Sergei Davydov: “Quads are the next step in women’s figure skating. There is no turning back. If you want to win, jump.”
Big interview with Russian coach Sergei Davydov. About the results of Russian Nationals, advantages of raising the age minimum and whether the coach should force the athletes to perform through pain.
source: matchtv.ru dd. 5th January by Vlad Zhukov
Let’s start with the results of the Russian Nationals. What do you think about the performances of Valeria Shulskaya and Sofia Samodelkina?
Sergei Davydov: Lera skated according to her capabilities – they are slightly different than Sofia’s. She made only one mistake, so she did everything she could.
As for Sofia, there were almost no mistakes. If we look at the technical side, then I am completely satisfied. Of course, there are always little things – spin or something else … As for the scores – it’s not for me to judge. There are judges, they know better. I never discuss judging.
You should always start with yourself and take a look where exactly you have underperformed. And the judges – well, that’s their job. They know better, so they put it that way.
Sofia’s quadruple lutz in the free program is it a risk?
Sergei Davydov: Well, quadruple jumps are energy consuming. These are not triples, which you can do hundreds in training, bringing them to automatism. Working with quads is much more difficult. In this regard, Sofia said quite rightly – today we can come and we succeed, and tomorrow – nothing.
It’s unreal to work on quads to exhaustion, so for each jump you choose some kind of your own path – jumping, lifting the height, and so on. You do everything so that the athlete is in optimal shape and can do several quads in the program.
Therefore, I cannot call it a risk or a lottery (lutz in a free program), but we had a choice – lutz or toe loop. We went to practice in the morning, I looked at Sofia’s warm-up on the floor. At that moment, lutz was working out well, and we decided that we would go for it in the competitions.
Loop wasn’t in the plans at all?
Sergei Davydov: I will say this, loop was always in the plans. But to put the quadruple loop … That would be a lottery. I knew that three quads are possible, and we also did salchow in the second half. We prepared it, it was in the program. But four …
… so far, it is logical to assume that it’s difficult.
Sergei Davydov: Certainly. Very difficult.
Specifically for the Sofia or in principle?
Sergei Davydov: I think, in principle. Four quads … Only Sasha Trusova coped with them, and even then – this time there were three clean ones. This is very energy-consuming, especially considering that in this case all complex combinations go to the second half. I have noticed many times, if you do a large number of quads at the beginning, they take a lot of energy.
No, probably, four quads for girls are possible. I will say even so: of course, it is possible. Indeed, where there are three quads, there are four. But in this case, it would be unreasonable for Sofia. I don’t think she would have coped.
But are we talking about a combination of a large number of quads and a program, without losing quality? For example, three quads + program.
Sergei Davydov: Yes. I think Sofa did not succeed in everything at the Russian Nationals, but she showed the character and artistic image. We demanded from her that the program be holistic, not just run and jump with her hands down. Although, of course, before the quads, they all put their hands down and get ready. There is nothing you can do about it.
We try to fight this. What difference does it make if you skate with your hands down or express something at the moment of entry? But this is their perception: “This is how I skate, I feel free and do not strain myself with unnecessary movements.” It’s not just Sofia. If you take a look, almost all girls have this problem.
Doesn’t such a powerful concentration create any special status of a quadruple jump for the skater? I have repeatedly heard that they need to be treated as something ordinary, otherwise there will be a fear of jumping.
Sergei Davydov: Unlikely. Everyone chooses a convenient entry. Someone rushes, someone, on the contrary, frees himself and skates at a moderate speed, making exactly as many movements as, in his opinion, is needed.
Of course, we require the jump to be part of the program. It should flow out of it, and not be a separate element. The program should flow, and the elements should not fall out of it. But for now, everything is as it is.
By the way, I wanted to ask about Sofia’s triple axel in the free program. Somehow it completely gone.
Sergei Davydov: Gone, because its value is incompatible with quads. Accordingly, if we are talking about the fourth ultra-c in the free program, then in any case, I tend to lean towards the loop rather than the axel. Based on how Sofia performs it now, as well as on its value, I don’t see any sense in it.
Moreover, even if you put it, then at the beginning. This means that I have to move the quadruple lutz, and this will also be difficult. Therefore, I am still for loop.
Even taking into account the greater risk?
Sergei Davydov: I think both axel and loop is the same risk for Sofia now. But the cost of the loop is higher.
You say “you can’t jump quads to exhaustion.” Is there an approximate number of quads which can be safely done in one workout?
Sergei Davydov: We must look at the athlete. If he physically able to do a required number of elements, you let him. But this is also, of course, not 20 jumps per workout. You give him, for example, two or three quads in a row, as he does in the program – he does it.
Well, if you see that the athlete is no longer coping, you need to stop. He no longer enters the jump, as you need, loses sharpness. It is traumatic, nothing good will come of such training. Here it is necessary to normalize the load and remove unnecessary attempts.
How many quads does Sofia jumps on average per workout?
Sergei Davydov: Considering that she has several quads and we also work on loop, tried flip … The more quads, the more time they take in training. It all depends on the state on a particular day. It happens that we jump a lot. And sometimes we go on the ice, try each quad a couple of times and do other things. Everything is individual.
Regarding the scores at the Russian Nationals. I will ask this: Could Sofia be in the top three according to her capabilities?
Sergei Davydov: And she didn’t need to be in the top three on this Russian Nationals. Sofia had other tasks based on her abilities. She did not compete to be selected for the Olympics. The main thing for her was to compete for two clean skates, which she coped with.
Therefore, I do not even want to discuss her place in the top three. Now they write a lot about it … But it was not her fight. Other girls fought for the Olympic Games, and Sofia pursued her goals, which she successfully achieved. I have such a view of this situation.
Well, I was just talking about Sofia’s abilities, because not all of the top three winners were unattainable. Probably, with the exception of Kamila Valieva …
Sergei Davydov: I think Kamila is absolutely beyond competition now.
… and Sasha Trusova.
Sergei Davydov: Sasha did very well. Considering that she had a fracture … Anya Frolova now also has such a problem, and everything it is very difficult to heal. I don’t know which bone Sasha broke, but it takes a long time to heal it.
And Trusova recovered very quickly after the fracture, returned the quads. They are not easy to restore. It takes a lot of time to get yourself into a quick, sharp state. Even a couple of weeks are not enough to do this.
At the same time, Anya Shcherbakova wasn’t in a great shape. Therefore, the question of Sofia’s possibilities was quite acute.
Sergei Davydov: The point is that the possibilities are determined by the judges. Sofia did everything she could, and I am extremely pleased with that. The preparation was quire hard – we changed boots. There was a lot of struggles. And we got the most out of this. In my opinion, this story should be assessed only from this side. I repeat – this is not her fight, not her Olympics.
If we equalize all the girls, forget about the selection, then they were all in the fight. Sofia Muravieva, Sofia Samodelkina, Adelyiia Petrosian, the top three. But there was a very clear goal – to create a team for the Olympic Games. The girls qualified and should go there by right.
Do you have any questions about the team for the Olympics in women’s single skating?
Sergei Davydov: Personally, I don’t. Liza Tuktamysheva should have skated a short program well, a lot depends on it at all competitions. Now there are a lot of opinions on this matter, but the judges decided so based on the current performances. So everything is fair.
I noticed such a thing, no matter how much we discuss ultra-c, you always talk about them with some disregard. Does it seem to me or do you really treat quads in women’s skating with skepticism, even being one of the pioneering coaches in this area?
Sergei Davydov: (Laughs.) Not with skepticism … You just need to understand that we still have a beautiful sport. And let’s admit that quads take this beauty away.
Sergei Davydov: Of course not. Still, quads add entertainment, but the integrity of the programs, the quality of skating, the feelings after the performance become torn. Quadruples overlap all this to some extent.
They create a wow-effect, but take into the background the idea, images, costume. As for me, this is destruction. I don’t know what will happen next. Valieva, for example, is coping. The rest are not. This is a run-up jump.
I’m not talking about those who, relatively speaking, have one quadruple at the beginning. Make it and skate further. For those whose programs are saturated with quads, which require freedom and a large entry, everything is much more complicated.
So I do not treat quads badly. I still think that this is the next step in figure skating. There is no turning back, so in any case we should master them, put into program and made them part of the program. So that there are jumps, and skating, and programs. This is the only way to get balance.
It’s just that quads are very difficult. But this is part of our sport, they are already a necessity. If you want to win, jump.
What if you could win without quads?
Sergei Davydov: Then, probably, they would not force the skaters to jump so much. This is a huge load on the body. But today it is impossible without quads.
Well, if someone comes up with an initiative in ISU to ban quads for girls, how would you react?
Sergei Davydov: Strongly negative. Why ban? Girls jump, and not only in Russia. Japanese ladies learn ultra-c, and so do American ladies. Everyone accepted the rules of the game.
But raising the age minimum is another question. This will automatically lead to a decrease in the number of quads in women’s skating.
Sergei Davydov: I think yes. In any case, the peak in the number of quads falls on the adolescent period – 14-15 years, and then it becomes more difficult. This is the peak state when you have not yet reached the moment of changes in the body. At this time, you are as fast as possible, sharp, free, calmly bearing loads. That is why this age is optimal.
Everyone goes through puberty differently. Someone gains weight and loses everything. Someone is gaining weight a little, and someone keeps themselves in good shape. But there will definitely be a loss in speed and rhythm.
No, I’m not saying there won’t be individuals who can handle it. Of course they will. But for the most part, the number of quads after 17-18-19 will decrease.
It seems to me that here we can only speculate. Because the first generation of those who started jumping quadruples regularly are now only approaching 18 years old.
Sergei Davydov: But as soon as these rules (age minimum) are introduced, everyone will adapt to them. For sure there will be such skaters who, even after 17, will be able to skate a free program with one or two quads. Three or four – it is already extremely difficult physically.
Of course, there will be exceptions. The same Sasha Trusova – it is clear that she is growing up, but still keeps herself in good shape, tries and jumps these quads. I don’t know how it will go further, here her coaching team knows better. But with her physique and muscle strength, perhaps she will keep them. But in general, quads in women’s single skating will remain even with the new age minimum, but their number will decrease. Just up to one or two in the free program.
In your group, at what age do girls start learning ultra-c?
Sergei Davydov: I don’t look at age. The main thing is the performance, the capabilities of the athlete. If he does a great double axel, then why can’t I start preparing him for a triple even at a young age? This does not mean that I take it throw him at this axel,roughly speaking.
There is a systematic preparation – first on the floor, then on a harness and so on. Many stages will pass until I see that the athlete is ready to try. Only after that we start doing elements on the ice. No one throws skaters at difficult jumps if the athlete is not physically and mentally ready for them. And age does not matter here.
But if you take on average … At about 9-10 years old, the guys are already able to calmly try quads and triple axel.
Are there any advantages of raising the age minimum? They say careers will get longer and stuff like that.
Sergei Davydov: Juniors will still jump the maximum number of quads and ruin their health. Already at this level the body gets heavy loads. They may endure it easier, but it accumulates. They have both sprains and stress fractures, which are now quite common.
On the other hand, careers will be longer – this is likely. Today, kids who don’t have ultra-c, but have all the triples and skate great, are basically left with nothing. Everything is good with them, but for one reason or another it is not possible for them to jump a quadruple or triple axel. Such children will have the opportunity to stay in sports. And not like now … Ksenia Tsibinova came to me and said: “Sergei Dmitrievich, I see no reason to continue skating. I can’t do something more complicate, I can’t. And I don’t see any point in continuing skating with triples, spending a lot of time on it and taking 10th places.”
And what can I tell her? Be patient, skate, take 10th places? I say – you need to learn (difficult jumps), practice, move forward, but what can be done here? And Ksyusha is not the only one. Many athletes cannot understand what was this all for? All day at the rink, no life, no study. Such sacrifices and everything is in vain. There must be some idea, a goal. But in the current realities, it is lost.
I can’t say that raising the age will change everything. There will simply be at least some window to polish your skating, to be better not only in quadruples, but also in presentation, in gliding. There are not only jumps in figure skating.
Well, what are the disadvantages of the age minimum?
Sergei Davydov: We will watch seniors world championships without the wow effect that Valieva and other young girls create. The Russian Nationals has shown that people simply explode when they see difficult jumps. They like it, it’s interesting to watch. It’s a drive, a risk and people enjoy it.
On the other hand, the loudest arena was during the performance of the 25-year-old Liza Tuktamysheva.
Sergei Davydov: Well, Tuktamysheva skated at home. Half of the arena was rooting for her, and this is usual. Friends came, friends of friends, acquaintances of friends. Therefore, there is nothing surprising about it.
Moreover, they love Liza. She is a long-liver, she deserves a monument in her honor, that she preserves both triple axels and the goal of moving further. It is objectively harder for her to skate than for other girls, but she fights with herself as best she can. Therefore, why not to come and cheer for her?
You said: “We are already thinking how to adapt to the new rules.” And how can you adapt to them? The whole system will change.
Sergei Davydov: It is unlikely that the junior training system will change. All the same, they will begin to fight among themselves. But they will move to seniors later, not like now, when you can get to the World Championships and the Olympics at your peak, at 15. But at 17 when it’s already much harder.
Most likely, it will be like this: here is the athlete who won the junior world championship and all coaches will think how to bring him so that he remains in sports mode by 17, in good shape, with quads. This is where the preparation changes begin. It seems to me that there will no longer be such a race and constant pressure. They will work more on the quality of skating, spins, presentation. Probably, the programs will become more beautiful. And it will be more interesting to look at it in terms of presentation.
Sofia told me in an interview about the fall injury. And I remembered her words that you are very careful, protective and with any hints of damage you say to withdraw from all the events.
Sergei Davydov: No, it’s just Sofa says so (laughs). On the contrary, I am for the adequacy of decisions. You should understand, if I were protecting them, they would not jump quadruples. Situations like this require a rational view.
Should the coach force the athlete to overcome himself when it comes to injuries?
Sergei Davydov: He should help, not force.
Sergei Davydov: Explain and advise the athlete. You say what needs to be done to get the result. Forcing, for example, at Sofia’s age is already wrong. At this age, they must clearly understand themselves what and why they are doing.
If they have a goal and desire, they will overcome everything. And if they slow down themselves, it means there is no great desire. And our task, as coaches, is to instill this desire, so that it comes from within. Then a person can endure, and overcome, and do more. A coach is an assistant. Not a Cerberus.
Should the coach stop the athlete on time?
Sergei Davydov: He should normalize the load and say that today he really needs to do a certain amount. The athlete goes and does. There is, however, another type – for example, like Lev Lazarev. You tell him to do 10 jumps, and he goes and makes 15. In this regard, it is probably necessary to stop.
On the other hand, if it comes from the athlete and not harmful, let him do 15. If he feels this way and ready to do 5 more, let him. I will not interfere.
Well, I rather talked about harm.
Sergei Davydov: There are doctors for this. They say, for example, everything has healed, you can have loads. Based on medical recommendations, I give the load. It seems to me that this is a sober look. There are professionals in their field, I listen to them and act as they say.
You are often compared to Eteri Tutberidze. Is it flattering or, on the contrary, annoying?
Sergei Davydov: Don’t compare me. We have one path, but the systems are different. They compare me only because we also have many quads, including at a young age. In all other respects we are different, it seems to me.
Can you explain how to create a coaching system from scratch, where ultra-c for girls becomes the norm?
Sergei Davydov: The system arose from the rule. The quads started to appear and we realized that they cost a lot. It is unrealistic to win without them – it means that you are turning the whole system upside down and prepare children for quads from the floor. The triple has become an absolutely passing jump, as it used to be a double.
In general, ultra-c is a constructor. Each has his own. Everyone has different bodies, abilities, capabilities, but you still have to try to learn it with everyone, because this is the way to victory. You see who has some weak links, and you strengthen them every day. You “dry” someone, make him lighter, give certain exercises.
This is the coach’s task – to find the weak link and make it stronger. Still not enough – find one more weak link and work on it. It’s like Lego. If you miss one detail, you will not collect anything.
Is every girl able to jump ultra-c?
Sergei Davydov: Absolutely not. Probably, it can be recognized from childhood, but it is extremely difficult. Rather, it can be seen in adolescence, at the age of 9-10-11.
But this does not mean that the athlete whose abilities are more modest is not capable at all of learning quadruple. I have already had such cases when an athlete with great desire learned these quads before a talented one, but working poorly, with laziness. This often happens.
How can a coach learn to take students back if before they decided to leave?
Sergei Davydov: At this age, parents make decisions. And they, as Eteri Georgievna correctly said in her last interview, always consider themselves smarter than coaches. Always. Especially the parents of those children who managed to achieve something at some kind of competitions. And the higher the level of competitions, the smarter the parent becomes. Automatically.
Sergei Davydov: Athletes are a continuation of their parents. If there are conversations about this in the family, then this cannot be avoided. We try to convey to parents that they are part of the job. And if they don’t trust the coach, children will also don’t trust the coach. This is a stop in development – for both the coach and the athlete. Moreover, the stop is complete.
Either you trust the coach and train with him, or you don’t trust, and there will be no work. The distrust of parents is transferred to children, and from children to training. And this is scandals, disputes, swearing instead of work.
Why is parting with students perceived so painfully in figure skating? Almost like a betrayal. It seems like this is a professional relationship – you work as long as you need each other.
Sergei Davydov: Well … Here you have to look at how the work of a coach looks like. You spend almost a day with this child. From morning to evening. The older group comes at 9:30 and leaves at 19:00, 19:30. They have choreography, general physical training, ice.
If you took a child, for example, with double jumps, very small one, and grow up during this time … This child is already a part of your life. In principle, children have the same thing – after a certain period, they do not perceive their life without a skating rink and this frantic rhythm.
During this time, you teach the child, go through some life situations. You teach him not only to jump, but also to work, to speak correctly, to behave. Give interviews.
Sergei Davydov: Certainly. This is also a coach’s job. We can say that this upbringing. Not parental, of course, but still. And so you raised the child, brought him to quads and then he comes and says: “Thank you, I went to train somewhere else. I’m tired of being here.” Of course, this is painful. Any normal person will perceive it this way.
This happens for a variety of reasons. And I am not saying that someone is right and someone is to blame. As a rule, both sides are to blame.
Well, sometimes there is another option: “Thank you, I will go to a better coach.” But here I often say that now in figure skating there is a trend for quadruple jumps. And we know how to work on them, we have it here. I’d understand, if we could not, then you go where they can. Then this is probably justified. But when you have everything the same at your side …
By the way, can you tell us why you allow parents at trainings?
Sergei Davydov: So they can watch how their children work – nothing more. The parent came, looked and then must say to the child: “Listen, today you stood at the board, didn’t make an extra attempt”.
This is the role of the parent. He must tell the child himself if the child is not doing enough. So that later when I called the parent and said that his child is not working to the maximum, he would not just listen to me, but also understand what I am talking about.
Therefore, parents are present at trainings. So the knew the situation and don’t find flaws in the coach – they say, he only blames my child. Here you are, everything is clear. This is also good for trust.
I have repeatedly heard the phrase “there was a misunderstanding” from your former students.
Sergei Davydov: Well, what is “misunderstanding” … It happens that the child started to underperform. There are many nuances – maybe the growth started and everything else. The coach starts sounding the alarm – “the child is not doing enough.” The parent stands up for the child, conflicts begin, and this very “misunderstanding” arises. Instead of taking the side of the coach, the parent gets into strife, swearing.
If misunderstandings become insoluble, people change the coach. But here we must remember that in other places everything is the same. Absolutely. If the coach is good, he will demand work and fulfillment of his task. No good coach would say, “Well, if you don’t want to, don’t work today.” If a person is not doing enough, then what is the point of sitting here and wasting time?
Speaking about time. I remember when I was at your training, you finished working at 21 o’clock. Do you have to be at the rink again at 9:00 am?
Sergei Davydov: Yes, at 9:30. There aren’t always such a busy days, of course. Semi-weekend also happen. But in general we have three groups, and we need to carry out the general physical training and a cool down. Distribute tasks.
Do you have time for something else with such a schedule?
Sergei Davydov: No (laughs). I come home, talked with my wife how the day passed, went to bed. In the morning we woke up and ran to our jobs. That’s all.
For what purpose is this all?
Sergei Davydov: Athletes and coaches have similar goals. I have a goal to bring up a strong athlete who will win Europe, Worlds, the Olympic Games. And in this context, I don’t care who it will be. The main thing is that my work brings great results and returns.
But after all, the main hopes are probably connected with Sofia?
Sergei Davydov: Sofa is still a teenager. Yes, now she is doing more than others. But I also have a growing generation, the boys are good. Therefore, I cannot say that everything is connected with Sofia. No. There are guys, a small group of 2013–2014. There are three or four very good girls and boys. It is already clear that these will be good athletes.
We’re just going forward now. And Sofia also goes forward. And we help her as much as we can. And heavens will decide how it will be.
It was a little surprising to hear from Sofia that she doubted herself about participating in the 2026 Olympics. She says, she may not hold out.
Sergei Davydov: This is childish reasoning. I always tell everyone – a person has a huge resource. And how he uses it depends on the person himself. How he sets himself up that’s how he will do. If he sets up to do four quads – he will do. He wants to end his career at 15 – all right then (laughs).
You need to set goals and not predict so far. There is a season – you have to work it out. The next one will begin – we will see how to organize the work. And how it will turn out in the end – we’ll see.
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