Elena Vaitsekhovskaya’s interview with Elena Buyanova.
I remember that Tatiana Tarasova, talking about her work with Ilia Kulik and Alexei Yagudin, said that there could be only one single skater in the group. Because he takes all the attention from the coach, so no time or energy is left for anything else. You have four top skaters in your group now. At least sometimes do you have a feeling that there are too many of them?
– When at the end of last season skaters started to came to me – first Sergei Voronov, then Maxim Kovtun, Polina Tsurskaya, it was difficult at first. Then it becomes easier: the skaters begin to understand you, you start to know them better, they spread out comfortably on the ice, besides, we have a lot of coaches in the school, so every athlete feels that he gets an attention. But sometimes it’s still not easy, because all of my students are mostly adults. It’s not like with kids whom you can put together in the group, gIve them a task and they skate. On the other hand, when you work with adults much depends on how much they want to work themselves.
Not so long ago Polina Tsurskaya noticed in the interview that it was quite unusual for her to work individually both on the ice and in the gym. Do you consider individual work to be more correct, or is it easier for you to build workouts this way?
– The question is not whether this is right or wrong. First, all athletes are different. One needs a jumping job, the other needs to work on steps, skating skills. It is impossible to give the same tasks for everyone. After all, our sport is not a team sport, but an individual one. At the junior level, group work can justify itself, we have such figure skaters, they work not only individually, but also in a group under the guidance of our coaches – Alexander Uspensky, Maxim Zavozin, who aslo work with adult athletes, Marina Selitskaya. With Arthur Danielian we work individually although he didn’t come out of junior age. But in general I don’t like mass.
Is it possible to catch the moment when the athlete starts growing up? How does it show?
– When the skater is small he obeys the coach so implicitly that you don’t think about anything at all. You come, give tasks, students work on this tasks. But when the athletes begin to grow, they begin to show character. And everyone in a different way.
Start to snap?
– I can’t say so, in this regard I’m lucky with the students. But the work becomes different. Girls lose the ability to withstand such loads as before and start to have complexes. Just a moment ago it seemed that everything was fine, why did it stop working? Why does weight go up? Why does everything start to irritate?
Is it possible to be ready for this, or the transition age always comes “suddenly” for the coach?
– You can see that the child will grow up. Even in juniors. In my group I notice everything, every moment, I see who and how starts to change. Well, at least I think so. It happens that I come to the training and immediately understand for whom it will be especially difficult. That fatigue has accumulated, but it is necessary to force a person to do the work through this fatigue. An adult body it is completely different thing. They are not juniors who can go on the ice and easily skate two programs in a row. This is how to compare a racing car with a train: the train will certainly get speed, but not immediately. If you start to force, injuries will begin or something else will happen. An adult is a completely different work, a different body. It’s like tuning a piano, each string should be felt.
In this case, the athletes are small children, even if they are 19 years old. Everyone in the subconscious has the thought that at a difficult moment the coach will come and solve all their problems. Lile this: “I want to skate – make it so I could skate. I can’t lose weight – make me lose weight.” And not everyone is able to understand that there are things that an athlete must be able to do himself. For example weight: there are no such girls in figure skating whom this subject does not concern. For all this is a very serious problem. And it’s a matter of every 500 grams, or even less. If the figure skater is thin, this doesn’t mean that she is such by nature. It only means that a person knows how to keep herself in shape.
Who in the process of work is more jealous of the coach – boys or girls?
– It depends on the character. Fortunately, in this respect I often worked with reasonable athletes. At first, yes, it is difficult with someone. For example Masha Sotskova came to the group as a junior and I had to explain her many things for a long time.
– For example, that if she wants to reach a serious adult level, we must do another job, not the one that was before. Many juniors got used to do huge amounts of work, and it seems to them that senior sport is the same. But in fact, everything is different. In this regard, I and Irina Tagayeva, very carefully prepared Sotskova for senior competitions. In work Masha is silent. On the one hand, this is a fertile ground. On the other – it’s dangerous. When a person shows his emotions more openly, it’s easier for the coach to understand how to work with him. Although I have already thoroughly studied Masha’s silence, I know how and what she is silent about.
As for jealousy, I often recall the stories of Marina Kudryavtseva, the wife of Viktor Kudryavtsev. She had a lot of students then, and she constantly complained that sometimes she just doesn’t know what to do with them – they were just eating her head off. At that time I had Artem Borodulin, many other guys, Adelina (Sotnikova) was growing up. When I first heard those Marina’s words I thought: how good that I don’t have such. But it turned out that “daggers didn’t fly across the ice” just because there were quite silent athletes in my group, and they just didn’t sound things that they didn’t like. When Borodulin left the group, only after a while I found out that he left because I began to work with Adelina more, started to go with her to junior competitions. Artem sincerely believed that I was “his” coach and just could not deal with it. I didn’t feel his jealousy in time, didn’t understand how serious it all was. And then I found out that he talked about it to everyone except me.
When you took Polina Tsurskaya to the group, I know, you was worried that her injured back might not allow her to train fully. What is the situation now?
– I’m still worried, especially since Polina’s ankle has been also seriously injured repeatedly. Previously, she was able to train for a while, but then because of the injury had to pause. My first priority in the summer preparation process was to find a work regime for Tsurskaya that allows her to work continuously. Even now every training we have is on the verge, which I, as a coach, must constantly feel and control, using all my intuition and experience. It was especially hard when the work was just beginning and I knew that any fall could turn out into quite a big problem.
Don’t you worry that Masha Sotskova starts serious education in GITIS in September?
– We discussed all this in advance. It would be foolish to hide that this topic worries me greatly. If you ask me if it’s worthwhile for a professional athlete to combine study in a serious university with training, like any other coach I will definitely answer “no”, because this is incredibly difficult. So, when Masha told me that she was going to enter GITIS, first of all I asked her the question how is she going to combine all this. On the one hand, Masha knows how to plan her life, I know that – I saw how hard she had been working with the tutors for the last two years to finish the school with good grades. She also solved the issue with housing – the road to the university and to the ice rink will take a minimum of time. On the other hand, there are some concerns: how well it will turn out to combine everything, now it’s not completely clear for none of us.
How smooth was your team’s summer preparation for the season?
– There were a lot of problems with boots. Nastya Gubanova in August had to broke into the third pair. The first two rub her feet into the blood. Because of this, we didn’t even have time to prepare for the test skates.
Why do skaters have such problems? And how common are they?
– There is no pattern. Everyone has different feet, different skin sensitivity, so the same model of boots can give different sensations. Masha (Sotskova) in the year before last, when she was performing at the World Championships, had to skate uner anesthetics, she has very thin skin and any damage turns into big problems. Now we know this, so we are taking some measures in advance. Kovtun has similar problems, he also didn’t skate for a few days because of his boots, he also rub his feet to the blood. Of course, silicone gaskets help, but not always you can solve the problem with their help.
Did you have to make some changes in the work because of the new rules?
– Well, new elements in figure skating don’t appear because of the new rules, they all remain the same, so you just work on quality. Now everyone suddenly started talking about records, but after all, we have never had official records. They were never recorded. For the skaters themselves, it’s more like “Wow!” I got high scores, it spurs self-esteem, so you want to get even more.
The past system, you will agree, allowed to find some loopholes. As, for example, the one that Alina Zagitova used, moving all seven jumps to the second half of the program.
– So what? Everyone can use this. In fact, I don’t think that there can be any significant changes in figure skating. There are leaders and everyone knows who they are. And these leaders are already skating at such a level where you can see both the skills and the quality of the skating. In fact, that’s why they won. Zhenya Medvedeva lost the Olympics to Zagitova with only one point. The difference of one point doesn’t say anything at all – it’s nothing. With the same possibility, the proportion of judges votes could have been slightly different, and Alina could have been the second. Well, yes, she had seven jumps in the second half. But did she win only because of this? Just everything came together: youth, freshness, enthusiasm. Plus, Alina has an absolutely “killing” series of competitions. If during the season Kaetlyn Osmond had been skating the same way she also could have claimed in Pyeongchang for gold or silver. Well, the fact that Medvedeva, having such injury was able to perform so dignified, I can only admire that.
How do you think is it a plus that Medvedeva moved to Canada to Brian Orser?
– While this is a pointless talk. Each athlete when he is growing up has the right to decide his own destiny. If he leaves the coach, then he is uncomfortable. In the depths of our souls we coaches always perfectly understand why they leave us. Because nobody leaves because of no reason. I also know where and why I was wrong. A sportsman will always choose where it’s better for him.
In which of the break ups do you consider yourself to be more guilty?
– It doesn’t happen in the break up that it’s only one to blame. For example, take the situation with Adelina. I understood that I needed to force her to skate, as I did all the previous years. But I didn’t do that deliberately and by that pushed the athlete away from me. It’s pointless to continue working with a person who can not force himself. Or he seems to be training but at the same time he thinks that it is more profitable for him to go to some show. I understand this now. But then I didn’t have this experience, and I’ve been thinking for a long time: is it right? With the same Maxim (Kovtun), we have a certain agreement now. If he wants to skate, if he needs it, I’ll always help, I’ll push him if at some stage it becomes difficult for him to do it himself. There are always a lot of such situations in coaching. There are no ideal schemes: came, worked without question and left. Do not even think that it can be like this.
Do you see any advantages in the fact that Kovtun doesn’t have the Grand Prix this season and you can concentrate on preparing for the Russian Nationals?
– I don’t look at this situation from the point of view of pros and cons. Of course, we would like to be able to perform at the Grand Prix. But Maxim is not in the position to express his wishes. First he need to regain trust as an athlete. Now everything depends on him. How much he understands this – we can see that in the course of the season.
How do you see this season in women’s single skating?
– I don’t think that it will be very different from last year. Especially since it’s the first year after the Olympics. Zagitova and Medvedeva perhaps will remain leaders. I would call this year a “try out” – everyone will somehow try each other, the new rules. It seems to me that the core for the next Olympics will start to form a little later.
Is it possible to create some advantage for yourself during this season?
– There can be only one advantage in sports: always and in everything to be better than everyone else. As it was with Zagitova against all others – due to the fact that she is young, small, technically strong and absolutely tireless.
Turns out that an adult person can’t create such an advantage for himself?
– The advantage of adult athletes in the other. In experience – including life. In the ability to overcome failure. It’s not so scary, if a person falls down for some reason. It’s worse if he stays there. When Kovtun returned to me this year, it wasn’t important for me how he would manage to skate, but first of all just to help him get out of this abyss.
When Adelina left you, I know, many thought that it was a pretty strong blow to your coaching reputation.
– In my life, since the age of 11 there have been so many different situations, including very hard ones, so much stress that I have stopped reacted. I don’t care what people think of me. If the sportsman leaves me, even such as Adelina, my coaching life won’t come to an end. Moreover, I think that every coach should be always ready for such a situation. There are times when the coach doesn’t have athletes at all – this must also be treated calmly. I have been in the coaching profession for many years, that’s why I understand all this from the very beginning. There are coaches who work no worse than I do. They just didn’t get a champion “material”. In this regard, I’m very grateful to the fate that I got such an athlete like Adelina.
On the other hand, the material itself is not a key to success. You must be able not to spoil it. I always thought about it when Denis Ten started to skate in my group. When I first saw him at the competitions, it was immediately clear that this is a brilliant child, not like everyone else. And this always imposes a very serious responsibility on the coach: it’s necessary not only to decide to take this talent, but also to develop it correctly.
I would say that it is more difficult than just to find a talented child.
– In fact, yes. Sometimes phenomenal talented children come to audition. But I understand that they can not be re-taught – simply because at the initial stage these children did not work with a professional. In such cases I’m always very upset.
Every time I come to your rink, the first thing that catches my eye is the writings on the ice made after the Sochi Olympics: “Adelina”. Does it make you feels something?
– Not anymore. The first time after we broke up, of course, it was very difficult. I sit down near the board and Adelina’s portrait is overhead and under the athletes’ feet is her name. But time heals everything. Always.
by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya for rsport.ria.ru