Alexander Volkov: “Nowadays, we are not liked anywhere. It’s terrible to compete without a flag. Politicians should find a way to allow us to compete under our own flag.”
Interview with coach Alexander Volkov. About plans for the upcoming season, motivation, athletes changing citizenship, and his relationship with Evgeni Plushenko.
source: sportsdaily.ru dd. 8th May 2023 by Evgenia Kolivanova
In the past season, 19-year-old Artem Kovalev made it into the top 5 at the Russian Nationals. Undoubtedly, there is a great credit to his coach, Alexander Volkov. They have been together for 15 years. Recently, Volkov received the “Coach of All-Russian Level” category. In an interview with “Sport Day by Day,” he talked about his plans for the upcoming season, motivation, athletes changing citizenship, and his relationship with Evgeni Plushenko.
How did this season go for Artem?
Alexander Volkov: I would give it a four, on a five-point scale.
Where did it not go well?
Alexander Volkov: At the Russian Grand Prix Final (Kovalev finished 10th – “Sport Day by Day”). The first stage of the Grand Prix wasn’t good, with many mistakes. The Russian Nationals went more or less fine. You all saw what happened at the Russian Grand Prix Final. There were mistakes on the axels, which are usually very unlogical and non-explainable for him. It’s unclear what happened because the axels are usually his warm-up element.
What are the plans for the next season?
Alexander Volkov: I understand that we don’t have any international Grand Prix events, so the plans include all the Russian competitions, two stages of the Russian Grand Prix, the Russian Nationals, and the national team’s test skates in September. We want to show a new program – we’ll keep the free skate, but the short program will be different.
Do you think Russian figure skaters will not be allowed to participate in international competitions next season?
Alexander Volkov: Yes, I don’t think so. I really hope we will be allowed, but it’s still unclear.
Are your students attempting to perform quadruple axels or quintuple jumps?
Alexander Volkov: I don’t have any students who could even try a quadruple axel at the moment. With Artem, we tried to work on it. He tried jumping it with a harness, but in reality, it’s very risky. With his height (190 cm – “Sport Day by Day”), it’s twice as risky. Even if he hypothetically lands it, executing such an element in competitions is a big risk, and it’s not worth it for the value it adds, so to speak.
Is it necessary at all considering Ilia Malinin’s experience, who with six quadruples, including the axel, only placed third at the World Championships?
Alexander Volkov: There are different components. If the program has strong technical content, it becomes challenging. The program components suffer because the skater physically can’t handle the program. In general, it’s something out of this world. I don’t know why he got this much points. Honestly, I watched it in fragments.
How do you continue to motivate the athlete if the next season might also take place within the country?
Alexander Volkov: Last year, Artem qualified for the Junior World Championships for the first time but didn’t make it because nobody went. There was a moment when he came and asked, “Why do we even skate? I’ve been doing this for many years, there are no international competitions, I want to compete with other countries.” Yes, it was tough. I tried to convey to him that this situation will eventually end, everything will return to normal, there will be international competitions, the Worlds, Europeans. I told him that he’s not that old yet, he can still skate.
He’s a mature guy, so I had to have conversations with him, especially after unsuccessful training sessions. It happens sometimes. Of course, there’s a desire to quit everything, hang up the skates, and do something else. Maybe take up giving private lessons, for example. I hope everything worked out. He’s skating now, trying his best, and the season went quite well.
Why did you stop working with Evgeni Plushenko?
Alexander Volkov: He moved to another rink and it was very difficult for us to get there, so we made a mutual decision to part ways. There were no conflicts or misunderstandings; it was simply challenging from a logistical standpoint.
Do you have any regrets about it now?
Alexander Volkov: No, we have a great relationship. We meet and communicate. He went his own way, and I went mine. He’s doing great, and I’m incredibly happy for him.
Anton Sikharulidze has become the acting president of the Figure Skating Federation of Russia. What do you expect from him primarily?
Alexander Volkov: I hope that in some way Anton will be able to allow us to participate in international competitions. I’m not sure if it’s within his power. It’s more of a matter for the Ministry of Sports, perhaps, although there are other sports like boxing and tennis where participation continues. If Anton manages to achieve something, he’ll be a genius. I would really like for something to work out because it’s sad without international competitions.
How do you assess the work of the judging panel in the past season? Scores at domestic competitions were reaching almost 300 points, which is on the level of Yuzuru Hanyu and Nathan Chen.
Alexander Volkov: I don’t pay much attention to that. I organize competitions within my own country. I can tell the judges, let’s start judging the third junior category conditionally from sixes. Yes, it would be wrong, but it’s my competition. That’s what I mean hypothetically.
At home, you can give whatever scores you want. There have been many cases like that. At home, athletes receive one score, but when they come to the World Championships, they receive different components and levels. I don’t know why scores are inflated. This year, tens were given left and right. I don’t think Hanyu received tens so frequently, and he is one of the greatest singles skaters in the world. I don’t like it, but I didn’t judge those competitions, so I can’t say anything.
In the past season, there was an incident with the scores at a competition that Evgeni Plushenko reacted to. Should convening an ethics commission on this matter be seen as censorship and a prohibition on criticizing the judges’ performance?
Alexander Volkov: Evgeni expressed his dissatisfaction with the judging, and it’s his personal opinion. If he believes that the judging was incorrect and can provide arguments for it, then he is theoretically right. I didn’t watch the competitions with his skaters, but I heard that something was incorrectly evaluated there. I don’t have the right to judge other athletes. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Evgeni Plushenko, Eteri Tutberidze, or anyone else. Everyone has the right to express their point of view. Assembling commissions, in my opinion, is completely wrong.
Is it worth paying more attention to the ethics of athlete upbringing, as the issue of coaches’ methods with their athletes, which can sometimes be cruel, is gaining momentum this year?
Alexander Volkov: I have three daughters. Right now, I’m speaking not as a coach but as a father. If, hypothetically, my daughter was involved in a sport, and her coach applied some cruel methods, hit her or something like that, in the best case scenario, they would end up in jail. If a parent approves of cruel upbringing methods, then either they have mental issues or they’re satisfied with it.
Sacrificing for results and achievements may be acceptable.
Alexander Volkov: It means that such a parent is mentally ill. I believe that hitting is unacceptable. Yes, sometimes you might raise your voice or hit the ice in frustration. Well, we are all human. You can scare a child, you can whisper something to them that makes them cry, take off their skates, and never put them on again in their life. But there’s no point in hitting. I don’t understand parents who tolerate it.
As for what motivates coaches, I don’t know. There’s no point in using such methods because they won’t make you jump higher. Losing control is the last thing to do, which means you’re just an unqualified coach, and that’s it.
Is there a possibility of new transfers in your group?
Alexander Volkov: My athletes don’t seem to have any plans to transfer anywhere. Is someone planning to come to me? I don’t know. So far, there’s nothing like that. We continue working as we do.
Do you have a calm attitude towards an athlete’s desire to compete under a different flag?
Alexander Volkov: Of course, I am completely calm about it. I understand them perfectly. Because the main goal of any athlete is the Olympics, World Championships, or something equally significant. We’re talking about elite-level sports, naturally. If an athlete is deprived of what they have been striving for their whole life due to a political situation, it’s terrible.
That’s talking about regular athletes. Then there are Paralympians. That’s an absolutely unacceptable situation. I often see them; they are incredibly strong individuals, and for many of them, sports is all they have left. It’s their life, and it’s being taken away from them.
Sports should not be associated with politics. And if an athlete can compete for another country in such a situation, why not? Accusing them of betraying their homeland in such a case is complete nonsense. They have already brought medals to their country, and they will continue to do so. First and foremost, an athlete competes for themselves. If they can become a world champion while representing another country, why not? They may not have another chance, and life is only one.
If Artem comes to you and says that he no longer has the strength to compete within the country and has offers to compete under a different flag, would you support him?
Alexander Volkov: Of course.
Is it worth competing in competitions under a neutral flag? Some people call for boycotting this option, claiming that we are being used as a doormat.
Alexander Volkov: It’s better to compete somehow than not compete at all. I disagree with the notion that “we are being used as a doormat.” I was born in the USSR, and perhaps we weren’t liked by others, such as America. But we were respected. We always competed under our Soviet flag. I was proud of my country.
Nowadays, we are not liked anywhere. It’s terrible to compete without a flag. I am Russian, my athletes are Russian, and I am proud of my flag. Of course, I want to compete under my flag. Politicians should find a way to allow us to compete under our own flag.
In one of your interviews, you mentioned that there are countries where it is psychologically easier to train. What did you mean by that?
Alexander Volkov: Nowadays, it’s generally not calm anywhere. I worked in America for several years, my wife is from Canada, and I have been there for training as well. There, there is no such stress, no such pressure. But when you step into elite-level sports, stress is everywhere. That’s the average situation. When you train children, it’s all light: if you want to jump, you jump; if you don’t want to, you don’t.
In Russia, it’s all about results, constant competition… They don’t have that there. Whether it’s good or bad, I don’t know, but honestly, I don’t like it. I enjoy working in Russia; I get pleasure from striving to achieve something. When I worked in Florida, I had no goal. I earned money there, enjoyed life, but there was no moral satisfaction in terms of work.
Have you traveled as a coach to international competitions this season?
Alexander Volkov: Yes, I went to Croatia with Semyon Danilyants.
Has the attitude towards Russians abroad changed?
Alexander Volkov: Nothing has changed. I didn’t feel anything different, the attitude was absolutely the same. I met with a friend from Ukraine there, we are not enemies, I’ve known him for a million years. I communicate perfectly fine with Americans and Canadians as well. I didn’t notice anything on the streets or anywhere else. We spoke Russian among ourselves, and no one said a word.
How do you feel about the negative attacks against Russians and calls to exclude them from competitions?
Alexander Volkov: It’s politics, and it’s wrong. What does it have to do with athletes? If we’re talking about that, then America bombed Yugoslavia, so were American athletes excluded from competitions? Any war is bad, but what does it have to do with sports?
Should we consider shifting focus to Asia in the current situation?
Alexander Volkov: We should work towards returning everything back to normal, where all countries compete under their own flags and determine who is the best on the ice or football field.
Is it possible to create an alternative to the Olympics?
Alexander Volkov: No, of course not. What could be invented as an alternative?
For example, the Asian Games.
Alexander Volkov: Let’s invite North Korea, we’ll take first place. China too. South Korea will refuse, Japan as well. What other friendly countries do we have? Papua New Guinea, Zimbabwe. No, it’s ridiculous.
Recently, you received the “Coach of All-Russian Level” category. What does it mean to you, and what are the advantages of this title?
Alexander Volkov: Honestly, I don’t know what it means. The next level is probably the national level, where coaches participate in World Championships, European championships, and the Olympic Games. That’s not in the cards for me right now because we don’t have anything. It’s probably some kind of honor, maybe a rating. I don’t think it gives me anything, my salary won’t change, the athletes won’t become better or worse, hopefully. It’s just a certain title. I don’t even know if it’s given permanently or temporarily.
Why don’t you go on training camps?
Alexander Volkov: We used to go to Latvia before the pandemic. We were in Ventspils for two or three years in a row; it’s great there by the seaside. We haven’t traveled anywhere for three years now. Most of the people in our group are from Moscow, and some come from the regions. Going somewhere – hotels, moving – involves extra expenses.
Do the groups pay for training camps themselves? Does the federation not provide funding?
Alexander Volkov: Of course, all the training camps are paid for by ourselves. The federation has never covered the expenses for any of my training camps. This year, they offered Artem to go to Sochi, but only him because he’s part of the national team. But I have 50 other kids. I can’t go with Artem, so it’s easier for me to have Artem stay here with me. If he wants to go to Sochi, he can buy a ticket, spend three days there, and come back.
What do you wish for yourself, your athletes, and the entire coaching staff in the new season?
Alexander Volkov: Patience, psychological resilience. I wish my athletes success in their competitions, good training sessions, fewer injuries, and more positivity in life. That goes for everyone, really. Perhaps that’s how we should approach life. There’s a lot happening right now, and it’s tough and sad for everyone, but life goes on, and sooner or later, it will all come to an end. Everything will be fine.
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