“It had nothing to do with politics. We wanted our daughter to skate longer so chose a country where it’s psychologically much more comfortable to train.” Russian coach Volkov about why his daughter now represents Canada
Interview with coach Alexander Volkov, one of the first coaches of Alexandra Trusova, coach of Stanislava Konstantinova, Ekaterina Ryabova who represented Azerbaijan.
For several years, Volkov, together with his wife Martina Dazhine, led a group at the Evgeni Plushenko Academy, and in the spring of 2021 they opened their own school. Now the coach has a large international team: several senior skaters represent different countries.
In an interview, Volkov shared his views on the success of his famous students, explained why his daughter changed her sports citizenship, and discussed how Russian coaches are now met in Europe.
Let’s talk about your most famous students. Let’s start with Stanislava Konstantinova. How did your collaboration start? What motivated you to help her in such a difficult situation?
Alexander Volkov: I don’t know why she came to me. It’s better to ask Stanislava herself. She is not the easiest athlete to work with. Well, there are no easy ones, especially when it comes to an experienced adult girl.
I tried to motivate Stasya and help her technically. In training, we more or less succeeded, but in competitions, there were serious mistakes, probably due to stress.
Then everything ended by itself. Evgeni [Plushenko] moved to a new skating rink, and for my athletes, it was not very convenient geographically. We lost permanent ice and looked for it on other ice rinks.
At a certain point, Stasya honestly told me that she was tired and wanted to try something else. I understand her. She wanted normal conditions for training. In addition, the result of our joint work was not what we both expected. So we parted well.
What tasks did you set for Stanislava at the start of the joint work?
Alexander Volkov: She already knew how to do all the elements, except for ultra-c. We understood that it was very difficult to learn them at her age. Therefore, we focused on consistent jumps and clean programs. But alas!
The Russian Nationals, where a lot didn’t turn out in the free program, became the final point. After that, we thought about terminating our cooperation.
Many fans note the beautiful choreography and depth of Stanislava’s programs. I think you, as a coach, saw other strengths that distinguished her from her competitors.
Alexander Volkov: It’s very interesting how a person changes. I remember what Stasya was like at the first trainings: warmed up, did elements, polished different nuances … Actually, like all skaters. But as soon as Martina choreographed new programs for Stasya and she began to skate them, it became impossible to take your eyes off her! That was great.
Maybe you can only compare her to Carolina Kostner. When the European Championships were held in Moscow at the beginning of 2018, and Carolina came to compete, everyone in training looked solely at her. Whether she jumps or falls, it doesn’t matter. We followed her only for her skating and energy.
Same with Stanislava. She perfectly feels the music and choreography; all gestures and facial expressions are incomparable. Yes, jumps were difficult for her, and this is normal when a girl is already an adult. But Stasya skated phenomenally; I wanted to watch more and more.
Do you think she will return to the sport?
Alexander Volkov: Of course not. 15-year-old girls jump quads left and right. How do you compete with them? It’s unrealistic.
The same will happen to the current generation of girls in two or three years. New 13-year-olds will come, and the conveyor will continue its work.
Ekaterina Ryabova, with whom you worked a lot, has retired. What do you think of this athlete?
Alexander Volkov: She has a very strong character and insane stubbornness—in a good way. Katya is used to doing things the way she used to. It took a lot of energy to convince her to try something new. But when she succeeded, she was grateful and admitted that the coach was right.
I am very proud of Katya: representing a non-figure skating country, she slowly went up, and, starting with the junior Grand Prix, she achieved a place in the top six at the European Championships. Then she skated great at the World Championships and the Olympics.
She did very well! I’m insanely happy for this girl that she got to such prestigious competitions and felt their atmosphere.
You’ve known Alexandra Trusova for a very long time. What was she like before gaining world fame?
Alexander Volkov: Sasha was also stubborn in terms of jumps. She could do them endlessly—even two workouts in a row. But she wasn’t very fond of spinning and gliding.
But this often happens with skaters-jumpers who are tuned specifically for super-complex elements. Sasha is just such an athlete, and she does great.
Is it true that she is fearless and ready to try any exercise?
Alexander Volkov: Yes, and therefore it was extremely interesting to work with Sasha. You tell her to do this, to try something new, and she does it. She goes and tries to fix the mistake from the first time. You can direct her in a good direction and constantly improve her, like plasticine—you mold and strengthen her. And of course, I will note her diligence. I even had to slow down Sasha in order to protect her from injuries.
You said that they didn’t want to take the future record holder to Khrustalny because they didn’t see the potential. Why?
Alexander Volkov: It somehow happened that they came with Yegor Rukhin, and the director immediately said, “He is a boy; well, let’s take him! This girl doesn’t really stand out. Let’s take a look!”
Sasha really jumped only doubles then—not quite consistent ones, and not the most beautiful in the world. But at the decisive moment, Viktor Kudryavtsev helped. He advised my group and often came to visit our training. I drew his attention to Sasha, and he also saw the prospects. As a result, Viktor Nikolayevich spoke with the management of the rink.
Only later, when Sasha became better and brought many medals, did they begin to appreciate her.
What do you think about the powerful achievement of a former student at the Olympics—five quads in one program?
Alexander Volkov: Oh, I was rooting for her, and our entire school. Even journalists from the Malakhov team came and filmed a video in support of Sasha, but for some reason they didn’t show it.
I feel sorry that Sasha placed second. The performance was brilliant. She made a jump into the history of figure skating! Even men rarely jump five quads in the free skate.
Except for Nathan Chen.
Alexander Volkov: Well, yes, but it’s still rare, let’s be honest. And Sasha is a girl, and she is super!
What do you think about Alexandra training with a new coach, Svetlana Sokolovskaya?
Alexander Volkov: Sveta is a brilliant coach and a professional in her field. Sasha continues to show results.
It’s difficult for her now. The post-Olympic season most likely had an impact. Especially for a top athlete who concentrated all her strength on the main competitions. But I’m sure we’ll see all of Sasha’s “quads” again.
What do you think motivates Sasha to continue fighting now? Still, she made a name for herself, now there is a pause with new international records, and the process of body changing is obvious.
Alexander Volkov: Sasha is a fan of sports and jumping. She can’t stop yet; she wants new records. And Svetlana Vladimirovna [Sokolovskaya] understands Sasha’s soul, supports her, and shows patience at the right time. I think they have a wonderful tandem.
Sasha also has a boyfriend nearby. Mark is a good guy, and they are even happier together because they motivate each other. I’m sure Sasha will still jump. Her successes make me happy.
Tell us about your work over the past year and a half, since you and your wife opened your school. What groups of students do you lead?
Alexander Volkov: When Zhenya Plushenko and I parted, the choice arose: either go to some other academy, or open my own business.
In mid-May last year, we found out that a new skating rink was opening in the southwest of the capital, and we were invited to meet the director. Martina and I looked at everything, liked the atmosphere: four ice fields, a swimming pool, a gym, halls for choreography, mini-football, and basketball. We discussed organizational issues; everything was very comfortable according to the conditions. And my wife and I realized that we wanted to open our school here. We decided to take a risk.
All the athletes from the group that we led at Plushenko’s academy followed us, and later, new ones joined. We now have three permanent groups: seniors, middle group (7-10 years old), and children (4-6 years old). We are also considering opening a direction for adult skaters, because now we are receiving applications from people who want to skate and perform just for fun.
Alexa, your eldest daughter, has begun to represent Canada this season. Why did the family make this decision?
Alexander Volkov: We decided that even before the isolation of Russian athletes from international competitions, it had nothing to do with politics. It’s just that before, Alexa could not reach the world level by age; she turned 14 only in October.
It’s all about the insane competition among Russian girls. Their sports lives are so short… She won the Olympics at the age of 15 and finished at 16-17.
We wanted our daughter to skate longer. Therefore, we chose a country where it is psychologically much more comfortable to train. And now we especially understand how right we were. After all, Alexa can compete internationally.
Last season, Alexa competed in Russian competitions. How did you manage to change the sports federation without quarantine?
Alexander Volkov: Alexa is Canadian by birth, she has Canadian citizenship. She has never been a member of the Russian national team, so the FFKR calmly let her go. Now my daughter is in Canada. She has already won the Quebec Junior Championship, a qualifying competition for the Nationals. Alexa won among 23 girls, and now she is waiting for the National Championships in January.
Who coaches her and takes her to competitions?
Alexander Volkov: We coach her together with my wife when Alexa is in Moscow. Now, due to the current situation, Martina and Alexa fly to international competitions, and I can’t leave.
True, getting from Russia to Canada is still difficult and expensive. For the last time, Martina and Alexa took a bus from Moscow to Helsinki, and only there did they board the plane. Well, what to do!
In your group, several athletes represent different countries: Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, and Armenia. How do you put everything together?
Alexander Volkov: Yes, an international group has gathered. It is quite difficult to combine, because there are many competitions on the calendar that sometimes overlap. Basically, either Martina or I go to international competitions.
Are you, as a Russian coach, easily allowed to competitions in Europe now?
Alexander Volkov: Not really. Due to political issues, it is difficult to get to competitions in some countries. But there are no disagreements on the ice. In Europe, after all, half of the figure skaters’ coaches are Russian-speaking, and everyone communicates well. They just avoid talking about politics and keep sports out of everything.
How is the mood of your athletes, who are now represent Russia? Still, there are teammates who go to international competitions. How do you motivate them to keep working?
Alexander Volkov: It was harder to find motivation in March, when everything started and there was a shock. Artem Kovalev just qualified for the Junior Worlds, but everything turned out to be in vain.
It was difficult to accept the situation. He once directly said, “I don’t understand why I skate.” I had to choose words: that everything will return to normal, we must continue to work, because there are competitions within the country.
Yes, now Artem sees his friends performing abroad, but the guy understands for sure that his teammates are not to blame for his isolation.
In general, how would you assess the development of figure skating in the past year? The Olympics were first, with their technological breakthroughs, followed by Ilia Malinin’s quadruple axel. At the same time, the change of forces in the international arena after the suspension of the Russians.
Alexander Volkov: Honestly, in the spring, I thought it would be much worse. But when I started watching the Russian stages of the Grand Prix, I was very surprised. The level of our skaters is amazing! The guys jump quad loops, flips, and lutzes. They move forward and progress. It’s very exciting! Yes, now our guys do not perform at the world level, but when they are allowed to compete, it will be more difficult for the rivals.
And how is the mood of the little skaters now? In recent months, have parents continued to bring their children to figure skating?
Alexander Volkov: The children who come are very focused. I have gathered a large group of babies in a couple of months, which is still growing. Therefore, I am sure that parents and children are still interested in getting to know the world of figure skating. After all, life goes on!
Yes, it’s a difficult period that we need to survive. Sooner or later, the nightmare will end, and sports will be out of politics. Sport is my life, work, and source of inspiration.
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