Tatiana Tarasova: A coach needs continuously improve his coaching level
Elena Vaitsekhovskaya’s interview with Tatiana Tarasova
by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya for rsport.ria.ru dd 23d August 2019
17 years ago, having won your seventh Olympic medal with Alexei Yagudin, you told me in an interview that you would like to take a pair and end your coaching path where you once started. Now almost every day you come to Novogorsk, where Ksenia Stolbova and Andrei Novoselov skate, help their coach Nikolai Morozov. What for?
– Morozov asked me, I agreed.
But you parted not in the best way.
– I’m not vindictive. Kolya is a talent, a person with whom we’ve spent years side by side. I know how he can work, I taught him myself, and it’s very interesting for me now to watch what can come out of this work. Thank God that Novoselov received permission to represent Russia, and further, as they say, we all will try our best.
A year ago, when Stolbova teamed up with a new partner, I didn’t get the impression that the leadership of the federation considers these skaters as contenders for a place in the national team.
– I would say that there was a certain interest in this project, it was just too early to talk about some prospects. Now I would rely more on the opinion of Lyudmila Velikova, who raised Stolbova in her group. Not so long ago, she wrote that she would like Ksenia to take pair skating in her hands this season and become the world leader in pair skating.
In your opinion, is this real?
– Why not? We don’t have many strong pairs. Stolbova is an incredible talent. I always saw the same talent in the Chinese (two-time world champions Wenjing Sui / Cong Han – ed.). When they skate, it isn’t visible at all how they push, what efforts they make. People just cover the ice with two steps. Ksenia has the same quality. She’s filled with inner energy, the energy of music. I adore her since childhood, from the very day Velikova showed her to me. Ksenia had to go through a very difficult path to her current state. After the injury her leg didn’t allow her to walking, only on crutches, I saw it with my own eyes. And no one in the former group even considered it necessary to give the Olympic champion the opportunity to recover, go for treatment to Germany or somewhere else.
Ksenia told me that the leg was healed primarily thanks to your help.
– I don’t think that I did something special. This, in my understanding, is a common thing. If you have money, help someone who needs help. I saw how Ksenia first stepped on the ice in America. I saw how she began to skate on one leg and was unable to make a bracket or a rocker. She couldn’t do anything. Then, little by little, the restoration of elements began, landing from jumps on this foot. It really was a huge path. And if the guys show a result this season, I will personally consider this a great victory for Russian sports.
For a long time I’ve been trying to understand how you led all who came to you to Olympic champions, and why this doesn’t work out for your colleagues. After all, Mikhail Kolyada is no less gifted than Alexei Yagudin was.
– Yagudin always had a very great feature: he loved competitions. He began to compete with everyone the day before competitions started, at practices. He adored this state, strived to go on this competitive ice. And he never gave up jumps.
Is it possible to teach this?
– It’s possible. But you need to learn this from childhood, as Eteri Tutberidze teaches her athletes. She doesn’t allow in training not to land the jump or give it up halfway. This develops a certain skill. I like, for example, how Sasha Samarin works in this regard. He also really doesn’t like to give up jumps.
But for example Ilia Kulik, when he came to you from Viktor Kudryavtsev, popped the jumps in the training non-stop. How did you cope with that?
– I did this from the very first day of our joint work. At first, Ilia kept repeating to me that he didn’t see a problem whether he was popping the jump or not. I constantly explained that first of all an athlete should make his head work. If a person ceases to control what he is doing in training, this means that his head turns off. And if you don’t acknowledge the problem, don’t want to fix it, then there’s no sense for us to work together, all the same, nothing will work out. You can talk a lot about this, but only with an athlete’s certain attitude towards you. If he absolutely trusts you, he will do as you tell him, he will follow you. Then you will succeed. If you know how to do that.
For example, for a very long time I wanted Valentina Chebotareva (Mikhail Kolyada and Stanislava Konstantinova’s cosch – ad.) to have a great success. But for this you need to work not with people you are comfortable with, but to ask people who are professionally stronger than you. You need to look for such people, learn from them. As I myself learned from Leonid Moiseevich Raitsin. Without him and his in-depth knowledge of strength training, I would have never prepared Kulik to win the Olympics.
It seems to me that, in comparison with the current coaches, you were always in a privileged position: athletes who came to you from the beginning understood that they needed you much more than you needed them.
– This was later. At first, I worked only with skaters who were kicked out of other groups for lack of prospects. Ira Moiseeva / Andrei Minenkov, Tatiana Voityuk / Slava Zhigalin, Natasha Bestemyanova / Andrei Bukin. Later, when the first result appeared, others began to ask. Although I honestly told Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, when they came to me before the Games in Albertville, that I really didn’t like our first two training sessions. And I told if Marina continues to tell me how to work with her, I won’t come anymore.
It seems to me, deep down most of the coaches now are very afraid of losing an athlete, especially if he has already achieved some significant results. How to hold an athlete if he began to think about changing a coach?
– The solution here is the same – continuously improve your coaching level. There is no other way. A coach is a person who should develop an athlete, he should be interested in him all the time. He must know more, be able to explain why he takes this or that music for the program, where it was born, what was previously choreographed to it. Our sport is a continuous creativity. Yes, there is a lot of technical work, but if you do only this at each training session, you will quickly get tired of this work. The athlete, of course, must know his weekly plan, but each lesson, the mood of the training should be different. Sometimes fun, sometimes tough, but always interesting. Perhaps I was lucky in this regard, but no one snapped. Even boys.
Actually, I remember how, at one of Kulik’s training sessions in Marlborough, you threw a stopwatch at him, crushing it on the ice.
– Wow, I don’t even remember that. When the training ends, I like to suddenly offer athletes to do something else. But in the case of Kulik, when I turned away for a second at the end of the training session, he was no longer on the ice. He was very tired then. Just fell in the locker room. But while we have worked together it has never happened that he didn’t listen to me.
Kulik was the first to win the Olympics with a quad jump. Yagudin in 2002 jumped two quads. In Pyeongchang, Nathan Chen jumped six quads. Don’t you have a feeling that in comparison with modern times, the previous men’s skating was so not impressive in terms of complexity?
– At that time we were pioneers. After all, it doesn’t happen that today you only do triple jumps, and from tomorrow – all quads. Yagudin and I tried a quadruple flip, there is even an American videotape of this jump. There simply wasn’t such a task to learn another jump. Two triple axels, one in combination and two quadruples, one in combination, this was that maximum which allowed to win. Each generation adds something in terms of complexity. Now, they learn difficult elements from childhood. When was it so that children at a very young age jumped all triples?
Is it good or bad?
– I think that it is good.
But what about the endless talk that it is very dangerous to overload a child?
– The paradox is that for children, multi-rotational jumps are not a load, but a kind of game. They are light. If you are technically prepared, then there is no difference to make two rotations, three, or four. For example Liza Tuktamysheva. She learned her triple axel in childhood. Then for some time she lost this jump, then found it again, and successfully jumps it now. But it is impossible to find what you haven’t learned before.
By the way, it seems a bit illogical to me that girls are mastering quad jumps not in the group of Alexei Mishin, who is the best technician in the world, but in the group of Tutberidze, who in her work mainly went by touch.
– Eteri feels the strength and confidence that she is on the right way. And besides, she has a very good selection and a very strong coaching staff. Parents from all over the country bring their children to her group, as they once brought Julia Lipnitskaya – in this regard, it’s easier in Moscow than in St. Petersburg. And these children have a different bar. I myself saw at the test skates how Kamila Valieva jumped a quad toe loop at a height enough for five rotations. At a height that allows you to add another rotation to the jump. It was something. Firstly, I was shocked by the child’s ability to jump like that. Secondly, behind this I see a properly built system work. Any system, even if it’s imperfect in some moments, still gives a result.
There are a lot of talks now that Alina Zagitova, who doesn’t have either a triple axel or a quadruple jump, can fall into the position of a person for whom it will become difficult to qualify for the national team, competing with athletes of her own group.
– I don’t think so. Because the level of skills, skating, interpretation of programs will not allow Alina to go low in the second mark.
Probably the same can be said about Evgenia Medvedeva? Indeed, in terms of skating, she doesn’t lose anything to Zagitova?
– Yes she doesn’t. I don’t know will she learn the lutz-loop, but this is not too important, she jumps salchow-loop, and jumps it very well. It’s a pity that she didn’t jump it at the Olympics.
As far as I know, she wanted to.
– Yes, I know that too. But she obeyed what was written to her. Of course, on the injured leg, this would have been a risk, perhaps an unnecessary risk. Plus, speaking between us, there was a problem with the spine too. Nothing special, right?
Now I see that Medvedeva has become even better in skating skills. I saw how she works with Brian Orser, how she worked alone when she came to Moscow. But in my opinion it’s necessary to end with making programs for shows herself. Each gala number should reveal something in you. It must surprise with something: a concept, new elements, new approaches, new choreography in the end.
When in 2017 Julia Lipnitskaya was hospitalized with anorexia, and before that Julia Antipova was hospitalized with the same illness, there was a lot of talk who exactly should be responsible for the health of a minor child, for what happens to him in sports – coach or parents. What do you think about this?
– I always thought that I myself was responsible for everything. How else? If I took, for example, a boy, took him to America and carry out my training there, then who should be responsible for this boy? He got sick, started to smoke, got to the police, or in some other story. Of course, I have to be there. Just at this time, when the children begin not only to mature, but also to assert themselves, many literally don’t hear the coach. You have to take them by the scruff of the neck and bring to sense, as I did with someone else’s athlete in my time, who assured everyone around that she didn’t gain weight, because she had such a body constitution. I told her quite openly: “You’re lying, so you will be treated. Because otherwise you will die. All your cramps on the rink can end up only with one thing – death.”
Before the Salt Lake City Olympics, I had a girl in America, the German figure skating federation asked for help – to put her programs. This girl had being treated from anorexia, and came to me, seemingly already having no problems. I worked a lot then, almost never been home, so I cooked food at night. Lesha Yagudin was losing weight at that time, and one night I cooked mushroom soup for him and left it to cool on the stove. I told him to eat this soup after training. He came to the next workout very angry. It turned out that this German girl, while we were not at home, ate the whole pan and half a loaf of bread, and Lesha remained hungry. But he was more outraged not because she ate it, but because she didn’t wash the pan.
How did it end?
– I spoke with this athlete, and I spoke tough. I called to Germany, warned the federation that the problem had not gone away. But we, the coaches, must be responsible for such things. At least because children spend much more time with us than with parents. And then, if the coach says to the athlete: “Lose weight!”, he must teach how.
When an athlete becomes an Olympic champion, does this make the coach responsible for his future fate?
– Of course.
And you don’t you have a feeling that when Julia Lipnitskaya made a splash in Sochi in the team event and Adelina Sotnikova won the Olympics, their coaches were not ready for this responsibility at that time, giving the athletes the opportunity to make decisions on their own future? At least that is exactly how Elena Buyanova explained why Adelina left sport.
– In my opinion, they shouldn’t have let Adelina go. She has never been independent, they simply didn’t have time to teach her this. I can be mistaken, but it seems to me that initially Lena (Buyanova – ed.) prepared this athlete not for four-year cycle, not just for one victory. Just after those Games, everything that was going on around Sotnikova was a bit like madness. It seems to me that the same thing happened around Julia Lipnitskaya. When an athlete achieves great success, a large number of advisers appear who know better how and what to do. This process must be controlled, but the coach, usually, no longer has any strength for this. And then, I think, neither Buyanova nor Tutberidze had a clear plan how to build further work, not to get the situation out of hand. Unfortunately, you always start to understand such things late.
Turns out that it is impossible to foresee such a thing in principle? After all, Ilia Kulik left you the day after he won the Olympics in Nagano.
– That is why, already having such experience, I said to Lesha Yagudin after the victory in Salt Lake City: “You stay, meet with sponsors, with journalists, and I will go home. But you have to decide for yourself, whether we’ll go to the World Championships or not. I don’t see any equal to you, but that’s my opinion. But regardless of the further decision, you must understand that what you have already done, no one will ever take away from you.”
Of course, I understood that after those Games Zhenya Plushenko would not go to Worlds. And even if he had gone, he wouldn’t have won against Yagudin.
And Yagudin decided to go to Nagano.
– Yes. He called me from America: “Tatiana Anatolievna, come, I can’t wait any longer, I want to go to the World Championships.” I flew the next day. Lesha met me at the airport. He bought a new car, a sports Mercedes, having spent all the money on it. He opened the top, despite the fact that it was winter, and we drove into a new life. With music, at high speed.
Was it realistic to return to amateur sports after hip replacement surgery? Or did you just pretend it was possible, to make him recover faster?
– At first, it wasn’t about surgery. We constantly treated, went to Canada, where a special fluid was injected directly into the joint, which enveloped all the sharp corners that appeared inside the joint and caused pain. We began to prepare for the season, made the programs. But at the very first competitions the leg began to “fail”.
After the surgery, I didn’t think that we would return, but Lesha really wanted. When he started jumping, almost every day my good friend, professor Sergei Arkhipov called me and said: “Tatiana, are you nuts or something? What are you doing? Do you understand that if the joint pops out, nothing more can be done?”
Was it possible to stop Yagudin?
– No. He cannot be stopped even now. He is a maximalist, he never pitied himself. This overcoming still amazes me.
Once I talked with Stephane Lambiel, and when he was working with a famous Russian athlete, he complained that he had a firmly set algorithm, primarily aimed at jumping. And no matter what steps you give him, in a week everything will return to its previous format.
– We have many coaches who think this way: first you learn to jump, and then I will start to develop you. And it is always necessary to develop, therefore, the same Japanese start to attract top choreographers from all over the world to work with their athletes early enough. Because if you don’t do this on time, the athlete in each program will return to what he is used to. It’s necessary to come up with something new in step sequences. Something that sets you apart from others. But this is not so easy, because each step needs to be selected. To one music you can do a rocker, to other music – only a twizzle. All these elements need to be separated and you should look what is more suitable for this music, now, on the next beat, through a beat. As it was with Mao Asada. The audience always have a standing ovations on her step sequences. And not for nothing.
By the way, do you know that Rafael Arutyunyan worked with the first Chinese pair all summer in America?
– Well done, what can I say. For how many years I have been saying the same thing: that we need to gather all our junior pairs, at least for a couple of months, and ask the country’s leading single skating coaches to work with them, not forgetting then to thank them for this.
To work on jumps?
– Of course. Jumps are always a weak point in pair skating. Moreover, now they are all difficult. This also applies to senior pairs. It seems to me that this is a very important point. There are quite a lot of specialists who know how to work, what exercises to give, how and what to work on in the gym, on the floor, how to “raise” a jump and so on. This must be used. I think that’s why the Chinese pair went to train with Rafik.
What would you like to see performed by Russian skaters in the new season?
– There is a desire to see the programs that Sasha Zhulin did for Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov. In the same way I want to see Sasha Stepanova and Vanya Bukin, whom I love very much. It is very interesting what Marina Zueva did with Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov. I consider her an outstanding coach, because I remember how Marina worked with Katya Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, with Sasha Fadeev, with many other athletes. Marina is a very professional person. And very strong. She is able to reach to any person without ever raising her voice. She knows how to do it. Not to mention the choreography of the programs.
Shortly before meeting you, I spoke with Irina Zhuk and Alexander Svinin about the fact that in modern dances, the program generally comes to the fore.
– It has always been in the foreground at all times. Just few people know about it. And the technical means are already being selected for a specific task.
It turns out that in the last season Sinitsina and Katsalapov won against Stepanova and Bukin only due to a more successful program? The programs were great.
– They were great, yes. Vanya and Sasha also had good programs last season. The program is really a very delicate matter. In this sense, Katsalapov and Sinitsina were more soulful last season. I once invited Dima Bryantsev, who was the main choreographer at the Stanislavsky Theater and created all the television works with Ekaterina Maximova and Vladimir Vasiliev. I wanted my athletes to feel the other hand, so that not only me was engaged in their choreographic development. And still, I helped to make every step. Offered several options for each beat, so that Dima had plenty to choose from. But I can’t imagine how to delegate my work in free dance, where I understand how to win, to someone else. It is necessary to invent a lot, put an idea into the program, and the soul. Because when everything is already invented, this soul should tell us a love story. Absolutely everything that exists in the world is about love.
Related topics: Tatiana Tarasova