“Age is just the numbers in the passport. Raising age minimum is wrong from the sports point of view.” opinion of Russian coach who works in America and coaches Gracie Gold
Russian coach who now works in America Pavel Filchenkov about raising the age minimum, interest in figure skating in the United States, technical progress, Russian girls and work with Gracie Gold.
source: sport-express.ru dd. 6th December 2021 by Rustam Imamov
Previously, many Russian skaters tried to find a work abroad. In Europe, and especially in America, the services of a good figure skating coach were more in demand (at least financially) than in Russia. Now a lot has changed, in the USA the interest in ice training is declining but in our country there is a boom in this sport. And yet, many people from Russia and former USSR countriess still work there.
For example, coach Pavel Filchenkov now works in Philadelphia, where he is reviving the career of 26-year-old Gracie Gold. The Sochi Olympics medalist has worked on quads and triple axel and setting herself up to qualify for the Beijing Games. Filchenkov spoke about working with a famous athlete, the reasons for moving to the United States and changing his sports citizenship, as well as his views on the age minimum and other pressing problems of modern figure skating.
If I understand correctly, you are currently working in Pennsylvania, right?
Pavel Filchenkov: That’s right, close to Philadelphia. I have my own group, we used to work in the same team with Vincent Restancourt. Recently we parted, but I stayed at the same rink with my athletes. The main senior athlete is Gracie Gold now. But she is not the only one in the group, there are also juniors, children.
If we talk about Gold, what is her level now? What does she claims for?
Pavel Filchenkov: We are training to do two clean programs. We have this attitude every day. The main task is to skate well at the US Nationals, and how everything will go further doesn’t depend on us. We focus on our work.
Does Gracie set a goal for herself to get into the national team or not?
Pavel Filchenkov: Of course, she thinks about the national team, about big competitions. The whole idea of a comeback is based on the dream of performing at the Beijing Olympics. So let’s fight.
Previously, Gracie worked on quadruple jumps and triple axel. Is this work on hold at the moment?
Pavel Filchenkov: So far we had to stop. We needed to spent more time to consistency of the triple jumps, their quality. Additional elements took a lot of time and efforts on trainings.
And yet, what have you managed to achieve in this work? Were there any successful attempts?
Pavel Filchenkov: We were able to make a triple axel without a pole harness. There were good landings, it was necessary just to adjust the jump a little, and you can go to competitions with it … But all this was right before the covid, after which the situation affected us strongly. The skating rinks were closed for a long time, there was no opportunity to train. The workflow has shifted, and our achievements with triple axel become a thing of the past.
Has the pandemic seriously hit figure skating in the United States?
Pavel Filchenkov: Hard enough. But it all depends of the state. Some states imposed severe restrictions and did not open skating rinks for a long time. This is our state of Pennsylvania, New York, California. There were a lot of cases of disease here, and it was difficult for athletes to find a place for training here. Even if the opportunity to skate appeared, it had great restrictions – no more than six people on the ice, all wearing masks. We feel the lack of competitions, ice training. We’ve missed a lot of usefull time.
Were there cases that children ended their careers due to pandemic? When they saw no point in continuing doing sports in such unstable situation and the financial crisis.
Pavel Filchenkov: Everyone who worked at our skating rink continues to skate now. But we mostly have small children, in the United States, the decision to continue a career is usually made in the last grades of school. When they have to choose either sports or college. Many people move to college, their daily routine changes. And in this case, there is no way to continue skating. For these guys, figure skating is a hobby. But there are those for whom figure skating is life. And they adjust their life to training. But lately there are fewer of them.
So, even before the covid, you noticed that interest is dropping dramatically, right?
Pavel Filchenkov: Right. But, on the other hand, interest awakens in certain waves. The Olympics will pass, especially if it is successful for your country, and we immediately see an influx of people. Someone has watched the competitions, liked it, decided to bring their child to this sport. Or the child himself wanted. But in the United States there is no such excitement as in Russia, not even close.
So, if Nathan Chen wins in in Beijing the interest in figure skating will grow again?
Pavel Filchenkov: That’s quite possible.
Speaking about the phenomenon of the incredible success of Russian figure skating in recent years, what are its main reasons? The opinion from the outside is very interesting.
Pavel Filchenkov: In my opinion, competition decides everything here. You can’t deny the desire to win, and when there are such strong athletes around you, then you are motivated to become even stronger by all means. There is a battle at every training session, every competition, the Russians understand that it is impossible to stop developing.
Eteri Tutberidze and her group are a key factor in Russian victories?
Pavel Filchenkov: Not only Eteri personally, but her entire big team. Which she has put together and which she leads. In modern figure skating, it is very difficult to do something alone. You need to have experienced colleagues who will help and discuss. If it’s even great if they don’t always agree with you. It is easier to find ways to make the athlete stronger through discussions.
How would you assess Tutberidze girls’ programs in terms of choreography? After all, they are choreographed by one person, Daniil Gleikhengauz, and due to his heavy workload, he often prepares similar programs for different skaters.
Pavel Filchenkov: Even having 10 children, it is very difficult to deliver high-level programs to everyone at once in one off-season. We need different artistic images, ideas, and there are a limited number of them. On the other hand, the same “Bolero” was performed almost by everyone in figure skating, and yet on each girl this music looked differently. Depending on what the athlete brings to the program himself. A successful program depends not only on the choreographer, but also on how the athlete understands and feels the music. It depends on the skater’s character.
Does Kamila Valieva shows something new to figure skating with her Bolero?
Pavel Filchenkov: To be honest, I like her Bolero. Even though she is still very young, even now she doesn’t skate like a small child. She tries to show herself as a mature woman.
Speaking of the latest news about a possible rise of the age minimum, what do people in America think about it?
Pavel Filchenkov: There is no consensus in the United States. I will only say for myself: it seems to me that the child may be still very small in age, 14-15 years old, but his style of skating and presentation will look beyond his years. For example Valieva – you look at her and think that she is much older. Therefore, it is difficult to talk about senior and women’s skating, mature and not mature. As for me, the conversation shouldn’t be about age, but about the skill of presentation.
So, in your opinion, are artificial restrictions not needed and it is stupid to block access to senior competitions for talented juniors?
Pavel Filchenkov: I don’t see the point in this, it is wrong from the sports point of view. The only thing is that I want the skaters to continue performing as long as possible even if they started their careers early. I really like to follow Liza Tuktamysheva, watch her skate. She is almost 25, and she is at a high level and strives for new heights. Doesn’t give up, competes with young girls. Loena Hendrickx looked good at the Grand Prix. A little time will pass, and athletes from other countries will catch up.
Does Tuktamysheva’s success is also an excellent example of athletic longevity in sports for Gracie Gold?
Pavel Filchenkov: Quite right. Age is just the numbers in the passport.
If we talk about the technical revolution and the era of quads in the women’s single skating – is it moving forward for sports, or are we losing something?
Pavel Filchenkov: There is no definite answer. I would like to see complex technical elements, the interest of the public is growing due to this. It’s hard to surprise people with doubles and triples, even greatly executed. Spectators need complexity, overcoming difficulties, tricks on the ice. And then young girls come and do quadruple jumps – everyone is delighted! But at the same time, one should not forget about the unbreakable connection between athlete and spectator. Not everyone knows how to do quads, without forgetting about their program, about emotions in the program. You need not only technique, but also artistry. So that people come and enjoy this sport.
Is Kamila Valieva an example of such a combination of technique and artistry?
Pavel Filchenkov: Absolutely. I watched her free skate in Sochi and enjoyed it a lot. From start to finish I was like cursed, followed her movements. It happens that an athlete skates a program, makes elements, steps, moves his arms. He jumps well, everything is clean, but objectively boring. You are waiting for this program to end as soon as possible. In the case of Valieva, you live the program with her.
Alexandra Trusova – is it a story more about quads and sports intrigue than about story in the program and choreography?
Pavel Filchenkov: Sasha is a real athlete. Good it or bad is another question, but she has such style. A common dilemma about figure skating – is it sport or art. Usually they try to balance between these two criteria. Sasha immediately makes a huge roll towards sports. The Olympic motto “Faster, higher, stronger” is about Trusova. And yet she improved in skating and presentation. She understands her problems and works on them, for the last two years I have seen good progress in the components.
Does Anya Shcherbakova manage to combine senior quads with an expressive performance?
Pavel Filchenkov: She is a good girl, and her programs are interesting. But she does not always succeed in showing good emotional skating. Sometimes you look – and it’s just wow, you can’t take your eyes off her. And sometimes, you have to think whether you like it or not. Perhaps this is my personal problem. Anya is pleasant, she has excellent jumps. And yet, in comparison with Valieva, I choose Kamila. I like her more.
In the ice dancing, the main contenders for world titles are the Russian duet Sinitsina / Katsalapov and the French Papadakis / Cizeron. Do you agree with this, or shouldn’t the Americans be excluded from this fight?
Pavel Filchenkov: The Americans can fight, after all, the ice is slippery. And a lot will depend on who will skate the program clean. But the main contenders for Olympic gold are the French and the Russians. It’s obvious to me.
Well, what is worth paying attention to in ice dance? The usual spectator here rarely understands why one pair won and not the other, unlike in pair and single skating. And not only the spectator, sometimes figure skaters also have doubts …
Pavel Filchenkov: Single and pair skating are a more objective sport. There is a subjective moment, but the cleanness of the elements is visible to the average viewer. Ice dance is more of a subjective story. A good dance is the skill to amaze with a program, to capture the attention. To see the relationship between a guy and a girl. But it is difficult to please everyone, one judge will see this unbreakable connection between partners, the other will have the opposite opinion.
The connection between partners in ice dance is another hot topic for discussions this season. Judge Vedenin, for example, argued about an advantage of the Russian pair because there is a romantic relationship between Sinitsina and Katsalapov in everyday life. And Cizeron is a gay and cannot show love for a woman. Do you agree with him?
Pavel Filchenkov: It makes no difference whether you’re dating in real life or don’t communicate outside the rink. Let me explain: relationships between people outside the rink are important, but if the partners feel each other, know each other well, then they will be able to perform any emotions. Including love. And sexual orientation will not matter for real professionals. Many pairs are dating with ecah other, many do not.
For you, who is the favorite to win the Olympics – the French or the Russians?
Pavel Filchenkov: So far the French are a little ahead in the season, but still it’s not entirely correct to compare the results at different competitions. Different technical panels, different judges. Different skating rinks, conditions, audience. You need to see how pairs work in direct competition with each other. The Grand Prix Final was canceled, so the first round of the Olympic duel will take place at the European Championships. And the main battle is already in February in Beijing.
Speaking about the hype in Russia, have you thought that you would be more in demand at home now?
Pavel Filchenkov: I have been living in America for a very long time, I got used to this way of life. In addition, there are many good specialists in Russia, they do an excellent job.
So do you perceive yourself more as an American?
Pavel Filchenkov: No. I will call myself an internationalist. Man of the world. I feel comfortable in Russia too, to be at home, to see my parents, to see how the country is developing. And at the same time, it is convenient for me to work and live in the United States.
In Russia, you trained in Perm in a dance group. Today we are used to seeing Perm as a center of pair skating. Turns out that before there were strong ice dancers?
Pavel Filchenkov: Perm has always been the center of pair skating. When I arrived, for example, Pavel Slyusarenko, Alexei Rogonov, Yuri Larionov were training there. A large number of strong pair skaters thanks to Tyukova. There were ice dancers too, developing, but were not as noticeable as pairs.
Why did you choose ice dance when there were so many pair skaters around?
Pavel Filchenkov: I have already come to Perm, being an ice dancer. Prior to that, I trained in Nizhny Novgorod, and in our city there were no pair skaters, only ice dances. I switched from singles to ice dance, because I quickly grew up and the jumping technique fell apart. There was not enough muscle strength for complex technical elements, so I was offered ice dance.
Looking on the your last season in Russia, your results were gradually going up, but you still moved to the USA. What were you guided by when making this decision?
Pavel Filchenkov: Honestly, I gave up figure skating. I was 18 and hadn’t skated at all for a year and a half. I decided to study, entered the Russian State University of Physical Culture. Then Natalya Linichuk found me and invited to a try-out in America. I decided to try, why not? At first we wanted to skate for Azerbaijan, but there were difficulties with the papers. As a result, the USA national team was chosen. The main thing is that we felt each other well with my skating partner, we found mutual understanding. And we had five good seasons.
So it helped you to revive your career?
Pavel Filchenkov: Deep down, I myself wanted to continue skating, but there were no options. Therefore, I gladly accepted this opportunity. When an athlete ends with sports, he still lacks something. There is no regime, sports rhythm, competitive drive. In a good way, sport is like a drug.
Were there any difficulties with the change of the national team?
Pavel Filchenkov: I haven’t changed my citizenship, I’m Russian citizen. I haven’t received American passport. This wasn’t a problem, except for the Olympics, ISU allows to all competitions. There were no problems with the Russian figure skating federation either, they let me go quietly.
Did you face critique after the decision to compete for the United States?
Pavel Filchenkov: Honestly, no, I haven’t heard anything bad about myself.
Now we see a wave of Russian figure skaters who have decided to change sports citizenship. There is a lot of discussions and critique around them. What do you think about this?
Pavel Filchenkov: It’s not for me to discuss other people, and I don’t think it is right when outside observers condemn the decision of another person. Sometimes people are very fond of sports, their work. And they want to do it as long as possible, they dream of going to the World and European Championships. If they are not in demand in their homeland, why not use the opportunity to perform for the country where you will be useful? I don’t see anything wrong with that. If a person performs for another country, this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love his homeland.
At the same time, the ISU has recently begun to restrict the transfer of athletes who have participated in the national championships over the past two years. Is this right? After all, athletes are looking for a way out of the current situation, when there are too many strong skaters in the country for a small number of spots.
Pavel Filchenkov: It’s hard for me to say. Russia is interested in a large number of athletes and wants to see strong competition within the country. It is due to this competition new champions appear, and the skating of the leaders improves. Due to the long bench. And they don’t want to lose someone by strengthening competitors. It’s easy to see logic in such restrictions.
And yet we have an example – Maria Talalaikina. She was called to the Italian national team, so far, her transfer hasn’t been approved. Doesn’t this resemble serfdom?
Pavel Filchenkov: Difficult question. It’s a pity for the girl, but, again, I can understand the federation. They don’t want to just let go those who have been raised for so many years. So much effort, money, attention, and in the end they just leave.
Perhaps, then, it is worth bringing practices from team sports to figure skating? Add a transfer scheme with buyout contracts, for example.
Pavel Filchenkov: To do this, you need to have money in figure skating comparable to football and hockey. Believe me, we operate with much smaller amounts, ridiculous by their standards.
Are you satisfied with your career or is there a sense of unfulfilled ambition?
Pavel Filchenkov: I think there is no such athlete who would be completely satisfied with his results. You still want to improve something. Not everything worked out, there were injuries, problems. But I will not grieve and say that everything was in vain. I got a tremendous and very useful experience for myself.
Related topics: Alexandra Trusova, Anna Shcherbakova, Daniil Gleichengauz, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Eteri Tutberidze, Gabriella Papadakis Guillaume Cizeron, Gracie Gold, Kamila Valieva, Nathan Chen, Victoria Sinitsina Nikita Katsalapov