“I see myself as a long-liver of figure skating” Alexei Mishin about life, figure skating and his 80th birthday
8th March Alexei Mishin celebrates his 80th Birthday. In an interview Mishin told about the secrets of a coach who has been working with some athletes for years, bringing them to sports heights, about his understanding of coaching happiness and age minimum in figure skating.
source: tass.ru dd. 8th March by Veronika Sovetova
Alexei Nikolaevich, what is it like for a man to celebrate his birthday on March 8, International Women’s Day?
Alexei Mishin: Recalling the story of my birth, when my mother came from the hospital and brought me, she was told: “Tanya, Tanya, how is it possible – you gave birth to a boy on March 8. This had to be a girl.” She said: “No, boy – good. My Alyosha is a gift to all women in the world.”
Maybe you, born on March 8, have managed to solve the riddle – what do women want?
Alexei Mishin: I do not treat this holiday as my own, personal. The fact is that on the eve of March 8, such a festive atmosphere is already being created, when everyone gives each other gifts. Prepared by men for women. And my birthday fits well into this atmosphere.
But you, one of the few coaches, managed to find the key to the female skaters’ hearts. Liza Tuktamysheva is working with you for many years – she is already quite an adult athlete. You have worked with Carolina Kostner for many years. How did you manage to avoid getting to the point when they quit skating?
Alexei Mishin: Historically, they consider me a coach of men’s single skating, but when they ask whether there is a specificity of working with women or men, I want to say that the one who absolutes this gender principle, he is wrong. Because the technique is the same for all bodies, both for men and women. This is the mechanics of movement. And it is practically indistinguishable in this aspect. If we talk about purely human relations, then I have developed such a careful, polite attitude towards girls, little girls who train with me. I will say that there is a serious disadvantage in this, because some rigidity would only help me.
Men or women, who are you more comfortable to work with now?
Alexei Mishin: Probably, I will give you a not quite adequate comparison: a dad and a child come to the zoo. The child looks, and there are birds, animals, wolves, tigers, giraffes. Well, who does he like better? He likes all. So it is to me – I like to work with young girls, following the example of the metropolitan pioneers we work with all the little ones on the triple axel, quadruple jumps. Here is Misha Kolyada, an artist of body movements, Liza is worthy of admiring her talent. So I cannot divide, especially on the basis of gender. Of course it is interesting to work with people who go up, ascending. And with those who “support” themselves, I would use this term – you “graze” them carefully. But such athletes do not cause much interest to me.
I ask you as a professor. Nowadays, the opinion that it is better to teach children multiturn jumps at an early stage is becoming more and more popular.
Alexei Mishin: There is a morphological type of a basketball player, tall, rather powerful, there is the same type of a volleyball player – also tall, but drier. There are weightlifters, there are stayers – long distance runners who sometimes run even at the age of 40 and run successfully. There are sprinters, mostly young, powerful, large. There are high jumpers – thin as a perch. I think it’s time to end this debate – young-non-young, thin, aged, puberty-prepubertal. You know, the morphological image of the future champion – thin, light, young. When the instinct of procreation does not slow down this audacity, this courage, this desire to set records.
At the age of 80, you are taking three athletes to the World Championships – Tuktamysheva, Kolyada and Semenenko. Already an achievement.
Alexei Mishin: I would describe this event as “a fortunate coincidence.” Let’s not fly into the skies.
Have you already studied your competitors?
Alexei Mishin: Very strong rivals. I think that I will fully express the position of the leadership of our federation, of all figure skating fans. First of all, we must perform in such a way as to win the maximum spots (for the Olympics – ed) in all disciplines.
Returning to the heroine of the Russian Cup Final Liza Tuktamysheva. I still remember that little girl from Glazov at the senior Russian Nationals in Kazan – 2009, where 12-year-old Adelina Sotnikova and Liza became the best. It’s 2021, and Liza is still with you. Weren’t there any moments of doubting to give up everything?
Alexei Mishin: In difficult moments of her career, difficult for our union, I told her: Liza, I will go with you to the very end of the path. And we are still going this path. Therefore, I think that my answer sounds completely true and completely answer your question.
After her success at the Russian Cup Final, you called Liza the Statue of Liberty for women’s single skating. Who would you compare your other students with?
Alexei Mishin: Evgeni Plushenko most likely can be compared to a tank that was moving forward. And what crunched under its tracks? The bones of the rivals. Urmanov, in the heyday of his talent, was probably the Jesus Christ of figure skating. He skated flawlessly, flawlessly. Can Christ be criticized? So it was impossible to criticize Lesha Urmanov. And every time there is a certain regret associated with this, because this terrible injury at the World Championships in Lausanne knocked him down. He could have accomplished much more.
If we talk about Lesha Yagudin, I think we need to answer with his words in the title of his book – he was going right through. Well, and Artur Gachinski … All the skaters I listed were artists in their field. Artur Gachinski surpassed them all. Yes.
Alexei Mishin: You know, the thing is that you approach the assessment of a person’s talent and his artistic talent, mixing in there a broth from places and medals which is completely inappropriate in this case. And if we cut off this sauce, which is about medals, longevity in figure skating, in the brightness of victories, a slightly different picture appears. But it is distorted. If we speak refined, then this is the person with the brightest talent.
Alexei Mishin: I train different facets of talent, one is strong, the other is strong-willed, the third is flexible, the fourth is musical, the fifth is jumpy. And Sonya Samodurova is smart. And mind is also a facet of talent.
At what age can you understand whether it makes sense to continue working or not? At four or five years old, the child will be brought to you, can you give a forecast?
Alexei Mishin: Everyone says: the art of a coach is to select, to find. Complete nonsense. Talent is like a needle in a haystack. Sat down and felt – aha, talent.
How important are the human qualities of the athlete you work with to you?
Alexei Mishin: In almost a hundred percent of cases, my relationship with the athletes was kind, good. Once, at the start of the career, I helped a lot of skaters to live, gave a bed, soup, cutlet, skates, boots, time for training. But I must say that my star students turned out to be such persons that at a certain stage, when they achieve high results and some kind of financial relationship arises between the coach and the athlete – none of them has ever deceive me on a single ruble.
Is a mercantile relationship in big sport inevitable?
Alexei Mishin: Mercantile relationships sometimes develop in such a way that the athlete is already of a sufficiently high level, and the money is still pouring from me. And for me this is quite normal.
Do you remember your first substantial fee as a coach?
Alexei Mishin: My first money that I received was an increased scholarship. And I went to a Soviet jewelry store and bought my mother gold earrings with alexandrite. And they were the size of a fingernail. And they did change color. I remember this. It’s a pity, I don’t know where they are now, but they were huge, natural. I remember that, it was my first scholarship.
And so that it was based on sports activities, of course they were enjoyable in those days. I also worked as a post-graduate student. I was already married then, and my wife and I were trying to buy something with this money. So I cannot say that my life in the past or my life now can be characterized as the life of a very rich person. I just have a wealth that allows my family to live with dignity.
Do you remember the first trip abroad?
Alexei Mishin: I remember. I went to Czechoslovakia for the Universiade. And I arrived, practiced, and someone of the leadership came up to me and said: you know what, we did not read the rules quite accurately. Only one boy can participate in competitions from Russia. It was a terrible blow to me. These are the memories. We just did not read everything that was sent to us in the invitation in English. This was my first trip.
What is coaching happiness?
Alexei Mishin: On the one hand, coaching happiness lies in student’s victories. I think what I did important for our sport, what is my good, main contribution? Not champions. And not medals. Although I am considered one of the most successful coaches in our sport. I think those books that I wrote, the approach that I formulated, the quintessence of it is the paramount importance of the rotational component not only in multi-turn jumps, but also in figure skating in general. When a person makes circle number one, figure number one, he simply passes from the start to the end of the arc, he makes one turn. And when I counted at the dawn of my foggy youth how many turns Viktor Petrenko makes during his skating, then a worthy figure skater and leader of world figure skating, it turned out that during his free program he was spinning about one revolution per second, continuously. If you add jumps, spins, steps. And I consider this to be my main contribution to this theoretical position. I have developed a lot of exercises. And now I see that they have become like folk songs. The students don’t even know who made them. When I asked one girl, she said: Gela taught me.
Can you imagine the day when you tell your students: “Guys, that’s all.”
Alexei Mishin: Probably, when I am completely “cuckoo”. The answer to your question sounds, probably, quite the opposite – the athletes will come, look and say: “That’s it, cuckoo, ciao”.
You said a few years ago that your happiest birthday hasn’t come yet.
Alexei Mishin: When a boy is scolded for an act, he begins to come up with some explanations. So am I.
You have a lot of joy and passion in your life. Your country house. During the quarantine, you settled there and, as far as I know, completely went into physical labor and landscaping.
Alexei Mishin: First, I want to say that quarantine is a tragedy for modern humanity. But for me it was a complete holiday. Of course, I grieved for those who left us. But I dug, we built a court, made a road, planted a lot of trees. I have seven to eleven nights a year – in Cyprus, in Rhodes, this is a wonderful time. Lindos is probably the best place on earth, although you can’t say that absolutely.
Second point. I got sick. Positive test. The wife says: I will be here with our grandson, go to the country house. I left. And there I enjoyed this two weeks. The temperature was 37.1 one day, the rest I felt pretty decent. There was weakness and drowsiness. I went to bed and slept every day from three to five.
I have a very unconventional attitude towards the pandemic that has visited us. How did the skater’s season go? For years, decades, a century. The World Championships ended – the athlete came somewhere, performed for a week or two, then went on vacation for a week or two, came to the skating rink, and again – programs, hurry, injuries, hurry, breaking into new boots, hurry, music, elements … He ran, ran, ran according to the season, stopped – did not have time to turn his head, and it’s necessary to run again.
And then he ran, ran, ran, stopped – and there was nowhere to run, it was impossible to go to the rink. He opened the blinders, looked – and who was running next to me, I saw him, but did not really consider. And what about myself – ran, where did I run? And the moment of comprehension has come. Online trainings and performances appeared. People took care of their health. It is difficult if you do not delve into this problem. And my words will seem superficial, frivolous. I read in one book – an architect in Japan, plot ten by ten steps. To build a pagoda there, he came and sat and watched for a year – what happens in the spring, whence the wind, whence the birds, whence the clouds. Probably, this is an exaggerated example, but I think that a person, a coach, an athlete, at some point also needs to stop, think, and release his intellectual capabilities. Free and give them some kind of freedom. If you think about it, that’s probably right.
At this time, journalists often called me and asked – well, that’s it? Now they will forget how to jump – a season without jumping? No, this pause even moved the jumping component. I think, in artistic terms, contemporary figure skating will only benefit. Therefore, I do not have a negative attitude towards those breaks, those pauses that this tragedy, which has visited all of humanity, projected onto sports and figure skating. I do not presume to speak for the whole sports, but for figure skating, I think, I will say with confidence. There were positives here.
On your birthday, you gather all the best and brightest of figure skating around you. What awaits us this time?
Alexei Mishin: I will tactfully clarify your question – it was not I who gathered, they gathered. And the organizers used to ask – how to gather them? And now we cannot find a place – there are so many people who want to take part in this sports event. I do not consider this event as a celebration of my birthday, for this we will go to the country house, gather with family, friends, pour glasses, drink, eat pilaf, duck or somethig else. And it will be a birthday in the everyday sense. And this holiday will be dedicated to a large section of our national figure skating, starting with the veterans Moskvina and Mishin. The arrival of Tarasova and Tchaikovskaya was expected, but due to illness they could not. Yura Ovchinnikov will come – a legend, the joy of the audience. Lesha Urmanov will come, all my current students will be there. The future of figure skating Sasha Plushenko will come. There will be Liza, there will be Alina Zagitova.
There was a reason, they will say kind words to me – I will answer with kind words. And so it will be figure skating of the highest class, and I am grateful to them. It will be a holiday also for the audience. Because the audience is hungry for figure skating, let’s give them this piece of bread – with butter and jam. I would call it that.
Open the secret – how to learn to live so brightly and deliciously?
Alexei Mishin: You should take an example from me. And treat life as if it were endless. There are two striking examples in my life. My dad, when he was about 95 years old, he was saying: “I am not an old man, I am a long-liver.” Now I see myself as a long-liver of figure skating.
The second example, very striking, is the actor Vladimir Zeldin. And it was not even Zeldin himself who gave me this idea. One of the women who attended his funerals said: “This man has lived a life without a period of old age.” And this wonderful formula, this thesis – it makes me stronger.
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