Alexander Zhulin: “There is no need to make something special out of the Olympic season”
Interview with Alexander Zhulin. About the results of the last season, preparations for the Olympic Games and, of course, victories of Victoria and Nikita.
source: fsrussia.ru dd. 19th May by Olga Ermolina and Tatjana Flade
Alexander Vyacheslavovich, how is the work on your book going?
Alexandr Zhulin: I finished it, it turned out 178 pages. I sent it to the publishers, they sent the answer that corrections are needed. I think we’ll launch it by September. I wrote it myself, no one helped me a single word. During a pandemic, I began to make notes, just to do something, then showed it to my wife and acquaintances. They liked it. I sent it to Vitya Petrenko, Sergei Ponomarenko to be read. Ponomarenko got so carried away, began to recall different stories, but for some reason about himself. I told him: “Seryoga, the book is about me.” But there are a lot of funny moments in it. The most difficult thing was to tell about my personal life. At first I was horrified. I didn’t want to offend anyone. I didn’t go deep into personal details, everything is clear there. The book about my life, starting from childhood and on … Perhaps the most boring are last chapters where I write, here was the European Championships, then the World Championships and again the European Championships … I tried to make it brighter somehow, but what to add there… But childhood, adolescence, all sorts of hooliganism, it is interesting. How we went to the Collins’ tour. There is something to remember …
I think many will wait for your book to be published. If we go back to today’s life, for Vika and Nikita this season began with a question mark, but ended more than successfully. How did you overcome all this?
Alexandr Zhulin: Just a disastrous season in terms of the beginning, although no one saw this coming. Because of the pandemic, this was perhaps the most unfortunate season, not only for us, for the whole world. But it ended for us so successfully that I haven’t remembered another such a successful season. And there was no such thing as winning two World Championships in a row (Worlds in Sweden and WTT in Japan). That’s cool.
Although at first Vika suffered from a knee, then she had a coronavirus. Nikita had a huge problem with his back. I didn’t talk about it, but there was a moment when he drove home and couldn’t get out of the car, called a neighbor, he went down and picked him up, everything was so bad. Nikita made a movement during training, lifted Vika, and after a while, when he went home, his back “locked up”.
But this year, many have a large number of injuries, because everyone forced their preparation, of course. We sat at home in quarantine, and at home, no matter how much you pump your abs, legs, ice is a different thing and you should be in good shape. The guys got back to the ice, and of course they wanted a new program, to make a run-through of the short dance and boom … But everyone went through about the same thing. Therefore, the season turned out insanely unusual, and I dream that next year the training camp and the preparation will go well, so that no one will be on lockdown.
What conclusions have you made from this unusual season?
Alexandr Zhulin: The less we skate, the better.
Alexandr Zhulin: It turns out like this. I’m kidding, of course. What conclusions have me made? For me, the most important conclusion is that Vika and Nikita are those people who are not become conceited after victories, on the contrary, the victory at the European Championships in Graz united them, they believed in themselves, finally, they stopped being nervous that they would have some mistakes. They began to work differently and I became more comfortable, and we understand each other well. Therefore, the conclusion: we need to continue in the same way, there is no need for wrangling either with the coaches or in pair. We chose this path last year, which led us to Graz, and we adhere to it now. It became clear that literally three weeks were enough for us to gain super shape for the World Championships. In Stockholm, Vika and Nikita were in very good shape. They did everything that the coach said and did it themselves. There was no such thing that I asked for something, but they refused, because something hurts, or it’s hard, or they don’t want to. We just did everything.
That is, the conclusion: in principle, three weeks are enough for athletes of this level to prepare for the competitions, but with one caveat, with the old programs. In the next season, the most important thing is to hit with the programs so that they are convenient, and that no problem from the coronavirus or some other infection, so that we just have time to prepare them. Because, as a rule, new material is difficult to prepare. And we need to check everything both at test skates, where they will say about mistakes, and at Russian competitions, somewhere in Syzran or Saransk, where you can make a mistake and not be afraid. Because as the coach says, it’s the beginning of the season so go and skate without fear that something won’t be perfect. Then we’ll take part in the Challengers, we took Bratislava and Alma-Ata.
It’s still unclear with the Grand Prix. But if everything is okay, we would like to perform in Moscow and China, but it’ll depend on the draw. Moscow is understandable, and China – to try, to understand how it will be at the Olympics, because the competition will start early, and training will be almost at 5 in the morning. Therefore, at the training camp in Krasnoyarsk before the Olympics, which is kindly organized by our federation, we will specially wake up very early, train and do run-through at 9 am. We have to get used to this, to avoid the situation “got up, lost the Olympics and I don’t remember anything.”
The Korean Olympics had a similar schedule.
Alexandr Zhulin: Everything is made for America, for TV broadcasts.
Does it bother you that the schedule for the Olympics is being made convenient for TV and not for athletes?
Alexandr Zhulin: I can understand that. In America, no one will wake up at 5 am to watch a competition. Plus, we need to think about sponsors, to have money in our sport, otherwise like with Eteri Georgievna (Tutberidze) all figure skating will move to Russia and the whole world will “die.” Of course, I’m half-joking. But this can be a real problem as well. I think Eteri Georgievna needs to take foreign athletes to have some kind of competition. For example, I would not mind if both Japanese and American ladies trained with her, so that there was competition. Because now you can send seven Russian girls to the competitions, and they will take first seven places. Therefore, in America, people quit sports because they do not understand how to compete with the Russians.
Foreigners train in Tutberidze’s group, Shoma Uno came, but could not stand it.
Alexandr Zhulin: Sergei Dudakov later told me that Shoma spent a 15-minute warm-up on the floor – on the floor! – was upset and made it clear: train like this yourself. And left to a comfortable Lambiel and you can see for yourself.
After several trainings in Novogorsk, Shoma even refused to have an excursion in Moscow, he wanted to lie down and relax.
Alexandr Zhulin: Here is the answer to all the talks about growth hormones. You have work hard and that’s all. If you can, you endure and win.
You already have experience preparing for the Olympic season, you yourself were a prize-winner of two Olympics, you coached Ekaterina Bobrova – Dmitri Soloviev, before that Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov. What should be the main emphasis in the Olympic year?
Alexandr Zhulin: With Navka and Kostomarov, I had my first experience of working with a pair of this level. It wasn’t easy. At the Olympics, we lost the compulsory dance to the Italians and experienced a very unpleasant moment. Before that, we lost compulsory dance to them at the European Championships in Lyon, and we were advised then to withdraw, because the judging panel was not very good, but we did not. A few months before Turin, Tanya broke her leg, metatarsal bone, and did not skate all October. Imagine breaking your leg in the Olympic year! She walked in a special “boot”, Roma skated alone. And we began to prepare only in November and we managed to did everything in four months.
I would say something about the Olympics: after many years I’ve realized that there is no need to make something special out of the Olympic season. Sometimes it happens, you start to rush, this is the Olympic year! But when you just make a program, you enjoy it and then suddenly you get “Singing in the Rain” or some other masterpiece. You just choreograph, and Nikita and Vika went and did something on the ice for the first 20 seconds. Then Petukhov and I looked at each other, say: “Let’s leave it that way, we just don’t want to add anything, it comes from you.” Sometimes it happens. Therefore, in the Olympic season, you do not need to dwell that this is the Olympics. The main thing is to like the music, like the steps, so that the athletes enjoy it and start worrying somewhere from December.
What does it mean to worry?
Alexandr Zhulin: (Laughs). To realize that the Olympics are coming soon. Whatever one may say, but at some point all this crazy excitement begins anyway. As in the case of Yulia Lipnitskaya at the Sochi Olympics. I don’t think it was such a load for a 15-year-old athlete to skate both in the team and individual competitions. But when after the team event, everyone rushed at her, called her endlessly then all this stressful situation could become the reason for such a performance in the individual competitions. And Adelina (Sotnikova), although she was worried that she was not taken to the team, was calmly preparing, no one touched her. She came and won. Therefore, we also try to protect ourselves from unnecessary attention and imagine that this is a usual season. Because, believe me, no matter how the athlete sets himself, when he goes to bed, he still imagines how he will skate the program at the Olympics. It is better to avoid these thoughts otherwise you will burn out.
But Vika and Nikita also have experience of performing at the Olympic Games.
Alexandr Zhulin: Nikita is generally an old-timer. And Vika, I don’t remember, was she in Sochi?
Yes, with Ruslan Zhiganshin. It will be second Olympics for both of them. In St. Petersburg, at the Russian Nationals in 2017, Nikita’s injury prevented him from qualifying for Korean Olympics.
Alexandr Zhulin: But after that Russian Nationals, they talked among themselves and after they was like a different persons in a good way. The proverb worked: every cloud has a silver lining, because at that moment everything was so bad, and they understood that they missed the Olympics and the season, but most importantly, the pair got a certain image that was hard to break, although all the judges were waiting for them to skate. And then time has passed, they began to skate, and everything fell into place.
Vika has changed a lot, she has become self-sufficient, and the guys look very harmonious together.
Alexandr Zhulin: I agree. Vika has matured, grown wiser, apparently, she analyzes, and we talked and talk about this all the time. In the first season, their difference with Nikita was striking, but then everything leveled off. It began with a tango program, when Vika became different. Before that, many said to me: “Nikita is, of course, Nikita, and Vika is beautiful.” And now she has become a real skater. I know why it was so, there are some secrets. The guys had different techniques, and this was actually a big problem.
It would seem some trifles, but it really interferes. A partner, when he begins to understand that he cannot skate in full strength, and a person next to him, relatively speaking, is going in the other direction, well it’s very annoing. Therefore, when Maya (Usova) and I were skating, I tried to analyze everything first so that everything was convenient. Noone wants to work in vain, you want it to be both convenient and comfortable. Since that time, I have been working with students this way. First, I arrange everything so that it becomes comfortable and convenient, so that the athletes enjoy it, then we begin to make a pattern, increase the speed. Of course, something falls apart, but it’s completely different than if you jump into the program right away and start skating it at full speed, and then you notice: ass sticks out for a kilometer, and it doesn’t go anywhere, you’ve already learned like that. Therefore, it is better to do everything beautifully. But this is my approach. Someone, perhaps, completely disagrees with this.
During training, we heard the music for Vika and Nikita’s new free program. Ready to voice it now?
Alexandr Zhulin: It will definitely be Rachmaninoff. I will not say which piece exactly, because we have not completely decided yet. I hate music in pieces, and Rachmaninoff is self-sufficient, but according to the rules, you need a change of rhythm, mood, and one more piece will fit perfectly in this program. If you noticed, we have been doing this for the third year already: Dvorak, Einaudi’s piece and again Dvorak. We added Kreisler to Bach. When my friend violinist Edgar Hakobyan sent me a piece of music by Kreisler, I asked: where did you findig it? Because I’m sick of all this Phantoms of the Opera and others, and here’s the music that fits perfectly.
Therefore, we’ll keep the same principle for this free dance: powerful music, which will take the leading place, and then we will take another piece for the choreography step sequence and lifts, I won’t say which one, because I have not decided.
Is Rachmaninoff an echo of that program choreographed for Vika and Nikita in the Olympic season?
Alexandr Zhulin: Honestly, Nikita brought this music, and he and Vika began to skate it with such a soul, with such love that I immediately realized: they really like it and this is an important factor. When people like it themselves, they work in a completely different way. I had my own very interesting music, I turned it on, looked at the guys’ faces and realized: yes, they like it, but they are not inspired. Then I checked it myself, gave them the task to skate something similar to their last year step sequence to Rachmaninoff and to my music. It went well to Rachmaninoff right away, and to the music that I suggested something was missing. Of course, I played 15-20 more options, searched, listened on the ice, and in the end determined: what they had chosen was incomparable.
Of course, I really liked that program to Rachmaninoff that the guys skated in the last Olympic season, but at that moment they were not quite ready for it. This will be different music. And they, already being an adult mature pair, will be able to skate Rachmaninoff differently. And then, it’s the Olympic year – a Russian pair, a Russian composer and such brilliant music, it should work out.
Apparently, in the Olympic season it is necessary to make such a program so that it will not be changed later.
Alexandr Zhulin: In order not to make drastic experiments like with “Birds” by Katya and Dima (Bobrova – Soloviev) in 2014. Still, Katya and Dima are such a pair who needed an artistic image, because it’s wasn’t enough if they were just skating something beautiful. And with Nikita and Vika we come up with stories that are inside the program. We do not explain anything, no one asks us, because they fill the program, they feel the music, they have great charisma, and Sergei Georgievich Petukhov always comes up with some kind of fairy tale, a story that he tells them, and they know what they skate about. We discuss everything together, we say, in this part it is necessary to show love, in the other – sadness, and it works. Vika and Nikita are good skaters.
But I try to choreograph in such a way that it pleases not only me and them, but our entire coaching staff. When it coinside I put the element. But when I really like something, when I feel that the element is super, but the coaching staff does not like it, I still keep it, after all I am the “main coach”. After all, I have the experience. I try not to overload the programs with complexity, because I used to do it before. I liked that everything was difficult, and then, when I watched it on TV, I thought, why did I do that? I meant well, I wanted the judges to say: “Wow, it’s so cool, they are doing such difficult things,” but the general impression remained – a lot of pacing. Over time, I realized that everything should be done selectively, there is no need to be afraid to stay long, to hold. But this comes with experience.
The free program to the music of Rachmaninoff will contrast with the “street dance” rhythm dances. Do you already have an understanding of how to work on a new short program?
Alexandr Zhulin: Street dancing came from America, and so far it is difficult for me to understand what the program should be. They say it can be blues, but not in the classical sense. Then in which one? So far, no one can explain this, and the rules doesn’t say it clearly. You can take tango, foxtrot, latina … But this is not close to me, because the parts of the program coincide in rhythm, mood, and for me, for example, it would be more interesting to see the languid blues, the real one, where you feel a kind of bliss, and in the second part everything else: step sequence and show rap, hip hop, street dance whatever you want. This is my opinion.
Now everyone has come up against the chosen theme and are trying to do something. But a lot is not clear. For example, everything is clear in finnstep: finnstep is the same quickstep and you understand roughly, these are jumps, polka style and so on. Blues has always been in our understanding a slow dance, bliss, everything is viscous, on the waves. But they say that they don’t dance the blues like that on the street, but how?
Of course, we will consult with experts, and send videos, both to the highest level and to our judges, because in the Olympic season we really don’t want to miss with the dance.
Hopefully, over time, everything will become clear. Now together with Vika and Nikita there were several more pairs on the ice. Tell us about your group.
Alexandr Zhulin: There is a new pair Angelika Abashkina – Pavel Drozd. Pasha’s former partner Ksyusha Konkina fell seriously ill and her health condition did not allow her to continue her sports career. Pasha was left without a partner. An option with Angelika appeared. She used to skate for France, but finally got a release and will skate for Russia. We have certain expectations about this pair. But it should be taken into account that she hasn’t skated for two years, she worked as a coach in Switzerland. When she came, she got injured because it was different loads. But I think the guys will be fine. Of course, Pasha has grown a lot as a skater. It will be hard for Angelika to reach for him. But the guys’ programs turned out very successful. We want them to start performing right away. We will force and prepare. They are hard workers.
Two French pairs are skating with us: Evgeniia Lopareva – Geoffrey Brissaud and Julia Wagret – Pierre Souquet. So far, due to the situation with covid, it is not clear how our work will be structured, most likely the guys will train here and at home. In any case, we will discuss this with the French federation. Sara Hurtado and Kirill Khalyavin of the Spanish national team are preparing. In July, the Ukrainians Alexandra Nazarova and Maxim Nikitin will arrive. I love this pair very much. We continue to be friends with Ukraine, and I do not see any problems in our joint work. It’d be great if everyone was such friends as we are. There are also juniors, about 15 pairs.
The group is good, my former students Yulia Zlobina and Alexei Sitnikov work with the guys. They work very well. They choreograph programs, they don’t wait for anyone, they do everything and work hard. I am very glad. Of course, I supervise this process, look, give advice. If it’s necessary to help, I will certainly be there. But seniors have always been a priority for me, and in this regard the guys have greatly relieved me. With juniors, you need a slightly different approach: take a guards in hand and force them. And adults do not need to be forced, everything is ok with motivation.
The main thing is good atmosphere at the rink. A good skating rink, albeit a Canadian size. In August, a new, large, 60 by 30 will open next door, and one of our leaders told me: “Sash, maybe you won’t switch, this ice is so lucky, everyone won.” I asked if we would be allowed on the big ice five days before the competitions to adjust? They answered: no problem, skate as long as you need. But this “Canadian” ice is really lucky.