Anna Levandi: “Russian women’s skating is a completely separate world, which no one competes with. All the rest are in too unequal conditions.”
Interview with former soviet skater, now a coach Anna Levandi. About Russian women’s skating being a separate world, no one can compete with because of too unequal conditions, injuries in sport, Kamila Valieva, Alexandra Trusova and Jason Brown.
source: russian.rt.com dd 30th Novamber, 2021 by Elena Vaitsekhovaskaya
In the new season, everyone is speaking about Belgian skater Loena Hendrickx, who made a splash at the Grand Prix in Turin, if we leave aside the successes of Russian figure skaters. Why doesn’t your skater Eva-Lotta Kiibus hurry to take this niche?
Anna Levandi: In fact, Eva-Lotta can skate just as well as Hendrickx. And not only she. Another Estonian athlete, Nina Petrykina, became the second at a recent competition in Warsaw, almost beating Maiia Khromykh. Speaking about Eva-Lotta, since May we have been fighting for her ankle, and in general for her legs. This is terribly offensive, because this season we choreographed very good programs, and the costumes turned out to be amazing, and Eva-Lotta has a very powerful attitude towards the result, there are no psychological problems either.
But if the leg cannot stay in the boot for more than one hour and we do, at best, one workout a day, then we cannot expect a high level of the preparation. Kiibus used to gain the quality of skating with insane mileage, the number of repeats that give self-confidence, reliability, inner freedom, but now our capabilities are very limited in this regard.
Does a skater need an insane amount of jumps during training now?
Anna Levandi: I do not see any other way to develop consistency. I did the same, when I skated myself, now I teach all my athletes the same way. I think that I am doing the right thing: no one else in Estonia has yet come to the results that my athletes show.
I mean something else. The more difficult the sport becomes, the more the head and the nervous system are loaded – many experts say this, and not only in figure skating. Moreover, a large number of multi-rotational jumps increase the probability of injury dramatically.
Anna Levandi: In this regard, we have a different situation than in Russia. Estonian skaters do not have quadruple jumps, and you can do anu amount of triple jumps, it is not traumatic.
And this is said by a person who got a severe hip fracture at the age of 15?
Anna Levandi: That injury was more of an accident. That days the rules made the girls to perform a combination with a loop, and this jump puts a lot of load on the hip. Eventually the hip joint could not stand it and the ilium came off, after that I spent two months in a bed. But this did not stop me from quick recovery. I can say for sure that thanks to figure skating, I am a much healthier person now than most women of my age. I still have a strong muscular corset, good coordination.
Can you do a double jump on the ice?
Anna Levandi: Yes. Although I will not jump a triple, to do this you still need to be more prepared. But if we’re talking how to train quadruple jumps, then in some ways you are certainly right. I myself start to think about it, looking at men’s skating. Still, my youngest son is growing up, who sooner or later will have to jump quadruples, and I would like to clearly understand how to build trainings so that Arlet is able to compete at a high level.
It turns out that the loads of big sports doesn’t scare you?
Anna Levandi: I perceive this as something normal.
Big sport is for gladiators, I myself have been one of them for many years. And I am just for such a sport. If you decided to go there, then go, achieve your goal, try to prove yourself, leave a bright mark, even if your career is not too long. But for this you need to be very strong, consistent, self-confident.
If athletes that you like cannot do this, do you sympathize them?
Anna Levandi: Rather, I understand very well what is happening in a person’s soul. After all, no one comes to the competitions to fall in front of the audience. Everyone trains a lot, trying to show their maximum. Falling is always terribly unpleasant, and it’s not a matter of physical pain at all. Usually, you don’t feel it on the ice. But this feeling of public humiliation, your worthlessness and guilt always kills an athlete very strongly. Therefore, I have always been a supporter of the idea that my skaters skate clean at competitions. So that absolutely everything they do is performed at a high level. If you lack difficulty – make a triple jump, not a quad, but clean and confident.
The example of Jason Brown, who is getting very high scores, immediately comes to mind.
Anna Levandi: If we are talking about Brown, we must understand that it is not about jumps at all. Only a few people in the world know how to skate the way he does it. And there is a colossal work behind this. For example, I am not ready to put someone else on equals with Jason in the ability to skate.
Let’s discuss it more specifically.
Anna Levandi: Well, look: the majority of unprepared viewers do not distinguish a quadruple jump from a triple jump. In the same way, very few people pay attention to deep edges or pointed toes. But the feeling “Wow! That was cool!” familiar to everyone. You start asking what exactly was cool, and the person finds it difficult to answer. But he got goosebumps. The judges in this respect are the same viewers. If Nathan Chen performs a quadruple jump like in his best performances, this is also “Wow!” Not in terms of complexity, but in terms of ease of execution. When this lightness is there, the skater is perceived as some kind of alien capable of doing the impossible on the ice.
Like Kamila Valieva?
Anna Levandi: Like Kamila Valieva, like Yuzuru Hanyu. Figure skating performed by such athletes is no longer perceived as a sport, but as an art. This is what fascinates the viewer. Well, and the judges put eights and nines for such skating, regardless of whether it’s their athlete or nor. In this regard, the second mark comes rather from the feelings that skater caused in those who look at him, than from his skills.
Your colleague Alexander Vedenin noticed that it is not always clear to him how Kamila does certain things on the ice. Does that feel familiar to you?
Anna Levandi: When I look at Valieva, first of all I see that this girl has absolutely phenomenal control of her body. She can glide in an arabesque and this does not prevent her from working with her leg on the ice. Even when Kamila does not perform quads too smoothly, she manages to straight herself in the air like a cat. This is a tremendous natural motor talent plus a tremendous job. As a professional, I understand this.
But when I watch how my son make the step sequence, I catch myself thinking that I really don’t understand how he does it. Benoit Richaud choreographed this step sequence for him, and at first I could not even count the steps, I even began to feel dizzy from the sensations that I experienced myself: the body constantly changes the shape, bending in one direction, then in another direction, and the legs continue to do counters and rockers without any problems. At the same time, Arlet does not lag behind the music, does not lose rhythm.
At one time, Stanislav Zhuk’s figure skaters, whom you trained with, worked quite a lot on the sand during the summer training, strengthening the ankles. Is something similar being practiced in figure skating now?
Anna Levandi: Actually, we worked on the sand only one summer, and never did it again. Personally, this training did not give me anything. Quite the opposite: I had to recover from it for two months, during those days I almost could not skate. The muscles became heavy, clumsy, and a total de-coordination began. Now figure skating requires completely different qualities, first of all, a lot of coordination and speed-strength work. The muscles should be dry and very light. Explosive, but elastic. Therefore, we dance a lot.
Well, the ankles get pumped up by the number of jumps, although I still don’t know a better activity to strengthen them than doing “figures”. At one time, we worked on all the nuances of gliding for four to five hours a day. For the ankle, this is the best work possible. It is calm, without any stress, it takes absolutely all muscles, including the smallest ones, because you constantly control where and how to press on the ice with the blade, with what force …
I must confess that I am frightened by the statements of some of your colleagues that injuries in figure skating are inevitable.
Anna Levandi: Who says that? For example, I do not think so at all. And it would be wrong to think so. In Estonia, the entire population of the country is 1 million 300 thousand people. And Eva-Lotta, with whom I have been working for 12 years, is the only one I have – there is not a single such an athlete standing behind the door. And my son trains with me from the first steps on the ice. Nobody will prepare other athletes for me, so a situation where I would admit that injuries are normal is unacceptable for me. In this case, I cannot afford any risk.
Well, but you said about Eva-Lotta’s ankle problems.
Anna Levandi: It was not injury. Kiibus has a rather specific foot structure, a very soft ankle joint, so we have to change boots twice a year, choosing those that hold the foot very strongly. So they pressed the ankle too much. Now the best forces of Estonian medicine are involved to restore the leg, the doctors are doing everything possible, but we have not yet succeeded in complete recovery and can not work and train on the required level. That’s why the results are unstable.
How “crazy mom” are you when it comes to your son’s performances?
Anna Levandi: Rather, I am a very interested mother, and this applies not only to figure skating. Naturally, I want Arlet to realize himself as a skater, since he really enjoys skating. He goes his own way, develops, and I just guide my son, helping where I can help him. In this regard, Arlet is the easiest of my athletes. But in general, I want to say that I work a lot with other parents, especially since I take children to my school at a very early age. I explain what it means to be in sports, how to talk with children, how to assess training.
Should parents assess trainings?
Anna Levandi: Of course. The goals that the child sets for himself come primarily from the family. As well as ambition. It is a big illusion that a coach can teach this. Everything is laid much earlier. Perhaps, in Russia, the situation is different, since in your country sport has been raised to the state level with very powerful funding. Our parents pay for everything, so they cannot but take part in the training process. And it turns out a pyramid, at the head of which is an athlete, and below – parents and a coach. If I failed to teach dad or mom some sports things, it is primarily my fault.
In Russia, many think quite differently.
Anna Levandi: You don’t need to compare.
Don’t you understand that Russian women’s skating is a completely separate world, which no one competes with? All the rest are in too unequal conditions, both at the children’s and at champion level.
I’m not even going to comment on this.
And if the minimum age for women’s skating is raised, will it change something?
Anna Levandi: How do I know? We need to raise and see what happens. For countries like ours, this, of course, can be a definite plus: our children at the age of four collect cubes on the ice, rather than jumping doubles. Well, and athletes mature later. I am sure my son would not be taken into any figure skating school in Russia. But I can say for sure that nowhere in world there is such “material” as in your country. That is why I said that it is simply pointless to compete with a country where sport has been put on a professional level from the very first steps. Yes, this in some point kills figure skating as a sport, in other countries people simply stop bringing their children to the rinks. But this is a situation that cannot be changed.
How to keep yourself motivated, realizing that you are competing with an unattainable universe?
Anna Levandi: You just need to know what you want from the sport yourself. There are other things besides medals. You may not be a world champion, but at the same time be a star in your country. And this is often much cooler. The Estonian public simply adores Eva-Lotta. And I myself think: the main thing is not medals, but to be remembered.
Many fans still remember you as a figure skater. Programs, costumes …
Anna Levandi: I am very pleased that this is so. This means that I managed to leave my mark in figure skating. Lika Sasha Trusova leaves such mark now, breaking a window into space for everyone with her quadruple jumps. And it doesn’t matter at all how her career will develop in the future.
If there was an opportunity to go with your athletes for a one-year internship to any specialist in the world, who would you choose?
Anna Levandi: We attend a lot. Every year we come to Benoit Richaud – for the sake of skating, in order to look different on the ice. And in general, I try to seek technical assistance from everyone, including Russian specialists. We were at Alexei Mishin’s, Sergei Davydov’s, Lena Vodorezova’s trainings. But to go for one year … What for? It’s not so difficult to organize it now, including financially, but I don’t want to.
Firstly, all our athletes study very seriously – Arlet has a musical and artistic education, knows four foreign languages, a serious base in all basic subjects. Secondly, you can be given any knowledge, but you yourself must understand it, and move to the upper level thanks to this. And it is better if this happens at home, in the family. This is what subsequently determines the result and creates a personality.
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