Marina Zueva: “As for fairness… You know, figure skating is a very slippery sport. In every respect.”

Posted on 2022-02-12 • No comments yet


The main difference between an Olympic victory and any other is that it takes four years, and sometimes longer, to piece together. Such opinion shared Marina Zueva in an interview with RT. According to her, any little thing can become significant on the way to the medals of the Games. The famous specialist told who she would worry about the most in Beijing, recalled how she reacted to the imperfection of Japanese selection rules, and explained why Sui Wenjing and Han Cong are unique pair skaters.

photo RIA Novosti

source: dd. 9th February 2022 by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya

We phoned the famous coach and choreographer on one of the first days of the Olympic Games, when the skaters were preparing for the team event and were most concerned about protecting themselves from the coronavirus. We started the conversation with this topic.

Marina Zueva: With this coronavirus it’s time to recall 1937. Nobody says anything and a person disappears after the sample was taken. One, second, third. At the Four Continents Championships in Tallinn, I know, 21 people were suspended from the competition in this way.

Worst of all, you never know how to protect yourself. The same Vincent Zhou, having arrived in Beijing, not only observed all the precautions, but also put on two masks at once outside the ice and appeared this way in front of journalists in the mixed zone. And Nathan Chen did not take off his mask, even skating programs in training.

Marina Zueva: Nothing surprising. If a person goes to the Olympic Games for a medal, the main thing for him in the current situation is to protect himself. And you will take any precautions for this.

You’ve brought your athletes to Olympic gold medals three times, not only in ice dance, but also in pair skating, when you worked with Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov. What does it mean to win the Games from a coach’s point of view?

Marina Zueva: The main difference between an Olympic victory and any other is that it takes four years, and sometimes longer, to piece together. Whatever you do in training, your every action is the very components, and not even of victory, but just the opportunity to get a medal at the Games. Accordingly, you fight for your positions throughout this time: you win medals at the World Championships, at other competitions, you earn authority in the judges’ eyes. There are, of course, unforeseen sensations, but this is only in single skating, where you can skate well at a young age and take advantage of the favorites’ mistakes. But such success often remains momentary. In ice dance, in pair skating, momentary seems to be not provided.

Is that why Meryl Davis and Charlie White won at the Sochi Games?

Marina Zueva: All four years there was, you see, a very tight competition between them and Tessa Virtue Scott Moir. First one duet was in the lead, then another. Therefore, there was no big surprise in that result.

How obvious are the leading positions of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron to you now?

Marina Zueva: I would not call this pair unambiguously the strongest, two years ago they lost in a head-to-head competition to Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov at the European Championships.

Well, they lost a bit: 0.19 points in the free program and 0.14 in the total score.

Marina Zueva: When the fight is extremely tight, hundredths of a point often determine the difference between the winner and the second place. I don’t mean to say that the French are weaker. But they lost that fight. They didn’t compete at all last season. Again, it’s not about whether Gabriella and Guillaume have become weaker or stronger. Just in their absence, Vika and Nikita also became world champions, and this title adds a certain weight to the skater.

Surely to some extent the judges will take into account the performances of dancers in the team event, where the chances of the Russian team to win gold are very high. This is also important when you are called to the start and they add that the Olympic champion is skating. This encourages the athletes, and strains the rivals a little bit. But the main thing, of course, will be the execution of a specific program at a specific moment.

Before the competitions, there are always talks which of the pairs is better. But if we rewatch the previous Olympic performances, we will come to the conclusion that all the victories, in general, were well-deserved. That the victorious performances were not just high-class, but also some how touching. As for judges, at the Olympics, in my opinion, it is almost always the most principled. And the judges themselves are selected for the Games more carefully than at any other competitions.

If I’m not mistaken, you once worked with the Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong.

Marina Zueva: Sure. I choreographed all junior programs for this pair. It’s just that later the skaters changed their coach, and they were sent to another choreographer. These are absolutely unique athletes.

Can you explain?

Marina Zueva: Talent, coordination. Back in their junior days, I told Russian coaches: look, very decent competitors are growing. But for some reason, my words were not taken seriously: they say, the Chinese are too small, ordinary-looking. Meryl and Charlie, I remember, were also called small. And these “small” has once show everyone what they are capable of.

In pairs, the girl usually comes to the fore, but Han Cong deserves no less attention, in my opinion.

Marina Zueva: He’s incredibly danceable. Feels and moves to the music, it was immediately evident. What is very important, the guys have absolutely the same rhythm of movements on the ice. Due to this, the partner makes lifts, throws, although they are of the same height. In terms of technique, Sui and Han were clumsy for quite a long time, so I tried to find characteristic programs for them. But the willingness of the skaters to work and improve is what impressed most of all.

By the way, it was always interesting: why are outstanding choreographers so willing to work with figure skaters from China? Lori Nichol for example.

Marina Zueva: I don’t think Lori chooses who she works with. Rather, it is the local figure skating federation choses her. But she works really well. Coaching Chinese athletes is a great pleasure for any coach. Sui and Han, when we worked together, were constantly asking what else they could do to improve, what could be added to the program, catching my every move, every word. For a long time, this pair was not given high scores for skating, for gliding. But over time, they really became flawless. And this is primarily their own merit.

Are they the favorites of the individual competitions for you or any of the Russian pairs?

Marina Zueva: I have no favorites — I admire everyone equally. It’s just that a Chinese pair, even if I don’t work with them now, is very close to me. We still talk a lot, give each other gifts when we meet. Those with whom you work for a long time are already like children. And all are dear.

Which of the four disciplines is of the greatest interest to you in Beijing?

Marina Zueva: I’m interested in absolutely all the athletes who are fighting for gold medals. It so happened that, with the exception of women’s single skating, at various times I worked with almost all of the current leaders. I participated in the preparation of not only the first, but also the second Chinese pair, Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, and, of course, Vika and Nikita.

Judging by the warmth of your tone, Sinitsina and Katsalapov are still closer to you than the others.

Marina Zueva: Maybe yes. I have reason to believe that it was I who created this pair and, in a sense, raised the guys into top-level skaters. That’s why I especially worry for them. I want them to realize their talent to the maximum in Beijing.

You are currently coaching Japanese dancers Kana Muramoto and Daisuke Takahashi, who were not lucky enough to qualify for the Games due to imperfect national preselection rules. Have you made any attempts to influence the situation, to convince the Japanese sports authorities that the criteria should be revised?

Marina Zueva: Well, I couldn’t grab people by the throat, right? There are rules in which everything is clearly spelled out. And in Japan it is customary to live by the rules. Of course, I tried to change something. Communicated with journalists, expressed my arguments, made a report. But it so happened that the choice was not in our favor. Therefore, now we are preparing to perform at the World Championships. As for fairness… You know, figure skating is a very slippery sport. In every respect.


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