Daniil Gleichengauz: The program should be remembered by the performance of the athlete
Interview with Daniil Gleichengauz summed up the results of the Junior Worlds, told how the programs are born, why the jumping technique is changing and revealed the secrets of success of the Eteri Tutberidze’s group.
by Olga Ermolina, Tatjana Fladem Akiko Tamura for fsrussia.ru dd. 18th March
Daniil, how do you assess the performance of the girls at the junior world championships, where Kamila Valieva became the champion, and Daria Usacheva won silver. Did your coaching team’s plans come true?
– Nothing can be foreseen in advance. We could only prepare as much as possible for the World Championships to show the best skating. In the short program, not everything was successful for Dasha Usacheva and of Maiia Khromykh. Kamila Valieva was closer to the perfect skating, but her short program still wasn’t perfect, and Kamila knows this.
As for the free program, in Tallinn all our athletes were close to their maximum. Yes, Maiia did not succeed with the quadruple salchow, but she did a great job with the rest of the program. Not only with jumps, but also with choreography, presentation. This was one of her best performances.
Dasha, finally, did not make mistakes in her free program, because we all got a little tired with it, especially she. We talked a lot with Dasha on this topic. And she really worked a lot during the preparation for the World Championships and deserved such a result.
Kamila skated perfectly, except for the mistake on the first quad toe loop, which made us all nervous, because then the athlete herself made the decision: to change the program and go on other jumps or take risks and make the second quad toe loop, realizing that if there is a mistake again, then this jump will get “REP”. We discuss all this in training, the fact that Kamila took a risk and made a combination with a quadruple toe loop, allowed her to set a new world record.
How did you manage to bring Valieva in such a shape to the World Championships, because the season was not easy for her?
– The most difficult moment was after Kamila was injured, and had to recover. Not only physically, but also psychologically. At first, psychologically, she had a fear of doing complex elements, a quadruple, so we trained them on harness to overcome this feeling. Then there were the first attempts of jumps. Then getting a physical shape to skate the full program … But we did all this preparation before Russian Junior Nationals. In Saransk, Kamila was absolutely ready, and in the period from Russian Juniors to Worlds, it was a question of keeping the athlete at the peak, not overloading her. We gave her the opportunity to leave trainings earlier, slightly reduced the loads in order to bring her in well physical and mental shape for the Worlds.
Three athletes from your group performed in Tallinn. Can you tell us about each of them.
– With Maiia, the most important thing is to shout to her, to call her, because she does not always react, for some reason doubts whether we call her. But if she responded and come closer, then the rest is simple. Maiia is a calm, thoughtful girl. You say her and she will do everything.
Dasha has days when her body does not want to do anything, although perhaps even the athlete herself does not understand this and really wants to do. At such moments, the training process for Dasha turns into a large number of run-throughs, because the first ones were terrible. But the rest, Dasha is quite positive, funny. You can always talk to her, laugh. She understands everything.
And Kamila is a bunch of emotions of all kinds. She’s constantly looking for something with her eyes, sometimes she’s shy out of the blue … Kamila is growing, developing, and the main task is to help her to pass through this way from juniors to seniors, so that she gets stronger. Not even in technique, the complexity of her programs, but psychologically. In this sense, she is still very fragile. But all this comes with experience. And there is a huge difference between Kamila at the first competitions, even local ones and what she is now. Kamila is on the right track, she became more confident, she copes with emotions better.
Now you have not two, but three age groups – the oldest, the middle and the youngest one. A new group of 5-6 year olds has appeared recently. Was it a recognized need?
– The earlier you start working with an athlete, the better. When you lead a skater from 5-6 years old, he gets your vision, technique and you don’t have to waste time retraining.
Do you like working with kids?
– There are two points. On the one hand, it’s hard to switch from older to smaller ones. It is so. On the other hand, the kids are so positive, such energy comes from them! When they all run to the ice, smile, shout something and skate happy around the ice rink, then you are so charged!
How are the roles distributed among the coaches in your group, although, probably, you have been asked this question many times?
– This is the biggest misconception, people believe that in our group there is a distribution of roles between coaches. In fact, we are all fully involved in the training process – from gliding lessons, learning jumping techniques, choosing music, an artistic image, a costume, a hairstyle, to stretching and cool downs. Sergei Dudakov does the same, with the exception of choreography. He does not do choreography and this is the only thing that he does not do.
It is strange to me that people think differently. But how then do athletes travel with each of the coaches to competitions? If, for example, I didn’t understand jumping, couldn’t set the technique, then how could we send a skater for a week to competitions with a man who can only teach choreography?
Every day we are all together in trainings. Over the years, we have combined our vision about technique and other things, we have no disagreements. We all think, explain, show, teach the same way and there is no confusion in the heads of athletes that one coach says one things and the other says differently. That is, for our athletes we are as one.
Was it difficult to come to such an understanding?
– When I first came to the group of Eteri Tutberidze, they looked closely at me, and if I explained something in my own way, they corrected me. But we are all developing, we are all studying different techniques of other athletes, we are not standing still. Lately, a lot has changed. And although we are starting from a basic technique based on the knowledge gained from our coaches, for example, Viktor Kudryavtsev, but today, to jump quadruple jumps, only the bases are no longer enough.
Every day we look for, try to help our athletes in the development of complex elements, find ways to reduce the load to make it easier for them to jump, so that they spend less time on this, which, accordingly, will reduce the risk of injuries.
As for technical issues, I will repeat, we’re in a constant search for solutions. And perhaps in five years time the technique will be very different from what we have today.
Athletes in your group jump quadruple jumps. But can skaters go further – jumps with five rotations?
– I can’t say no, because once the same question was asked about the quads, which today have become reality. Both in men’s and ladies’ skating. The next 4-5 years, probably this will not happen. Maybe further. Figure skating will progress anyway, move forward.
But at the moment I’m very interested whether Yuzuru Hanyu will jump the quadruple axel – a jump with more than four rotations. Perhaps this will be the first step to the five rotations.
You choreograph the programs together with Eteri Georgievna. Where do you get your ideas, themes?
– Anything can be a source of inspiration, ideas – ballet, any art, like in Eteri Georgievna’s program for Kamila Valieva “Girl on the Ball” … Movies, musicals … Even just hearing some kind of music in your headphones, you begin to imagine how it would be on ice. And if you like it, you feel that it can turn out interesting, you start trying on the ice. By the way, one of the ideas for the program was born now, while I was taking the bus.
What is “good program”, “good choreography” for you?
– A good program involves many components. And here a lot depends on the athlete. You can come up with something incredible, it will seem to you that this is a masterpiece. But all this will remain in your head if you don’t correctly transfer your idea to the ice, and individually for a specific athlete.
A good program is an idea, the completeness of the composition, so that everything is “clear” from beginning to end. But the most important thing is not to have too much of your “I” as a choreographer. The athlete should be able to express HIMSELF and show HIMSELF from the best side, choreographer shouldn’t emphasize that he did it, this is HIS handwriting. It is important that the program be remembered by the performance of the athlete.
Probably not all choreographers will share your opinion. But I want to ask about this: in the Olympic season, Alina Zagitova skated both programs wearing ballet tutus. Why did you get such an idea? What role did your personal “background” play?
– The background is really huge. My mother was a ballerina … But first, Eteri Georgievna and I did Don Quixote for Alina in the junior year. And in the Olympic season, I definitely wanted to do a “Black Swan” for her. I had this idea for a long time. I once said in an interview that when I first came to the Eteri group, I offered doing this program for Julia Lipnitskaia. But at that moment, I was probably too young. And no one would let me to do a program for the Olympic champion, although Tutberidze didn’t mind. As a result, we did “Swan” for Alina, but since there was a direct reference to “Swan Lake”, it was immediately clear what the costume would be. We talked a lot with Eteri Georgievna then, and she believed that it was symbolic – two ballet programs, two tutus in the Olympic season.
Plus, I had the idea of turning a white swan into black. And it was necessary to express and emphasize this in the costume. Now we have moved to a new level of costume changing in programs. Then it was the beginning.
Do you mean the costumes of Sasha Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova?
– When we choreographed “The Firebird” for Anna, I understood that Stravinsky’s music is a bit heavy for 4 minutes, therefore I combined the classics with the first part of the program to Six Gnossiennes. To make the moment of transformation more clear for the viewers it was necessary to focus on it. Therefore, a change of costume was needed. The thought even crossed my mind that the athlete should go to the ice in black, and then “catch fire” like Phoenix bird has emerged from the fire. But Eteri Georgievna said, let it remain in my head, and came up with other colors – purple and red.
There are many talented athletes in your group. How much do they trust the coaches? Can they share some secret things?
– We talk a lot. I can’t say that in the conversations they tell very personal things, but what they did, what they wanted to buy, what they liked, manicures, anything, such topics are discussed freerly. We laugh, joke, watch the Internet …
But all this should not turn into very friendly relations, because otherwise subordination will be violated. The athlete should have a feeling not of fear, but of the understanding that next to him is an adult who will always support, who knows what to say, how to help. Of course, everything depends on trust. I don’t see any reason to train with a coach whom the athlete does not trust.
But the main thing, you can’t lie to an athlete. If he did something badly, there is no need to deceive, saying “This is cool, wonderful.” It’s better to call a spade a spade, say: “You need to go and redo it.” Of course, we feel our body, but from the side we always see better. And here, trust is showing up. If you trust the words of the coach, and, despite your own feelings, you go and redo, then the correct relationship is formed between the coach and the athlete.
Reveal the secret of the success of coach Eteri Tutberidze? From the side, she seems strict, very serious, but what is she like in reality?
– But it should be so for those around, and only relatives really know Eteri Georgievna. All that she has achieved is the result of everyday work. She started like any coach from scratch. There was no ice, a quarter of the rink … I won’t go into details, I can only say that Eteri Georgievna is madly in love with figure skating and this love, her great desire to realize herself, helped her to come closer to her goal. To work with such a coach means to grow and develop. Figure skating is her life. Like for all of us. And we really want to bring our sport to a new level. She attracts with this love and attitude to work. This is just her life.