Evgeni Rukavitsin: “There are things that you cannot change and you must accept them. We accepted the terms of the game and moved on.”
Interview with Evgeni Rukavitsin, coach of Dmitri Aliev and Makar Ignatov. About the first half of the season, tactics of working at this unusual time and how to be in dialogue with the athlete and take into account his unique qualities. Rukavitsin also shared his opinion where the ladies’ single skating will move and what is important when working with an athlete – democracy or dictatorship.
source: by Tatjana Flade for olympicchannel.com dd. 24th January 2021
This season is different from the rest. But be as it may. Half of it has already passed. What can you say about it?
Evgeni Rukavitsin: There are things that you personally cannot change and you must accept them. Therefore, blaming any problems is, by and large, pointless. In my opinion, this season is going pretty well for us. Unfortunately, Dima Aliev missed the Russian Nationals and we were at least upset about it. Because he overcame a lot in order to be able to start a good, confident preparation for the Nationals. I mean his injuries and micro-surgeries in Germany, after which he went through a rehabilitation period. It was not easy, but he was able to get in good shape to prepare for the Nationals. We began training without any restrictions, confidently preparing for the Russian Nationals, and this was fruitful. And suddenly this disease happened (Aliev had a coronavirus – ed), and of course for us it was a shock. But, as they say, we will survive it – we have already survived it. And I think that everything will be fine with him, because he is a strong guy and has already overcome a lot. Of course, in training now we have to take into account that he was sick. It is impossible not notice this fact.
Speaking about Makar (Ignatov), I will say that he was able to defend a place in the national team, one of the leading places for our common team. And I am very happy about these. Many people who were not familiar with each other, who knew the situation, wrote me after the short program: “Skated for two, fighter.” Makar understood that he was the only one left from our male team. This, on the one hand, gave him additional motivation, on the other hand, the pressure was greater. But I am very glad that he coped with all this. And he coped quite confidently. There were mistakes, and we know them. And we worked very hard on these mistakes. He has his own features associated with personal physiological qualities – fast fatigue, for example. And I will say without false modesty that the huge work has been carried out in this regard. Maybe we even risked a little: we gave him more load than he could probably bear. The were more loads than usual, but there were nuances in the intervals in work – how much work, how much rest. We finished loads closer to the competitions than usual. And most importantly, he showed character – he approached the preparation with absolute trust, did not doubt the coaching idea, because it was a little unusual. This is probably the main plus – his trust.
Therefore, answering the question, I will say that we have accepted with understanding everything this season. We accepted all the innovations, because we understood that we could not change this situation. Let’s say some championships are canceled. Okay, let’s change the plan, let’s move on. Another event is canceled or postponed – the same. That is, there was no despair “Oh, what to do ?! How to be?!” We accepted the terms of the game and moved on.
How did everything that happened affect your work when you had to change the plan? At the same time, it is very important to keep the athletes motivated.
Evgeni Rukavitsin: In my opinion, it is very important to have a dialogue with adult athletes. If you talk to them and they hear you, then, in principle, this process is quite manageable. I wouldn’t call it easy, but it’s manageable.
I know different methods – someone does not have a dialogue, they simply put it as fact, which plan is next. We have a slightly different vision, different thinking. And when something changes, we gather such a mini-consultation and simply tell the athletes how we see certain changes, how we will carry them out and how we will avoid some problems associated with the fact that everything is constantly changing …
So, it is important for you to have a dialogue with athletes and not just say: “I’m a coach, I have decided, and we are doing this”? In your group, athletes offer something themselves, say, you will also listen to their words?
Evgeni Rukavitsin: Of course. Yes, we are listening. As a rule, the decision is still mine, and the guys understand this perfectly. But I like it when the guys are involved in the process. In my opinion, this means that they are not mindlessly going this way. Let me give you an example. Often Dima (Aliev) – he is more open in this sense – says: “I revised my programs, and if you look at the timing, then in my previous program this or that jump was at such and such a second, and this was more comfortable.” I, of course, analyze this situation, and if I see that the proposal for adjusting the program is really reasonable, I set the task for the choreographers. Or I say: “Dima, this change happened not just because it was convenient to put it here. This happened because we made the spin longer” or something else. This dialogue is part of a larger chain. I really have great understanding and respect for the fact that the guys express some of their proposals.
For your skater Elizaveta Nugumanova, the Russian Nationals was a breakthrough: in Chelyabinsk, for the first time, she got into the top six.
Evgeni Rukavitsin: I keep telling Liza that she really has a great gift. Both physical data and character. She can emotionally prepare herself for the competitions in a right way and give all of herself at the moment when it is necessary. True, when I demand more during trainings, we, as a coach and an athlete, still adapt to each other. And there are many disagreements. But, again, in spite of everything, there is still a dialogue. There were difficult moments – I’ll tell you frankly, but we overcame them, thanks to Liza as well – she also made many steps forward. I told her: “We are moving there, there and there, we find a common worldview, I am ready. But be so kind to accept these moments uncompromisingly” and she accepted it. All athletes of this level are completely different, I would say, with different characteristics. And here you need to show some flexibility. Because she is really capable to close, close, close and suddenly – bang! – open her eyes and give the maximum result. And if I shuffle my fist on the table and say: “Show me the free program twice in a row, because I decided so,” and interfere with her mindset – this is also stupid. But to show the result, you need to do a lot of work, and we are still in the process of establishing the process. But it seems to me that something can come of it.
Many people like Elizaveta’s skating for its beauty.
Evgeni Rukavitsin: She can do even better, I’m sure of that. I want her to open her eyes even wider – she is capable of more. While we are still, as I say, adapting. But if I can convey my thoughts to her, again taking into account her characteristics, she is able to show even more.
Now in Russia there is insane competition among ladies. Probably in such conditions it is not so easy to motivate girls.
Evgeni Rukavitsin: You are right, and in terms of motivation, Liza just has a huge advantage. She truly enjoys what she does. She does not have these competitions “off-scale”: “If I can only compete for the fourth place, then what is the point for me to work so hard?” She goes on the ice because she wants to say something, to leave some mark – in the souls of the audience, in the hearts of her fans – and she has a lot of them, and she is loved. I know this by how many different wishes they write to me, try to get to training. That is, she is a person who is interesting to the audience, and for the sake of this audience she goes on the ice and brings something light and warm with her skating. It seems to me that this is her motivation, and it is right. But you’re absolutely right – it’s really hard to motivate. It is necessary to find this motivation and sincerely believe in it, you can’t instill it. There are ten fans, I want to skate for them – it won’t work, you really need to skate with some kind of inner message. She has this message, and it is light and warm.
What do you think about the development of ladies’ single skating, at the fact that girls began to jump quadruple jumps and triple axels?
Evgeni Rukavitsin: I probably will not show any restraint and false modesty, I will say that I look at it with admiration. Just recently, when, for example, Carolina Kostner was skating (she is one of them, I will not give other examples), I said that I really get a great aesthetic pleasure watching her skate. And when some girls jumped quadruple jumps then, I even had some kind of struggle of motives inside me. I wanted some new trend, when it is interesting – will jump, will not jump. Now, maybe, Carolina Kostner is not there, or the girls have become very strong, but at the Russian Nationals, sitting on the stands, I watched the skating of three girls with sincere tears in my eyes (Anna Shcherbakova, Kamila Valieva, Alexandra Trusova), because it was some kind of magic.
It was a battle of characters, a battle of personalities. And at the same time, despite this battle and pressure, it was an absolute aesthetic pleasure to watch this skating. Not fighting for jumps, there was and impression that they did not seem to feel this battle. All three of them managed to skate masterpiece. In my opinion, this day should really be remembered in the history of figure skating. Because these three skates, these fifteen to twenty minutes, touched me so deeply, I say this sincerely. These were really three performances of the most difficult level. And I imagine what seconds of coaching happiness all members of the coaching staff have experienced. To experience these minutes for the coach – consider that everything is not in vain.
In your opinion, the development of ladies’ single skating will go towards the complication of elements?
Evgeni Rukavitsin: If you look into history, everything comes in waves. Ups, downs. It’s just the natural development of life. Let’s say, it so happened that two stars were born in the same year, which God endowed with everything – charisma, super natural data, character and everything else. And they really created their own history of confrontations. Then there was, for example, a break. Then again the appearance of new ones. Somewhere more, somewhere less. In any case, we should be happy that we can see this crazy rise. That we are contemporaries of these girls, who are really making a new story. I will not be surprised If there will be some kind of transitional moment after, some kind of recession, and against this background some new star may win, which will fill in the missing, for example, with her musicality. I do not exclude this option. This is a normal course of life, which can change us in one direction or another, and this should be taken quite calmly. But, judging by the depth of the field that we have in Russia, I think that this trend will please us for a long time.
Speaking about the pandemic, it has been noted more than once that in Russia its influence seems to be the least: athletes train and compete, especially seniors and juniors. Do you see the risk that children will stop doing figure skating?
Evgeni Rukavitsin: No no. I do not see a decline in interest in figure skating, I do not see a decline among children. There are fewer competitions. Will this fact affect? It will. It seems to me, again, that there are two sides of the coin. First, with fewer competitions, there will be more time to work hard on some technical characteristics, more time for such fundamental coaching work, which, for example, I love very much, but for which there is never enough time. This year, even with the elder ones we had time for that. And this is important when you look deeper, discover some new micro themes that you develop, and you open your eyes to some moments more and more. Thanks to this, children will be more accurately trained. The second side of the coin is the lack of performance practice. You know, as they say, the best practice is competition. Since there few of competitions, I know that coaching staffs, including ours, often hold so-called training competitions, skates, and so on. So it is necessary to carry out some kind of competitive activity in the training process more often.