Evgeni Plushenko: “I don’t want my athletes to be a flash, a one-off story: they jumped, won something and disappeared”
Interview with Evgeni Plushenko. About taboo on profanity, Mishin’s simulators, Trusova’s jumps and Medvedeva’s future.
by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya for rt.com dd. 22d September 2020
Three years ago we talked about the coaching profession and you said that Angels of Plushenko is more about management for you and standing at the board is not in plans. At what point did the plans change?
Evgeni Plushenko: At first, my partner and I did not think about any sports tasks at all. We thought about opening an elementary school.
That is, purely commercial story?
Evgeni Plushenko: No. When you want to start a business, first of all you calculate profit, loss … We didn’t do any of this, didn’t even negotiate. The partner had a place, I had strength and desire. The amount of people who wanted to skate with us suddenly turned out to be colossal, but my life at that time was planned for several years in advance: my own shows, contracts for performances in Japan and Europe, and I perfectly understood that I simply would not be able to train skaters at a professional level.
Therefore, when the athletes began to come, I honestly told them: “There is a coaching team with whom you will work, I will only supervise this process wherever possible.” Many were fine with it. Three years have passed, I delved deeper into this business …
So you decided to build your own full-size ice rink first?
Evgeni Plushenko: Two skating rinks. Now we are already completing them. Building is on my own investment, my wife and I decided not to take partners anymore, but to build ourselves, with the support of Moscow, namely, Sergei Sobyanin, and Moscow Region – Andrei Vorobyov, since they gave me land for rent and this helped a lot.
Are we talking about hangar-type ice rinks?
Evgeni Plushenko: The one that is being built in Moscow is a fairly large center, 5 thousand square meters, capital structure. There will be gum with the most modern equipment, choreography class, place for physical training and a medical center – that is, everything that is required for the high-class athletes preparation.
We initially planned to organize construction in this area, since many of our children are already attached to schools, many families have bought or rent apartments here. A more “home” skating rink will be built in the Moscow region, compact, but with a full-size ice rink next to the house where I live with my family. I’m really tired of renting the ice.
Evgeni Plushenko: This is the first thing. And secondly, you always depend on the landlord. In addition, there are a lot of children, the school is constantly growing, so I decided to build my own rink. And for a year now, I’m seriously engage in coaching: I had my own groups, every day from morning to evening I spend at the rink.
Is this a high?
Evgeni Plushenko: It’s a very difficult job, but I like it. I was very lucky with the coaching staff. We have an excellent specialist in general physical training, multiple world champion in rock and roll Yerem Gazazyan. Two groups are led by Alexander Volkov, Dima Mikhailov and Sergey Alekseev fit perfectly into the team. Seryozha Rozanov has come recently, he, I think, is one of the best specialists in technique and, as it turned out, an amazing choreographer. He did two programs for Sasha Trusova, none of the programs for Alena Kostornaia. I invited Lena Ilinykh after the arrival of both girls. I decided that we need a dancer to work with them, and a woman. Lena is very good at skating skills, she feels the choreography well, understands it.
In other words, you bet on young professionals.
Evgeni Plushenko: Young guys are, first of all, energy. It is physically difficult to work on the ice for eight hours a day with full dedication, not every adult coach can do it.
Sorry, I’ll interrupt. You are talking about specialists who are brilliant at skating skills, and I heard that Sasha Trusova, for the sake of skating classes, travels almost every day across Moscow to work with Denis Samokhin and his wife.
Evgeni Plushenko: It’s true. Sasha trains in our school for five hours every day, this is ice, general physical training, special physical training, ballet classes with a choreographer from the Bolshoi Theater, that is, she works hard for seven to eight hours every day. If she considers it necessary to additionally work on skating skills, especially with a person she has already worked before, I will never interfere. I ask only one thing: just don’t jump, don’t change the technique. Spins, skating skills, choreography – it’s up to you.
Do you consider Trusova’s jumping technique to be optimal or are you just afraid that if you start changing something, everything will fall apart?
Evgeni Plushenko: We have already partially changed Sasha’s technique in some jumps. If we measure the speed of entry into rotation, it became noticeably higher. Previously, the jumps were with a pause: an open position and only then the athlete is starts rotation. It works when the girl is small, compact. As the body changes, all parameters become different. And you can save the jumps only by speeding up the entry into the rotation.
A year ago, I heard something similar from your former coach Alexei Mishin.
Evgeni Plushenko: I started just by purchasing Mishin’s simulators for my school. This year we worked a lot on them: we rotated, worked with weights, with rubber, had a very good summer training camp in Kislovodsk, and I see that there is a result. And about skating skills: Trusova really understands that a lot of work still needs to be done in this regard. There’s no need to make her train. Sometimes I even stop her.
When Trusova came to you, many believed that she would return to Volkov’s group, with whom she worked for many years.
Evgeni Plushenko: No, this option wasn’t considered. Taking this opportunity, I would like to dot the I’s again, although I have already spoken about it. Nobody lured Sasha Trusova. It is important for me to say this, because many people really think that there were some lengthy backstage negotiations between us. Two years ago, when Sasha’s dad called me for the first time, I honestly said that I had a small rink where it was impossible to work seriously, and therefore I myself had not fully decided whether I would want to engage in coaching.
The time has come, the parents got in touch again, and we decided to train together. What exactly happened in the former group, I don’t know, didn’t delve into it. As for Alena Kostornaia, in her interview she exhaustively explained everything herself. My reasoning is simple: if a person wants to skate, and I have the opportunity to coach him, why not? To be honest, I don’t understand the scandals on the topic: how could one leave from Tutberidze to Plushenko? And how did Trusova leave Volkov for Tutberidze? Or others? There have always been a huge number of loud transitions in figure skating.
Figure skating, with its popularity, is a rather narrow circle of people, a family. How uncomfortable is the situation for you when the majority of this family condemns you rather than supports you?
Evgeni Plushenko: I have other information on this matter. I talked a lot with the leaders of the figure skating federation, with the coaches, and I know that a huge number of my colleagues have faced the situations when athletes are taken from them not by the most, let’s say, honest methods, up to intimidation. It happened so that people come to me on their own. Perhaps someone really gets the impression that soon I will get tired of coaching, that I don’t treat it in the right way, but I can prove the opposite only with deeds. For this, I repeat, I build my bases, create comfortable conditions for athletes, find sponsors, and I sponsor many myself. Why do all this if you are not serious about your work?
The feeling that you are trying very hard to give your athletes everything that you didn’t have does not leave me.
Evgeni Plushenko: You are right. Yes, I really skated for a long time, but why did I have so many different surgeries? Because there was no recovery. No massage, no sauna, no pools, no stretches, no right warm-ups. Skated – ran home. As a professional athlete, you perfectly understand: after training, you need to cool down, stretch, do physiotherapy, drive lymph, restore muscles with massage. Only then can we seriously talk about sports longevity.
Is it necessary to talk about it, taking into account how short the age of leaders in the same ladies’ skating becomes?
Evgeni Plushenko: Personally, I really want my athletes to skate as long as possible. I don’t want my athletes to be a flash, a one-off story: they jumped, won something and disappeared.
Then, I suppose, you should understand Evgenia Medvedeva intentions to grab any chance to prolong her life in sports.
Evgeni Plushenko: I can only empathize Zhenya’s current situation. It has been very difficult for her to train in the last months. Whether you are an Olympic champion, a world champion, a coach is always needed. Someone should look at you from the side, notice mistakes, guide, and most importantly, the skater constantly needs support.
There is just one thing in this story: in order to continue winning prizes at the World Championships and the Olympic Games, Medvedeva definitely needs a quadruple jump. From what I have seen at the test skates, Zhenya is not well prepared for this task. Perhaps she will make up for something, life will show! Medvedeva is a fighter and definitely won’t give up just like that. So I can only wish her fruitful work with the new, or rather the old, coaching staff, with which she became a champion.
So you don’t believe in Evan Lysacek situation?
Evgeni Plushenko: Not anymore. Look how many girls are on the reserves bench, and by the Olympics there will be even more of them. They jump triple axels, skate beautifully, spin, have charisma, choreography, and fairly stable attempts of quads. Therefore, with triple jumps, I’m afraid you won’t go far. Especially when there are difficulties in technique.
Trusova, during the test skates, made three quadruple jumps in a free program. Is this the optimal limit, or are you planning to complicate technical content?
Evgeni Plushenko: We expect to add a triple axel instead of a double one, and besides that, we also have a quadruple salchow planned, Sasha jumps it perfectly.
Offering Trusova the Romeo and Juliet theme, what kind of artistic image did you want to show?
Evgeni Plushenko: A composite character. Fate, love, suffering, passion… To be honest, during the test skates, far from everything that we planned and prepared was done. Technically, of course, the same lutz could be landed, but I’m not worried about that, I’m talking about the choreography. Of course, I read the comments like “nothing new: run, jump, run, jump.” But you go and do quadruple jumps somehow differently. It’s impossible.
That is why, I believe, it was common for you and Mishin to get rid of any movements that seemed unnecessary, to make the choreography extremely laconic. And now, for Kostornaia, you invite Shae-Lynn Bourne – the most difficult figure skating choreographer. What for?
Evgeni Plushenko: Because Alena is not jumping quadruple jumps yet and she is able to skate this choreography perfectly. She has unique choreographic abilities, which is why I wanted Bourne to work with Kostornaia. She responded immediately, by the way.
Now ladies’ single skating has become such that you need to have a dialogue with parents, who often become active participants in the training process. Is this involvement a disaster or happiness?
Evgeni Plushenko: Disaster. 90% of parents try, as they think, to do better for their child, but, unfortunately, sometimes it only turns out worse. They begin to manage children, give prompts during training and after, go somewhere else to skate, hire some additional specialists, and most importantly something is always not enough for them. Not enough, not enough choreography. When I was seven years old, I trained in Volgograd three times a week. Now seven-year-olds have two workouts a day. That is, 14 times a week! Plus, they take additional ice sessions. And then we ask: why are there so many injuries? At the age of 11, 12, 13, his knees ache, achilles, his back, his head, or something else. In such cases, I explain to parents: you cannot eat a hodgepodge, wash it down with milk, put sausages in the juice and hope that you will feel good. Regime and correct training strategy should be at the forefront.
Are your skaters’ parents attending training?
Evgeni Plushenko: We have open lessons from time to time, but this is not a system. In older groups, I allow parents to be present at the training session, but if I suddenly notice that at least someone starts showing the child where he should go and how to jump, I immediately remove people from the rink.
Do you allow yourself to shout at your athletes on the ice?
Evgeni Plushenko: I can raise a voice, but I will never lay a hand on a child. I will never allow myself to humiliate an athlete or insult him in any way. I do not accept profanity at all. Children should not be cursed or called names. When new specialists come to my school, the first thing we do is discuss all this with them.
During the existence of the academy, I fired 17 coaches. For discipline, for profanity, for insulting children, for laying hands on them … I always say to athletes: you are professionals. I am ready to support you in everything, to joke with you, to organize the training process in such a way that it is a joy, but you have to work hard in training. Everyone work hard on my school.
What is the reason for you to kick an athlete out of training?
Evgeni Plushenko: Laziness, failure to comply with my requirements, unwillingness to correct technical mistakes. By the way, it is not necessary to kick out. It is enough to put the child on a bench so that he watches others skates. And if you start praising these others … I kick them out for popping the jumps, that is, when the skater seems to go to a jump, but in fact has already decided not to jump it.
By the way, about popping the jumps … At the test skates many paid attention to the changes that happened to Mikhail Kolyada after he switched to Alexei Mishin.
Evgeni Plushenko: When Misha started having difficulties with jumps, we talked about this with the leaders of the FFKKR and back then I said that it would be great to send Kolyada to Mishin for consultation, and together with his coach. To do this, there was no need to draw up any transitions, to invent something. Mishin has a system, exercises, tactics, methods. Now we, in fact, see the result: a clear axis appeared, the correct inclination, competent landing, competent speed, which can be slightly increased and then it will be super. As soon as the jumps stopped taking too much energy, the lines become visible, the choreography is perceived differently.
Would you yourself agree to send your athletes to Mishin’s consultation?
Evgeni Plushenko: Alexei Nikolaevich and I already have an agreement on this matter.
What is the idea of such cooperation for you?
Evgeni Plushenko: First of all, this is communication. For example, during the test skates, I got the impression that no one really talked with the girls before. This was evident from the way people try to distance themselves from everything: they set themselves, warm up somewhere, run. Mishin and I communicated all the time. During warm-ups, at competitions, on the rink, outside. Alexei Nikolaevich is a top-class coach. He was always aware of what was happening with me, I could ask his advice about everything: about girls, clubs, cars, apartments, business – about everything.
Not everyone is so lucky with a coach.
Evgeni Plushenko: I was insanely lucky, yes. And I want to show both current and future athletes that communication is the most important component. Adrenaline comes out, how else can you extinguish it? Only by switching attention. You can’t do only jumps on the same warm-up for all six minutes: boom-boom-boom … If we are talking about the opportunity to have a long professional life, the skater must clearly understand: catching up with someone and beating him is far from the most difficult thing in sports. The most difficult thing is to defend the won positions. If an athlete is alone, he will never cope with this task, no parents will help with this. Only a team who leads you every day, guides you, who is next to you in difficult times, and whom you trust, can help. And who knows thoroughly in what way to lead you to success.
If suddenly a situation arises and either Trusova or Kostornaia come to you and say: “Evgeni Viktorovich, thanks for everything, but we are leaving,” will this greatly upset you?
Evgeni Plushenko: Of course, it will upset, because a lot of time has been spent, a lot of work has been done, energy has been invested. But, you know, I can handle it. We just recently discussed this topic at home with my wife, and I said: “Yana, the main thing is that we are married for 11 years and continue to be together.” Everything else is such a small deal….