Alexei Mishin: You can skate long, you can skate short, but you should skate well
Interview with Alexei Mishin. About trainings after quarantine and difficulties athletes may face during this period; about his skaters, difficult jumps, longevity in sports and names three components to become a champion.
by Olga Ermolina for fsrussia.ru dd. 1st May 2020
Alexei Nikolaevich, what do you do during quarantine?
Alexei Mishin: In St. Petersburg, the quarantine is a bit different than in Moscow. And theoretically, I understand what claustrophobia is and how is it to sit in an apartment, not having the opportunity to go out, run, go somewhere, go to a friend or practice at the rink. I understand it. Good that most of the skaters from our group have country houses and they can leave the city. I’m also in the country house now and use this break to accumulate energy, strength, health for the final push of this season, the rest of it.
If we talk about my life, I get up, do a run, check who got into my fishing gear. I had time to plant trees, bushes, do something else at the summer cottage, and I feel very comfortable. There’s a lake nearby, we on on the boat, walk. I can’t say that I feel some kind of depression related to quarantine, I think a forced break will contribute to my recovery, although I already feel quite good. I am accumulating hunger for work.
I don’t worry for my athletes, because they are in the hands of Tatiana Nikolaevna Prokofieva, who daily conducts online choreography classes, gives special exercises that every skater needs. Our coaches of physical training Yegor Chelyshkin and Igor Afonin work very well according to the general principles that were formed during our joint work, when every day is devoted to one of the areas of development of certain physical qualities.
When quarantine is over, how will you build training? Are there fears that athletes will not have time to fully prepare for the season?
Alexei Mishin: I can draw an analogy, although any analogy is not absolutely accurate. I recall our outstanding skaters of the past – Chetverukhin, Ovchinnikov, Bobrin, and others, they were at the forefront of complexity in their time. So, then the holidays were long. Some went on vacation alone or with their parents; there were wellness camps. Then, when the athletes returned, it happened that the ice rinks had not been working yet, the ice wasn’t ready. It turned out, the athletes did not skate for about a month and a half, or even more. But a week later, a maximum of 10 days, after they went on the ice, they started practicing their ultra-c – the ultra-c of that time.
I do not think that the past generation was more talented than the current one. Therefore, I think that modern skaters will also perform ultra-c a week after the trainings start. And I would like to urge the skating community not to groan and grunt, but to an optimistic point view. It would be nice if the athletes exchanged information: “Oh, I’ve been skating for three day and did this! I’ve been working for a week and did that! It seems to me that it will be great if the information background of figure skating is filled with positive news. It will be creative, useful and fair.
What “pitfalls” can be faced during this period of preparation?
Alexei Mishin: I see the problem that may arise. It will not happen immediately, but after the period of working on separate elements, when it will be necessary to do them together, or do a run-through of the programs. Then athlete’s body will have to combine two rather contradictory qualities – strength and endurance. What I mean? The execution of complex elements in the program, even in separate fragments, will require not just speed, not just endurance, but speed-strength endurance.
How to get it? I remember the times when the leaders of world athletics were Australian runners – world record holder Herbert Elliott, others. So, their coaches believed that the key to success is a long uniform run in the preparatory period. And if you draw parallels with figure skating, I think that in the current situation it can be useful to skate layouts of the programs, however this method got a lot of bad words in one of the periods of development of Soviet figure skating. This way of training is not so popular now unlike in previous years. But the layouts will allow you to prepare the athlete for the execution of elements against the background of fatigue. Although it’s always wrong to practice such trainings, because the modern and most progressive way is to do run-through of the programs with all the elements. But this should be approached through the preparatory phase.
That is, we move quietly step by step.
Alexei Mishin: I would not call the period that we will have calm. It will be hard. It will be a period of worries and anxiety. The period, maybe not of injuries, although they are possible when the functionality, the vestibular system will fail. But with a competent approach, everything is surmountable. I have no fear that the skaters will fall apart and won’t be able to jump. They will be. And very fast. But to be ready for the competition – this will be a problem.
Your group often goes to training camps abroad, where you conduct seminars, training camps to be able to take all your students, including those who have financial difficulties. What to do now if the borders are not opened?
Alexei Mishin: Clubs and federations often invited me to conduct seminars, open trainings. All our group goes to such training camps, with no exception. And we can work with foreign choreographers, who often put programs for our skaters. And it happens that I, and our coach-choreographer Tatiana Prokofieva, pay for it either our names, or our work, and sometimes money, but all our students can train at such training camps. If the borders are not opened, we will train at home.
If you look at the past season, which of your athletes would you single out?
Alexei Mishin: In general, I am pleased with the results of the season. I can’t call our beloved Liza otherwise than “ever green”. Sonya Samodurova showed that she can fight with the time, she did it successfully and, I am sure, will show herself in the next season. Nastya Gulyakova found some details and nuances in her skating, sophisticated understanding of music. The performances of Zhenya Semenenko are comparable to the good standards of senior male skating. And if it weren’t for the health problems of Lutfullin and Lazukin, who had knee surgery yesterday, these athletes also would showed themselves brighter. As soon as everything is ok for Gleb and Andrey, I think they will take their rightful place among the strongest skaters.
Last season, Liza Tuktamysheva showed programs with a triple axel, did ultra-c solo and in combination. At the end of the season she tried a quad. How will quarantine affect the execution of difficult jumps? What will it depend on?
Alexei Mishin: If we talk about the upcoming season, I hope that Liza’s new programs will be the best in her sports career, and this feeling will help her to cope with technical difficulties. I know from my own practice: the athlete’s confidence in the “vitality” of his programs directly affects the result. When a person knows that he has wonderful programs, he will jump and spin better.
Liza’s free program was choreographed online with Yuri Smekalov. How did you feel about that?
Alexei Mishin: It was my idea to involve Yuri Smekalov, whom we have known for a long time. But the initiative of Liza and Yuri went far ahead: with the help of a whole team of different specialists, they did something that no one had tried in figure skating yet. We really wanted to do something original. Judging by the plan and the first outline of the program, it was a right desicion.
The short program, as Liza already said, was choreographed by Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte.
Alexei Mishin: Yes, and this is also a non-trivial move. Two themes were proposed – Madonna and Spartacus. I was strongly for Spartacus. And when we tried to skate some fragments to this music, it suited Liza so much that it became clear – we guessed with the music. In both programs Liza looks very unusual.
Well-known coah Irina Viner gave such a definition to rhythmic gymnastics – this is risk, beauty and performance. And what wording would you give to figure skating?
Alexei Mishin: Here I will not say anything new. At one time, a sports journalist who had worked for many years in Soviet Sport, Anatoli Shelukhin, proposed a simple formulation: figure skating is power and grace. We can theorize on this subject, give other terms, but this will not change the essence. There is nothing you can come up with, but a combination of these two sides of any sport related to aesthetic perception. And if we look at gymnastics, synchronized swimming – all these disciplines develop along the path of combining strength and grace, complexity and artistic side.
And this is the right course. And the essence of this formula will defeat any trends that exist and may appear in the near future, both in the rules of competitions and in the rules of judging. By competition rules I mean – the content of the programs, the number of jumps, their placement in the program … The competition program and the rules of judging can change. Fluctuations in ??criterias for evaluating the artistic component are possible. But no matter where figure skating goes, left or right, the logic of sports cannot be defeated anyway. The life time will not allow to decrease complexity.
Recently, a discussion has begun about longevity in figure skating. Your position?
Alexei Mishin: My answer is: you can skate long, you can skate short, but you should skate well.
In your opinion, what distinguishes a champion from a ordinary athlete?
Alexei Mishin: I will not answer exactly this question: what components must coincide for an athlete to become outstanding? Three components: an athlete must be born talented, he must be in the right place and in the right hands.
Example: Artur Dmitriev. At one time, my former student Fanis Shakirzyanov wrote to me that he has a talanted single skater. Then I had a good selection of my athletes, and Artur was quite big, and I did not see him in single skating. Then Shakirzyanov contacted Moskvina. And Moskvina took a guy from Norilsk. And what happened? The talented athlete Arthur Dmitriev got to St. Petersburg to Moskvina, where Olympic champions had already trained. He got to the right hands and won two Olympics.
Second example. The talented Zhenya Plushenko ended up in the right place, in Yubileiny, in a group with Olympic champion Alexei Urmanov, other wonderful guys, and in the right hands – mine. Further known …
To what extent does the athlete’s success depend on himself and on the coach who works with him?
Alexei Mishin: A talented athlete with a bad coach will beat an untalented athlete with a wonderful coach.
Recently, figure skating has become very popular in Russia, there are a lot of discussions on the Internet, everyone knows what needs to be done, as one comedian said: every gopher is an agronomist. How do you react to this?
Alexei Mishin: Let them say and write what they want. Both gophers and agronomists. It is impossible to stop it. You can not ban it. There are many comments, there are bad, there are stupid. But along with them there is wonderful analytics, the authors of which say reasonable things based on a detailed analysis. So my position is: let everyone speak out. The ban on alcohol will lead to home brewing on the Internet.
What attracts you in the coaching profession?
Alexei Mishin: I will say this: I can do a lot of things, but what I do best is what I do at the rink.