Elena Vaytsekhovskaya’s interview with Marina Zueva. Translation. About Shibutani, Virtue/Moir, Davis/White, Papadakis/Cizeron and Patrick Chan.
Marina, many years ago, telling me about Shibutani you said that brother and sister are quite a specific combination for dancing. First of all, because in this case the possible repertoire is narrowed. What is it to work with such a duo? Is it a kind of “cross to bear” for the coach, a constant professional challenge, or is it the fact that Maшa and Alex were born in a rich family and can afford to pay any number of high-quality specialists, including you, as long as needed?
– Money, in general, was never a decisive factor for me. Maia and Alex pay for their training, but everyone in America pays for it. For me, as a coach, another thing is much more important: how much people want to skate. In general, this is the most important thing in coaching. It is clear that every athlete has his own task, his maximum, I’m trying to help to achieve this maximum. To a certain extent, yes, it is a challenge.
It is obvious that Maia and Alex don’t have such a vivid movement talent as Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have.
– This is true.
And there is no emotional charisma that Meryl Davis and Charlie White had.
– I also agree.
But this pair time after time manages to destroy others’ perceptions about their limits. Each time it turns out that once again this border is moved forward, the limit is broken. How do you achieve this?
– You correctly said: every athlete has a certain talent. Maia and Alex’s talented is in a completely extreme ability to work and absorb information. That’s why I’m attracting a large number of different specialists to work with them, to give them an ability to improve. There is one more point. For Tessa – Scott and Meryl – Charlie, I always suggested the ideas of all programs myself, but Shibutani always know exactly what they want – that’s how they differ from all my previous students. For a coach this is always a great help, when athletes come up with ideas and are able to argue them.
I know that this season Stephane Lambiel and Peter Tchernyshev worked with your skaters.
– Not only they. In addition to the specialists that we have in our school, I constantly invite the most diverse American dancers who work in the project Dancing with the Stars.
The Russian example of Ilia Averbukh, who has worked for many years as a choreographer in a television ice project, says rather that the patterns used in dance shows do not always fit well in figure skating.
– I’m not talking about programs, but about work that can give the athlete a lot of diverse information. With the same goal, Maia and Alex went after the World Championships in Helsinki to Stephane Lambiel. And returned from him much more, I would say, dancingly relaxed – completely different. Although the turning point in their movement development, I consider the Olympic season-2014, when we worked on the program “Michael Jackson”. Especially for the sake of this program, I invited specialists who danced together with Jackson in his “Thriller”. Maia and Alex have been working with them for a year.
Have you ever had to face the situation when you want to get a specialist, but it was impossible to hire him?
– I have never met such people. At least, all that we needed was always realized. People generally willingly meet half-way, even when it is not about working with famous athletes. Apparently, everyone is interested in trying out themselves in a slightly different field. I myself, for example, with great pleasure worked with synchronized swimming, when a few years ago I was invited to work out with the American team. First time it happened, when Meryl and Charlie had “Indian dance”: one of the swimmers saw it and became interested in how my athletes’ arms moves. This year I also received an offer to work with synchronized swimming – and also agreed to help. It is interesting. Now the sport has reached such a level that alone you can not do anything. It’s like in school: in primary school there is one teacher, then there is diversification. The higher the level of specialization is, the more professors are involved in the process. One professor can not pull out the whole university, right?
When you had Virtue / Moir in your group, you constantly cared about divversification of their repertoire, each season showing them from an unexpected side. Now, Tessa and Scott are competing with Gabriela Papadakis / Guillaume Cizeron, who have been showing the same programs for the third season. And still remain in the top. Do you have an explanation why public or judges don’t get tired of this style?
– What Gaby and Guillaume show it is not just the individual style. These figure skaters discovered a completely new direction in dance. Thanks to them, after a whole era of very expressive programs, there appeared such a muted modernity. It’s very interesting for me. I even did two programs exactly in the same style for Meryl and Charlie.
They still do a lot of shows?
– Yes. It is clear that they do not skate sports programs, but it attracts me, as a choreographer: there is an opportunity to experiment much more. Including styles. Meryl and Charlie always had a very high-speed and emotional inner movement: skating that turns into some kind of flight. They still skate like that, but their programs look different.
– I can not say that. Rather, I would say about emotions that seem to “go” into the body. Externally, it seems that passions and emotions are extinguished, but continue to rage inside. This is exactly what Papadakis and Cizeron are showing now.
Admit, for sure in your head you are continuously looking for secret ways to try to beat the French?
– Of course, I’m looking. Only there is no secret here: any success is primarily in development. The more you develop the athlete, the more he becomes able to show. Therefore, I develop Maia with Alex, as I can, so that they do not stop in this development.
For whom you root more in battle between the French and Canadians?
– I like both.
I don’t believe you. Still, if we talk about Tessa and Scott, you and Igor Shpilband invested a huge part skills in them, as in your own children. Surely heart still skips a beat, when Canadians are on the ice?
– Of course.
Then how you can you look at them from outside and not root for them?
– I root, but “to like” it’s quite different category. I like Canadians, like the French, like Maia and Alex: they have something that other dancers do not have. At the same time, I never judge which of the duos at this or that competitions was better: let the judges decide.
What is more difficult – to work with one strong duo, when there is no rivalry in the group, or to deal with an equivalent pair of rivals?
– There was always a rivalry in my group, albeit not at the highest level. We have quite a lot of pairs who competed at the European Championships, at the World Championships and who have already qualified for the Olympics. At the same time, each duo has its own goal, and, as I said, its “maximum”. On ice, everyone skates together, but the tasks are different.
I’m talking about something else: not so long ago, there was some information in media, that Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon had to separate Virtue / Moir and Papadakis / Cizeron at different skating rinks because the competitions between them became to strong. Around the same time, Brian Orser admitted that he had to separate Yuzuru Hanyu and Javier Fernandez at different rinks because of the similar reasons. You and Igor Shpilband always stressed what a wonderful relationships are in your group between the two strongest pairs. But at the same time, as far as I know, they have been taking different flights to the same competitions.
– This is a completely different story. Tessa – Scott and Meryl- Charlie really flew to competiitons separately from each other, but only because for one of them the tickets were bought by American Federation of figure skating, and for the others – by Canadian. But all four trained on the same ice, at the same time.
Do you want to say that there wasn’t any insane rivalry in your group in principle?
– I have never had anything crazy in my group. All are very organized, each is goal oriented. Of course, we cannot exclude the human factor. But I try to do everything in my power to focus each athlete on his specific task and on his specific goal. And I give directions how to accomplish this goal. Further, it all depends on how much information the athlete can take. In sports, everything works this way: one takes what you give him, the other does not take it.
It’s clear. But you will surely agree that in sport practice and theory are quite different things. When Tessa, after lost Olympics in Sochi, gave an interview to Canadian journalists, there was a wild offense at the whole world and you as a coach. It is clear that partly this was dictated by not the most pleasant emotions experienced at the Olympic Games. But you, too, probably had an offense that the skaters, who under your guidance won gold in Vancouver and silver in Sochi, decided to return to sports, but did not come back to you?
– No, there was no offence. Human relations between us remained remarkable. Not long ago, Tessa and Scott told me: “Marina, we would have never become what we are now, if we hadn’t work with you.”
For a number of personal reasons, Meryl should be much closer to you than other skaters?
– Now – yes. And soon she probably will be very close.
Don’t you feel jealouse that shes taking your only son?
– Well, first of all, she will not take him away. It’s just that our family will become bigger.
Have you ever tried to talk with Meryl and Charlie about returning to sports?
– Why should I talk to them about it?
At least because Tessa and Scott returned. Haven’t you ever thought that Meryl and Charlie could also come back and could continue to perform at the highest level? Wouldn’t it be interesting for you as a coach?
– It would. But I think that such an initiative should come from the athlete, not from the coach. I had experience with Katya and Seryozha (two-time Olympic champions Gordeeva and Grinkov) when they came to me a year before the Olympics in Lillehammer and said: “Marina, we want to try to return.” Yes, they returned, and won another Olympics. But this was entirely their initiative, I did not even try to impose my opinion about this in any detail. All my coaching experience shows that if this or that initiative is initially directed in the wrong direction, it will not work out, no matter how much you work.
That’s why you don’t try to push on Patrick Chan with quads?
– Patrick, of course, understands what is happening: he sees, let’s say, that the junior world champion Vincent Zhou, who also trained at our Academy and often comes to work on performing skills, already has all quad jumps. And he is only 16 years old. But, firstly of all, you need to jump all those quadruples, even the most talented does not always succeed. Japanese Shoma Uno, for example, jumped five quads in the middle of September at the tournament Lombardia Trophy in Italy, and three weeks later at Japan Open coped with only two jumps out of five. It was already clear that it was too hard for him. In this regard, it’s not easy for everyone. All specialists learn to train quadruples, which is also not easy: you need to work a lot on jumps and at the same time not to lose the athletic shape. Patrick is primarily a performer, not a jumper. He lives on the ice, apparently, that’s why he returned to sport. It’s happiness for a coach to watch how he skates. What we gonna do regarding the quads depends on several factors. First of all, on time – on time and tasks.
And on the mood of the athlete as well?
– No. If we are talking about professional sports, the mood at all should not be a criterion for the attitude to work.
By Elena Vaytsekhovskaya for rsport.ru