Ted Barton: Be honest, be kind, be respectful – this is our approach
Interview with Ted Barton at the Russian Junior Nationals. About quad jumps in ladies’ short program, Eteri Tutberidze and other promising Russian coaches, as well as why he considers Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Evgenia Medvedeva outstanding skaters.
By Anastasiya Loginova and Anastasiya Pletneva for sport24.ru dd 17th March 2020
At the Russian Nationals and Junior national championships you commented all the disciplines. Do you like that?
– In general, I was very surprised and flattered by the invitation of Channel One. I could not even think about it. I had the great honor to come to Russia and become part of the team that first made the broadcast of the Russian Nationals for the whole world. Before that, no one in the world could watch Russian nationals, moreover live with English commentaries.
I have been to Russia seven or eight times. I love this country, it has changed a lot since the beginning of the 80-90s. Coming here is an honor for me. People were very friendly and welcoming. And skating … I think the Russians do not quite understand what they have in the country. They always watched great skating, but now it is something outstanding. Therefore, it was an honor for me not only to come, but also to see all this with my own eyes.
Is Russian figure skating really so popular in the world, for example, in North America and other countries?
– Now yes. Previously, the world saw only some Russian athletes who came to the competitions. And that’s all. They did not see what was happening inside the country, they could notice only a few skaters who competed at the international level.
There were other times when Russian athletes were not so strong and showed not the best results. Therefore, the international audience was not so interested in what was happening at the national level. But in the last 7-8 years, Russian figure skating dominates, at the junior level, for sure, and now it is gaining strength at the senior level. Now everyone is wondering: “God! What is happening in Russia? ” And here thanks to the Channel One the doors were opened, and people from all over the world got the opportunity to watch the Russian Nationals. In Canada, we always do this, but for another country to show everyone else their national championships was a big step. I consider this a merit of Channel One and I think that the world is really enjoying it.
Have the number of views changed after your arrival to Russia?
– All I know about numbers is that the Russian Nationals in Krasnoyarsk attracted more than 25 million viewers (live broadcast on TV, not with my comments). More than a million viewers around the world watched us online with English comments, which is very good. The junior Grand Prix Final now collecting the same amount per week, but here we are talking about the championship of one country.
In Saransk – you know, I work with e-mail – I received messages from people from Malaysia, Brazil, Chile, the USA, Czech Republic, Hong Kong, from around the world. They all watched the Russian junior nationals, which they could not do before. This is just the beginning of the door opening. The world will follow this path. The community is already fascinated by Russian skaters. It’s a great story.
You have visited Saransk and Krasnoyarsk. Did you have cute or funny stories from these cities and generally from Russia?
– Not cute, but … I was a bit shocked in Krasnoyarsk by the fans who came to thank me, wanted to take a picture. I’m just a middle-aged man from Canada. I am not special. Figure skating was my sport, my love, my passion and my world throughout my life. During the Junior Grand Prix, I did not really understand what impact we have on the world. Our approach is very positive. These are young athletes! We must help them. They have good and bad days, and we should be happy for them on good days and support on bad days. Be honest, be kind, be respectful – this is our approach, and I did not know that it was so well received. It’s amazing that people came to personally thank me. I do not know if this is a cute story, but for me it is at least charming.
Have you seen this banner? Do you know who made it?
– Yes I saw! I do not know. I think I met this man, but I don’t know his name.
In the Russian social network VK there is a group “Figure skating headcanons”, which prepared this banner. They also made flower wreaths for skaters and their coaches at various competitions, did you see them?
– Yes. That’s very beautiful. That’s why I was partly shocked. When we went to Chelyabinsk, they passed me a flag from the fans. Of course, not my photo in the heart, but something very pleasant. It is interesting that we just wanted to do something right, to make sport publicly available in any country of the world, to enchant and charm people with wonderful athletes. That is my mission. I did not want this story to be about me. I wanted it to be about them. So it was a little awkward, but very sweet.
We saw your video interview with participants from India. I think they were very impressed that they were able to tell their story. Do you know more stories like that?
– In fact, there is one, about the other Indian skater. It was in Japan, in Yokohama, in 2016. This athlete had a rather low level of skating, he only did axel, but always smiled.
Japanese athletes rushed back and forth, and some people were sad that they could not compete with them. And he was charming. When he came off the ice, the Japanese patted him on the back. It was camaraderie, humanism and sporting spirit from the amazing athletes who supported this guy who could skate at the rink only once a month, and the rest of the time practiced on roller skates.
This is probably one of the most touching moments from the Junior Grand Prix for me. Now I understand that this, of course, is not only about good skating. But also about the humanity, the efforts of young people to do their favorite thing, about the support from us, adults, about inspiration. They know what is good and what is bad, and they themselves understand that they have not skated very well. We do not need to do worse. So, that Indian athlete, I do not remember his name and could not pronounce it, since it is very long, – he was charming.
You already mentioned that you are commenting on the Canadian Nationals. Can you compare it with the Russian Nationals? I understand that now it may not be so popular, because many great Canadian athletes ended their careers after the Olympics. How are the things?
– This is true. We live in a reality after the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, where Canada won gold in the team event. Patrick Chan, Meagan Duhamel, Eric Radford, Kaetlyn Osmond, Tessa and Scott, of course, they are beautiful – this was my favorite team. Canada was then what Russia is now. Especially at the junior level. Sport has lost the best, and all in one day.
We are now in the process of recovery. Recall the 2010 Olympics, where Russia did not show good results, except for Evgeni Plushenko’s silver. It was a phase of adjustment when a lot of things changed. Leading positions distributed otherwise, but Russia had a plan. From 2010 to the present, this plan has shown excellent results. Let’s go back to Canada. We are now in the restructuring phase. We need to include changes in our plan, because the sport itself has changed. Russian figure skaters, Americans, Japanese changed the sport. We must solve our problems in order to keep up, and now we are in this process. We still have great athletes – there are not many of them, but young talents are growing up. Let’s not talk about that for now. Let them develop.
And what about the audience in Canada? Are they interested in figure skating now?
– We have a large online audience. We tried very hard and made the online broadcast of the Canadian Nationals available around the world. We were the first country to do this, and it was a great success. Television is a bit more complicated. Listen, 180 million people live in Russia, this is the largest country in the world by territory. We are the second largest. And we have only 37 million people! This is almost the population of Moscow, right? (Laughs). That’s all we have. We do not have human resources, as in Russia and the USA, so for us it is a little more complicated.
And what is the real audience at the rink at the National Championships?
– Everything is not so bad, about 4-5 thousand. Not quite like yours. And it is incomparable with how much we collected during the times of Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko – 17 thousand. We had good times. We understand Russia now because we were in its place. When the media wrote only about our sport. When the skaters were real celebrities. When 17 thousand people came to watch the Canadian Nationals. When the TV channels competed among themselves for the right to broadcast. We hope to return it. But so far we are not there yet.
Now about the current situation in figure skating. Now, probably, all she-athletes at least once tried to perform ultra-complicated elements, such as a triple axel or quadruple jumps. The Tutberidze girls set this trend. Now other athletes are trying to match it. Don’t you think that when these girls complete their careers, the quads will leave?
– I’m not sure I understood the question correctly, but I must say the following. First of all, I must pay tribute to all the Russian coaches, but the work that Eteri Tutberidze, Sergei Dudakov and Daniil Gleichengauz, as well as their coaching staff, are doing is simply unimaginable. You can have one good athlete, two, but they have all the athletes show an incredible level. I do not mean quadruple jumps (they are good), not triple axels (this is excellent), not just perfect jumps and spins. The programs themselves are wonderful, whether you like them or not, but the details, skating skills, interpretation that they are taught at such a young age is amazing! And so with every skater. They can skate badly and be in fifth place, but the work that is being done at this coaching staff is incredible.
There are other wonderful Russian coaches, whose athletes I watched yesterday – I watched the performance of 18 junior girls. Each of them has a combination of triple flip-triple toe loop or triple lutz – triple toe loop. Not one of them, but all eighteen! Despite the fact that there is a group of the best, everyone is good. Some are good, while others are very good.
They are young and small, and they will grow. Before we have never observed this growth process in a situation where a girl already knows how to jump quads. This is a new trend, it is no more than three years old. Sasha Trusova in Brisbane for the first time performed the quad jump at this age. How they will cope with the growth process, time will tell. It depends on what psychological and physical approach will be used, but I believe in the ability of coaches and parents, and the athletes themselves, to cope with this process and continue their beautiful work.
At the Russian Junior Nationals, 17 out of 18 athletes would receive a technical minimum for participation in the World Championships. At the same time, there were only 12 such skaters at the Four Continents Championships.
– Yes, this is a wonderful result. I do not want to say anything bad, but this is national judging, and the scores are a little higher than at international competitions. This is also happening in Canada. With this disclaimer, I believe that the technical scores corresponded with the elements I saw. But even without national judging, the girls would receive a technical minimum for the Worlds. It is brilliant.
Do you think that in five years quads and triple axels will remain in ladies figure skating?
– Oh, that’s a very good question. We do not know, and it is interesting. Listen, fans loving this sport. Follow this trend over the next few years, watch these young girls and guys as they grow up. They will go through the peak of their career and will overcome difficulties, because their body is changing, coordination is changing. Then they will become stronger, more coordinated, more mature … We do not know what will happen.
Evgenia Medvedeva was beautiful because she brought something new to the sport. She had consistency, she didn’t make mistakes, but she also had a touching performance, which no one had seen before. She brought something unique to the sport. And, of course, she’s still brining. She is growing, changing, but still remains at a high level. So what will happen to the girls who jump the quadruple jumps, triple axels – be they Japanese or Russian? We will see. And it will be interesting to watch. We hope for the best: for both for them as people and for sports.
Do you believe in jumps with five rotations?
– Yes. If you look at what is happening on the ice, the skaters use speed, repulsion speed, spin entering. Some quads have a lot of time left. I believe that one day the milestone of five rotations will be overcomed, but probably I won’t see this. It is in human nature to strive for something that has never been done. It is just what we are.
Now at the Russian Junior Championships you see that the group of Eteri Tutberidze dominates. But, perhaps, you saw teams of other coaches who can compete with them?
– Of course! Today was a young lady not from Eteri group, who performed quadruple jump. And we could see other coaches who saw this and made faces that made it clear that they, also, were not going to stop: “We will beat this!” They are working on it. This is good for sports and this is a tribute to Eteri, whether you like it or not, and her team for the work they’ve done. She inspires a new generation of Russian coaches and abroad, I tell you. All over the world they look at her, at her coaches and athletes and say: “They have two arms, two legs and a head, like our children have. Why can’t we do the same? ” This is always like that in history: there is a leader, there are people who follow him, and there are those who challenge the leader. That is life.
The only athlete who performed the triple axel in the short program was not from the Tutberidze group. She is coached by Sergei Davydov.
– Sergei Davydov is doing an incredible job. He has four girls at this competition, they are doing very well. The difference between the first and last, eighteenth, place (in the short program) is not very big. I mean skating skills and complex elements, they all do them, but some are better. We can’t say that the rest of the coaches work poorly, this is not so. In the future they will be even better.
Last year, while commenting, you admired Alena Kostornaia’s skating skills. They say that now she is losing them, because she is more focused on jumping. What do you think?
– Not at all. I would say that Alena Kostornaia’s skating is angelic as before. Just beautiful. We don’t have so much time to describe why she is so good. Every detail, every little detail, every little hand movement. The triple axel is beautiful, and the rest of the elements are also always good. She connects herself with music. Other girls look at this and understand: “This is what it takes to defeat her.” She moves figure skating to a combination of complex elements and artistry. At whatever level top athletes are, there are always those who want to reach their level. And this is good for the development of sports. I do not think that the triple axel costs her everything. They added it to the technique, and obviously she is still an incredibly refined skater.
What do you think about Sasha Trusova? She seems to have some mental problems due to the loss of consistency.
– Not. Sasha tried to make how many, 4 or 5 quads? Even Yuzuru Hanyu and Nathan Chen with a lot of quads make mistakes, and they are men. It is the matter of time. Be patient, let Sasha work calmly and understand what she can do under pressure. She adjust her program and improves all her skills to jump quads. The same with Shcherbakova. A lot of people talk about her. She is also a wonderful skater. A great combination of what Alena and Sasha can do. There are so many great skaters here, it’s hard to focus only on them. However, they came from junior victories to senior ones.
Alina Zagitova took a pause in her career. Do you think she will return to professional sports?
– Alina is an Olympic champion and a World champion. I saw her in Saint-Germain, when she won, at the second Grand Prix she became the third. She won everything she can. She was the best, representing her country at the highest level. Alina Zagitova is an incredible Russian athlete. What will her life be like? Like she wants. She did everything she could to make the country be proud of her. Her choice is her choice. Whether she will return to competitions or continue her path in other areas. I have nothing against. She did her job and deserved to choose what she wants.
At a recent press conference of the FFKKR, Alexander Gorshkov mentioned the proposal to allow quadruple jumps in the ladies’ short program, which was rejected by the technical committee. The Federation argued its proposal by the fact that there is a tendency to equalize the rights of men and women. Was it right to reject this proposal?
– I do not know. I have my own thoughts on this. But I will leave it to those people who have the right to make decisions. The difference in technique between male and female skating is reduced. What should we do with this? We are talking about equality in life for all people. And from this point of view, perhaps everything should be the same. I don’t want to go into details. Let’s see what happens.
The world is changing because athletes are changing it. They break stereotypes, do the impossible. They show where to move. We want the athletes to be safe, so that everything is fine with them both physically and mentally, but we do not want to limit them. We need to give them the opportunity to improve. A difficult situation in which many different things are intertwined.
Would you like to see quadruples in a ladies’ short program?
– Oh sure. I have no prejudice about quads in ladies skating. They can do them. And not just young girls. Take, for example, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. Just look what she did. For me, this is generally one of the most outstanding things that have ever happened. Elizaveta seemed to think: “Well, it looks like I need to do quads.” And she learned them. So it’s not worth saying that only little girls can perform ultra-c elements. Tuktamysheva did that. And she proved to the older generation that this is possible. She inspired them. The same can be said about Evgenia Medvedeva. She also works on the quadruple salchow. Why? Because Zhenya knows that, perhaps, she will do it. It’s great.
And what do you think about Philip Hersh’s joke that Canada should have naturalized for example Elizaveta Tuktamysheva? In general, is it possible for a top skater to change the country he represents?
– In my opinion, you should not argue like that at all. I am Canadian and always have been. But when I come, for example, to Russia, I stop being a Canadian citizen. It makes no difference to me what country a particular skater is from. I just want to watch them, they are all amazing. When I see these eighteen athletes who perform here in ladies’ single skating, I understand that they can represent the USA, Pakistan, India or Japan, but I don’t care. They are great skaters. That’s all. It so happened that they skate for Russia, but in general they are simply amazing athletes. In general, competing for a particular country is a difficult problem. I do not want to talk about it, let others decide.
Have you watched ice dance at the European Championships? What do you think about this? Those results started a serious controversy.
– It’s always like that in ice dance. When there are several duets of about the same level that are incredibly good, some kind of conflict always breeds. Indeed, during the performance there are so many emotions and passions that some details (which the technical panel are evaluating) are simply blurred. If someone makes some small mistakes, he loses. This makes a difference. This is all so deeply hidden that the average viewer may not see this. I myself can’t see such minor mistakes. But the athlete always knows when he made some kind of mistake. And others just don’t notice it. When there are two duets who perform on equals, the fans of one of them will be disappointed, and those who support the other team will be incredibly happy. In the next competitions, things could be different. And they just tell each other what they themselves think is wrong or unfair. But in the end, both duets are beautiful. Every little detail matters. For this we have judges, there is a technical panel. Let them do their job.
That is, do you consider Victoria Sinitsina / Nikita Katsalapov to be real competitors to Gabriella Papadakis / Guillaume Cizeron?
– In my opinion, this is obvious. They won the European Championships.
But before they couldn’t get so close.
– Maybe Sinitsina / Katsalapov will manage to beat Papadakis / Cizeron again, but maybe not. Everything will depend on the specific competitions. And in general, from many other things. From the audience, from the judges, from the health of the athletes. Everything matters – especially the technique, but emotions also matter. I want to add a little more. Let’s leave the girls and talk about the boys. Their performances made me believe that Russia has a great future in man’s single skating. There is a big difference between the junior and senior level, but I saw a lot of talents in the Russian team. Of course, a long process is still waiting for them all, when young people will grow, and at different speeds, but it’s undoubted that there are really many talented young men in Russia. You should not focus only on girls. They are excellent, but I think we will all have some kind of surprise in men’s single skating in the coming years.
And who are you talking about?
– I will not say who I am talking about (laughs). Just because it is not one person, but several. And they will also grow up. Men in general can surprise. Of course, you can say: “No, this one is so-so, but this one is amazing,” and then everything will turn upside down. Young men will become stronger, and everything can change. I would say that so far they are too young, but talented.