“Methods that some coaches seem to have taken from Tutberidze don’t work on free people. You can’t yell or swear at children.” Interview with Estonian coach Anna Levandi
Interview with Estonian coach Anna Levandi.
source: sports.ru dd. 12th January 2023 by Maya Bagriantseva
Recently, a big interview with Anna Levandi (Kondrasheva before marriage) was posted. Anna is a Soviet female figure skater, vice world champion in 1984, Euro multi-medalist, and participant in two Olympics. Now she lives and coaches in Estonia. Among her famous students are Eva-Lotta Kiibus and Anna’s son, Arlet Levandi. We translated the parts that seemed most interesting to us.
About the start of her coaching career and funding
Anna Levandi: My husband, Allar (Estonian bronze medalist of Calgary-1988 in the Nordic combined), retired after the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics. There was no work in Estonia at that time; the times were difficult. And he had two offers: either to become the coach of the US national team or to go to a private gymnasium in Lillehammer as a coach.
We settled in Norway for a few years. Of course, I was immediately invited to work at the local figure skating club, but a real shock awaited me there. I didn’t even know it was possible to skate at this level! In the Soviet Union, only those who had gone through the selection process skated. I grew up in CSKA, and there it happened that even brilliant children were expelled. And in Norway, there is no selection: whoever pays comes to skate. We had 28 kids in Lillehammer, and two years later I brought the club to number one in the country.
I suddenly became interested in coaching. I have a coaching education, but after a career in sports, I told myself that I would never stand at the boards. The way I was trained, how I grew up on the rink – I definitely didn’t want to do this. To be such a coach is not to live. Continuous training, nerves, shouting—why? I dreamed of becoming an architect like my grandmother. That is, figure skating wasn’t the only thing in life for me.
But life still brought me to the rink. At first I skated in the show, and I really liked it—the artistry and creativity. And at the end, they gave you a bag of money for what you love to do: for dancing!
Did you get paid in your sports career?
Anna Levandi: Almost not. Even in my most successful year, when I became the champion of the USSR, the third at the Europeans, the second at the World Championships, and the fifth at the Olympics, I got two thousand rubles for the whole season. And on the tour we went on with the entire US team, we signed the papers, but did not receive anything in our hands.
But these were the rules: we were paid salaries and fully provided with training process. This is a different system, and I understand it perfectly well. In the West, athletes pay for everything themselves, so it is clear that they keep what they earn.
I think, in total, Soviet athletes were still in profit because we were not able to pay for training, ice, fees, doctors, skates, and trips. And no one thought about it—everyone took it for granted, as if it were free. Now I work in a different system. I have a private school. I know how much to pay for ice, how much to allocate for salaries, and how much to pay for taxes. I perfectly understand all these numbers and see the value of those Soviet investments.
And how is it financially arranged in Estonia? Does the state get involved at some stage, or does everything remain on the parents?
Anna Levandi: The first subsidies are allocated at the municipal level—simply for the fact that the child goes to sports. Well, parents cover extra expenses.
At the federation level, there is a project for financing athletes, I myself developed it about 10 years ago. It starts working at the level of novices, then juniors, and seniors. Everything is detailed and transparent: what the federation pays for, how much it pays, and who it is willing to support.
Therefore, when you are of interest to the country, you show results and don’t pay for anything. Ice, specialists, costumes, skates—everything is funded. Six years ago, a municipal sports school was opened in Tallinn, and if you graduate with a good result, then everything is free for you.
Who then gets the prize money?
Anna Levandi: Everything goes to the athlete. The coach receives a payment from the federation; the athlete does not pay the coach anything. And this is both right and tactful. We once had a scheme similar to today’s Russian one. But I don’t really like it; I didn’t feel comfortable with the fact that the skater had to bring me an envelope with money. Maybe because I still remember myself as an athlete.
My son receives prize money for competitions, and I am proud of him as a mother that he earn himself. By the way, the athlete also does not give anything to the federation either; moreover, as a coach, I receive a bonus from them for the results of my athlete. It took a long time to build this system, but I am proud that no one bleeds money from our athletes.
In our federation, everything is very transparent; I fought for it. We are few; we cannot survive having undercover intrigues. Everything is based on sports results. Selection for the European Championships, for example, does not depend on the results of only the Estonian Nationals. It is not the federation that decides, but the athletes themselves, with their performances. The two best results from the three competitions—whether they got the Challengers or the Grand Prix stages—are chosen and used to determine.
Eva-Lotta Kiibus got to the Olympics last season, but she didn’t qualify for the World Championships; Nina Petrokina went there. Everyone has a chance; the doors to the national team are open. I call it a gladiator fight: you must be the strongest, not last season, not for past merits, but now. Sports are fast and honest.
About her athletes
Eva-Lotta Kiybus, leader of the women’s team and your student, is now training in Holland. What happened?
Anna Levandi: Eva had a problem with her feet all last season; everything was rubbed to the blood. We made it to the Olympics, and it was necessary to take a break; she even had to have surgery and graduate from school. In general, for three months she did not train at all; she needed a break from the skating rink.
Then she returned and started from scratch, step by step. And then love, her boyfriend is our best speed skater, Marten Liiv, but he trains at the academy in Holland. I myself wanted to offer her to move closer to him. I remember this age, and I understand it well when wings grow from love. And that’s what she chose. She now trains with Carine Herrygers, who, by the way, raised both Loena Hendrickx and her brother Jorick.
I’m not offended at all; I’m happy for her and will keep my fingers crossed so that she succeeds. We have done such good work together in these 12 years that I will be happy if she succeeds in the next four years and realizes herself. Of course, in this Olympic season, we expected more, but the injury happened.
So, my main athlete now is Arlet Levandi, my son. He is 16 years old, skates in seniors, became the second in Riga at the Volvo Cup, last year he qualified for the European Championships. He is a good fellow, and the main thing for him is to go his own way and show what he’s capable of now.
It is clear that we are thinking about complicating the content. We are not naive; figure skating is moving forward; now you need to jump all the quads. But jumps are not enough; you need to be remembered by something. There are a lot of jumpers now, but you also need to stand out among them. Now that our focus is on clean triple axel, we are also polishing the technique for quads, making the triples good enough to have room for one more rotation. We don’t rush them, trying to jump 100 times in a workout. I let him try 3-4 times, and that’s it.
We have nowhere to rush, no steps on our toes, so we can develop gradually. It all depends on his ambitions and what he wants to achieve.
Is it his ambition and not yours, mother’s ambition?
Anna Levandi: No, of course not. Mom has her ambitions, he has his. This is his vision, his thoughts on figure skating.
But you, as a mother and as a coach, cannot help but think about his possible Olympic future?
Anna Levandi: Of course, I wouldn’t have worked otherwise. The goal should be big, maximum. But he thinks not so much about medals; he rather wants to be remembered and stand out on the ice. However, only interesting skating is not enough for it; this is not a show. You must be technically strong, of course.
But Arlet’s advantage is choreography. Of course, it is impossible to overestimate his work with Benoit Richaud. They mirror each other on the ice; they are so similar and feel each other so well. They create programs very quickly because, when you catch every word of Richaud and every gesture, you absorb absolutely everything; it’s not difficult. Of course, for a choreographer, this is a balm for the soul when he has such material to work with. The body alone is not enough; the richness of the athlete’s inner world is also important. Richaud’s programs are not for everyone.
About Russian figure skating
Which of the Russian figure skaters do you see most like Anna Kondrashova in terms of skating style?
Anna Levandi: Anechka Shcherbakova. She has such lines and strength! She has both beauty and subtlety, and at the same time, she is more than an athlete—there is depth and character. I knew that she would win the Olympics. She is a fighter; she took it with her mind, intelligence, and deep content. I was 100% sure when we talked about this before Beijing. Nobody believed me: “There are other favorites; what are you talking about?”
The Olympics are won by people like Anya.
I saw all of her training sessions, how nothing worked out for her, how no one paid attention to her, how she walked alone holding tears in her eyes, fell a million times, but never gave up. She prepared herself for victory, went ahead, pulled down the walls, and broke the stones. When she went on the ice, she had no fear; she skated the program like a real samurai. And this is the standard of an athlete for me.
There are a few outstanding athletes in USSR women’s skating. And they skated for a long time. Now there is fierce competition that motivates girls, but it is unlikely that any of them will be able to compete at two Olympics like you. Which way is easier?
Anna Levandi: Well, what’s the point of discussing this? We work with what we have. I will never have many athletes. Many children skate in the country—public skating, so to speak—but no one wants to go to gladiatorship. Lay down their lives, kill yourself in training—why?
It is obvious that in Russia, this is a social lift as well as other opportunities, but in Estonia, if you study well, you will live well. Acquire a specialty—any specialty—and you will realize yourself as a professional; you will earn. 10-year-old girls in Russia live on ice, fight. Their parents are fully involved; family life stops, and everyone works only for a promising child. In Estonia, neither society nor parents are ready for this.
Mostly Russian children go to strong figure skating clubs. They follow what is happening in Russia, but the Estonians do not. Therefore, the rise in Russian figure skating brings children to our Estonian clubs too. Eva-Lotta is a rare exception. Well, you need to understand that Russian parents are ready to take their children to training twice a day and go to training camps instead of a family vacation, while Estonian parents are not. Because when to live then a normal ordinary life? Training before school at 6 a.m.—who can stand it?
About possible transfers of Russian skaters to Estonia
Did our skaters ask about a transfer to the Estonian team? Why not take a strong girl? She would immediately bring medals.
Anna Levandi: No. This is the position of our federation, and we are very grateful for it. If the country had once embarked on a legionary path, our figure skating would have died instantly. Because if others go to the main competitions, you have no motivation to grow. You can do swizzles for yourself, but then there’s no sense in the sport for result. This gave us the opportunity for internal development and a long-term perspective.
At the same time, for pair skating and ice dance, we had to take legionnaires. We want a team because when there is only one ice dance duet in the country, it makes no sense. Nothing moves without competition. Regardless of how good the pair is.
We also have a reverse example. Natasha Zabijako, who was my student in childhood, we were looking for partners; we almost killed her, but what can you do? It would be a pity to hold such a girl; she would be completely broken here. She suffered a serious spinal injury twice. What for? She should be sent to a strong school, to a system, to a strong pairs center with the best specialists, where everything is done for pair skating.
It was definitely the right move. I regret that Natasha lost four years. She could have accomplished so much more if I had made this decision earlier.
About training camps
Have you ever thought about sending your athletes to train in Russia? It is obvious that not this season, but the one before it.
Anna Levandi: We often asked Russian specialists for advice. We went to Mishin’s training camps, and at one time Eva-Lotta went to Eteri Georgievna for a week. Alexei Nikolaevich, by the way, also successfully held a training camp in France this year, because Mishin is Mishin, the Professor. There will always be a separate attitude towards him; he is beyond competition.
Last season, Richaud had Sergei Rozanov at his training camp. This year he wasn’t there, by the way. I think not only because he couldn’t go, but apparently the organizers didn’t have a desire to invite him. Because the methods that he seems to have taken from Tutberidze do not work on free people. You can’t yell or swear at children. You have to teach them and respect them, and not everyone can do it. And why if prepared athletes come to you in a crowd, with all the triples? You bark at them, and they go on quads because they are afraid to be kicked out.
You can’t do it here. You have to teach. I led Eva-Lotta from swizzles, from the first steps for 12 years. And in Russia, one broke down: a million people who want it will come from all over the country; everyone only prays and dreams about it.
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