Denis Petrov: “In China, there’s a very strict control on the part of the federation. Even switching to another coach is not allowed. As a result, many simply quit figure skating.”

Posted on 2024-04-18 • No comments yet


Translation of the interview with 1992 Olympic silver medalist Denis Petrov about working in China.

original source: RSport dd. 17th April 2024 by Denis Khodorovsky

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Denis Petrov is a former Russian pair skater who won silver at the Albertville 1992 Olympics in pair with Elena Bechke. Now he lives and runs a business in China with his wife, world champion and two-time Olympic medalist Lu Chen. Here’s a translation of his comments made in an interview with RSport.

Q: How did the union between you and Chinese skater Lu Chen happen?

Denis Petrov: We’ve known each other for a long time. Lu says she remembers me from 1988 when she came to Leningrad for some competition, but I perceived her as a little girl. She grew up, but I didn’t notice. Once on a bus, where all the show participants toured America, the only free seat was next to Lu. We started talking and so we have been not only talking but living as a family for twenty years now. Moreover, in the show, we only skated together twice. We decided not to do it anymore, otherwise, we would get a divorce without even marrying.

Q: Why did you decide to settle in China after ending your career?

Denis Petrov: We were not planning on it at all, or I was just deceived. We lived and worked in America for a long time, then Lu was invited to Hong Kong, and I stayed in the United States. I worked as a coach, and I had a pair that I wanted to lead to medals at the Junior Nationals. We started from scratch and succeeded. Then Lu was invited to a rink somewhere near New York. Before that, we had a visiting marriage: she lived in Phoenix, and I in Richmond. For two years we tried to work together, but it didn’t work out. In addition, I never liked New York. The city is too busy. Lu continued to travel to Hong Kong, and at some point, a Chinese company that built ice rinks at shopping centers offered her to run a figure skating school in Shenzhen. This is close to Hong Kong, you can even get there by subway. They invited me as well. At first, we thought we would work for about five years, save some money and enjoy life.

Q: What made you change your plans?

Denis Petrov: In China, promises are not always fulfilled. The plans we built could not be fully implemented. Lu imagined herself as the director of a larger rink, but they didn’t even make her just a director. Then students started appearing. Our children also went to school, and we decided it would be useful for Nikita and Anastasia to learn Chinese. We planned to move to America when they had mastered it. By the way, Lu suggested giving Russian names to the children.

Q: How difficult was it to start your own figure skating business?

Denis Petrov: To open the first rink in Beijing, we sold our house, leaving only an apartment. Working in figure skating in China has its specifics. We cannot, for example, schedule training late in the evening due to proximity to residential buildings. Although our business is profitable, the income is not as high as we would like. We are slowly developing it. In Shenzhen, we rent a place in a shopping center and opened a rink there. Now Lu is doing the same in Shanghai.

Q: Do parents pay for classes in China?

Denis Petrov: There are state schools, but only in Beijing and in the north of the country, in Harbin and Changchun, where Lu is from. Her father worked there as a hockey coach. In other cities, there are only private ones, like ours.

Q: Do you have any students who have achieved international success?

Denis Petrov: Logan Higase-Chen, who began with us, now trains with Timothy Goebel and has become the winner of the U.S. Junior Championships. Her parents even invite me to come and train her in America. Another girl, Phattaratida Kaneshige represents Thailand and at the last Junior Worlds and she took 17th place. She is also training in the USA with Goebel now.

Q: Is it easy to find common ground with the parents of young Chinese figure skaters?

Denis Petrov: It varies. It’s easier for me than it is for Lu because I don’t speak Chinese. It was easiest to work with a boy who had a Russian mom.

Q: In Russia, parents who are upset about something in training can post derogatory posts on social media. Is it the same in China?

Denis Petrov: Of course! Some even try to dictate how training should be conducted. But it’s easier for me, as I’ve said; I don’t know Chinese.

Q: How do you train Chinese figure skaters then?

Denis Petrov: I show a lot on the ice. Also, practically everyone speaks English. Especially those who come from Hong Kong.

Q: Can you teach quadruple jumps that you’ve never performed yourself?

Denis Petrov: When teaching jumps, it’s important to understand how everything works. Alexei Mishin systematized the training methodology. I was lucky enough to practice with him when Tamara Moskvina sent me to improve my jumps. I assimilated Mishin’s ideas, and now I rely on them when teaching jumps.

Q: You and Lu never envisioned your children as figure skating champions?

Denis Petrov: Our son immediately said that if he ever skated, it would be for the sake of passion. He is 17 now and completely immersed in music. Our daughter skated in a strong group and initially was the best there. Perhaps, we pushed her too hard. Ideally, she would have been great in dance, as Anastasia didn’t like jumps. Now she has decided to become a volleyball player altogether. She studies in a specialized boarding school and persuaded us to send her to a summer camp in the USA.

Q: In 2006 in Turin, Nikolai Morozov, who trained Olympic champion Shizuka Arakawa, said that Asian figure skaters were the best to work with. They have the perfect physique for jumps and the absolute obedience to coaches. Is it the same in China?

Denis Petrov: It varies. The absolute obedience to a coach is good up to a point. Figure skating, after all, requires a creative approach. In China, there’s a very strict control on the part of the federation. Even switching to another coach is not allowed. As a result, many simply quit figure skating.

Q: Was the first Chinese world champion Lu Chen forced to join the Communist Party of China?

Denis Petrov: That’s impossible in principle. China does not allow dual citizenship and when Lu was given the choice, she preferred to have the American passport.

Q: What is China’s view on sanctions against Russian figure skaters?

Denis Petrov: The last event in which the Russians competed was the Beijing Olympics. It was totally unlike any I’ve participated in as a figure skater, due to Covid-related restrictions. After the quarantine, the Russian team was disqualified which will simply ruin the next Olympics. I don’t know how the ISU and the IOC are going to deal with this situation. In China, at any rate, the interest towards figure skating has significantly decreased. I don’t see the same interest as it used to be. Although Chinese are proud of hosting the Olympics in Beijing, they are not so much interested in the upcoming ones.”


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