Alexander Lakernik: “The development of club sports in figure skating is a virgin field with lots of opportunities. In this case, athletes represent not their countries but their clubs, which is not prohibited at all.”
Interview with Alexander Lakernik, ISU honorary vice-president. Lakernik assessed the level of the World Championship that passed without the Russians and shared his opinion on the work of the coaching staff of Eteri Tutberidze.
source: TASS dd. 29 March by Veronika Sovetova
Alexander Rafailovich, you were present at the World Championships, you saw with your own eyes what was happening in Saitama. Did you receive an invitation there?
Alexander Lakernik: As an elected honorary vice-president of the International Skating Union (ISU), I can attend competitions from this organization. And I was in Saitama as a representative of the ISU and at the expense of this organization.
What can you say about the women’s competition?
Alexander Lakernik: Against the background of the Russian Nationals, where half of the participants had a triple axel, quadruple jumps, or both of these elements, the World Championships looked rather boring. In the short program, there was one attempt at a triple axel, and in free skating, there were two such attempts, all of which were unsuccessful. There were no attempts at quadruple jumps at all.
At these World Championships, many Russians were rooting for the European champion, Nastya Gubanova, who skates for the Georgian national team.
Alexander Lakernik: It seems to me that she felt a lot of pressure of responsibility after taking first place at the European Championships. Sometimes it’s easier to win than to confirm it later—many athletes know this. I think Nastya needs to believe in herself, and then there will be results.
In my opinion, the men’s event was much more interesting than the women’s.
Alexander Lakernik: It was really a very tense fight at a high level, even with certain mistakes. The best programs, with their powerful energy, just caused standing ovations.
Two ways of constructing programs can be seen: the first is the maximum complexity, the second is programs that are less complex, but very spectacular, especially when performing choreographic sequences and even step sequences. Our skaters need to learn this from the best foreign competitors.
Speaking in detail about the leaders of the competitions, who impressed you?
Alexander Lakernik: Of course, the Japanese Shoma, he was injured, but still managed to pull himself together and show an interesting program with good gliding and five quadruple jumps. Russian-American Ilia Malinin: six quadruples in the program, including a unique quadruple axel. I think if he can improve his gliding and spins and avoid injury, then he is a very serious contender for gold at the next Olympics. Korean Cha Junhwan skated at the maximum and showed a clean and interesting program with two quadruple jumps. I also remember the programs of the Frenchman Kevin Aymoz, the Japanese Kazuki Tomono, and the Canadian Keegan Messing, who is ending his sports career.
Is it possible to assess the results of Daniel Grassl’s collaboration with Eteri Tutberidze by his performances here?
Alexander Lakernik: While it is difficult to judge, too little time has passed. He and the coaching staff still have a lot of work to do on the technique of his jumps, glides, and programs.
What about pairs competitions in Saitama?
Alexander Lakernik: There were quite a lot of pairs—23—and this is good, but the level of skating is still quite average. It can be seen that the best pairs are trying to catch up to the level of Russian pair skating. There is a certain quality crisis in pair skating, and the absence of Russian pairs intensifies this crisis. With the noted average level, the Japanese pair, with a clean performance, can still compete with the Russian participants.
Returning to Russian figure skating, we recall the fears after our suspension that our “figure skating” could stagnate. It turns out that this did not happen?
Alexander Lakernik: Look at the protocols of the competitions, the number of complex elements, and the number of triple and quadruple jumps among men and women. This number even increased compared to last year. The number of strong pairs also increased. I don’t see any stagnation this season. The Federation and the athletes coped with the tasks. But in order to develop, we need international competitions.
Our skaters had a difficult season. On the one hand, there were a lot of competitions; on the other hand, they weren’t able to compete abroad.
Alexander Lakernik: The Russian Figure Skating Federation (FFKKR) did its best in this situation, it planned a full competitive season, managed to finance it, and almost all the athletes of the national team participated in all competitions. Despite the fact that we were not at international competitions, this season can be considered successful.
Did you see a qualitative difference between what our athletes did last season, when it was still possible to compete internationally, and this one?
Alexander Lakernik: In principle, no. Our athletes go their own way, combining complexity and spectacular performance. What we did in previous years, we are doing now. We are on the path that gives good results. And this season’s competitions showed it. This year, I think, we managed to have a complete season, and skaters were able to show everything they can. Another question is whether it is possible to live like this forever. And yet I will call this season successful.
Despite this, this season was rich in judging scandals. How, in your opinion, did the work of specialists in the conditions of the “closed perimeter” look like?
Alexander Lakernik: Coaches will always defend the interests of their athletes; they will always say that they were underescored. Not all, but many. We’ve seen it, and it’s okay. Sometimes there is a lack of information. What the judges have decided cannot be discussed just like that, looking from the stands. The technical team evaluates underrotations and edges using special equipment and slow motion. They see more than the audience does. Even qualified viewers.
It may look a little different from the stands. But when the technical team watches it on replays in slow motion, it turns out that somewhere, for example, there was an under-rotation that is not particularly visible. When coaches are shown this, they begin to look at the situation differently.
Were there any discussions about some loud cases in the presence of coaches?
Alexander Lakernik: We showed some coaches the problems of their athletes so that they could see what caused such judging. They saw and understood.
As soon as the technical team puts a sign of underrotation, the judges are required to lower the GOE; they have no choice; these are the rules. The score goes down by two or three steps. The decisions of the technical team are extremely important. What we need to think about in this direction is how to make all these measurements more accurate.
Can you please assess the level of our athletes at the domestic competitions—Russian Nationals, Grand Prix, and Russian Grand Prix Final?
Alexander Lakernik: If we talk about men, the competition was very intense and interesting. Many had a chance to take a higher place, and overall, the men’s competitions were exciting. In the future, I would like to see more consistent performances. One competition is led by one, the other by others. On the one hand, this is interesting; on the other hand, it shows the inconsistency of the execution of difficult elements. In addition, international trends are pushing us much further.
Malinin got a quadruple axel; we didn’t even think that it was real. I did not believe in the quadruple axel, but it turned out to be possible. Our male single skaters have clean quad lutzes, flips, and loops, but I want our leading single skaters to show more complex elements consistently.
Women also had a fight, but at a higher level. We are obviously world leaders. And castling in the final results is good because the first six or seven female single skaters skate at a level where they can fight for the world championship podium.
If we talk about pair skating, then our leaders, although they were not completely mistake-free, showed a very high level. In this discipline, in addition to performing elements, there is a class when two athletes look like a whole. Our leading pairs have these properties. In addition, both in women and pairs, there was a tendency to risk difficult elements. In the Grand Prix Final, some deliberately took risks in order to create a gap for the next season. This is the triple lutz of Anastasia Mishina and Alexander Galliamov, the triple loop of Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovski, and we saw this season also the quadruple twist of Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.
The work of the St. Petersburg school and the group led by Tamara Nikolaevna Moskvina is clearly visible. There are also junior pairs. The pair skating group in Perm is working well, and there are several young, strong pairs. I would like to wish them continued success in the same vein.
What needs to be done now to somehow give fresh air to athletes and coaches. Maybe some other new formats of competitions are needed?
Alexander Lakernik: They came up with jumping competitions and show program competitions. I don’t think it’s possible to think any further. Unless to improve already existing ones. For example, think about what can be adjusted in a jumping competition. It was held for the first time, and there were some flaws. Another option is to do more so-called interclub competitions, that is, competitions between clubs.
A few weeks ago, we learned about your international project related to the development of club sports. Why was this format not used before? After all, this is really an opportunity to diversify the lives of athletes and coaches.
Alexander Lakernik: Let’s start with the fact that this practice has existed in the world for a very long time. Inter-club competitions are held both in Europe and in America; however, according to ISU rules, they are equated to national competitions, and there, for example, you cannot fulfill the technical minimum. But on the other hand, this is an opportunity to train athletes during the season, which is an integral part of preparing for major competitions. This is if we are talking about club competitions.
Globally, the development of club sports in figure skating is, of course, a virgin field with a lot of opportunities, especially for the development of children’s sports around the world.
What goals did you set for yourself when creating the project?
Alexander Lakernik: First, the development of figure skating in the world. Secondly, we want to give the opportunity to absolutely all athletes from any country to train with each other and compete with each other. After all, in this case, athletes represent not their countries but their clubs, which is not prohibited at all.
In just a couple of weeks, this topic has acquired a lot of rumors and speculation, so I would like to hear the correct information from you.
Alexander Lakernik: Yes, unfortunately, not all media check information from reliable sources before publishing something, and then it acquires new incorrect details, like a snowball.
The reality is this: we have registered a club, not in Russia, and the task of this club is to hold training camps, competitions, seminars for coaches and judges at different rinks and in different countries, as well as various online activities.
We decided to start with training camps during the off-season in cooperation with top coaches from different countries. The first two training camps are scheduled for early and late May in Turkey, and for these training camps, we managed to invite the coaching team of Eteri Tutberidze. By the way, this is the first time she has agreed to hold a training camp not just with her athletes but with everyone.
Were there rumors on the Web that the project would be financed from the state budget?
Alexander Lakernik: Nonsense. The club is private, the project is commercial, and we finance everything with our own funds.
You have chosen the coaching school of Eteri Tutberidze for the starting project. This coach now has to go through a difficult period in her life because of what happened at the Olympics with Kamila Valieva. Did you have doubts about her candidacy?
Alexander Lakernik: We had no doubts about Eteri Georgievna and her team. These are professionals of the highest class, and it is a great honor for us that she decided to hold this event with our team and come to the open training camp. As for the story with Valieva, for me, it still looks more like a provocation.
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: “I stopped following the IOC criteria for admission of the Russian athletes. For now, it’s necessary to live here and now. But this is not a loss of hope.”