Daniil Gleikhengauz: “Professional sport is not about health. Both physical and psychological traumas can happen here.”
Interview with Daniil Gleikhengauz for GQ. About start of his work in team Tutberidze, programs and selection process in the group.
by Vadim Smyslov for gq.ru dd.20th November 2020
Can you recall 2014, the Chrystalny Ice Rink? At that moment, when you had not worked in Eteri Tutberidze’s team yet, but your mother had already been working with her (Lyudmila Shalashova – former ballerina of the Bolshoi Theater, choreographer. – ed)?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: No, first I started working with Eteri Georgievna and then, about a year later, when a choreographer was needed for the ballet classes, I suggested my mother. Eteri Georgievna looked at her classes, and everyone was satisfied.
How did you get to the”Chrustalny”?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: At that time, I had been working as a coach and choreographer at other skating rinks for several years, doing a show with Ilia Averbukh. And when Eteri asked Ilia for help, she said that she needed a new person for the team, a choreographer, he advised me, gave her my number, and that’s how it all started.
Turns out that Eteri had already seen some of your works, let’s say, in a show or for other athletes?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: Knowing Eteri Georgievna, I don’t think she had time for this. After all, preparations for the Olympics were underway.
Do you remember the first program you put for a team Tutberidze member?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: If we take a landmark program, the one that was shown on the big arena then this is the short program of Adian Pitkeev.
And how are the programs being created for an athlete? How do you choose music, artistic images for this or that skater?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: I work with these athletes everyday, teach them how to skate and see their abilities, that’s why it is easier for me to understand what will suit them and help them to reveal. Then I try to offer several options for musical compositions. Or, if I have a ready idea and artistic image, I explain everything in detail, show it, and then preparation begins.
Where is the easiest place to find artistic images? In movies, music?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: This is all thanks to the Internet. I have more opportunities than if I myself went to the theater, opera, cinema, concerts and shows. Thanks to the Internet, it’s easier to learn information. And absolutely in different sources you can find this or that image. There’s an interesting story with Alina Zagitova’s exhibition program which she skated in tribute to the memory of my mother (Lyudmila Shalashova died on August 29, 2019. – ed.). I was watching a video on YouTube, but then it was interrupted by an advertisement, which we all do not like so much, and in this ad I heard the music by M83 band. I heard it, shazamed, began to listen again, and so the idea about a flower and life appeared.
Alena Kostornaia’s last season’s program – “flight of the soul during clinical death,” as she herself described it, – is this also a dedication to your mom?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: No, Alena skated this program for two seasons. Eteri and I did it before everything happened.
Your group is known all over the world for the world and Olympic champions, as well as for the fact that figure skaters from team Tutberidze are master quadruple jumps at a young age. The dominance of these elements – does it interfere with the artistic side of the programs? How to reconcile complex technical elements that require concentration and preparation with a smooth artistic plot?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: One, two and even three quadruple jumps, if you arrange them correctly in the program, do not greatly affect the plot and choreography. But if you have to put five quads or more, the program will begin to suffer: because entries on such difficult jumps require more speed, more preparation time. Because of this, the integrity of the program can suffer.
How often do you take new athletes to your group?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: If we talk about small children, then quite often, more than 3-4 times a year. As for older athletes – from 11 and 12 years old and up – then at any time. But this usually happens at the end of the season when athletes decide to switch from one coach to another. Both from us and to us.
How do you think, why “Chrustalny” have become the center of world ladies’ figure skating today?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: This probably happened after the Sochi Olympics, when Julia Lipnitskaya made a splash, and people became interested in figure skating. And since that moment, thanks to the work of the coaching staff, every year we show results of the highest level. Parents see that, understand that, so they come to us for a try-out even from other cities.
What do you pay attention to during this try-out for children? We are talking about 7-8 years of age.
Daniil Gleikhengauz: This is where the experience and professional view of the coach work. We look at the physique of the athlete, height … Our sport require high coordination. It is clear that it will be difficult for tall children to jump quads. What else are we looking at? At the jumps height, muscle softness, stretching, rotation. There are many factors to complete the puzzle. It is also important for us to understand whether we can help the child to reach the level that, in fact, his parents expect from us. They don’t just bring their children to the rink just to skate. Every parent thinks that his child should become an Olympic champion. And, in order not to disappoint the parent later, it is important for us to understand from the beginning whether the child has data for this purpose. Many people think: we will bring the child to Tutberidze’s group and everything will turn out by itself.
When you talk about the importance of physique what exactly are you talking about?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: The athlete must be in a good shape, without extra weight.
Should an athlete be different from others?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: Hmm … Every athlete is different, we don’t have clones.
I am not talking about that. Should the skaters be visually different from each other? Does this rule of the modeling business work in sports?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: Of course, any person whose appearance brings a smile will find it easier to gain favor among the spectators and judges. We see this on the example of rhythmic gymnastics. Just like in figure skating, there are many beautiful girls who become great athletes from a technical point of view.
Do athletes benefit from inner competition in figure skating?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: Of course, that is why we have so many strong athletes. This is usually the problem of many countries: there is no inner competition and an athlete who skates at a good level, not feeling that someone is breathing down his neck, does not improve; he already knows that he will make it to the World or European Championships.
How does competition affect athletes’ mental health? Surely this is not much different from any super-competitive enterprise, where the results of the fight are apathy, burnout.
Daniil Gleikhengauz: We all know that it is one thing to do sports for health, and quite another – to be a part of a big sport. Professional sport is not about health. Both physical and psychological traumas can happen here.
But we try to be in constant contact with the children, to speak, to discuss some points. The main thing is to find the right words, to support, to explain why happened what happened. It is important to be always honest. Not to say: how wonderful you are, the world is just unfair. No, if something didn’t work out, there’s a reason for that, something was not prepared enough, we need to get better, and the results will come.
And what about sports psychologists? Do they work with skaters?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: Yes, they are, but I cannot say in which schools and groups their services are used on an ongoing basis. An athlete spends most of his life with a coach, and the problems that he experiences he also solves with a coach.
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