sels-dependent. But it turns out differently. They drive children to the skating rink, drive and then once stop doing that. They think that children are already self-dependent. But they are not self-dependent! Our boys can not overcome themselves for some great idea. They do it for someone. And this someone must be near.
When a boy grows up, he wants to overcome himself for girl.
– So let it be. I do not mind, let the girl come. The main thing is to have for whom.
Few years ago a mature athlete Sergei Voronov came to your group…..
– And…his mom was taking him to the rink.
– Weird. But I didn’t mind. If mom has time and Sergei had a desire that mom was present then ok. But sometimes there were such things … Sometimes during practice Sergei could go behind the board, sit down and start communicating with his mother. This was unusual. In my understanding, it looked like a kind of disrespect for the coaching staff. But during the period of our work with Sergei, I have never told him this, although I did not actually like this.
Was it possible to achieve something more with Sergei?
– Inconsistency at competitions, which sometimes showed itself, came from inconsistent trainings. It were trainings, when Adian and Sergei started pulling the blanket on themselves. If today one runs from the ice, then tomorrow the other runs from ice. That’s how they were running from the ice in turns, telling us to go where you do not want to go. Competed in something with each other instead of preparing for the competitions. Different things happened … For example, we found music for Adian, and suddenly Sergei declared that he has wanted to skate to it for all his life. And he was angry, because the program was choreographed for Adian. Some kind of children’s process was going on: petals of a daisy, loves, does not love …
However, Voronov is quite an adult, he’s almost 30 years old.
– Yes. And as parents say, he certainly should know everything himself. But I have not met such a skater yet who knows everything himself.
But Zhenya Medvedeva knows everything. Or it seems so?
– She knows. Knows exactly . She is the most disciplined sportswoman in terms of “get the task – fulfill the task”. This does not mean that she does not ask herself “Why?”, “Is it right?”, “Was I offended?”. But Zhenya has exactly what I’m talking about – the right parents. Who create her such leisure, such life, which allows her to train productively when the it’s hard for her. For example, she came from competitions, feels tired, but you can not sit and think “Ah, how tired I am”, you need to find strength in yourself. And here the mother and grandmother join, who at some moment will talk to her strictly, support her in other moment. So our joint efforts lead to the fact that Zhenya finds the potential and begins to train hard again. It turns out exactly the ricochet between coaches and parents, the corridor in which the athlete stays and can not find a loophole out of there. After all, a person always looks where it is easier, it is absolutely normal. And as soon as the parents begin to pity the athlete, he immediately and go where he’s pitied. You shouldn’t do this! After all, frankly speaking, we have not the most difficult sport. There are, perhaps, a much difficult ones, marathon, for example, where people almost die.
Physically, maybe not the most difficult, but psychologically, it seems to me that not a lot of sports will compare with figure skating, where your entire sporting destiny is in two short performances once in four years.
– You shouldn’t think so! Why? That’s life. Figure skating is life, and the Olympics are just its stage.
Why then so many skaters “burn” at the Olympics? Kurt Browning was world champion four times, at the Olympics – sixth, eighth and fifth.
– Because you should not perceive the Olympics as something special. It’s just a competition. And that’s all.
Zhenya Medvedeva says that she has buzz from trainings. Is it true?
– Any overcoming should bring pleasure. You have the same thing. You coped with something complicated …
– Pleasantly. Here is the same. When you are tired from the previous practice, when you doubt whether you have enough strength for the next practice, you go on the ice and overcome yourself. There is a satisfaction in it.
There are not many athletes who are able to experience this satisfaction from training …
– But why? Let’s catch any and ask … Alina, come here!
Eteri: Alina, what is the greatest pleasure from the training process?
Alina Zagitova: I love to skate very much…..
Eteri: Do not answer with learned phrases!
Alina: I really like to jump. And I’m very happy when the jumps turn out.
Eteri: So that’s an overcoming! It’s hard, two run-throughs of the free program, but everything turn out. And it’s a pleasure. They are all like that. Well, just Moris (Kvitelashvili)……And if the parents were engaged … How many times I talked to both his father and mother when he was still a teenager. Told that the work goes hard, you should talk to him at home, he should come to the practice settet up. But the parents answered that he is an adult and must understand that he needs it. Well he’s adult. But if he does not understand, then we must help.
But Moris had a successful season.
– For him – very successful. Without failures. But in fact, not (Maxim) Kovtun, but Kvitelashvili could fight for getting into the Russian Olympic team. But in the end he skates for Georgia and even with a clean skate does not claim to get into the strongest warm-up.
The country factor automatically cuts five points in components scores.
– Five it’s gently said. Of course. But in fact it was he, who deprived himself of the opportunity to be a serious athlete. He was able to continue his career in the Georgian team, and this was the only option, because in the Russian team he missed all his chances, alas. But he could be on a different level, given the fact that this is not the worst athlete, who has jumps, skating …
A lot of people talk about your rigor, but at the same time during official practices at competitions you and Evgenia often have a lot of laughter. Zhenya also once told me “Why do you all think that Eteri Georgievna is so terrible and evil?”
– We have such an atmosphere at all trainings. And about the severity … Well, I have to go and tell that no, I’m not strict? Let I be strict. It’s just how it’s expressed … Let’s again move to everyday life. Parents are bring up their child. They get him up every morning, force him to go to school, check his homework in the evening, make sure that he does not smoke, drink or swear, that he does not sit at the computer up to two o’clock in the morning. Are these parents strict?
These are parents who do their duties.
– That’s right, these are parents who love their child and do their duties. Why is a coach who loves his athlete and do his duties is called a strict coach? Let me allow the athlete not to do the tasks, not to warm up, skip workouts. And what kind of coach would I be?
A bad one.
– And I’m a normal, usual coach. As a normal parent who takes care of his child.
They say that you swear at your students, can raise your voice.
– Well, again … your son does not want to do anything. Will you swear at him or say – ok, why do you need this chemistry, I don’t use it at all …You will got D but who cares. Or will you quarrel and make him open a textbook and do the homework?
Second option, of course.
– So do I. Because I force the athlete to do what he should through his “I do not want”. That’s all. I behave like an ordinary parent who is obliged to educate and monitor the education of his child. Just because he loves him. If you stop watching him, that’s not love anymore. It is clear that it is difficult to watch a child, especially if he tries to slip away somewhere every time. It’s not easy for coach too, because every athlete somehow tries to find the simple way and does not perform the task. So, we have to talk with him, swear at him, and look for some other methods.
In the movie you told me how you rolled Zhenya along the ice.
Is it necessary now?
– Now we have other methods.
But you have to look for them!
– Yes. We talk. Sometimes we talk seriously with her. She is already an adult girl, it is enough just to talk. And then, there were a lot of different examples in front of her. She started to skate seriously very early, so she can always be reminded “what will happen if.” She has something to remember.
Is Zhenya really an adult?
– They are all children for usual life. Even Sergei Voronov was a child for life. He needed his mom everywhere. But for sports they are all adults. If we treat them like children, they will not do anything.
But judging by those things that Zhenya says, she looks like adult. Even wise.
– It’s true. But, nevertheless, for usual life she is still a child. They are so concentrated … They see little, their whole life is tuned for the sake of the training process.
In our interview with her there was one moment when I realized that the topic of rivalry with Alina Zagitova is uncomfortable for her.
– I do not like it when someone starts to push skaters against each other. I teach them to respect their competitors. If someone has grown to the level of your competitor, then he has worked no less than you. And you should never give your opponent an estimate. Once I even forbade Zhenya to comment on the competitions on television. An acting sportswoman should not give an assessment to her rivals.
But isn’t Zhenya in the zone of discomfort, seeing girls jumping quads every day? Or Zagitova, who in a year, very likely, will also want to win the Olympics.
– Zhenya has competition all her life. Once with Polina Shelepen, who was much stronger than her. Then there was Julia Lipnitskaya. Then Serafima Sakhanovich appeared very close. Zhenya always fought for attention to her as an athlete on the ice. Therefore, this competition is quite usual state for her. Of course, it adds some kind of nerve to trainings. But … let it be.
Does the realization that in less than a year you can bring not one, but two contenders for the Olympic gold add some nerve?
– You just need to work. To work a lot. Now we go on vacation, and it really frightens me. When you let skater for a fairly long time, you never know who will come to you in three weeks. We let Anna Scherbarova for five days on the New Year holidays and got a broken arm.
And yet, on the way to the Olympics, do you know each upcoming step, considering the experience of Sochi?
– I do not even try to try on that experience. Then everything was so comfortable about the schedule, the venue … And now everything will be different. Far away. We will go there for a long time.
And in order to bring the athletes to the Olympics correctly …
– …Need to work. First, to do good programs. Now this is the most important thing.
I ask this question cautiously, knowing that this is not an easy topic, but nevertheless: two people have already told me that Julia Lipnitskaya can return to you.
– No. Lipnitskaya will never come back to me. Three hundred percent that she will not do this step. It took so long for her to go away…..Moreover, she knows that I won’t change. We need to work. Why should I take her back if she does not work? So she wouldn’t be a walk-on? But this is not the girl who should just be listed in the group.
Athletes have left you, but no one came back. Did they ask?
– They asked. But each left differently. If we talk about iconic athletes …
Polina Shelepen. She escaped from Novogorsk, and after that I haven’t seen her again. She did not even say good-bye to me. But why not just say “thank you” for the years we spent together? We all live in the same world. Especially since she stayed in the world of figure skating. But I haven’t even seen her.
Alexandra Deeva. In the very first season after she left, I saw her at competitions. She also passed by me by and did not say hello.
Adian Pitkeev is the only sportsman among those who left and specially came to say goodbye to me. Gave me a bouquet of flowers. And he began to cry. I saw his tears and wept too. But I asked him “Why are you crying?” And he replied: “I feel sorry for you, you spent so many years on me.” I told him, “No, Adian, you really do not need to pity me.”
Serafima Sakhanovich. Her family, unfortunately, could not live on two cities – mother in Moscow, father in St. Petersburg. In addition, various circumstances have appeared: Sima and her mother rented an apartment in Moscow very unsuccessfully, they were robbed several times. Once someone climbed in the night, when Sima was asleep, her mother heard, the robber jumped back, and then they found a knife under the window … Another time they were robbed completely. We even had to ask the federation to give Sima a second set of equipment, because she has nothing to wear to the competitions. Then her dad had difficulties with working in St. Petersburg, and her mother had to return, but Sim could not stayed alone. Everything was very difficult. But Sima did not want to leave, she cried … Now, when we meet at the competitions, she always greets.
Julia Lipnitskaya. Once, after she left, she wrote to me … And she went away like this: she told me about it at the rink in the office of the director. But I have already understood everything by that time. Remember, there was the Grand Prix in France, where she came with Sergei Dudakov? People on the Internet wrote that apparently, I’m “dumping” Julia, since I did not go to the tournament. But it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t even a question, I was going to go with her to Bordeaux. Moreover, my sister, who has real estate in France, was going to join us on the same days, to walk together, to chat. She has already bought tickets. But I got a call from the federation and they said: “Eteri, Julia asked to go with Sergei Viktorovich Dudakov.” At this moment, Julia was skating in front of me. Of course, it’s ok if an athlete wants a second coach to go with him. But why she could not come up to me and ask about it? I would have called the federation, I would have given them Julia’s request and she would have gone with Dudakov, but this would have been done correctly, not in the opposite direction.
So I did not refuse from Julia, but it was clear to me that there could be no further way. When I was removed from the trip to the competitions through the federation it already has been the edge. And then, as I said, I was called to the director’s office, given flowers, thanked. Exactly ten minutes later on the federation’s website appeared announcement that Julia left me. And an hour later in another edition – a huge article with the interview of her new coach Alexei Urmanov. It turns out, everyone knew about this, except me. I think it was wrong. After all, we spent some years together and made some medals … Of course, I was offended.
Sergei Voronov. I did not see him at the rink, his mother took the documents. And again, immediately came an interview, from which I learned that he moved to Inna Goncharenko. Now he says hello, but the first year he left, he did not greet me at the competitions. Why? It’s not polite. When athletes and their parents come to me, I first ask about the reason for the change of coach. And I really do not like it when parents start complaining about the previous coach. This in fact, means that later they will complain about me. I always say you not only need to say hello to the previous coach, you must thank him for everything! He gave you life in sports, he taught you something. If I take you, then you are a good athlete, and it’s a merit of this coach! You can not just leave the coach without presenting flowers. At a minimum, you need to look into his eyes and find these right words.
Maybe it’s easier for an athlete to leave without words? Afraid of this moment?
– So to pass by and not to say hello is easier?
You are afraid of these words and create around yourself some kind of shell. For example, talking about me, I’m ashamed to admit, but if I do not write the material on time and break the deadline, then it’s easier for me not to answer the customer’s call the next day.
– And it’s sucks inside this shell.
Yes, but I finally write the material.
– A sportsman lives with this. Passes by, does not greet and destroys himself. Immerses himself in a negative environment.
Speaking about articles, I can not help but ask: during those years, when Zhenya wins everything, you are accused of starving her, of not inventing anything new, that you just move the elements … Why do you never answer?
– Why should I answer such nonsense? Run after and scream – no, I’m not an ass, look, I do not have a tail?
Well, Zhenya answered about starwing that she has read this, sitting with a piece of pizza in her hands. But many people perceive this: if the answer is silence, then it’s truth. For example, the theme with moving the jumps in the second half of the program is now picked up in Japan, they already proposes to change the rules, obliging to do some jumps in the beginning.
– Well, speaking of Zagitova’s free program, everything is correct there. Strong music starts in the second half and jumps look appropriate. I believe that such a composition should always be justified.
But the public background is created against us. They feel that they can not do something and they try to ban it.
– Yes, like with meldonium. Although it has no doping properties – they just felt that we know something, but they do not. Americans wrote a letter to WADA, asked to study out. There were no objections from our side. So they banned it.
That’s why, I am afraid that if we are silent now, the rules in figure skating will be changed again.
– If they change the rules, we’ll work according to the new ones. I always tell athletes: each of you has different pencils. And you need to draw with those colors that you have.
And black and white paintings by Picasso …
– Also became universally recognized masterpieces.
by Andrei Simonenko rsport.ru