Alexander Zhulin: “Zagitova and Medvedeva have already shown everything, proved everything in Pyeongchang”
Interview with Alexander Zhulin. Partly translated. About Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, Eteri Tutberidze, Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova.
source: video interview YouTube-chanel KonOff, text version by Vasili Konov for rsport.ria.ru dd. 9th February 2021
Probably the main question that worries Vika and Nikita’s fans is how the preparation for the Russian Cup final is going? In what shape are they now, considering the illness?
Alexander Zhulin: I’m afraid to jinx it, but at the moment everything is fine. We prepare as usual. I think that today they are in a fairly decent shape, we lack two or three weeks. If there are no illnesses, I think we will be well prepared.
How did the illness proceed? There were a lot of conversations that it was hard, and an ambulance was needed.
Alexander Zhulin: At first it was not clear, some tests all the time showed a negative result, and then, when Vika was already at home and realized that it was a coronavirus, one day, I think it was Saturday, she called and said that she feels very bad, she gasps. We called all the best doctors, and she was taken to the hospital that very evening.
She had a fairly serious lung injury. She had injections – in the stomach, in the thighs to thin the blood. In general, the disease was rather difficult. For about a week she was in the hospital, then she was released but still had to stay in quarantine.
Everything seemed to be easier for Nikita, but the coronavirus is such a disease that you do not understand who will have it easier, who will have it in a more difficult form. I was very afraid of some complications, so we didn’t force the loads, but now we almost do run-throughs. Today, for example, we did run-through of the short dance. Judging by the pulse rate, she recovers well, but we will still get a C.T. scan.
Did someone greatly helped in the situation with Vika, when it was necessary to urgently hospitalized her?
Alexander Zhulin: Tanya Navka helped, thank her very much. Vika was treated by a doctor who treated Mishustin and Peskov. Many thanks to her for this, because it was necessary to be treated by the right doctor, in the right place, in the good hospital room.
If I remember correctly, when we were preparing the set, you were training to the last year’s music.
Alexander Zhulin: Quite right. We decided to bring back the old free dance for two reasons. First, we liked it very much, it is lucky. We won the European Championships with it. In my opinion – I later compared it with my coaches, we discussed everything with the guys – in the new program, the last part of Jackson, which was fast, looked a little bit like a foreign body. In my opinion, there was no such completeness.
There is completeness in this program to Dvorak: there is a beginning, there is an ending, there is a middle part. That is, let’s say, a whole piece that looks more advantageous. We decided to bring it back.
Reveal the secret: how to go from “minus 11” from the French at the World Championships to “plus 0.14” at Europeans?
Alexander Zhulin: Do you mean the World Championships in Saitama?
Yes. And the victorious European Championships.
Alexander Zhulin: Well, firstly, we also do not stand still, we work. Secondly, we have a very successful short dance this year and, I think, a very successful free dance, plus the French, when they felt that we were close, finished the short dance head to head, they don’t like to skate in such uncomfortable situations. Maybe it affected a little, they trembled a little and did not perform two or maybe even three elements cleanly. That is, they gave us a chance.
It’s just unusual for ice dance, when such a difference wagers quickly.
Alexander Zhulin: Here, in my opinion, two moments played. Firstly, the French, in spite of the fact that this is a completely unique pair that skates in a unique style, and everything is very beautiful, but if you pay attention and watch their programs of this cycle, they, in general, similar one to one, and the judges also began to notice it. Plus, Vika and Nikita progressed a lot, become more consistent, which they always lacked: at one competitions they skate perfectly, and in the other – some completely unexpected mistake happens, which leads to the fact that the judges would like to give them more points, but they cannot, because there is no stability. The French were more consistent in this respect.
Then Vika and Nikita began to skate more consistent, did not give a reason, and many people spoke about their tango program even then, but then the judges were not ready to put them higher. And another short program, Singin ‘In The Rain, turned out to be absolutely wonderful, and the French, in my opinion, had an interesting dance, but very controversial – this disco. This is not exactly what finnstep should look like in my opinion. But I could be wrong.
Alexander Zhulin: Therefore, if they has skated clean, it is not known how it would have ended. But this is nice, it is not 11 points, and I hope that we will not break this tendency.
Who besides the French? Whom we should pay attention to, given that it’s the pre-Olympic season and only a year remains before Beijing?
Alexander Zhulin: In the fight for the first place, of course, the French are the most serious favorites, and I hope that we are also among the favorites now. We already had a silver medal at the World Championships and gold at the European Championships. That is, in principle, everything is comparable.
There is also a moment – it is very important to succeed with the program, as we say, so everyone like it: both spectators and judges. In addition to everything you need to be strong at that moment, at that time, at that hour and on this day when you need to skate.
Do you already have any thoughts about the programs for the Olympics?
Alexander Zhulin: There are thoughts, many thoughts. And there is a music.
I understand that you will not say, but – classics or not?
Alexander Zhulin: I won’t say (smiles).
Alexander Zhulin: Even this. The guys liked it, but they also have their own thoughts. I think that I will convince them about the music that I liked, but I’ll honestly tell you, they also like it, maybe they just want something more experimental.
This moment of Jackson’s experimental program was very important to me – we skated almost a gala program. And yet, this lightness may not give the desired result at the Olympic Games. I am not saying that it must necessarily be Carmina Burana or something so global.
Maybe an option like Nikita and Lena had in Sochi?
Alexander Zhulin: There are a lot of options. There is a lot of music – both classical compositions and non-classical ones. The main thing is to make a program that everyone would like and that the elements are placed comfortable. This is a very important point.
You said that you have never lured athletes, but, one way or another, transfers and luring are a topic that everyone loves to discuss in figure skating, and this season gave us a confrontation between Chrustalny and Plushenko’s Angels. Do you think it was good for the popularity of figure skating in the country?
Alexander Zhulin: Certainly. There was a moment of luring, then on television they began to speculate on this topic and show Plushenko in one corner of the screen and Tutberidze in the other. It turned out such a fight between Roy Jones and Mayweather. A certain element of show business has come and now everyone is waiting for figure skating to see what will happen next. Whether it is the Russian Cup or Junior nationals – the media, television shows everything greatly.
We shouldn’t forget that in recent years Russian girls have showed phenomenal performances. This is just a phenomenal level that has never been shown, we see history happening. Plus, probably, the right transfer of Kolyada to Mishin – he has luxurious programs this year and a completely different level of approach, some kind of consistency has come. May God grant him health! I don’t want to jinx it.
Just great! Dance competitions – Sasha Stepanova and Vanya Bukin are wonderful and Vika with Nikita. Pairs are a pleasure to watch: Boikova / Kozlovskii, Mishina / Galliamov, Tarasova / Morozov. Our athletes are very strong now. It would be great if the Olympics took place and this all lead to something.
Since the moment Lipnitskaya and Sotnikova appeared and the triumphant performance in Sochi, we have a colossal surge in ladies’ single skating – no other discipline, with all due respect, is able to compete with girls. Is Tutberidze role especially significant here?
Alexander Zhulin: I’ll tell you this: Tutberidze is an absolutely brilliant coach, phenomenon. This is really a level. She just somehow raises them, and everything seems to be very simple – create competition, let the little girl on the ice and say: “This one is already jumping quadruple, and you, like a fool, jump only triple-triple.” It’s easy to say, but another thing is to make it a norm – warm up with triple jumps, not double; without a quadruple you can no longer do anything, so they just need to be taught, trained – it hurts you, it doesn’t hurt, go and do it again on harness.
And she, with her wonderful Dudakov, with Gleichengauz brought this to the rank of some kind of supergroup. Therefore, of course, it is very difficult to hold out there if you become 18-19 years old – not because Eteri Georgievna begins to work worse with you, but because you simply cannot cope.
If the rules don’t change, if you can’t cope, if you can’t jump quadruple jumps, you’re fifth at best. Or let’s somehow cope with your body at the age of 19, let me help you, let’s find some other coach – in acrobatics or something else – who can explain to you that girlish sharpness goes away with age, and if you want to fight for the highest places, then be kind, train even more responsibly or more wisely, or whatever. It’s not for nothing that when people reach the age of 20, it all disappears somewhere. Everything can be very easily explained from the physiology point of view: female processes begin, the hips become wider expand, the chest become bigger and this agility disappears.
Therefore, Eteri Georgievna works for the result of our country, Russia. It needs medals.
Everybody needs medals.
Alexander Zhulin: For all that, she’s an absolutely wonderful person, I know her very well, and she treats her athletes with trepidation and piety, she just has such an approach: if you cannot, then this one will beat you. You can’t – this one will beat you. Now the junior championship will begin – she always has someone on the way, catching up, so people there do not relax. It’s like our men’s team in skiing, where, if something happens to one, God forbid, the second will back up, the third. That’s why they began to win in relay races.
Zagitova and Medvedeva. Is it realistic that they will return to a competitive level?
Alexander Zhulin: Honestly?
Alexander Zhulin: I understand that the entire population of our country will hate me now, but no, it’s unreal. They have already shown everything, proved everything, just then, at that moment in Pyeongchang, which was a kind of starting point, as it seems to me, for both of them.
In general, I told everything before. Liza Tuktamysheva amazes me, that she can add triple axel and quadruple jumps. I understand that at it will be very difficult to do at competitions.
Perhaps, she is the only one at this age who tries to do a quadruple.
Alexander Zhulin: The only one, yes. And not only tries, but jumps! It’s another matter when she includes it in the program, will it work out? With age, something else comes, a certain fear of falling hard. You are already becoming, let’s say, not a silly single skater, who is 13 years old, you were told to jump, you go and jump – your brains are turning on and you start thinking whether it’s necessary. I think this is actually the reason.
Once I was a big supporter of changing the age to 17 years old.
That is, to raise the age minimum?
Alexander Zhulin: Yes. But then I got to the competitions, where I saw all these Eteri’s girls – from Trusova to Shcherbakova – and I was just shocked! I watched and admired their quadruple jumps, I saw that this is the perfect technique, at a great height. And the skating is wonderful, and they show some kind of emotion. And I just changed my mind. I became a fan of this story because everything is really getting younger. Korbut once appeared and gymnastics became younger, and rhythmic gymnastics became younger. This process cannot be stopped. And to looking at 20-year-old beautiful women who can no longer do anything … Well, there are many sites where you can look at them both naked and not. And this is sport.
Which of the girls would you take to your school? You have experience of working in ladies’ single skating, why not try again? Who would you be interested to work with as a coach?
Alexander Zhulin: I don’t think I can cope at this level. With quadruple jumps, no. Choreograph a program – please, if one of the singles wants to switch to ice dance, relatively speaking, without giving names.
Is it real?
Alexander Zhulin: Very hard.
Almost different kinds of sports.
Alexander Zhulin: Yes. But there are some singles that I look at and see: yes, this one could switch to ice dance.
Who? Of those who have retired.
Alexander Zhulin: Sikharulidze would have been a wonderful dancer. Absolutely amazing, I can see straight away, there would be no need to teach him anything.
Plushenko or Yagudin?
Alexander Zhulin: No.
Alexander Zhulin: No.
Alexander Zhulin: No and no.
Alexander Zhulin: Yes.
Let’s go back to the girls. If now Alexander Zhulin needs to name the the Russian national team in ladies’ single skating for the Olympic Games in Beijing, then it would be …
Alexander Zhulin: Okay. Shcherbakova, Trusova, Valieva. This trio in any order.
Why not Kostornaia?
Alexander Zhulin: You asked for today, I answered.
What is the advantage of this trio over Kostornaia?
Alexander Zhulin: They jump everything now and Alena has not yet reached this level. If she heals all the sores, if any, and restores the triple axel, then she still has to show it all at the Russian Cup final. Either the federation will do some test skates, where they will see, because Alena is the person who can fight against quads with a triple axel, because the level of skating, the level of jump execution is very high class.
The girls who decided to go to Plushenko, in your opinion, did the right thing?
Alexander Zhulin: I don’t want to comment. I just don’t want to.
For ethical reasons?
Alexander Zhulin: Yes. I am friends with both Eteri and Zhenya. Once they switched, it means that they switched for something. Not everyone, maybe, by the way, likes to train all the time at the limit. This is a very complex story.
Very often in our sport, in ice dance, you begin to demand a result or something, and the athlete can accuse the coach that he does not understand the soul of the artist. Here, you must understand, there’s an interesting moment: Stanislav Zhuk – ten died, one survived and then became the champion of everything. There is Moskvina, who works very precisely: she takes a pair, takes a second pair, leads them, then takes a third pair, prepares them for replacement. Then someone finished – she already had two pairs again. This approach is the closest to me, because there is a human factor, you communicate, you raise not only an athlete – you raise a personality.
In Zhuk’s approach, everything was absolutely unique, if you remember, his skaters even skated in trio. My friend even thought that his TV was broken – Cherkasova / Shakhrai and Pestova. And he woke up on January 1, turns on the TV, and the picture doubles there.
I think many would have thought on January 1st that the TV broke.
Alexander Zhulin: He carried it to repair! Well, he was drunk (laughs). They explained to him that everything works fine. When he told me this, I laughed, because I know something. I say: “There were three pairs there: both Pestova and Akbarov.” What I’m trying to say is that there was such a readiness. For the elements, for the result. Maybe that’s why Rodnina later went to Tarasova, because with age she wanted to show, tell a story. This is not some kind of hare that plays the drum.
Returning to Tutberidze once again. What I like about her is that despite the fact that she has all these young girls, even when they are small, each has her own style, they don’t just wave their hands mechanically. Apparently, both the coach and the athletes are talking to each other. They at least try to pretend that they understand what they are skating to. Always a very interesting selection of music, choreography at a high level. Just top level! Everyone is striving for this now and everyone, I hope, admit it.
As choreographer, work with whom do you remember the most besides ice dancers?
Alexander Zhulin: From what I remember, I really liked working with Zhenya Medvedeva. But was long ago, when she skated in juniors for the last year.
Was Zhenya’s potential obvious then?
Alexander Zhulin: Sure.
Why didn’t you continue?
Alexander Zhulin: I would have continued, but something han’t worked out with time, I could not come, and Ilia, as usual, was at the right time in the right place (smiles). So it did not continue. He was already looking for people for himself, for the “Ice Age”.
If Zhenya calls you now, will you help?
Alexander Zhulin: Sure.
Do you think returning to Eteri Georgievna is the right step?
Alexander Zhulin: Absolutely. This is the only step that can help her. Although I said that I practically do not believe in her returning – I mean returning to the top 1, top 2, but this is the only option, and I will frankly tell you that in the case of Zhenya I would really like to be mistaken.
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