Alexander Zhulin: It’s a difficult process to coach the winner

Posted on 2017-05-31 • 6 comments


Translation of Anatoli Samokvalov’s interview with Alexei Zhulin. About Bobrova / Soloviev and Sinitcina / Katsalapov.

Usually I just do a translation, but when it comes to Russian ice dance, sorry I couldn’t resist of making some sarcastic comments. (posted in italics)

– The free dance for Katya and Dima is ready, it remains only to practice it, then Poklitary will come again once or twice to shape it up. We have a good creative union, I liked it.

Don’t you afraid that in the Olympic season, an experiment with extraordinary choreographer will be too difficult to understand?

– Absolutely no doubt about it. I also work on these programs and control the main thing, that there was no breakaway from figure skating, that skates, footwork remained “difficult”, despite the choreography.  I see that everything will be fine. The music was chosen such that until you see the program, I don’t want to explain it. ( I already can smell some super complicated and dramatic libretto)

But this will be Bobrova / Soloviev we know, with their sweeping soul?

– The idea should be clear. The modern style, that Radu works in, suits Katya and Dima a lot.  We’re working in this direction.

There will be no self-torture on the ice?

– No. (How is that even possible?! Maybe someone at least dies at the end?)

Will we recall “Mad people” their program from last Olympics?

– No, it will be a completely different dance.

In what state you got Sinitsina / Katsalapov?

– In good one. Most importantly, Nikita said that all injuries are healed, nothing hurts. Vika’s shoulder aches a little bit, but that’s because she has slightly overloaded it during practicing new lifts. (New lifts. This actually sounds good) Knock a wood! No injuries. They are hungry for work, while I’m satisfied with everything.

So it can be said that they have not lost anything in this difficult year for them?

– I think that the problem is not in this, but in their fight with nature. I mean the different technique of many elements. My task is to bring this technique into the same direction in the shortest possible time. Then they will stop fighting for each element, they will be more comfortable on the ice and then more time will appear for choreography and emotions. Now there are some little technical things, which get in the way. I’m sure this pair hasn’t spent even 30 percent of their potential.

I see they are in excellent mood.

– Yes, and I see that the union of Sinitsina / Katsalapov and Bobrova / Soloviev, which everyone was afraid of …only to not jinx it but I don’t see any problems here. (Do you believe him?) )

And those little technical things that you are talking about, turns out it wasn’t solved by their former coaches – Marina Zueva, Oleg Volkov and Elena Tchaikovskaya?

– I never discuss colleagues.

Then so, they have this technical incompatibility since they teamed up and it still remains?

– I can not say anything, because I did not work with them. Now I got a pair, I saw some nuances and try to help if it’s possible.

In what artistic image Victoria and Nikita will appear in the new season?

– The short dance it’s of course “latina”. But we found, in my opinion, very original music and it should work. This is a very unusual interpretation of “latina”.  (Ouch….when I hear “original”, “unusual” from Zhulin my imagination starts to show me scary visions. I doubt he can surprise me after all his creative music cuts. But who knows, maybe they will add rhumba rhythm to Vivaldi) Our ideas for the free dance unexpectedly matched. From the beginning I saw the guys as wide, large-scale skaters and it seemed to me that Rachmaninov is a great choice for them. They came, and the first thing they said was: “Sasha, do you like Rachmaninov’s music?”. Mutual choice. From Rachmaninov most of all like the Second concerto and vocalysis. We have combined them in the free dance. (Thank goodness,  at least Rachmaninov is combined with Rachmaninov)

Will there be starting notes of the Second concerto?

– Of course. In the beginning of the dance.

They coped well with the Russian theme. Should score with the program?

– In general, I believe that this is the pair of such level that able to show any theme on the ice. They hear music well.

So Vika is not only a classic Russian beauty, melodic, with amplitude skating? The right girl.

– I really hope that she will reveal herself. Over the past three years, that I’m watching her, she has improved significantly in presentation. From the Russian beauty she starts to turn into a figure skater with different emotions. But this needs to be developed in order to match this charisma, chemistry, magic connection in pair. So that they do not show themselves one by one, what happened before, but as a pair.

Our past dialogue was titled: “Ilinykh needs Katsalapov”.

– In general, yes, as a coach I think so, but in his time Nikita made a clear decision about his partner, and he did not want to hear anything. (Ouch…..yeah about that…well who would have known that Nikita return to me?) Apparently, it’s comfortable for him to skate with Vika. That’s ok, they’re a young pair, despite the fact that he is already an Olympic champion. I think they will skate at least five more years. ( I really hope for that, because I need a strong pair for the next Olympic cycle)

Was there pressure on Katsalapov to return the former partner?

– No idea.

There was even a rumor that they had a try-out this offseason.

– Maybe. I don’t know. (Ah I’m so self-contradictory!) Come on, give us some gossips!) They came to me with Vika and asked for a meeting. We met, and the next day they were at the training session.

All the skaters we are talking about are familiar to you. According to unofficial information (which our resource posted), Ilinykh’s partner Ruslan Zhiganshin finished his career. Don’t you have a professional thought that theoretically it is possible to return to the past?

– You know, I think if the couple is divorced, there’s practically no way back. The same in figure skating. The pair split up and I do not think that someday they will be together. (We don’t need more competitors)

This is like in the case with you leaving Maya Usova for Oksana Grischuk, who after some time tried again to find her former partner of Evgeni Platov, with whom she won two Olympic gold? (Russian ice dance has long tradition in drama)

– Yes, something like that.

Are there really no problems with competition in your group? Because our mentality is like this: a strong pair has come, maybe coach changed his bet?

– The head coach must have a very simple position: he must honestly work with all his pairs. It gives me great pleasure to watch Brian Orser, Eteri Tutberidze, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon. They have absolutely sincere work, in which the guys have everything to skate and to take fate in their own hands. Weakies fall off, the strong ones stay. If you are strong, you will only benefit from competition. If you are weak, what can I talk about with you?

Is it possible in our realities?

– Why not? When I was an acting figure skater, we had a team: Marina Klimova / Sergei Ponomarenko, Usova / Zhulin, Grishuk / Platov. The result: the whole pedestal at the World Championships (1992 – note “R-Sport”). Nobody argued, there were no problems, everyone worked hard. Natalia Ilinichna (Dubova – coach of duets) may not come to trainings at all. We motivated each other and improved due to it.

But surely you were looking for an approach to Katya and Dima to tell them about Vika and Nikita joining your group?

– I discussed with them a similar topic a year ago, told them: “It would be great for you to have strong sparring.” For skaters of such level as Bobrova / Soloviev only competitions are not enough for growth. You have to be motivated at every workout. Constant urge forward is required. If they come and see how good Sinitsina and Katsalapov look, then logically the next day they should show the best they have. This is my approach. My own. I would behave like this. When I was seeing Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, I couldn’t imagine that I would not perform my run-through. Then we came to the competitions, and it turned out that we are all in fantastic shape. The most common example of an ideal sparring is Davis / White and Virtue / Moir. Absolutely normal, adequate people. Looking at them, I felt that they respect each other, although some moved others to the second place, and four years later everything was the opposite. This is respect, but it is not easy to achieve. You should really want to win.

It seems that Sinitsina / Katsalapov and Bobrova / Soloviev have this  respect.

– We just started to work. While everything works, but how it will be, only time can tell. But somehow I hope that everything will be fine.

The theory is clear, but when you told Katya and Dima that Vika and Nikita are coming to you, did not they ask difficult questions?

– No, they did not. But there was a concern in their eyes. Nobody understood how it would be. But when a couple of joint trainings passed, everything calmed down by itself.

Katsalapov is famous for his emotionality in the training process.

– There are different athletes, there are superemotional, there are more calm. Nikita’s task is to restrain his emotionality, and the coach’s task is to be able to feel the situation. Perhaps, to let go home from training in time, maybe intervene with the word. It’s a difficult process to coach the winner. (So Katsalapov is a winner? That’s interesting) Do you think it was easy with Roma Kostomarov? It wasn’t.

But, as you said, he and Tatiana Navka were able to hold their hands in five minutes.

– They were able to, in five, because they wanted to win. This is stronger than personal insults. If a pair Sinitsina / Katsalapov does not suffer from emotionality, then it has great potential. If not, then we will talk, explain. But it is a theory. Now there is a choreographing process, loads have not started yet. I will also remind you that Nikita and Lena (Ilinykh) had worked with me for four years. (How could we forget!)

I remember.

– It was not easy, but the was a result. And not a bad one.

On the other hand, if Nikita loses emotionality, he will lose himself. Isn’t he?

– Definitely! A person can not be changed, only can be directed. A lot depends on Nikita himself, because afterall he is not seventeen years old. It is necessary to turn on you head and understand what you are going to.

You said before that their couple lacks passion. Beautiful, melodic, but not enough energy.

– I agree, I said this. We will try to deal with this issue. (I’m already terrified)

Do you already understand how to show Vika’s fire?

– I’m keep looking, thinking. (Oh, no! If Vika starts to show passion like Bobrova it’ll be hilarious)

She is shortspoken, closed and opens only to Nikita. So it seems from the side.

– For me, the main thing is when they start skating new programs, they have new colors. They are lacked now. We need to color this pair. I want to do this. They need to tell the story. We have Sergei Georgievich Petukhov for this, an experienced choreographer who devotes a lot of time to stories about what we are skating. (Oh no, again about stories, it’s sport not theatre!) If the guys take it, or rather, if they want to take it, they will appear in a new image.

You have a lot of efforts and desire, but there is a feeling that at the Olympic Games, in ice dance, it will be difficult to claim places higher the fifth.

– Why? Bobrova / Soloviev won the third place in free dance at the World Championships this year. If they had slightly different technical score in the short dance, they could have easily win the final bronze. (Oh honey……say thank you to the pro-Russian judges, they did everything they could) In general Olympics are different tournament, sports, political. But nobody canceled figure skating, the factor of successful program. Competitors are insanely strong, but we will try to fight.

Tiffany Zahorski and Jonathan Guerreiro left your group and moved on to Elena Kustarova. It seemed they are your children, whom you cherish, in whom you believe.

– Well, uh … See how it happens. It means that something went wrong. (Well, I lost my interest)

Was it their initiative?

– Yes, of course.

They did not want to be a third pair?

– Most likely, this played the main role.

In your opinion, could they progress in the new composition of Zhulin’s group or would it break them?

– It seems to me that it would have been very difficult for them. They are not such kind of athletes, who in such conditions would work twice harder as these two pairs (Sinitsina / Katsalapov and Bobrova / Soloviev), and would prove to the coach that they are number one. Let in perspective. They turned out not ready for this.

by Anatoli Samokhvalov for


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6 Responses to “Alexander Zhulin: It’s a difficult process to coach the winner”

  1. Crabe93 says:

    When I think how difficult it is to choose the music for next season, I think I should train under Zhulin, then I can choose two different musics and find a way to mix together in the programm. So much easier than choosing beetween these two wonderful pieces !! …

    … well, maybe I’m not as good as you with sarcarsm and ironic…

    Anyway, thanks for the translation and for your sarcastic comments. It made me smile:)

  2. Gy says:

    Funny he mentioned Klimova and Ponomarenko. They left Dubova a couple months before the Olympics because Dubova was giving all her attention to Usova and Zhulin. Who’d they go to? TAT…

    and Svetlana Alexeeva…

    Could we see a repeat here?

  3. susan says:

    FS Gossips,

    Your comments are priceless! You definitely cut through the BS andtold us what was REALLY going on. Bravo and 10s across the board for you!

  4. george says:

    zhulin single handed !! well maybe with a little help from B/S taken ice dancing in Russia backward at leat two Olympic cycles

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