Rafael Arutyunyan: I don’t really like drinking coffee from disposable cups. Similarly, I don’t like one-time champions
Interview with Rafael Arutyunyan about the secrets of Nathan Chen’s success, the prospects of young Russian champions and the features of the training process in the USA.
by Boris Khodorovsky for bolshoisport.ru
You live and work in California, and Chen studies at Yale at the opposite end of the country. But Nathan does not even want to hear about training with another specialist. How difficult is it to work with a skater remotely?
– Very hard, but for nine years I have been preparing Nathan for independent work. I wasn’t training him, but teaching him to train.
In Turin, his spare time Chen spent on textbooks …
– How else? He has exams ahead, he is studying at one of the most prestigious universities in the United States. Yale professors will not give a special treatment because their student defended the country’s honor at prestigious international competitions. In the same way, I will not cut some slack if Nathan asks me to skip three days of training because of study loads. And he perfectly understands this. Either you need to choose between study and sport, or to achieve success in both fields.
At the Olympics in Pyeongchang, where Chen failed the short program, he had to take risks and include six quadruple jumps into the free program. Why did you need to do this at the World Championships in Milan, where Nathan confidently led after the first day of competition?
– The coach’s job is not to calculate the points needed to win at a particular competition. You need to teach your skater, to monitor his growing up process and establishment.
Do your athletes feel the moment when a difficult jump is worked out to automatism?
– In the case of Chen, it’s so. Only, the quad salchow we put into the program for the first time when it was 80 percent ready. There were problems with axel. All other jumps at the time of their execution at the competition were ready 100 percent.
Is the current generation of skaters, who include a large number of quadruple jumps in their programs, more talented than Evgeni Plushenko, Alexei Yagudin, your student Alexander Abt?
– No. Now, the correct technical base is being laid from an early age. This is a very interesting aspect. Sometimes there are news that a phenomenal athlete has appeared in the group of one or another coach. But I know that three months ago he worked with another specialist, who laid the necessary base! I have been training Chen for nine years, and I learned every element with him.
In your opinion, has Nathan reached the maximum level of complexity in his programs?
– What we show today is not the maximum. There are some things in Nathan’s arsenal that so far are in his back pocket. There is no need to get them out of there yet.
A well-known Russian specialist Leonid Raitsin, who worked as a physical training coach with Olympic champion Alexei Yagudin, at the beginning of this century, said that a five-turn jump was possible …
– Of course, but today no one will even try to do it. There is no value for such jump in the rules of the International Skating Union. Suppose Chen or Yuzuru Hanyu had performed such an element in Turin. The judges simply would not have known what points to give! They would have to consult with the technical committee and even with the audience.
In an interview to the American figure skating magazine, you argued that we shouldn’t rush the training of young athletes if we want them to remain on the ice for many years, and for this it is necessary to raise the age of moving from juniors to seniors …
– I raised this question five years ago, when no one knew about the current winners of the ladies’ Grand Prix. Even the experts did not know the names of Anna Shcherbakova, Alexandra Trusova and Alena Kostornaia. Then everyone was talking about Julia Lipnitskaya, Elena Radionova and Anna Pogorilaya, and I had Ashley Wagner, who was compared in Russia with a downed pilot. Some even accused me of lobbying the interests of the American skater. I said then, and I’m ready to repeat: it is wrong to force the training of figure skaters. If they know that they can earn money after 18 years old, then at 12 they will not chase the number of difficult jumps and will try to save their body.
Time has shown that you were right …
– When Russian girls, who amazed the world with their sophisticated programs, grew up – they got into trouble. Instead of overcoming them, they left the sport, seeing a generation of even younger and thinner girls behind their backs. They just realized that they have no chance to compete with the current champions who have mastered quad jumps. I wasn’t thinking about Wagner, but about Russian skaters, whose careers I would have gladly followed today.
What to do in this situation?
– Only to raise the age of eligibility. Then, both the skaters and the coaches will understand that by the time of girl’s debut, the athlete will have a trained and healthy body. In figure skating, this is a working tool, and it can not be treated barbarously. I don’t really like drinking coffee from disposable cups. When it is poured into a porcelain cup, the taste is completely different. Similarly, I don’t like one-time champions.
Alexei Mishin is sure that small and thin girls will be winnig now. Not necessarily young, after all, Elizabet Tursynbaeva, who is already 19, fully fits this definition …
– Kazakhstan skater is an exception to the rule. She doesn’t look like 19 year old. When adult girls, who have formed and prepared their body, compete with the growing and adrenaline-rich young girls, one cannot speak of equal chances.
But is it possible to talk about equal chances when Asian male skaters compete with Europeans in men’s competitions?
– Guys with Asian roots are rich material for work, but the body type itself does not guarantee victories. Javier Fernandez competed on equals with Hanyu and twice became the world champion. If we talk about Russia, than our country is big. We can find our own Chens. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva is an oriental woman!
Leading Russian coach Eteri Tutberidze is reproached for the conveyor method of work …
– In Russia, coaches do what their colleagues cannot do in any country in the world. Children from the age of five become professionals. Nowhere is like this! Of course, it is impossible for their peers to compete with 10–12-year-old Russian skaters. If the coach has a task to defeat everyone, starting with the junior competition, than they successfully cope with it in Russia. America has a different approach.
And the skater of the American coach Arutyunyan beats the Russian figure skaters in the Grand Prix Final …
– Chen came to me when he was 10 years old. No one has demanded from me that Nathan win always and everywhere. I brought up a normal athlete who competes with the superstar of world figure skating, two-time Olympic champion Hanyu and beats him not for the first time. The fact that the Japanese is a star is not in doubt. I’m his fan myself. Only I coach Chen to beat him.
Dividing competitions into figure skating and artistic skating is being considered as an alternative to raising the age of eligibility…
– This is not possible in principle. How do you imagine an artistic program without difficult jumps? It’s not a sport, but a show. Raising the age will also lead to a change in the training methodology. Working with an athlete, the coach will know that he has time to prepare him for difficult elements. For me, Mishin’s work with Tuktamysheva is an example. She is already 22, and she does not only execute the most difficult technical programs, but also learns new difficult elements. She has been jumping a triple axel at competitions for a long time, and now she also showed a quadruple toe loop. For me this was not a surprise. If the skater jumps triple axel, then she can learn quad toe loop and salchow.
Is it a great luck to find a talent student?
– In America, most skaters find me. After the first successes of my students, many ask to join my group.
In Russia, most coaches are dictators, and in America, they are partners…
– Partnerships with an athlete is much more complicated. Well, the failure which happened to Chen at the Olympics is a consequence of such a relationship. After all, he himself spontaneously decided to do in the short program those elements that led to mistakes. I had a completely different plan, but Nathan insisted – and flew to 17th place in the short program. I gave him an opportunity to make a mistake at the main competitions of the season, but now Chen is listening carefully to my recommendations.
In Russia, the coach most often works by the “carrot and stick” method, and in the USA only the “carrot” can be used. Did this create difficulties for you?
– The carrot and stick method is a common misconception. It can be used to a specific group of people. In training, everyone needs to look for their own approach. In addition, in America, parents or sponsors whom they find pay for training. There is no need in “stick”.
Were there cases when you refused to those who wanted to become a champion under your guidance?
– Of course there were. Now I have to refuse even more candidates. This’s Mishin who coached the rivals of his skaters at his seminars, and then fought with them. And one word of Alexei Nikolaevich during the training is worth two thousand words of other specialists. I want to reach a level where skaters will sign contracts with me. Unfortunately, in our sport this is somehow not accustomed. People come, get something and leave at any moment without explanation. We live in the stone age of sports management.
Some Russian specialists working in America build relationships with students on a contractual basis …
– I do not have such authority yet. Although I can’t say that the skaters often left me. More often I refused to continue our cooperation.
Maria Sotskova, Mikhail Kolyada, Stanislava Konstantinova came to your in summer. Have you considered options of permanent work with Russian skaters?
– Sotskova then trained with Svetlana Panova, and my wife and I are friends with this coach. I never allowed myself to steal athletes from friends. Even in Moscow, when Russian skaters asked me, in such cases I refused. With students of Valentina Chebotareva it also was an internships. I hope it was useful.
Have you ever regretted the decision to move from Moscow to California?
– Never. In Moscow, I earned $ 200 in ruble terms, and it took a thousand to spend on life. I went to America solely out of selfish interests and immediately began to earn decent money. In addition, I really did not want to be a nomenclature coach. I don’t know if such a category exists now, but it existed 19 years ago.
In Russia, after the Olympics, skaters and coaches were awarded from the federal and local budgets. How are champions encouraged in the USA?
– There, such bonuses are not needed. Athletes and coaches in the USA are self-sufficient people and can monetize their victories through performances in shows, advertising contracts, sponsorship. I was paid $ 40 for 20 minute class. After Chen became world champion, I raised it to 50.
In America, there are also test skates, but the opinion of specialists is not for general discussion, only for athletes and coaches …
– After test skates in Russia, everyone has a lot of comments for skaters and coaches. In America, everyone likes everything. I even have to say: “Guys, stop it!” It was a shock for American specialists when I told world silver medalist the whole truth about his program and his performance. I tell my students: do you want to listen praises or skate well? And they take it normally.
Is Chen’s popularity in the US comparable to the stars of basketball, baseball, American football?
– Of course not. Hanyu in Japan and throughout the world – yes, he’s a star. Crowds of fans follow him to all competitions.