“Coaches can’t control an athlete 24 hours a day, so it’s wrong to say that it’s their fault.” Gurgen Vardanjan head of Hungarian Figure skating federation about Valieva’s doping case
Interview with Gurgen Vardanjan, coach and sports director of Hungarian Figure skating federation. About Trusova, Tuktamysheva, Tutberidze, Plushenko and ban of Russian skaters from international competitions.
source: mataratings.ru dd. 19th April 2022 by Norik Serobyan
In the 80s, Gurgen Vardanjan was a member of the USSR figure skating team under the guidance of the legendary coach Elena Tchaikovskaya, in 1987 he switched to coaching and even managed to prepare the future European champion Julia Sebestyen. Now Vardanjan works as the sports director of the Hungarian Figure Skating Federation.
Russian figure skaters have been suspended from international competitions, how do you feel about this decision?
Gurgen Vardanjan: I don’t understand the current situation at all. I believe that sport should be out of politics, and I really hope that soon all the people who made decisions will understand that this is not the way to go. All people who play sports should have the right to compete, no matter what is happening around. There have been many different examples in the world, but no athletes were suspended from participation.
How did Hungary take the news? Supported the suspension?
Gurgen Vardanjan: There was no official statement from Hungary, but in each country they perceive it differently, here this news was also perceived differently. People are different: someone is happy, someone is not happy, but basically people all over the world understand what sport is and do not agree with this decision.
Many foreign athletes made a statement that they did not want to compete with Russians, and asked to disqualify Russian athletes. Did the Hungarian skaters have the same opinion?
Gurgen Vardanjan: Hungarian skaters have not made such a statement and I think they will not. Our skaters know very well what sport is. They will not say such things for the sake of achieving a better result at the expense of hurting other athletes.
How serious will be the consequences of ban of Russians from international competitions? And who will lose more: our athletes or the rest of the world?
Gurgen Vardanjan: I think the suspensions will be lifted fairly quickly. There are sober people in the world who can understand that sport is out of politics, that athletes bring joy to the fans, and make the right decisions.
Both sides will lose a lot from the suspension. Viewers who wanted to watch top-class figure skating will lose their spectacle. And, of course, athletes will lose a lot if they don’t compete. Both sides will lose. It’s too bad, it can’t be. Some athletes who will find it easier to win medals will rejoice, but if this situation continues, the whole world will lose.
What are the chances that the FFKKR will be able to achieve a positive result in CAS?
Gurgen Vardanjan: I am more than sure that the truth is on the side of the Russian Figure Skating Federation. This is my personal opinion, I am not speaking on behalf of the Hungarian federation. I think that this issue should be resolved absolutely positively, I hope for a fair decision.
Do you think athletes will start changing sports citizenship?
Gurgen Vardanjan: Change of citizenship in sports is a frequent thing all over the world. For example, a Canadian competed for Armenia at the Beijing Olympics in ice dance. It is very difficult for small countries to find a pair of the same nationality. We have such a pair in Hungary: the girl is local, and the boy is Russian, and vice versa too. Even large countries cannot pick up 2-3 pairs without foreigners. Unfortunately, more and more countries are trying to find the best partners for their athletes.
How to hold athletes?
Gurgen Vardanjan: I would not hold anyone, but in their place I would not go anywhere either. Those who leave, let them leave. So, they would have left at another opportune moment. Real athletes will stay, because of the suspension will leave not those people who should be held.
Is there any interest on the part of the Hungarian federation in Russian figure skaters?
Gurgen Vardanjan: No no. We have very good contact and communication with the Russian federation, we have friendly relations. And not only with them, but with all the other federations too. We cannot simply invite athletes. If the Hungarian skaters do not have enough partners, then we will ask and hopefully get permission. But we are not going to lure anyone in any way.
If Russia is not returned to the international arena, but will hold competitions with the CIS countries and invite Hungary, would you agree?
Gurgen Vardanjan: All athletes train to compete.
What do Hungarian skaters lack to get on the podium?
Gurgen Vardanjan: We have very big problems with the ice, because of this, not so many athletes are engaged in figure skating and do not reach the level that we would like. In Hungary, ice is very expensive, as in all of Europe, so we are looking forward to the opening of the national ice center.
It is planned that there will be five skating rinks in one building, and single and pair skating, ice dancing, synchronized skating, speed skating, and short track will be developed there. I hope we will be able to manage these skating rinks and make a convenient schedule for our athletes so that they can train well and attend school. Then we will have the opportunity to prepare more high-class athletes for international competitions.
When the ice issue is resolved, can we expect Hungarian Olympic champion?
Gurgen Vardanjan: I think that by 2030 we will be able to prepare skaters who will be very close to the podium. Previously, I think it was impossible. Our primary task is to participate in the team event at the Olympics in 2030.
Were you surprised by the results of women’s single skating at the Beijing Olympics?
Gurgen Vardanjan: I thought Valieva would win because she was in great shape before the competitions. Kamila is now one of the most talented figure skaters in the world, but what she experienced in Beijing will leave a big mark.
It was hard to compete like that, she made mistakes in the free program. Shcherbakova and Trusova were able to be on top, it deserves all the praise. It was a very difficult situation, everyone was worried, someone lost their nerves. But the girls are great, they proved that they are the best in the world.
Do you agree that there is little attention to Shcherbakova as an Olympic champion?
Gurgen Vardanjan: Yes, there was such a situation. Everyone was worried and talking about a topic related to Kamila. Anya could not celebrate her victory, as a real Olympic champion should celebrate it. But such is life.
In Russia, people are sure that Valieva’s doping scandal is some kind of set-up. Do you think she used doping and will CAS be able to prove that she was clean?
Gurgen Vardanjan: I don’t believe in such things. If someone took a prohibited drug, then you need to answer according to the law. But until today, WADA cannot make a final decision and many questions have arisen: Why hasn’t a decision been made? Why did all this happen? Probably, something is not clear, so they cannot make a decision. I believe that no one in the world should win competitions by illegal means. If it is proved that Valieva took the drug, she should be punished. Although she skated all season, the tests were negative. Only on the basis of reliable facts can a decision be made.
If they prove that Kamila is guilty and actually used doping, who will be to blame in this situation? After all, the girl is 15 years old, will it be the fault of the coaches?
Gurgen Vardanjan: I also worked as a coach, the coaching staff cannot live with the athlete and the athlete’s parents in the same apartment. Coach can’t control an athlete 24 hours a day, so it is wrong to say that it is their fault. The guilt of the coaches must be proved, and without proof these are empty words.
What do you think about Tutberidze and her system?
Gurgen Vardanjan: I have a very good relationship with Eteri Georgievna, I respect her work very much and look with pleasure at her athletes when they skate.
Why was Trusova, having such crazy technical abilities, unable to win gold at the Olympics and, in principle, achieve some kind of big victory?
Gurgen Vardanjan: She was focused on performing the maximum number of quad jumps. At the same time, she forgot that she also needs to skate at competitions. I love Sasha very much, she wanted to show in Beijing what a miracle she is capable of. And at the same time, I didn’t like how she skated there, that’s why she lost in scores. But Sasha Trusova is a genius. Everything she does is extraordinary, you can watch all day long.
Should have Trusova refrained from emotions after winning silver medal at the Olympics?
Gurgen Vardanjan: Yes, you need to refrain from emotions, athletes should be more restrained and behave differently after the competitions. A key role in Sasha’s behavior was played by the fact that she showed a high technical level and thought that this was enough for a gold medal, but it was not enough. But for sure, after the competitions, she looked at her behavior and realized that it wasn’t nice.
How long will the hegemony of the Tutberidze skaters in women’s skating last and can the doping scandal somehow affect this?
Gurgen Vardanjan: It depends on how she will continue to work with them, if she also continues her work, then naturally everything will remain the same. But other coaches also have many skaters who are capable of quadruple jumps. The fight will intensify. Competitions will show who is capable of what, so far her athletes manage to show the maximum. But I think there will be other athletes who will compete. Competition always means progress – if it exists, then there is progress.
Whose program do you like better – Kamila, Sasha or Anya?
Gurgen Vardanjan: I really like Kamila, special skating at such an early age. I like what Valieva does on the ice the most. Although I really love Trusova and Shcherbakova, but at the moment I like Kamila the most.
What is your relationship with Rafael Arutyunyan?
Gurgen Vardanjan: I known Rafik for a very long time. In 1976, he began his coaching career in Yerevan, I was still an athlete then. I often crossed paths with him at the USSR competitions. We are very good friends, we often meet at competitions. Now we communicate less, because he lives in the USA, the time zone does not always match. But sometimes we call up and talk. He is my friend and one of the best specialists in the world.
His athlete Nathan Chen is the best skater in the world. Do you think this is the merit of the coach or is Chen a phenomenon?
Gurgen Vardanjan: It doesn’t happen that someone becomes a champion without a coach or only because of a coach. What matters here is how they can work together, and they work very well. Nathan is a very talented athlete, but the fact that he became a figure skater of this level is the great merit of the coach. When an athlete skates badly, then the coach is bad, when he skates well, then he is a talent – usually the parents of skaters think so. In fact, a good athlete thinks like this: if he skated badly, then he himself didn’t do something, underperformed but if he skated well, then thanks to the coach. Nathan is like that, and without Rafael Vladimirovich he would not have been able to achieve such a result.
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva missed the third Olympics in a row. Will she continue performing or will she end her career soon?
Gurgen Vardanjan: If I were Liza, I would continue. She is very talented, a good figure skater, has a very high skill. I hope she will continue to perform, it’s too early to finish, she still has a lot to show. She can also show quads at competitions.
But Liza is not in the top 3 figure skaters in the country. What motivation does she have to stay in the sport if she didn’t go to the Olympics?
Gurgen Vardanjan: But there are European and World Championships, this is a great motivation. The Olympic Games are an extraordinary competitions that takes place every 4 years, but the European and World Championships are no worse, the athletes are no less motivated and prepare for these competitions.
I would advise Liza to stay. She loves figure skating, she likes it, she feels very good on the ice. Tuktamysheva can present an interesting moment to the viewer, and the audience really likes it. I think she will stay, it would be very good.
Zhenya Medvedeva, following Tuktamysheva, had a photo shoot for MAXIM magazine. Does this popularize figure skating?
Gurgen Vardanjan: I accidentally saw a few photos on the Internet, I did not see the magazine. I don’t know who reads these magazines and who, after reading them, will go in for figure skating. I do not think that this is done to popularize, but why not? If the magazine invites and the girls agree, let them. This is their youth, they decide their fate and what they will do. I don’t think it promotes figure skating, but I don’t see anything wrong with such photo shoots.
ISU is preparing to raise the age minimum in figure skating. Do you support such a decision?
Gurgen Vardanjan: I am strongly against such a decision, I don’t see any sense. If in swimming a 15-year-old athlete can become a world champion in senior competitions, then why can’t he be able to do it in figure skating? In almost all sports, athletes can compete from the age of 15. If so, why do we need to raise the age minimum? I don’t understand why they want it. They justify it with different things that mean nothing to me. It must be left as it is now. Figure skating is developing, more and more young athletes are performing complex jumps, development cannot be stopped.
What is your opinion on Alena Kostornaia transfer from Tutberidze to Buyanova?
Gurgen Vardanjan: For me, this is a very unexpected decision, Alena have already left Tutberidze once, then she came back, now she left again, this is just very unexpected. I know Elena Buyanova very well, we competed together, studied at the institute, we have very good relations with her. I wish Kostornaia good luck.
Do you believe that Kostornaia can return to her previous shape or not?
Gurgen Vardanjan: It is difficult to say, it depends on Alena. She must force herself to work in such a way to return to the shape she had before. If she can do it, then the coaches will help her, and if not, then no one will help her. It is absolutely necessary to change the vision of sports life and attitude to business, to prepare in a completely different way, to give two hundred percent, if, of course, she loves figure skating.
Do you see the prospects for coach Plushenko? Will he be able to raise champions and become as successful as Arutyunyan?
Gurgen Vardanjan: For this, he has every opportunity, because he was a famous athlete with great experience, he trained with a great coach, Alexei Nikolaevich Mishin, and gained a lot of experience over the years. His athletes are skating well now, so time will tell. We are very well acquainted with Zhenya, I saw good athletes with him. I think success is a matter of time.
Transgender people are now allowed to the Olympics. Is this right and have you met them in your work?
Gurgen Vardanjan: I have never met them in my work! I can’t even understand what it’s about.
Their performance at the Olympics is unfair, it shouldn’t be like that. I am not against anyone, everyone lives as they want, but there should be clear rules in sports. They must absolutely clearly distinguish under what conditions they can compete in competitions.
The main discovery and disappointment of this season?
Gurgen Vardanjan: In single skating, Russian men did not perform very well at the Olympics, although Mark Kondratiuk showed himself very well in team competitions and received high scores. I’m disappointed with the men’s performance this season.
There are no discoveries at the Olympics, I was pleased to watch all the skaters. Unfortunately, our pair could not compete at the Olympics, they were in the best sports shape, but they were tested positive with covid in Beijing, which disappointed me very much.
Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva skated only a year after the 2018 Olympics. Can they return? And can Shcherbakova and Trusova leave?
Gurgen Vardanjan: I think that Zagitova and Medvedev will never return to big sport. They will give pleasure to fans of figure skating, performing in the show. I am 99% sure that Shcherbakova and Trusova will continue to skate.
Tatiana Tarasova: “At the moment we can compete only with ourselves. We can hold only such competitions as Russian Nationals and Russian Cup. But these competitions are quite bright!”