Rafael Arutyunyan: “Tutberidze still needs time to become Mishin or Moskvina”
Big interview with Rafael Arutyunyan. About Nathan Chen, Alexandra Trusova’s father request for cooperation and one-day champions. In the interview Rafael also admitted that he would like to work with Russian figure skaters.
source: rsport.ria.ru dd. 30th April 2021, by Vasilii Konov
Rafael Vladimirovich, do they still call you like “911” when they need help?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes. Literally, I was talking with St. Petersburg, and they called me about one athlete, I immediately said: “Guys, I don’t need money” – the conversation immediately goes about some kind of money. Thank God, I don’t have a monetary problem anymore, but a long-term project is interesting.
Zhenya Plushenko’s call, was it from “911” category?
Rafael Arutyunyan: No no. Plushenko is a completely different matter. I got citizenship a year or two ago, before that I was Russian citizen, I’ve been coming to Moscow and, frankly speaking, it was a shame that no one invited me to the rink. And I’ve worked in Moscow for 18 years.
Rafael Arutyunyan: Not even once.
Even Tatiana Anatolievna?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Then it was me who asked. Because there was such a period, I came to the competitions in Russia and Nathan had to go to France, and I asked for it. Tatiana Anatolievna and Elena Buyanova just said: “Raf, no problem, come and skate.” I’m talking about something else. After all, there are some coaches, some people, they know who I am. I can speak Russian, even being an Armenian, and no one said: “Raf, come to see what I am doing. Maybe you will look, learn something, maybe I will.” To be honest, it was unpleasant.
You cannot say that I am an Armenian coach or Russian coach. What kind of Russian or Armenian coach am I? I had a lot of people – Japanese, Canadians.
What can you give Sasha Trusova?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Zhenya just invited me to the skating rink. You should see it. I’ve seen a lot of ice rinks and, in my opinion, this is one of the best training ice rinks I’ve seen. Michelle Kwan has a good skating rink, I worked there, and Zhenya now has a good skating rink. It can be seen that they, professionally knowing what they are doing, what it is for, build ice rinks that are adapted to train high-class skaters. He has such a skating rink.
In general, I was not invited to Sasha Trusova, Zhenya invited me to the rink. I came to the skating rink, saw everything that he was doing there, we talked about everything, and Sasha Trusova… I think that the project, if Zhenya and I somehow find out how to do it, I would be happy to came to his rink, and he could come to me. I have a huge skating rink. Do you know what kind of ice rink I have?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Great Park Ice, and the owner there is a well-known philanthropist, he helps sports. Anaheim Ducks are his team. I think if Zhenya comes there, it will be huge. Do you understand, yes? That is, Zhenya will come there, I will come here – and how can we do all this and help Sasha as well … So far, we are still trying to find out how to organize it all. Why? Well, because Nathan finished the competitions today, he’s just skated, there were some things there, but he won, and I need to talk to him, if I will travel here and back.
The talks that Sasha Trusova’s dad called you in the summer, before switching to “Angels Plushenko” …
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes, there were such talks. Do you want me to comment on this?
Why didn’t it work out?
Rafael Arutyunyan: No, everything could have turned out fine. Everyone should understand one thing, that all Russian athletes are the product of some people, clubs: for example, a St. Petersburg club or another one.
Rafael Arutyunyan: Etc. Well, you understand that. Moreover, the federation invests money in them.
Sure. In Russia, this is budget funding.
Rafael Arutyunyan: But coaches who are in the West do not really understand this (smiles). Some famous girl came and said: “I want to train with you.” He says, “Ok” and she comes there. But how? And what about all the other people who ran around her and did everything, what about them? Do you understand? I don’t want to voice surnames and so on.
I immediately said that if the club where you were, if they call me and I know all the representatives of the federation, if they come and say … You don’t need to ask me, but at least to say: “Raf, we would like to” …
That is, conditionally, Eteri Georgievna and, suppose, Kogan had to call and say?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Well, they hadn’t, but if they had called, then I’d have been ready to discuss it. And I would have said: “Now I can not, there is no time.” Or let’s think, let’s plan.” So I didn’t even discuss it – and I never will.
When someone asks me to take him, I try to take as little as possible. I’ve never been a grabber. It is very difficult to work with adult athletes and everyone knows that. I do it, I used to love it, now – not very much, because you spend a lot of energy and the output…
Output it’s when Rippon at the age of 27 goes and jumps quadruple.
Rafael Arutyunyan: That’s not even the point. When Rippon comes and then becomes a star and starts making money – after all, now, he probably earns more than you do.
Rafael Arutyunyan: He became a star, a TV star. I promised him this. When he came to me and said: “I want to skate with you.” I asked: “Why?” He answered: “I like to skate.” I said: “Then go to a public session and skate since you like it. Why did you come to me?”
I have such a thing, I say: “You’re not a seal, not a polar bear to be on the ice. Of course, you should love to skate, this is a fact, but you don’t need to spend time here. There are good beaches, go there. But if you skate and love skating, then you should do it in order to become a star. But, excuse me, it shouldn’t be just “I love skating.” And all the guys who came to me began to earn more money, Ashley Wagner, Adam, Nathan.
Well, Nathan is practically your child.
Rafael Arutyunyan: Nathan, when he started coming to train with me ten years ago, he came twice a year, because he lived in Utah. Here he came twice a year at best. In the first year and a half he came three times. He came for some jump: “I need this triple.” He was small, he was nine or ten years old. Mom drove him in a car – there seems to be 36 hours to drive.
And so he came, skated for a week – I remember the amount exactly, it was 400 bucks for a week, for an hour a day. This is a lot of money in my understanding. So he gave me $ 400, did something, his mother recorded it, and they left. In three-five months they come again – for another jump. I look and everything I said is done. Again I got money, again a week, again a jump, again it was good, mother noted everything – they left.
When they came for the third time, one coach came up to me and said: “Have you seen where they live?” I say “No”. Well, they didn’t sleep in the car, but close to that. That is, people were so focused on the result: firstly, they did everything, and they brought this money and gave me for work, while they were driving so as not to spend money on a ticket. They drove because the ticket was more expensive than going by car.
May I recall your quote? I wrote it down on purpose: “There are three clear prospects in men’s single skating in the world for the coming years: Hanyu, Shoma Uno and Jin Boyang. I don’t see any tools to fight them.” You said this five years ago without including Nathan in these three.
Rafael Arutyunyan: I will answer you this question. One day one of the managers came to me and said: “You know, Raf, you’re cool. I’m trying to get Yuzuru Hanyu to work with you.” I say: “I don’t need him, I have this one growing.” Then Yuzu skated in seniors, and Nathan skated in juniors, and they both got to the Grand Prix Finals – Yuzu won the senior final, and Nathan won the junior one. When Nathan skated, I sit like this – well, skated and skated, okay. These American friends are like: “We are filming you, hug him, smile!” and I sit like this: why should I smile? Skated and skated. I go out, they: “What is wrong? He won the Grand Prix Finals!” and I say: “Why should I smile? He skates badly.”
The next day, Yuzu skates like a god, and I sit with everyone else – we don’t go there to watch, we sit and watch it on TV. So he is skating, and I smile. I like it, I enjoy the way he skates. And they all were speechless and I say to them: “Why aren’t you smiling? Smile, that’s when you should smile, not then.”
That is, the question is that I never get ahead of myself. Just do it, and then you don’t even need to talk. Why talk?
Do you have a trusting relationship with Nathan now? As far as I understand, he, in fact, let you go on vacation and you did not fly to the World Team Trophy.
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes, yes, I asked for a vacation. I say: “Are you letting me go? I don’t want to, I’m tired.” The fact is that he studied at Yale University for two years, and came in April, we worked. I think he did a super job. Well, we did it together. From April to about October. Then the competitions began, and the main work was completed in six months.
These two years that he studied there, despite that we tried to keep this in some shape, of course, it is difficult. Professors at Yale are not interested in how good Nathan Chen is, and rightly so: they are professors in their field, we are in ours. He studied the full program, and he lasted only due to the fact that I have been working with him for many years and we knew what we were doing and for what. But he said it himself – if you watched any of his comments, he said that he did not add, but survived. This year we had to make up, and I got pleasure from this free program.
Did you smile?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes Yes! I was walking and saying that this is what I wanted. Well, he really didn’t make mistakes, landed everything, he skated beautifully, not a single mistake. There wasn’t even a small mistake. Now there was small mistakes, and I left, I knew that I had to let go a little.
The problem in Pyeongchang was that before each program they had decided to do two elements that we did not train. He said that they decided it. I mean, he with his close circle, parents. When he said this, it was obvious that he would fail the short program. Yes, he won the free, but … In America you cannot – even now in Russia, it used to be that we could hold some meetings, something else, but now even in Russia, it’s probably not very easy to do all this … And before it was possible.
And he came, he decided to make a lutz and a flip. Four years later, this year he began to perform it for the first, after four years. And then he decided that he could. Yes, he could, they took a risk and did nothing, took some place. When he told me that he was going to do it in the short program, I just knew that it wouldn’t work.
But you, as a mentor, could not convince and explain that this is a risk, and the Olympic Games are not a place for experiments?
Rafael Arutyunyan: I could not convince. I explained, but I could not convince.
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes. It was a big loss, because there could be a medal, but this is also a big plus, because now he listens better (smiles).
Taking into account the fact that the Olympic season is ahead.
Rafael Arutyunyan: And he listens better to all my advice. He comes and says, “What do you think?” And then he was such a maximalist boy.
How old was he then, 17?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes, still a child. And I think that there were also … Well, he also has sisters and brothers, mom, dad. I think they decided. Do not forget that they have different mentality. They are Americans, we Russian have a different mentality.
Did it seem to me or at some moments, I noticed in Kiss & Cry that he answers you with Russian words?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Well, he has a couple of words: “yes”, “no”, “understood”. The vocabulary is small. If I swear, for example, he understands (smiles).
And can you?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Oh, yes. Oh-oh-oh, I can. I can, so I don’t hang the microphone on myself (laughs).
Not so long ago I talked with Tamara Nikolaevna Moskvina, and we also talked about behavior. She admitted that in her entire life, she has never sworn – neither at the rink, nor outside it. She says: “I don’t shour. And in order to control and not shout, I went to the store and bought myself a whistle, like the referees in football have. I take the whistle and that’s it.”
Rafael Arutyunyan: Well, first of all, I don’t shout at good athletes either, because they try. I shout at those who are idlers. I don’t shout at the good ones, you can’t shout at them, they try so hard.
Do you shout at the girls?
Rafael Arutyunyan: I shout at the girls too. It doesn’t matter – if she’s lazy, what’s the difference? Yes, sometimes I can shout loudly, but not at those who try.
Is Nathan trying a quad axel?
Rafael Arutyunyan: We try it. We tried the quad axel, we try the loop, we do it. Axel is not bad, it can be done, but it doesn’t worth it. The difference in points between triple and quadruple is minimal. If they had given more points, I think a lot of people would have tried. But they don’t give points. You see, you do not want to buy goods somewhere in India and take them to Russia, because the transportation will eat up this difference.
Yuzu has so many titles, I bow to him, he says: “I want to be the first who lands it.”
In training, it seems like he lands it.
Rafael Arutyunyan: I do not know. Show it (smiles). In training, I also … What I’m talking about is that if he wants to do it in competitions – please, but the danger of learning a jump is often not even in what is possible or not. The danger is in injury – it’s first, and that you can spoil the previous jump. You can spoil the previous jump by jumping more.
Yes, you start training quad and start failing a triple one.
Rafael Arutyunyan: He failed the axel in the short program. Triple!
The jump he did flawlessly before.
Rafael Arutyunyan: This! Do you understand, yes? And the risk of injury. You fly four and a half turns, land at a quarter and that’s it, goodbye!
What do you think about our girls this season?
Rafael Arutyunyan: They have no equal at all, what can I say. There are no equals and cannot be.
Have you changed your mind about one-time, one-year champions?
Rafael Arutyunyan: No. That’s how it is, don’t you see? It’s really so. I have not changed and will not change my mind because they are one-time. Who will be next year? The only one is Tuktamysheva. She proves that you can hold on. And the rest? Once we talked, for example, about Zagitova and Medvedeva, and now?
Trusova, Shcherbakova, Valieva.
Rafael Arutyunyan: Are you sure?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes Yes. In Russia, in principle, everyone thinks correctly – if you take a 14-year-old today who jumps quadruple. If she is not on the team, in four years she is 18.
I think that it is almost impossible to withstand a four-year cycle now.
Rafael Arutyunyan: This! Therefore, let’s consider this: let’s take a good 12-year-old and in four years she is 16. Hit! Do you understand how to count?
Sure. That is, those who are now looking at the Olympics after Beijing should come next year.
Rafael Arutyunyan: They must be 12 years old. 13 is dangerous, 14 is very difficult. That’s all. Therefore, when there is a conversation about age, and when I talked about age and so on, I said a lot about this, I stopped now, now others are talking. I started it first, but I stopped because it is a fact. All this is being lobbied, and it is clear that medals are needed.
Maybe it’s time for reforms in figure skating?
Rafael Arutyunyan: I’m not a reformer, I’m not in ISU. I am a coach.
So you one of those who play by the existing rules?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes, I am like this. Maybe this is one of the reasons why I ended up in America. For 20 years I have not had fines for driving. I drive fast, but according to the rules.
You said that you ended up in America also because of this. If I’m not mistaken, Nina Mikhailovna Moser talked about this and you also talked about this, that it was hard in that coaching system that was in times of Piseev, and you even said in hearts that snitches were everywhere.
Rafael Arutyunyan: There were informers this is a fact, we were not allowed out of the hotel is also a fact. This is a well-known formula. But the question is not even the informers, and not even in Piseev. First of all, of course, my children were 14 years old, the salary was $ 200, I understood that they had to finish school, go to university. I went to seminars in the summer – earned five or six thousand, three or four months pass and the money runs out. I didn’t know what to do: the children were growing, and the situation wasn’t changing. This is about 2000, 99th.
I’m just talking about: you can’t call it selfish interests, there was just nothing to eat, and who knew where it would go …
These are not selfish interests, these are normal interests when a man tries to provide his family.
Rafael Arutyunyan: I didn’t know what kind of coach I would become there, but I understood that people would come to me and I would teach them how to skate and how to jump. And I won’t stay hungry there.
I tried – I went to one camp in May, made so much money that it was enough for everything, and decided to stay there. I immediately made a lot of money, I probably earned ten thousand dollars a month. 30-40 thousand in three or four months, this was enough, and I decided that I would do it.
I worked with everyone who wanted, and only then came Michelle Kwan, Sasha Cohen, then Mao Asada, Jeffrey Battle – these are all world champions.
Has the wound of parting with Mao Asad already healed?
Rafael Arutyunyan: You can’t even imagine what a shock it was for me when I found out why all this happened. It happened …
Because of her mom.
Rafael Arutyunyan: The fact is that she won the national championships in my presence, this is around January 5, or something. No, I left on January 2, and she was supposed to arrive on January 14. She calls and says: “I cannot come. Can you come?” I say: “How? We agreed, a plan is a plan”. She says: “Here, I need you, will you come?” Okay. I just wanted to see, to feel the ground and sent an assistant there.
The assistant went to her, skated there – everything is fine: a skating rink, they paid a lot of money. They paid very decently, they had no problems with that. She stayed there for two weeks and returned. “Can you come now? No, and can you come now?” And I freaked out. I said, “You know what – a plan is a plan.” I thought they were playing with me, but in reality her mother was diagnosed with cancer. They could not voice it because of the contract, she could not explain it to me.
If she had explained to me the situation, I would just go! But they had no right to voice it. I freaked up: since you are not fulfilling the plan – and she had to go to the “Four Continents” – then I will not go anywhere. Then Jeffrey Buttle trained with me, she says: “I will pay for Jeffrey Buttle to come also and you, come to me, there is a skating rink.” I refused, I told her that I did not want to work with her at all. They both came. Jeffrey says to me: “Raf, you don’t want to see her, but come with me.” I said: “You see, if I go with you, then it is clear that she will come up to me.”
They both became world champions, you know, huh? They both trained with me and both became world champions. I don’t know who also had two world champions in one year, a boy and a girl. This is the situation that happened.
This wound healed, but I, being not very smart, to put it mildly, did not “researched”, did not try to find out. Freaked out, as they say.
Did you communicate with her later?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes of course.
Is everything okay?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Sure. At some competitions, I walk and she walks, passes me, turns and hugs me, and the Japanese, you know, are very restrained. Everyone is watching, and she says: “You have no idea, how much I understand, what you did for me then.”
She came to me at the age of 15-16, when the growth began, and everything was lost. And we worked with her for these two years, I kept her in the right place, and she understood that. She didn’t like what I was doing, she clearly didn’t like it, but I persuaded, and she did everything, everything worked out for her. She restored her triple axel, added steps before it. People who prepared Olympic champions even approached me and everyone told me: “Are you out of your mind? What steps, how can you jump a triple axel like that?” You can see the videos from 2006-2007 – she jumps an axel from steps. Then not a single person jumped like that, now half the world is jumping from these steps.
Of course, she is grateful, she still remembers me. I know her agent, he is a close person to me, and he says: “She speaks very warmly of you.” You know, over time, people begin to understand what you have done for them. When they are small, they don’t really understand (smiles).
Does Michelle Kwan understand what you’ve done for her?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes, Michelle Kwan understood even then. She was an adult, she understood. And she also did a lot for me. She did a lot for me! When she appeared, she immediately raised me to another level in America. She unquestioningly performed all the tasks, the only thing was that she was already seriously injured. Sometimes she came to the rink, skated a circle and shook her head. This meant that there would be no training today. Not because she was lazy, but because it hurted. She had a displacement of the hip, then she underwent surgery, and then she could not do it due to contracts.
Did she have to skate through the pain?
Rafael Arutyunyan: She had to be healthy and go on the ice, which she did.
Such serious contract obligations that athletes have. At what point will the world of figure skating reach the contract system for coaches?
Rafael Arutyunyan: I think that Russia will come to it sooner. We have a fairly simple system: I came to you, worked with you, paid and left.
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes. The only thing is when, for example, a situation arises that I want to leave you, I went to another coach, came to him, he says: “Do you owe something there?”
Rafael Arutyunyan: Money to the coach you worked with. But he may not ask, but in general it would be better to ask, or even better to call: “He came to me, does he owe you nothing?” That’s all. And if he owes something, I say: “Pay off, then come, then we’ll talk. Until you pay, don’t come.”
Therefore, the contract as such may be needed if I want to train you like I train Nathan. Remember where I started this conversation?
You told that his mother was driving him.
Rafael Arutyunyan: When I found out that their conditions are not very good, mother comes and brings me 400 bucks. I take the money and give him, on purpose, so that he understands that mother has paid. I say: “I don’t want to take money anymore”. And I stopped taking money, you can ask him somehow. I believed in him.
Now he can bring me ten thousand, 20 thousand – he returned it all. He returned by the fact that he works well, by the fact that he works with me, by the fact that he is a good skater.
Do you think Zagitova and Medvedeva will be able to return? Officially, they did not end their careers.
Rafael Arutyunyan: It’s difficult. It is easier for young girls to jump quadruple jumps.
And without quads?
Rafael Arutyunyan: You can’t do without quads now. Sasha has more than one, four or five. Even if there are some changes, I always think that something will remain in the pocket – there are too many of them. If all this is done correctly, I believe that she has a great chance.
Which of our girls would you like to work with?
Rafael Arutyunyan: In general, there are so many girls in Russia that even … We do not have such. We do not have such because of our system.
Yes, there is a conveyor in Russia, here you have to make champions.
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes. You see, in America we do not have such a thing that a child comes at the age of five and begins to do skating professionally. That’s Nathan with his mother – he did music, gymnastics, that is, his mother replaced this Russian system for him. Moreover, he trained with Russian coaches almost all the time, his mother took him to all these skating rinks, that is, she created for him the system that exists in Russia, preserved from the times of the USSR.
In Russia, the coaches are different. They want to study, they do not look at how much money you pay them. The first thing they watch is whether this’s a good boy, whether he wants, doesn’t want, good girl, wants, doesn’t want.
But who would you like to work with?
Rafael Arutyunyan: I think they are all good (smiles). They are all good to me. I would love to work with them! I honestly say – I would like to have a good girl who would like to do all this.
What about the guys?
Rafael Arutyunyan: I like them too, for example, Misha Kolyada. Talent! And this young guy, who also trains with Alexei Nikolaevich, Zhenya Semenenko. There are good guys in Russia, they are well trained, just, in my opinion, you can make a product more …
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes! You can make a delicious product from good ingredients. Yesterday I heard Lesha Yagudin’s comment: “You can’t teach that.” Well, this is not a conversation.
You are now recalling Lesha Yagudin’s comment, but one of the happiest moments in your life is when in Salt Lake Lesha stood at the boards with Tatiana Anatolievna, Zhenya with Alexei Nikolaevich, and you with Sasha Abt.
Rafael Arutyunyan: Sure. Firstly, these are two such titans, I respect them as athletes and say that such guys haven’t yet appeared in Russia again. I’m talking about something else: when an athlete of this level says that it cannot be taught, he must carefully look at the program and understand that everything is done there like a Swiss watch. Sometimes, when he jumps, he gains speed on the ice and hits the same place with the toe pick!
When Sasha Abt got into the strongest warm-up at the Olympic Games, what were your emotions?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Feeling of fear. I walked with the figure skating monsters in the last warm-up. I told myself that this is it, this is what I wanted. After that I was already a happy person (smiles).
Look, on the one hand, the Olympic Games, you are in the strongest warm-up, on the other hand, you were 22, 23, when the junior world championship …
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes, I was 21-22.
Yes. That is, at 22 you are as a coach, with a skater from a non-skating country, from Armenia …
Rafael Arutyunyan: They didn’t send me. Do you know, they didn’t send me?
Yes. And you win.
Rafael Arutyunyan: He finished sixth at the World Championships. Won the USSR junior championship. They took him there, but they didn’t let me go there, because I was young, and, most likely, they said: “He will run away, God forbid”.
And then so much time has passed and I got into my dream, I got into the strongest warm-up at the Olympic Games. For Sasha, of course, it was a tragedy that he became the fifth there, but for me it was happiness, because, firstly, I still had a little experience, in my opinion. If any person thinks that 10-15 years is an experience, then I don’t think so. Experience is 40 years, 45 years.
When I say that I am tired, they tell me: “You are still young.” Yes, I am young, only Alexey Nikolaevich has been working for 52 years, maybe 55 years, and I has been working 45 years – he just started later, and I started working at 18, that is, I also tired (smiles).
How did it happen that figure skating appeared in your life in the region of football and wrestling?
Rafael Arutyunyan: The fact is that when I finished skating in Georgia, they told me: “Finish it, you are already old, 18 years old” – I don’t know why, but they said that, and I was offended. And suddenly a small skating rink opened in Armenia. And the devil only knows what pushed me, I transferred there, from the second year of Georgian physical culture university I transferred to Armenian, started to work. From 9 o’clock to 15 I studied, and from 15 to 22 I worked. At night I cried because I was very tired and I als I had to wash, cook. I was alone, I left home at the age of 18 and began to live alone.
I had to cook, get up in the morning and go. It was necessary to wash and so on, and then it was not very easy to buy a washing machine. Everything was difficult, but then I got used to it. At first, I did not have time to do anything, because working six hours a day is a lot, and I was still studying. I provided for myself, did not take money from home. After two years, when I graduated, it became easier, because I only had to work.
Therefore, it is surprising why figure skating?
Rafael Arutyunyan: There was a fairly good school in Georgia. Maybe it wasn’t the most advanced, but there were good athletes, good guys. For example, we had a skating rink, on the left side there was a gym, and on the right side there was a choreography hall. It was small, but the equipment was competent. We were competently taught, we were competently trained. And when I went to Yerevan and started working, in the first two years I did something there. The first thing I did was that I decided to go to Russia, to see Alexei Nikolaevich. I brought my athlete there.
I can honestly tell you that I still don’t feel like any special kind of coach – an ordinary one. And to this day I always say: Alexei Nikolaevich, Tatiana Anatolievna, Tamara Nikolaevna. That is, I consider them icons. And I just work. Time will pass – we’ll see. Time will tell.
When Tatiana Anatolievna called you to her coaching staff, could you believe it?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Well it was not Tatiana who called me, but another coach.
But to her coaching staff?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes, to the school where she was in charge. She always protected me, loved me – I don’t know why, but she always treated me very well. She is a person of a big heart. When these dirty conversations are going on, I just can’t. Have a conscience, guys!
Who is the number one coach in Russia now?
Rafael Arutyunyan: At one time, Stanislav Alekseevich Zhuk was an icon for me. Now, for example, Tatiana Anatolievna does not work, but two people work and for me they are icons – Tamara Nikolaevna and Alexei Nikolaevich. Well, Eteri with her group – not bad.
Rafael Arutyunyan: Fine. I don’t see anything special there, just a good situation, good guys, good coaches. The staff is good, the coaches are good, she works well and supervises this whole process well, they recruit good guys. But in order to become Alexei Nikolaevich and Tamara Nikolaevna, it still takes time. We’ll see.
Rafael Arutyunyan: I think yes, somewhere like that. I do not want to say in any way that this is bad. Fine. Good coaches, they work well, everything works out.
You have shown by your personal example that it is possible and necessary to work with athletes who pass the conditional age rubicon. Why do you think not so many coaches want to work with athletes who are older than this age?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Do you want to know why I do this, or why they do not?
No, why do you do it.
Rafael Arutyunyan: Well, because I have no other choice! They come to me (laughs). And I learned to work with it. Why don’t they do it? Well, because they don’t need it, they have a wagon of those who want (laughs). Why should they learn?
When Nathan came, was he 11?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes, this is different. That’s why I made him who he is. He came at the age of 10-11, before that I trained him time-to-time, and then you know what he told mom? He said, “If we don’t move, nothing will come of me.” He said this to his mother at the age of 11, child!
Now, when you have lots of star names behind you, in theory, there should be a line of eleven-year-olds.
Rafael Arutyunyan: I try to take as little as possible … Perhaps my problem is that I am too responsible person, and if I take on something, I want to do it well. Therefore, I work very selectively. For example you come to me to train – if you have money and if you are the person with whom I communicate, and you can do something, then I will work with you. Why should I bother and take someone? It’s you who should convince me.
Not financially? Are you not interested?
Rafael Arutyunyan: No. Convince by the fact that he really wants. Then you will have to invest your personal time – you need to call him, ask how things are, remind him to go there in the evening, then do that. This is your personal time, you start spending time on it. And financially, I have no problems. I don’t know what car you drive, but I drive a Honda Element. True, 20 years ago I bought some kind of BMW convertible, then gave it to my wife, and now I drive a Honda, because it is convenient to put a pedalboard on the roof – and go to the ocean, it takes 15 minutes, I drive, opened it and lay down (smiles). True, I have a good motorcycle, I bought a second one.
What must happen for Rafael Vladimirovich to return to Russia?
Rafael Arutyunyan: You know, I now live in a warm climate, there are 20 degrees in winter and summer, and I am from Tbilisi (smiles). It’s better there than in Tbilisi, because Tbilisi is still in such a cup, now there is trouble with these cars. Of course, the climate attracts me, I ride a motorcycle from morning to evening, day and night. I swim in the winter, in January, and most importantly, it never gets hot here – in the summer it’s 25-28 degrees, and in the winter it’s 18-20.
And what should happen, well, some athlete, for example, but somehow does not coincide with my energy, I have already become old. I’m 63, that’s a lot, I’ve been at work for a long time. You know, to become enthusiastic with some kind of work and start working, but of course I’d like to cooperate with one of the Russian guys. I have to, you know? I feel like I have to.
Sure. Everyone understands perfectly well that even after receiving an American passport, you are still our man.
Rafael Arutyunyan: When I was getting my passport, I went through an interview, she said to me: “What have you been waiting for so long?” I said: “I was not ready.”
The upcoming season is very important, pre-Olympic, plus Beijing. What hopes, what tasks do your guys have?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Let’s start with the fact that I didn’t even go to this competitions, I took a vacation, because the whole season will start earlier. I wanted to take a break. Usually in May I have a rest, but here I moved everything. There are plans for some work, to think how to put it all together. When you came up with some ingredient, you still need to add it up with what you already have.
Is Yuzuru still the main competitor?
Rafael Arutyunyan: When we talk about Yuzuru, we must understand that he was, is and will be. Figure skating is such a thing when anything can happen, because no one canceled injuries and young guys, like this young guy who beat him. He beat him for a reason. Who would let? But it happened, this young Japanese guy beat him, became the second.
But still there was a free program, and the set of elements that Nathan has allows him to play the gap.
Rafael Arutyunyan: I’m talking about something else. This young Japanese boy beat Yuzuru. And Yuzuru is actually a two-time Olympic champion.
When you came with Nathan for the first time and saw how all these Winnie-the-Poohs are flying onto the ice, how did you bring Nathan to his senses so that he would not react?
Rafael Arutyunyan: (Laughs) It happened twice or three times, we just asked for time to pick everything up.
I understand, I saw it, also live, and when you look at Yuzuru live, you understand where these points come from, where these Winnie-the-Poohs come from. This all becomes obvious, because it is fantastic to skate like this.
Rafael Arutyunyan: Sure. He is amazing skater, but we are ready for this, we are preparing for this. We are preparing for everything.
As an example, I will tell you one case when these Winnie the Poohs fall. You understand that they are being collected, they run to the boards and throw them, so that it is faster. Just rewatch it again, it’s an interesting thing: they run and slow down near the board to throw it, and when they slow down, a snowdrift collects near the boards. And we have everything calculated!
And when it happened, it was my job to say, “Nathan, can you see this snow? When you run here, look where you are.” Etc. All these rockfalls are ok, but those 30 centimeters … He skates close to the boards, there are millimeters. Well, not millimetrics, but centimeters, but not ten or 15, not 20 – there are five, seven.
Can Misha Kolyada surprise us in Beijing?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Sure. First, we saw that he improved.
Given that the Olympics is taking place in Beijing, can any of the Chinese athletes succeed?
Rafael Arutyunyan: They had one of the best Jin Boyang, but now I didn’t like his skating. I’ve always liked him, he’s a really talented guy, but this time I didn’t like him at all.
By the way, the Chinese did not contact you?
Rafael Arutyunyan: I worked with a Chinese.
Right now, for Beijing?
Rafael Arutyunyan: No, with another Chinese, young.
I was asking precisely for Beijing, because Nina Mikhailovna Moser told me that she was offered fantastic money for moving.
Rafael Arutyunyan: I was not just offered, I was paid fantastic money, but I worked with a junior, who is now the third. In a year he started jumping two quadruple jumps and a triple axel. They paid me, I don’t even want to voice the amount.
Up to a hundred thousand or more?
Rafael Arutyunyan: I don’t want to voice the amount. In short, a guy came with bad triples …
And left with two quads and a good axel.
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes. And he took the third place at the Cup of China.
What is the minimum amount of time you need to teach an athlete an axel and a quad?
Rafael Arutyunyan: I need at least a year to put the jump, to stabilize it, I need another year. Well, more or less. And to show it at competitions, you need another two years. Four years.
So now is the perfect time to contact Rafael Vladimirovich in order to prepare for the next Olympic Games?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes. But only for a person who seriously wants to do this.
How much time do you set aside for yourself to continue active coaching work?
Rafael Arutyunyan: After this Olympics I want to devote more time to preparing a replacement for myself.
Have you found any candidates?
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes, I have about eight coaches, they are working now. But I was amazed when I came to Zhenya: these guys are cool, his has young coaches.
By the way Julia Lipnitskaya helps him, Lena Ilinykh also worked there.
Rafael Arutyunyan: There are a lot of guys there. Not only are they educated, it is clear that they understand what you are telling them, they are also not spoiled. They are very good guys, I really liked them. It is very difficult to find such people in America.
What do you need now for absolute happiness?
Rafael Arutyunyan: I’m happy!
Rafael Arutyunyan: Yes. Lower the level of your aspirations and you will be happy (smiles). My level of aspirations was very small, I achieved much more than I’ve thought. I’ve never thought that you would talk to me. Earlier, when I was a young coach, I always envied those about whom they wrote in the newspaper, I thought that someday they would write about me (laughs). And now I am already hiding.