Alexander Lakernik: “It’s important how long will it take the ISU to understand that without Russians it can be good only at the beginning.”
Interview with Honorary Vice President of the International Skating Union (ISU) Alexander Lakernik. About ban of Russian skating, level of competitions and changes in the rules.
source: MatchTV dd.11th November 2022 by Anna Negasheva
The usual world sports system is collapsing, but you become an honorary vice-president of the ISU, advise the Hungarian federation and the federations of several other countries. Does this mean that Russian figure skating has a chance to maintain its presence in the international arena?
Alexander Lakernik: The Congress was in June. Too little time has passed to assess what is happening in world sports and in our country. This can only be discussed at the end of the season.
But figure skating is a special sport. Russia’s contribution to world figure skating is very large and much more significant than in most other sports. Where Russia had a middle position, one may not notice its absence. In figure skating, Russia is the leader, and without it, the result will be obviously lower.
As for my role, although due to my age I had to leave the position of ISU Vice President (Lakernik held this post from 2016 to the summer of 2022. – Match TV), I am ready to help all athletes. And I do it to the best of my ability. They started a rumor about my work in the Hungarian federation. It’s fake! I’m really on very good terms with the Hungarian federation, but it’s not the only one I communicate with.
However, now the situation is complicated. Both in terms of relations with the Russians, and in terms of flights, visas … I hope that this is temporary.
There is a clear contradiction in the IOC policy and the words of Thomas Bach. Do you think the suspension of Russian athletes is a security measure or discrimination based on nationality?
Alexander Lakernik: I think that politics has nothing to do with sports results. I support the idea of athletes from all countries competing together, regardless of problems in the relations between countries.
It is very sad that in figure skating the political situation begins to dictate its terms. It doesn’t benefit anyone and certainly doesn’t help the sport. Russia is the leading country in figure skating. By removing it from the process, we lower the level of all competitions.
Sooner or later this may affect our results.
Alexander Lakernik: Right. Now, after the Olympics, some leaders may retire, and some may not train at full strength. Athletes are tired, they want a little more free life. They have already achieved something, and it is difficult for them to find a motivation to continue.
We don’t have many Tuktamyshevas, actually. Now the younger generation is rising. If we properly train these skaters, they will be quite capable of going further.
What if the younger generation does not want to? What is the point of working hard if there is no prospect of getting to international competitions?
Alexander Lakernik: There is such a danger. But it all depends on how we organize the whole process inside the country. Now the Russian Grand Prix is being held, which is not inferior in terms of skating, and maybe even surpasses foreign competitions. However, we still need to increase attendance.
After all, how it was before? People knew that there was a Russian Nationals, and they tried to qualify there. I have friends who came from abroad to see live the battle of our athletes at Nationals. Now we need to make sure that the same happens not with one, but with a dozen domestic competitions. And this is a very difficult task.
But no less important is how the international federation, the ISU, will behave. How long will it take them to understand that without the Russians it can be good for someone only at the beginning. Everyone will be able to move up to a higher places. But in the longer term, sport will not benefit from this.
Is it likely that due to the lack of international competitions, athletes will start to change sports citizenship and compete for other countries? Opinions on this issue are divided: someone supports, someone condemns. What is your point of view?
Alexander Lakernik: I am a patriot and I want the athletes who are trained in Russia to skate for Russia. But the situation may develop in such a way that someone will try to leave and represent other countries. Therefore, some kind of contractual relationship between the athletes and the federation is needed, so that it would not be so easy to leave.
A lot of effort and money has been invested in the training of our skaters. And after that they will go to represent other countries and compete with our own athletes? This is probably not very fair.
There is one more nuance. Athlete was trained in Russia, but he decided to move and skate for a country where a situation with ice and coaches is not so great. He will be in demand in this country, but there is a great danger that such an athlete will skate worse. His athletic level will be lower than it was before. Therefore, everyone should choose what he wants – sports results or a good life.
By contractual relationships do you mean contracts?
Alexander Lakernik: Yes, something like that.
I saw a discussion on the Internet that Russian figure skating could become an analogue of the NHL or the UFC. What do you think about the idea of creating your own league/federation?
Alexander Lakernik: And how to implement it? To do this, people should at least be able to freely travel to Russia. Now it’s difficult. And getting a visa is not easy, and people are afraid to travel because of the noise that has risen around Russia. We need to overcome all this. I won’t say that this is an impossible situation, but right now I don’t see how to do it.
You are a judge with many years of experience. What is the hardest thing about judging?
Alexander Lakernik: Judging is a responsible and not at all an easy job. You need to assess the performance of an athlete very quickly, and for him this is an important part of life. And it does not matter at what level he performs: at the World Championships or the “Young Skater” competitions. The idea is the same. For children, their place means as much as for senior athletes means a place in major competitions.
In Russia, the majority of judges in figure skating are former athletes or coaches. Abroad, as far as I know, judges are mostly experts from completely different fields. For them, figure skating is a hobby. Which option is preferable for quality judging?
Alexander Lakernik: In the West, there are also a lot of judges who skated themselves. The question is at what level. I was not a great athlete, but my sports career is 11 years of figure skating. I may not do the most complex things, but I understand the approaches to the elements.
For people who came from sports, in my opinion, it is easier to judge. They feel it. And those who have never been in this sport themselves will either do this work at a not the highest level, or will need to make great efforts and spend a lot of time to start looking at the performance of the elements from the inside.
Is what the athlete does easy or difficult? Now technical specialists and controllers often have to answer this question. Therefore, I think it is easier to become a good judge if you skated yourself. However, there may be exceptions.
In recent years, interest in figure skating has greatly increased in Russia, it is already comparable to football. How do you think, why?
Alexander Lakernik: Look how much figure skating was shown in our country before and how much it is shown now. Good relations with television, of course, play into the hands of such popularity.
I don’t know how it works abroad, but I think that we have a great organization. In general, we always have more spectators than at most competitions abroad. There are empty palaces! Of course, there will be people at the World Championships, but at the European Championships – not so many. Do not think that everyone is running to watch skating there. They don’t.
Does this mean we have more audience love?
Alexander Lakernik: I think yes.
In an interview for the federation website in 2016, you said: “Now figure skating is a bit different, and everything needs to be done faster. Without high speed it is difficult to compete with the best pairs in the world.” What should we focus on now?
Alexander Lakernik: This phrase has not lost its relevance at all. Even now sometimes I want to advise some athletes to move faster on the ice. It is necessary to do so so that the viewer does not get tired during the competitions, so that he would like to continue watching. Speed is an important factor, so it is encouraged by the rules. You look at some athletes, everything seems to be fine, but slowly. And if it’s slow, it’s boring. And if it’s boring, then it won’t be scored great in any of the components.
But it’s not just speed that matters, is it?
Alexander Lakernik: The modern rules of figure skating are arranged in such a way that according to them everything must be done well. They reward good performance and punish bad performance.
Before it was like this: an athlete jumped, you put a tick for yourself. If he didn’t jump very well, then you mark it. There are 12 elements in the program, and all of them are performed differently. Then all these marks were combined into one single mark for the technique, for example, 5.5. In this score, in some completely incomprehensible way, it was necessary to reflect a large number of technical aspects of the performance.
Now the computer does it. The judge evaluates each element separately, so any little thing will be included in the result. You can come up with a complex element, but make it badly. Then everything that you gain by complexity, you will lose in quality. Finally, you need to come up with a good program, create some kind of plot. No wonder they invite choreographers.
The first competitions have passed. What do you think about the decision to reduce the number of components from five to three?
Alexander Lakernik: It’s too early to judge. We should return to this question at the end of the season. Now I do not presume to draw conclusions. It can’t get worse for sure, because we didn’t do anything that would lead to a bad result. But will it do better … We should looked at that.
What prompted such a decision?
Alexander Lakernik: One of the reasons for going from five components to three was that the judge simply did not have time to qualitatively asses all the components. There is nothing wrong with the idea of five components. On paper, everything looked very attractive, but in practice it did not work. Tried for 20 years, and 20 years it didn’t work.
In my opinion, wow it is easier to judge. However, when giving three scores, the judge must be responsible for them and understand why he evaluates one component above or below the other. And it is not necessary that all three component scores be close to each other. They can be quite different sometimes.
In addition, there was one dangerous trend. First the judges scored “Skating Skills” component, and then they started from it judging the remaining components. In fact, everything should be independent. Now the “Skating Skills” has been moved to the last place. Psychologically this changes the picture a bit.
The “Transitions” component is gone. Won’t it turn out that in the long term athletes will start to neglect transitions, and the programs will look like this: jumped, ran on cross-overs, jumped again. After all, why put something that is not required in the rules …
Alexander Lakernik: Look at the criteria for the “Composition” component. Transitions between elements are part of the composition of the program, so if the athlete does not have them, then logically he should not get much for this component.
Again, on paper, we did not throw anything away. All the components remained and entered into these three, but in the form of criteria. Now there’s fewer overlaps when the same thing was evaluated in several places at once. Therefore, everything is fine on paper, but we have to look at it in real life.
There is a lot of competition in Russia, skaters can go very close to each other in terms of points. The level of top athletes is so high that the average viewer cannot always determine for himself who was stronger and why. What makes a winner a winner? Did the one who did not fall win, or is everything more complicated?
Alexander Lakernik: Everything is more complicate. The one with the most points wins. This implies a combination of complexity and quality. Everything is taken into account.
And how to explain it to the viewer?
Alexander Lakernik: We need to give more information. Personally I am not afraid of it. The viewer must understand what is happening and how. Nobody likes not understanding.
For example, an athlete can go to a special monitor right after the skating and see the details of his scores. The spectator on the stands does not have such an opportunity. He sees only the sum of points and that’s it. Since the judging of figure skating is quite subjective, there will always be questions why this is so.
Is explaining the task of commentators?
Alexander Lakernik: Including. But in order to explain correctly, the commentator must be well versed in the issue.
You can also improve the information board. Now the viewer is shown only the total result. Why not show people in the stands the same table with the results that tv viewers see. On the air, after each element, changes in the scores are visible.
In 2022, the Code of Ethics was approved. What is the need for such a document?
Alexander Lakernik: We have several categories of people who are covered by the Code: athletes, judges, coaches, team leaders and other professionals. The internal relationships of all these people require regulation. Similar documents existed before. For example, there was a code of ethics for judges. Now we have made a more general document. Unfortunately, there is no such general document in the ISU.
How do you feel about this document?
Alexander Lakernik: Positively. I don’t think the Code of Ethics will answer all the questions, but it will give some reference points.
For example, one of the positions of the Code of Ethics says that during the competition, the judge must refrain from public statements. And if someone asks the judge to comment on the scores, the judge must answer like this: “I have no right to answer this question. Contact the referee.” The referee has the right to answer this question, but he may not want to. Because he will answer, and in 10 minutes it will appear on the Internet. And in a distorted way. That is why they do not want to give interviews.
Personally, I give interviews very selectively, because the meaning of what is said is changed. People write what they want to write. It will probably be a little easier to live with such a document.
How should the Code of Ethics change the functioning of figure skating in the future?
Alexander Lakernik: It will help to create a more correct moral climate so that there is less fuss and noise around the sport.
Fuss? What do you mean?
Alexander Lakernik: Now our Internet is half filled with lies about figure skating, half with snatching out some individual facts. Well, a person knows something and writes without checking the information and without taking context into account.
There are constant discussions of judging. If the judges judged badly, then there is a special body that will deal with this. Not the media at all. I would advise a number of journalists to think about what they want to achieve with their publications: fan the flames out of nothing or do better for our sport.
As Alexei Mishin wrote in his book: “Alexander Rafailovich Lakernik is the second person in ISU and the first person in world figure skating.” At the same time, you are also the Deputy Head of the Department of Mathematical Analysis of the Moscow Technical University of Communications and Informatics. Could you imagine that you would become the first person in world figure skating?
Alexander Lakernik: We periodically meet with classmates (laughs). There aren’t many of us left. Once a friend of mine said: “Listen, you have achieved the most in our course, but in a completely different place.” Although, they seem to say that I am a good teacher. I write books for students.
I never thought about this topic. I was interested in skating. True, I didn’t do it so well, because I didn’t have much talent. I trained with the famous coach Viktor Nikolaevich Kudryavtsev and was the most persistent and stubborn in the group. We skated on open ice. It used to be that everyone was already leaving to warm up, and I stayed and continued to do something there.
When I finished skating, I began to coach a little – I have enough experience working with kids – and immediately began to judge. Then everything went the way it still does. And I still work at the university, and judge competitions.
Now climbing the judging career ladder is a very difficult, long-term process. You need to gain a certain number of competitions, constantly pass exams for the required score, have a certain number of years of experience. How was it for you?
Alexander Lakernik: In fact, everything is happening much faster now than before. It was kind of uneven for me: sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. At that time there were republican and all-union judging categories. I received the Republican in about 1969, and the All-Union in 1976. In the same year, I judged my first USSR championship, and the next competition of such a level in my judging career was only ten years later. At the same time, throughout this period of time, I did not disappear anywhere and actively judged, but I could not advance in any way. Such were the circumstances. Then in 1990-1991 I passed the ISU referee exam and in 1994 already judged the Olympic Games. So do not assume that everything was smooth.
Alexander Rafailovich, what truth did you get not from books, textbooks and movies, but from your own life experience?
Alexander Lakernik: I really appreciate hardworking people. The truth is to work hard. It’s not what everyone wants to hear, but my truth is this.
You know, Oscar Wilde has a saying “Work is the last heritage for the men who can’t do anything else.” This is how I live.
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