“A week before the pre-Olympic training camp, Stepanova was tested positive for covid. We fought to the last, so not to be left without the second Olympics in a row.” interview with coaches Svinin and Zhuk
Interview with Irina Zhuk and Alexander Svinin, coaches of Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin.
source: tass.ru dd. 20th April 2022 by Veronika Sovetova
The Russian ice dance duo Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin teamed up in 2007 and have been working together for 15 years. However, the leaders of the Russian team got to the Olympic Games only in 2022 – in 2018, the athletes did not get an invitation to the Olympics in Pyeongchang without any explanation. At the Olympic Games in Beijing, Stepanova and Bukin took sixth place, but this time the athletes risked missing the main competitions of the four-year period. Athlete’s coaches Irina Zhuk and Alexander Svinin in an interview with TASS spoke about what could prevent the skaters from performing at their first Olympics, about their preparation, emotional state after the ban of Russian athletes from competitions, about trends in modern figure skating and young talents that appeared in their group.
Emotions calm down after the Olympics, and now, probably, it is possible to summ up the results of Olympic cycle for your pair, which nevertheless ended with a performance at the Olympic Games. Not like 2018. How have Sasha and Ivan changed over the years?
Irina Zhuk: They have become quite adults – both in skating and in life. All the programs that have been made during this four years, in my opinion, are very successful and suit them very much. They grew emotionally and became a strong dance team, “unison” appeared in their skating. Today, they do many things on the ice so beautifully right away that you even don’t expect it. And their ability to transform, the ability to reveal the idea of the program, I never cease to surprise.
Alexander Svinin: Yes, during the competitions there were minor mistakes, there were not the best skates, but in general they made a huge step forward. And the best thing is that they are not going to stop, they want to work and improve, they want to become the first. And this restlessness, the desire to grow, to get better is the most important thing in an athlete. We try not to repeat ourselves, look for different artistic images for them, and they successfully cope with this. We listen to all the advice of experts, no matter who we work with.
Sasha and Ivan have a very difficult sports fate. Nobody forgot how they did not get to the Olympics in Pyeongchang – one of the strongest teams in Russia was deprived of the opportunity to perform at the Games without explanation. Then there was a series of injuries, then a pandemic. Did it change them?
Irina Zhuk: I think so. Missing Olympics in 2018 was a sports tragedy for all of us. Nobody explained to us why Vanya was banned, but we survived it together. They did not give up, and together we went through it, became stronger. They have a great relationship as a pair, they treat each other very warm, with understanding.
After what happened, was there no thought to finish?
Alexander Svinin: Never. Neither us nor them. Generally. On the contrary, it united us even more, we tried to forget about it and went forward. As for the pandemic, then, of course, a long break did not do any good, but everything comes from the head. If a person is determined, if he wants to work and win, everything can be overcome. Yes, there were injuries, we also went through this – we talked, convinced that it was okay, we were working on, we would get through it.
Irina Zhuk: We have been together for 15 years, this is a long time. Sasha and I have recently thought about it – this is a whole life. There are not many coaches in our sport who have brought a pair to the top level from the very beginning. And we are grateful to them that they continue to work with us. We are going together towards the main goal – it is worth a lot, and we appreciate it. Stopping is a road to nowhere.
And everything that happened in recent years has changed you?
Irina Zhuk: Of course. We have not become tougher, rougher, no. We just drew conclusions – everything happens in life. We do not blame anyone, we are not offended at anyone. We always try to look for reasons inside, in ourselves, and look for ways out – what needs to be figured out, with whom to work, in order to reach a new level. But at the same time, we are well aware that everyone is growing, everyone is working, and serious athletes can grow up only in a competition.
The free program at the Olympics will be remembered by many. The guys said that the program was born while performing on the show of Ilia Averbukh. And after the Games, many fell in love with “Romeo and Juliet”, some even called it the best program of the season.
Irina Zhuk: It appeared a year before the Games. We didn’t want to make a common “Romeo and Juliet”, we wanted to present this images in a new way. Sasha Svinin found the music. We all liked it, although the music is not for everybody. The first part is such that few people understand what will follow. Maybe the success of this program is in the way they interpret this unusual music. There is no modernity or old-fashionedness in this, it is some kind of symbiosis. And the work on this program was very easy – when people of this level work with pleasure, that’s what happens. But in the pre-Olympic season, we did not have time to skate it, unfortunately.
Maybe fortunately? The program decorated the Olympic competitions.
Irina Zhuk: Maybe it really so. They lived in this program, it suited them so well. There was an interesting case with this program. We met with Masha Petrova and Lesha Tikhonov, we are friends, we went together to the theater. And he said that he saw the guys in Averbukh’s show, don’t you want to do such an Olympic program for them? Sasha and I laughed – this is a sign. Then we said: “The program is already made, but if so, then we are on the right track.” And now, after the Olympics, we recalled that moment. Tikhonov must have had a crystal ball.
Alexander Svinin: Yes, they did not take a prize place at the Olympic Games, but this program will be remembered. It is most important. This means that they have a face, a style, that they do not copy anyone, and this is very important.
Maybe we will see this program as an exhibition program?
Alexander Svinin: It depends on whether they want to skate it again. But maybe. We will discuss this.
Ivan and Sasha came to the Olympics just before the beginning of the individual competitions. And then everyone was guessing what was the reason why they did not come with the whole team. What happened?
Irina Zhuk: A week before the pre-Olympic training camp in Krasnoyarsk, Sasha was tested positive for covid. She felt weak. What follows is a series of positive and negative tests. It was crazy. We could not fly to Beijing without two negative tests, we literally sat on a powder keg. Sasha is in isolation, it is impossible to train. Everyone was worried, nervous, but tried not to panic. Everyone was at the Games, but there was no way we could fly there. We ended up there only on February 8, and the individual competitions started February 12th. In Moscow, they fully trained for literally a day and a half and flew to Beijing. We fought to the last, so not to be left without the second Olympics in a row. Prayed to God. But they had to understand what the Olympics is, what its spirit is. Yes, it was different from all the others because of the restrictions, but in this case it does not matter at all.
Who can understand it better than you – you do not get to the fourth Games in your coaching career.
Irina Zhuk: When all this happened with Sasha, it didn’t matter to me anymore. It is important that, despite all this, they skated greatly. Yes, sixth place. But this is professionalism and a sporty character – to perform like that without training. The short program was skated so well, I didn’t even expect it. In the free program – one stupid mistake on the sliding move. But they didn’t have a single run-through before that.
Have you watched their performance online?
Irina Zhuk: No. It was impossible. Otherwise, my heart would break. I watched it, when already knew the result. In recording. Many coaches do that, I’m not the only one so crazy. We were constantly in touch. Communicated by voice messages. But we got through it, and it will stay with us.
What is your impression of ice dances at the Olympics? In what direction is this discipline moving today? What are the trends?
Irina Zhuk: I noted that everyone tries to skate to slow music, few people take fast music. It is easier in terms of the execution of the elements. They have become very complex, you need to show edge skating, lifts, spins. They introduced a creative step sequence according to the rules, this is the right step, the programs began to shine. A lot of progress in terms of creativity, but how to train all these programs at such speeds? I would like to take fast music, but physically it is very difficult to skate to it.
Alexander Svinin: Plus a lot of dance pairs copy Papadakis and Sizeron, but it’s not very good. You need to find your face. And we try to do this with each of our pairs. Yes, the French are great skaters, they really leave a mark in figure skating, in ice dance. But we need to move on. We need to take good qualities from them – soft skating, gaining very high speed from two steps. But don’t copy them. We, representatives of the Russian school of figure skating, need to skate with a Russian soul.
How long did Sasha and Ivan manage to rest after the Olympics?
Irina Zhuk: A week maximum. And then back on the ice – preparation for the World Championships.
Where we were all not allowed.
Alexander Svinin: Yes, they didn’t let us again. And yes, we are very upset. But we had the Channel One Cup. And it was wonderful. And it’s great that we had it.
Have you already started preparing new programs?
Irina Zhuk: We started collecting material, and in May we will have a training camp in Novogorsk, where we will choreograph the programs. There are options, there is music, we will figure it out together, decide. We’ll have latin rhythm dance next year, we’re working. Now the main thing is to keep them in a good mood. For top athletes, the most important issue now is the motivation to work further, the belief that they will succeed, that they will perform.
Your group said goodbye to the dance pairs Igor Shevchenko and Sofia Eremenko, David Narizhny paired up with Annabelle Morozov, Elizaveta Shanaeva left.
Irina Zhuk: David and Annabelle match each other well, they like to skate together. They are progressing fast. We expect that soon they will become a top pair not only in Russia, but also in the world.
Have you got any new athletes?
Alexander Svinin: Yes, we have five new dance pairs. Quite young. Everyone works, everyone wants, everyone is very motivated. And everyone is so different. Our smallest is Varvara Slutskaya, she is 11 years old.
Slutskaya? Daughter of Irina Slutskaya?
Irina Zhuk: Yes. We are currently looking her a partner. Irina brought a girl to us, and we really liked her. Now she is in the children’s group.
Does she look like her mother?
Irina Zhuk: Very, she has a character of her mother. Ira’s character. 11 years old, and already such a stubborn little persom. And in juniors, we have a very serious pair of Sofia Leontieva and Daniil Gorelkin. Sonya is from Kirov, Daniil from Moscow, he will soon be 20 years old. Due to the pandemic, they never made it to the junior Grand Prix Final or Worlds. But the dance pair is tall, beautiful, charismatic. Next year they will still be in juniors, we don’t know yet where they will perform.
Sonya is somewhat similar to Sasha Stepanova.
Irina Zhuk: Not the first time I hear this, but they are very different. Totally different.
Does the current situation reduce the motivation of young people? After all, no one knows what will happen next. Now the ISU decides with the hands of the federations whether we should be on the international arena at all. Everything is in limbo.
Alexander Svinin: There is concern, of course. But we try to motivate them with the whole team. Think only positively. And load them with work – shows, training, work on programs. And the understanding that everything should be fine. No pessimism. We will perform. We will definitely perform. We will work, we will train, we will perform. You need to be in shape. You need to gain strength and grow, do your job.
Nikolai Morozov and Alexei Gorshkov helped to prepare your pair for the Games in Beijing. What has changed with their appearance?
Alexander Svinin: They bring their own flavor to our work, their own focus, and we really like it. Two heads is good, but four is even better. And we want to further expand the list of our specialists, we will try new choreographers. We want them to grow further, and most importantly, they want it too. The main thing is that the athletes go in the same direction as the coaching staff. It is very important.
Everyone is somehow used to the fact that figure skating is a closed sport, that coaching groups are something isolated, something closed. But more and more often this myth is dispelled – for example, the coaching groups of Evgeni Rukavitsyn and Svetlana Sokolovskaya. It would seem – competitors, Rukavitsin in St. Petersburg, Sokolovskaya in Moscow. But both the coaches and the athletes of these groups are close friends, prepare joint performances, hold training camps together. Now your story with Morozov, Gorshkov.
Irina Zhuk: The idea was growing for two years, even before the pandemic. Nikolai and I talked about the fact that it would be good to unite in efforts, because for so many years we have accumulated such a wealth of knowledge that we can create a strong group. But then the pandemic changed most of the plans. But in the Olympic year, we needed a certain push, some kind of renewal. And nevertheless we embodied this idea, Gorshkov also joined us.
Alexander Svinin: The four of us complete each other. And this may be a serious force. Yes, everyone is on their own rink, but we shouldn’t be together all the time. We come to each other. Parting and uniting, we see more with a new look than before. We manage to cover a large amount of work. And the kids are interested. This is very powerful.
Evgenia Medvedeva: “I’ve never ran back and forth from coaches. Everything Kostornaia does is for herself. If she feels happy, then she doesn’t need to change anything.”