Rafael Arutyunyan: Girls shoudn’t compete with women. It’s not fair!
Interview with Rafael Arutyunyan about Zagitova, Trusova, Kostornaia, age eligibility for competing among seniors and judging.
By Ekaterina Bespalova for sport-express.ru dd. December 30th, 2019
– Chen came to Turin two weeks earlier, I had the opportunity to train him and the result is obvious. Moreover, in such a time it was possible to get in shape, rather than bring an athlete to the state of squeezed lemon, when for you he does his best and give everything ahead of time and then at the competitions he will be completely empty. That is why last year, when Nathan wanted to come to me a week before some very big competitions, I said: “No, don’t come.” At first he was offended, and then realized that it was right and even asked: “How do you know everything?” Well, I have been working for 45 years not in vain.
And I had good teachers – Tatiana Tarasova, Alexei Mishin, I also worked with Galina Zmievskaya. I was glad just to breathe the same air with them, you know? Now if Mishin or Tarasova pass me at competitions, I stop, if they come, I say hello. If not, I will not bother them myself.
This season, yours athlete Mariah Bell made a very good impression.
– Well, see how great! So, I still can do something (smiles). But I’m a bit offended when they associate me only with Americans and American skating. At my best times, Maria Sotskova came to my training camp, Misha Kolyada came, this summer Ksenia Sinitsina came with her coach. I’m like a doctor, whom any person can ask for help. Apparently, that’s why I often work with adult athletes. Many of them trained somewhere, played a fool and then faced a dilemma: to finish or continue skating? As a result, they come to my group. True, they had to wait the real result for a long time: at least two years, four years is a more optimal period.
And are they ready to wait? To find strength and money?
– The biggest problem is that you cannot give more than the skater can take. They ask me: why don’t you tell everything at once? Because an athlete can understand some things only after three or four years. We went through this with both Ashley Wagner and Adam Rippon, with Mariah Bell, with Misha Brezina. Nathan came to me at the age of 10, and before the age of 14-15 I taught him how to train. I can’t train an athlete all the time. Why? Well, because no one can afford to pay for three hours of training per day. It’s about 500 dollars! Therefore, I teach to learn and train on your own. If a person is smart, he must be able to. Thanks to this, Chen trains on his own.
This nuance clarifies a lot with the training of Evgenia Medvedeva without Brian Orser in CSKA, and later in St. Petersburg, or in Toronto in his absence …
– This happens for a simple reason. In Russia, I could train a skater for three hours a day. I had a leading athlete and the rest of the group. In the USA, the system is different – individual lessons. A skater can come to you and say: “Today I don’t have money for a half-hour training, I only have 20 minutes.” So what? And tomorrow he will not have money even for that. In this situation, there is only one way out – to teach him how to train. I don’t give lessons for athletes with whom I have been working for three to four years, I just control them. Not very smart of them are offended: “You stopped coaching me!” But I see everything: every movement, jump, when they came and leave, the whole process, then I came and talk about the mistakes.
If an athlete performs what you ask, then he progresses. But it happens that I’m looking for some other methods. For example, I send the thought through my assistant, then a real explosion occurs in the skater’s head: “Oh, two people told me the same thing!” In fact, this is such a psychological trick. Something similar was used by our famous coach Stanislav Zhuk. He invited the athletes to a try out, gave them a task, and then pretended that he was called to the phone – he left and watched what skaters was doing his absence. And did not take those who inaccurately performed the task.
Now Shoma Uno eventually decided that he would train with Stephane Lambiel, have he asked you?
– You know, there are athletes whom I objectively cannot take now. For example, even If Shoma liked to come, he simply wouldn’t fit into my group now, and the work should be comfortable for everyone. Recall the hype about the incident with Eunsoo Lim and Bell last year. But the truth is that there’s always tension between rivals. Some athletes are just more restrained in their emotions, while someone, on the contrary shows them. I think that it is not easy for Russian girls to train together.
However, at all official events they are an example of friendly teammates.
– Well done, so they try! They must be cute in public, this is the unwritten rule of our sport, we are not boxing and not MMA
However, it seems to me that in the Olympic season this emphasized goodwill with a teammate and competitor Alina Zagitova cost Medvedeva a lot of psychological strength …
– Yes, it’s always hard. I have said many times that I am a fan of Yuzuru: I really love what he does, how he progresses after the two Olympics. This season, he jumped quadruple lutz and loop, which he hadn’t in his content two or three years ago! This is just phenomenal! And now, watching such an amazing athlete, it’s unethical to make comments that it’s time for someone to finish, for example, for Zagitova. On the contrary, I wish her longevity in sports. But for this, she needs to change her attitude towards the profession. You should not panic what to do If you are not in the national team. You need to find the reasons of the problems and start solving them. If she really wants to continue, she must come to the coach and say: “I want!” The question is precisely in motivation, in desire.
But it’s obvious that to continue her career she will have to complicate technically, learn the quadruple jump or triple axel …
– And what is stopping her? Too late? Liza Tuktamysheva, jumped her quad at the age of 23. Here we compare the nuances of training in the US and Russia – overseas both athlete a coach has complete freedom of choice. I myself decide whom to take to the group. Neither federation, nor management can influence your decision. This is your personal business. For example, now I’m helping a young, talented junior from the American team. Parents were the initiators – they are the boy’s coaches. I am happy to work with him, although I understand very well that he is a potential rival to my student from Canada. When he asked, I just couldn’t refuse him, his desire to train, and his motivation were so strong, and healthy rivalry is what brings the result. I like motivated guys, no matter what age they are, the main thing is to educate them correctly and turn into competent athletes. As for Zagitova, she’s no worse than Yuzuru, a successful long-liver in our difficult sport. She is talented, beautiful, it’s just nice to look at her. The athlete must decide his own fate. I remember the time when I worked in Russia. Unfortunately, it often happened that we coaches, and even the leadership, tried to crush the athletes with our authority, and in my opinion, they should be given the opportunity to figure out everything themselves.
This season, Zagitova trained and performed in a less intense mode than before, as if Eteri Tutberidze gave her a little more freedom …
– And what about Eteri? Look what she does! She brought so many athletes to Turin! Everything is ok with Tutberidze’s understanding of figure skating, and she will surely find a way how to better solve everything with Alina. The thing is different. In Turin, and at previous competitions I have repeatedly heard the opinion: “She should have finished on time!” But now I like her even more, I’ll be very upset if she leaves the sport. I would like Zagitova and Medvedeva to continue competing with each other. It’s interesting to follow such an intrigue! Like a duel between Hanyu and Chen in the men’s competitions at this Grand Prix Final.
Instead, in ladies’ single skating, there are other options of duels: Trusova-Kostornaia – quadruples versus balanced skating or Trusova-Shcherbakova – the battle of quads …
– Do you know why is everything like that in ladies’ single skating now? Because the quad jump technique has stabilized. In the group of Tutberidze they found the right balance: what should be the body, from which position is better to jump. Another question is that I want all these young girls to grow into mature skaters with good technique. For example Hanyu, do remember how it all began? And now he is an icon. The interest of the audience to figure skating practically rests on him, Yuzuru is a hit, and now the Russian girls have no less potential.
But what about the opinion that they are not interesting in Europe and the USA with their adult figure skaters?
– They can’t be uninteresting. You just need to understand that neither in Europe, nor in the USA, there can be so many well-trained young talents. Because with how much time is given to girls before the puberty, with these content of complex elements that need to be mastered, you need to start working professionally from the age of four. This doesn’t happen in any country in the world, except Russia.
Because everyone is protective of children?
– Because there is no system where a four-year-old child would come and start doing choreography, physical training, spend a sufficient amount of time on the ice. In my understanding, in America children are often not trained, but brought to the rink just to skate. Then, suddenly, at the family council, they decide to do it seriously. Mom brings a child to me and says: “I have a very good girl, very talented (which I basically agree with) – though she is still small, she has just turned ten years old, but she is already jumping all the double jumps.” To which I reply: “Not only ten, but already ten. Do you even look at what is happening in the world?” Parents just don’t quite understand that there is not so much time for mastering the number of elements that would allow their child to perform at a high level. Four years maximum. Then this small girl begins to grow up, and a completely different approach and a different job are required. But this is a completely different story.
So I train my skills, “reanimating” talented guys who like figure skating, just like to train. You can say this is my specialty. I try to squeeze the maximum out of the situation in which this or that athlete finds himself.
What about Alysa Liu with a quadruple lutz and a triple axel?
– Yes, there are unique cases, exceptions to the rules – Alysa, Michelle Kwan, Chen. But Nathan’s system was created by his mother: from the age of five he was engaged in choreography, gymnastics, music, spent a sufficient amount of time on the ice. Until about 10 years old, he came to me for about a year and a half to work on some elements. And then at age of 10, he told his mother: “If we don’t move, then I can’t progress.” But by this moment he was already physically prepared for the subsequent professional work.
However, according to your logic, everything should be also fine in our men’s skating, but the guys still can’t realize their potential …
– Never compare boys with girls, they have completely different development schedules. Boys develop later. In addition, girls by their nature are more executive, as a child they are more attentive and conscientious about training. Until the age of 14 they do everything, and then happens what happened to Lipnitskaya, Radionova, Tsurskaya and Pogorilaya. Height and weight parameters are changing for the worse: here a technical gap and a not quite competent approach to training show up. Boys at first play the fool, and then, having gained strength, with proper work turn into professionals. Not to mention Evgeni Plushenko and Yuzuru Hanyu, for example take Sergei Voronov. Where are now these girls with whom he started to trainin?
Tuktamysheva has been afloat for the eighth adult season, constantly improving technically, however …
– I will say the same thing: girls shoudn’t compete with women. It’s not fair! I am very worried about all the athletes. And I feel really very sorry for the matured skater who invested 12 years of her work, who began to lose to the 11-year-old girl with a quad jump. The scoring system is imperfect, and points that are now given for the quadruple jump are not an objective criterion for good skating – neither for girls nor for boys. The only criterion is the quality of the execution, of the elements. The system does not take into account a natural phenomenon: a girl will sooner or later turn into a woman. This is a fact!
A child easily jumps the quadruple jumps, and a figure skater who has been successful a couple of years ago is being told that she should finish. But later this girl with a quadruple jump will hear the same, and the next one. Why not divide age groups and give everyone the opportunity for fair fight! I know, someone thinks: he says that because he is afraid – there is nobody in the USA. I’m not afraid of anything! Just separate: quadruple jumps and technical skating – here, ladies’ skating – there. And let everyone have their own audience. Then, perhaps, it would be possible to avoid such dramas as with Lipnitskaya, Pogorilaya, Radionova. And what will happen tomorrow, do you know what is the forecast?
Kamila Valieva is often been included into the list of hopes for the Beijing-2022…
– You see. But Kostornaia, Trusova and Shcherbakova have already invested a lot of work in their careers. We, adults, are obliged to create the necessary conditions for this children not to find themselves out of the competition. Six years ago I said this, and everyone thought that I was defending Wagner, and now they think that I’m defending Bell. But I don’t even try to compete with young Russian girls (laughs), I just do my job – I coach.
In an interview Tutberidze pointed another problematic aspect of working with young skaters – not everyone is ready to continue working after big victories as if there was no triumph.
– Most likely, she knows what she is talking about. When I face such moments, I go from the side. I’m calling a friend, mother of this skater, or, for example, I ask a Zamboni driver to tell her: “You are cool and everything’s fine.” How do you know that this will not work? The coache’s task is to choose the right words if the athlete loses motivation.
By the way, about motivation, continuation of a career and the stars in sports. Let me give you an analogy: I want to drink from my beloved dear cup, I want to pass it on to my son and grandson, I can’t stand disposable dishes. A new athlete appears and what will it change? Are we consumers of athletes or are we coaches? We are primarily educators, and we are responsible.
The last phrase characterizes you as a typical Russian coach, it is unlikely that in the USA and Canada they think so …
– Maybe that’s why I beat them? (smiles) Many just come to make money. For me ot wasn’t a question neither in Russia nor in the USA. I’m just a coach who brings up high-class skaters. I am pleased that my athletes adore me and continue to feel the same after they finish their careers. In Russia, I was worse.
– More motivated. And now there is less motivation, but professionalism and respect for the work of athletes have been added.
What do you think about the position regarding young technical skaters: they will win everything in two or three years and have every right to finish, starting a new life.
– This is the choice of each athlete, we can only advise him. Nathan is studying in a serious university, in Yale, professors demand in the same way as I do. Therefore, has to skate well and study well. The day before the free program at the Grand Prix Final, he was sitting in the lounge area of the ice rink doing the math assignment for four to five hours. Then he will pass the exams and then the US Nationals.
Returning to the age issue – is not only a problem of Russia, it is a global problem, remember Tara Lipinski, who won the Olympic Games at age 14 and quit. I’m on nobody’s side. Where did this figure come from – 15 years? Can you imagine a 15-year old in hockey? They will break him. I would like our sport to have professional girls who, like ballerinas, know how to eat, work, monitor their bodies and remain primas. I am sure that time will pass, and everyone will come to that.
In contrast to your point of view, I can give the example of Kamila Valieva and Alena Kostornaia, who already combine the most difficult jumps and beautiful skating
– Takes all sorts. As for who is better – it’s all debatable. Why does no one think that I am not against, but rather want to protect Trusova and Shcherbakova? Just imagine a competition where Lipnitskaya, Radionova, Pogorilaya, Zagitova, Medvedeva, Tuktamysheva and Tsurskaya would perform! At what level would they compete! With age, they could master the technique to perfection, bring their physical capabilities to perfect condition – and would please us with their skills. Like Yuzuru, who is literally followed by thousands of fans!
This year, Chen and Bell have bright programs, eye-catching. What did you like about other athletes?
– I really liked Zagitova’s programs, I saw changes in Medvedeva’s programs, interesting movements appeared there. Young girls also have good programs, many movements, stretching. Kostornaia’s has a more mature presentation, but she’s a bit older. But so far this is not something breathtaking. I would like to wait for this!
The judges, however, disagree with you about Alena and immediately began to give her her very high scores.
– Well, they are volunteers. Some of them were did figure skating in the past, and some had an indirect relation to sports. Many ISU members have their own main job. The same vice president of the organization, Alexander Lakernik, is a professor of mathematics and teaches at the university. Someone is a dentist, someone works in a medical center. In their free time, they decide what is right for figure skating. And we, coaches, who do not know how to do anything else in life, themselves gave them such a right. But if you don’t like something – go there and do better.
You were with Chen at the Grand Prix in France, and the judging at the ladies’ competitions was one of the toughest in the series …
– As long as people judge, any system will be imperfect. It is possible that the technical controller was independent of everyone and put what she saw, and maybe vice versa. There are other problems in judging: an athlete who performs in his own country will always receive a support. Therefore, it remains only to be much better, as Eteri does – she simply does not leave a chance. But there are a lot of questions, about underrotations, take offs, their quality and distance. The last one doesn’t get reviewed, they only look at the edges on flip and lutz. But half of the skaters jump the toe pick jumps from a full foot, there are even those whose take off arc exceeds the size of three skates.
Why did they give such low scores to the current European champion Sofia Samodurova?
– She has the very difficult period of growth now, in addition, success always has many fathers, and failure is always an orphan. The federations employ people who are responsible for the development of a particular sport and relate to what is happening from a purely practical point of view. Understand how you want it.
It is believed that for the higher components Tuktamysheva lacks this support …
– And why didn’t anyone shout when Zagitova’s PCS changed in the Olympic season after the news about Medvedeva’s injury? Somehow it happened. What does it mean? The fact that judging is not entirely transparent and objective. And the junior girls, you say they skated beautifully in Turin, but did they skate as beautiful as Zagitova? Not. But whether it was noticeable in scores? The answer is also negative.
But no matter what the system is, you continue to work in it …
– Yes. I like what I do. I could have worked at ISU, tried to make the system more transparent. For example, I would have involved several more coaches. But why shpuld I impose? Yes, I already work for 10 hours every day … After that I want to ride a bike and go to the beach and keep silent for at least three hours. Or I come home and ask my wife not to talk, I sit on a motorcycle and leave.
Alena Kostornaia: Eteri Tutberidze praised me much, I heard such words for the first time