Serafima Sakhanovich: I had a nervous breakdown when Plushenko accused me of laziness and simulation of injury in his interview
Interview with Serafima Sakhanovich. About her former coaches Eteri Tutberidze and Evgeni Plushenko, her career, pandemic and preparation for the season.
by Rustam Imamov for business-gazeta.ru dd. 1st June 2020
Serafima, you’ve been without ice for more than two months now. Is quarantine difficult?
Serafima: Of course. I really miss the ice. I’m sitting at home, not going out much. This is a little frustrating, but I have something to keep myself busy. I can go to the country house, there you can be in the air as much as you like. I’m studying, I am now in my second year, distance studying. Now I have exams. I communicate with relatives. There are pluses in this situation too.
How much will quarantine affect your shape?
Serafima: The third month without full training is very serious. But I try to keep myself in shape. I run up the stairs, jump. Do what is possible. We call up with the coach on zoom, do exercises. There are different types of exercises that can simulate work on ice, but of course they are not able to fully replace ice training. Rather, for fun.
It’s much easier for the runners to train, for example. You can safely run at the country house. But where can we find ice? Of course, you can jump on the floor, but it’s still not the same. Plastic ice and roller skates are also not an option. Although I have never tried. But in general, I think, there is still a lot of time before the season and it’s possible to cope. When I was little, I always had a rest for a month. And it was ok, then I gained my shape back. But of course it will be very difficult at the beginning of training.
How long does it take to return to previous shape?
Serafima: There is an unspoken rule of how much you rested – so much you recover. But a lot also depends on how competently work was done off the ice. It will probably take me a week to return all the triples. But to prepare the program – a month and a half. But it’s only my thoughts, I have never rested so long, so it’s hard to predict.
The solution to the problem is to postpone the start of the season, to give the skaters more time to get in shape. Do you support this opinion?
Serafima: That would be a logical decision. Because in different countries restrictions are over at different times, even in different cities. A more fair option would be to postpone the start of the season. The world has not faced such global quarantine before, so it is difficult to say what is right and what is not.
Quarantine is often compared to recovery from injury. Do you agree?
Serafima: Injury is much more serious. You are sitting at home with an injury and can’t do anything at all. Neither run nor jump, not even on the floor. Just to work on some muscles that did not suffer after damage. From the physiological point of view, it will be easier to recover after quarantine. But from the psychological point of view, it is easier with an injury. At least they say to you that you can go on the ice approximately in three weeks. And it all depends on the speed of recovery of your body. Now no one can clearly say when we will be able to skate. And nothing depends on you.
To say when we will start skating is like to guess on the coffee grounds. I would like it as quickly as possible, but it does not depend on me. We did not get to the training camp – only national team went there.
From the side it looks like you and your current coach are more like friends.
Serafima: I can’t say that we are friends. Still, there is subordination, I am a student, she is a coach. I respect her very much. But Angelika Nikolaevna Turenko is really a very good person who has done a lot for me. Probably no one in my life has done as much for me as she did. And I really appreciate that.
During your career, you worked with a large number of specialists, almost all the famous Russian coaches. Do you have a wide horizons of coaching thought?
Serafima: It’s hard to say, each specialist has his own methods and principles. Both in work and in life. But I did not particularly analyze these approaches and did not compare. Most importantly, work on yourself. You can change coaches as much as you like, but you won’t run away from yourself. Therefore, I did not see much difference. The only thing that mattered was the coach’s attitude towards me.
Frequent change of coaches, is it a search for an ideal specialist?
Serafima: In each case, the transition had its own reasons. At the beginning of my career, I skated for eight years with Alina Pisarenko. I am grateful to her for the efforts put into me, self-discipline that I learned, but it was necessary to go further. I saw only one option for myself – Eteri Tutberidze. I wanted only to her group, to no one else. In St. Petersburg, I did not see any specialists for myself, and in Moscow except Eteri Georgievna, too.
I saw how she communicates, works with her athletes in competitions and really wanted to work with her. She welcomed me very warmly. Eteri Georgievna has completely different working methods and it was much easier for me with her than with my first coach. In training, she can joke, laugh, tell a story. And do not scream for no reason. For the first time I realized that in training there are not only tasks and analysis of errors, but also communication between the coach and the athlete.
But as fate would have it, I had to return to St. Petersburg. I didn’t want to, these were family circumstances. I can’t talk about them, but the situation was serious. Family for me is everything, family is for the whole life. Figure skating is just a small part of this life. Therefore, I made such a choice and do not regret it. Of course, it was very bitter to leave. I called Eteri Georgievna and cried. But there was no other way.
I returned to St. Petersburg, to my first coach. They say right, you can’t step into the same river twice. It didn’t work out as I expected. At first everything was more or less fine, but then I realized why I left. When you are an adult, such a strange attitude is difficult to endure. I began to snap, lost trust. Failures have started. After the first competitions, I decided that that’s enough. A very ugly story happened that destroyed our relationship.
The only option I could go after this situation was Evgeni Rukavitsin. He was at those competitions, he saw what was happening there. He took pity on me and took to the group, for which I am very grateful to him. But I couldn’t entrust him. Neither the team nor him. This is probably my problem and mistake, but in life, apparently, everything should happen. The results were deplorable. How else? When you do not trust the coach, his plan, advice you can’t expect result. Such relations between the athlete and the coach were not close to me. I’m not used to it. Eteri Georgievna was very warm to me and when I felt cold I realized that I had to look for something else.
Usually, on the contrary, we hear that Tutberidze has a cold and harsh approach to work, and Rukavitsyin has warm relations in the group. Will you explain?
Serafima: Eteri Georgievna can be strict. May scold. But this is always for a reason. When you work, when you are right – she will not say a word. She’s a sincere and kind woman who will always support, will explain how to act, not only on the ice, but also in life. She is a mountain for her athletes. If someone messed up, she would always stand up for him.
Sometimes there were strange jokes, at first it was uncomfortable. But this is definitely not from evil. Such jokes, on the contrary, relaxed the situation. She did not try to insult, did not try to hurt someone’s feelings, she never scold in front of the whole group, but only motivated. Another thing is to destroy morally – you definitely cannot say that about the Tutberidze group. Why should Eteri Georgievna change her coaching approaches if they work? Of course, everyone assess differently; not everyone likes it. But it was close to me. I know stories when people left her, and then realized that they incorrectly assessed the situations that arose at the rink and would like to return, but the bridges were burnt.
Training with Eteri Georgievna, I felt care and protection, which I didn’t feel in Evgeni Rukavitsin’s group. They always told me that I’m bad, that I can’t do anything. It’s unpleasant when someone pushes you to another coach and leaves you unattended. Nobody scolded, no one forced, but it hurt me. I saw what nothing came out of this work. Therefore, it was difficult to trust. This is probably my problem. If I had worked according to plan, everything would have been better.
Recently, the choreographer of Tutberidze’s group Alexei Zheleznyakov brought you an example to other girls, saying that you are the only one who left the group according to all the rules. What are these rules?
Serafima: I don’t know the rules for leaving the coach, but I acted as my heart told me. I called her in person and said that I was leaving. She found out a little earlier than I wanted to tell her. The transition is not a matter of one day, we dealt with this issue with my parents, but I still continued to skate. Once Eteri Georgievna invited me to the coaching room, asked if it was true, that I want to leave.
I said that everything is not decided yet, but most likely I will have to return to St. Petersburg. A day later, it became clear that I was definitely leaving, I wanted to inform the coach about, but she left. It happened so. I was not afraid to speak with her in person, but I had to call. I phoned in tears, said that my family and I were leaving. This is a very difficult situation for me, even now I am talking with tears in my eyes. She reassured me, understood my situation.
Then I drove to Moscow for things, went to the rink and gave flowers to Eteri Georgievna, said goodbye personally to her, other coaches in Chrystalny, to Eteri Georgievna’s mother.
Turns out that Tutberidze expects only courage from the students to say about the transition personally and a bouquet of flowers as a gift?
Serafima: Of course. It seemed to me that this would be right. But each person has his own understanding of how to behave, how to tell about the transition. And in each case, the relationship between the coach and the athlete is different. Mine was warm, so I could not do otherwise.
At the same time, the phrase about “a bouquet of flowers” for Tutberidze is already the object of jokes…
Serafima: She doesn’t have any kind of abnormal love of flowers or greed. Flowers are just a gesture of gratitude. What else should she be given? She doesn’t like sweet things. But I will not scold those who left coldly. Again, everything is individual. Leaving Evgeni Rukavitsin, I didn’t even say anything to him. Just left. I just didn’t know what to say, I didn’t understand. Probably I should have said thank you for accepting me in difficult times. But then I couldn’t do it. There was nothing inside, no pity for the transition, no fear. There was a void inside me.
After that you went to the Evgeni Plushenko’s academy. Was not it scary, after all, he was just beginning his coaching career then?
Serafima: To be honest, I had a complete devastation and I wanted to end my career. In addition, there were problems with my legs. Going to Plushenko was my mother’s decision. She studied all the forums, sites, talked with friends. She thought for a long time where to go and decided that the option with Plushenko’s Academy would be good for me. In general, intuition did not let her down. There is a good team that prepared me for the first competitions in just two weeks.
Turns out that most of the time you worked with Julia and Alexei Vasilevsky, and they, in fact, were your coaches, not Plushenko?
Serafima: Evgeni Viktorovich was also considered my coach and periodically gave the necessary advice. But he came to the rink much less often, once a week, once in two weeks. Therefore, I considered the Julia and Alexei Vasilevsky my main coaches.
Then they left the Plushenko Academy?
Serafima: They didn’t left. They were fired.
How did you take that?
Serafima: Very hard. I remember Evgeni Viktorovich had an interview where he says how I turned back on him. It was displayed as if I turned my back on him for no reason and left. But relationship does not get worse out of no reason. It was an insult because my coaches were fired under strange circumstances. And no one said anything, they were simply kicked out. There was no explanation, it was not clear what would happen next.
At that moment, did you decide that you were leaving the academy, or there were chances to stay working there?
Serafima: They were later returned. I went to the show in Dobrograd, had a couple of competitions. But I had problems with my leg. Could not jump lutz, could not jump flip. Every day it was more painful in training. Evgeni Viktorovich did not believe that it hurt me. He believed that I had stopped working, about which he later spoke in an interview. On top of everything else, problems with the apartment.
I was evicted from the room I was renting, but I could not find other options in the area of the ice rink for the same money. I told Evgeni Viktorovich about this, to which he replied: “Your problems, rent another apartment.” But we did not have money, I had nowhere to live. Mom wanted to take a loan, but the whims of figure skating, which I can not do all my life, should not break the life of my family. I had to return to St. Petersburg again. Plushenko paid me a bonus for clean performances at the Grand Prix. This money would be enough for three months of housing rental in Moscow. I had three months, but what next? The money will end, and then it’s not a fact that some will appear. In addition, I could not skate for a month due to an injury.
I wanted to finish my career, as I thought it would be unethical to switch to another coach. I constantly change the rinks, skated for six months and leave – who does it? A hopeless situation. I spent a month at home in St. Petersburg and realized that I couldn’t just end this way. I found out that Nastya Gubanova left Angelina Nikolaevna Turenko. The place was freed up. My mother again persuaded me, she said that she was a good coach. This was evident both in relation to Nastya and her results. Mom suggested at least to trying, so much effort and investment, it would be a shame just to give up. I decided to give myself another chance, and it paid off.
Angelina Nikolaevna welcomed me very warmly, promised not to force preparation. We went with her to the show, she organized a training camp for me, did programs. Responsibly and soulfully treated me, accepted all my difficulties and problems. I realized that she was the coach that I had been looking for so many years.
You left due to family and financial difficulties, and Plushenko in an interview accuses you of laziness and simulation of injury. How did you react to such words in media?
Serafima: Awful. I had a nervous breakdown, and I ended up in the hospital. An interview came out, I was very upset. Cried. Angelika Nikolaevna reassured me, mother, but I did not want to listen to anyone. I go on the ice, warm up begins, and I just can not breathe. It was probably a panic attack. I was crying, suffocating, and they took me to the hospital. My respiratory nerve was pinched in the cervical spine. About two weeks I was recovering.
Did you discuss this situation with Plushenko?
Serafima: No. Why? All that could be said is said. It’s done, I was in the hospital. I also understand him, there are always two sides to the coin. This is not ok, of course. He could say otherwise. Could say nothing at all. But he decided to do what he did. Well, his decision. It was important for him to save face, the image of the academy. Probably, on his part, the decision was correct.
In your opinion, does the Plushenko Academy have any prospects?
Serafima: It all depends on the athletes who work with him, and on Evgeni himself. I can’t predict. Will work – there will be results.
This year, very serious athletes came to his academy – Stanislava Konstantinov and Alexandra Trusova. Will they succeed on the new rink?
Serafima: I hope they will be fine. I cheer for Stasya and for Sasha. It will be a shame if they do not succeed. But there will be an opportunity to realize themself at Plushenko’s Academy. Then everything depends on them.
Now it is customary to contrast the working methods of Tutberidze and Plushenko. You worked in both groups. Whose approach is closer to you?
Serafima: They have similar working methods, but Eteri Georgievna is probably closer to me. She is always on the ice, next to us. She draws plans, makes comments, choregraphs programs. She has a humane approach. Plushenko also coached when he came to the rink. He just came very rarely. Now he promises to work constantly. Let’s see, maybe they will succeed. I didn’t even have time to understand what approach he had; he did not devote much time to coaching.
You also tried to master quadruple salchow. At what stage is this element now?
Serafima: After one of the competitions, we stopped jumping it, the coach was against it. Problems began with a triple salchow combination, I could not feel this combination because I was learning quadruple. We decided to leave the quadruple for now. It was a shame, I was upset, worried, but the decision of the coach is the law for me. In addition, she was right, in the second half of the season the combination turned out much better.
The problem with a triple jump when studying a quadruple is a common story. Turns out that you lose the feeling of the jump with a lower number of revolutions?
Serafima: I agree, there is such a thing. Guys often tell how after a quadruple they can’t jump triplets. My solo triple remained good. But the combination in the second half did not go, I could not feel the correct landing.
What is most important in your opinion when mastering a quadruple?
Serafima: According to personal feelings, the main thing is not to be afraid. If the jump is correct, there is a reserve on a triple – you need not be afraid to rotate one more turn and land. If you’re even a little scared in the air – there will be no landing. And the height, of course, should be sufficient.
You said earlier that the quadruple is not a “weapon” for you, but an opportunity to overcome yourself. What is the point of studying the element then?
Serafima: This is a desire to prove to myself that I can make a quadruple. That I am a strong person and a strong athlete. At the same time, I have no illusions that adding one quad will help me to get into the national team. You need to be realistic.
For some time now, sport has become easier for me in terms of feelings. I no longer set big goals for myself, I do not expect great achievements. I work more for myself. I want to perform my programs well and clean, show good spins, jumps. And I need integrity in work. It will be wrong to throw all the forces on the quad and abandon everything else.
At what point did this reassessment of the philosophy of sports happen?
Serafima: After the failed seasons. I didn’t stop dreaming about World Championships and Olympics at the click of a finger. You come to this over time, reasonably analyzing your capabilities.
Initially, I had very good prospects, I understand that. And I also understand that I missed them and it was my fault. At that moment when I could not perform at the maximum, I demanded too much of myself. If I had not dwelt on this way, maybe everything would have turned out a little differently.
Looking back, is there no feeling of resentment for the lost opportunities? You were one of the most talented Russian skaters, on the same level with Evgenia Medvedeva.
Serafima: It happened, this is life. It is cruel. We all have goals, dreams. But far from always we manage to achieve them. If I get upset about the past, I can lost my mind. We must live today. Now everything is as good as possible.
Are you satisfied with your sports career?
Serafima: Of course not, I always want more. But I already stopped chasing titles and worrying about that. Who is interested in my titles in life? I medaled at the junior world championships twice, I won the Russian junior national. It sounds very proud, but … pointless. Probably titles will help me for the future coaching career. But they certainly won’t play a key role.
The desire to work as a coach means that you plan to devote all your life to figure skating?
Serafima: Yeah. I thought what else I could do, but I’m interested in figure skating. This is my life. Maybe I will have another job. But not instead of figure skating, but as a complement.