Valentin Nikolaev: “I root for Rafael Arutyunyan. But I’m not overly excited with Chen’s skating. I don’t always like the music, I don’t like when athlete skates in whatever rags.”

Posted on 2022-02-08 • No comments yet


Alexandra Trusova, after two years of skating with mistkes, can perform perfectly at the Beijing Olympics. Coach Valentin Nikolaev shared such opinion. According to him, the queen of the quads is able to spoil the whole game for anyone if everything works out for her.

The specialist who raised Viktor Petrenko and Oksana Baiul also explained why he is more often cheer for colleagues, and not for their athletes, shared his opinion about Yuzuru Hanyu’s problems with the quadruple axel, agreed with Tara Lipinski’s words about childhood stress and told why he did not like Evgeni Plushenko’s performances.

photo by © Reuters /

source: dd. 5th January 2022 by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya

Before the Olympic Games, it often seems to fans that the favorites have already been determined and the result can be predicted. But every time, as a rule, something unexpected happens. Do you have a premonition of possible sensations?

Valentin Nikolaev: There is always a place for unexpected results at the Games, and even more so in figure skating. Let’s take the most predictable, as it would seem, discipline – women’s single skating. After all, no one knows when the gun, which hangs on the wall in the first act of the play, will shoot.

I’m afraid I don’t quite understand the analogy.

Valentin Nikolaev: What is there to understand? This gun is Alexandra Trusova. If everything works out for her, she is able to spoil the game for anyone. I don’t presume now to determine the placement on the podium or to compare Russian girls with Japanese ones, simply because I have barely seen Japanese girls this season. But within the Russian team, the balance of power may turn out to be completely different from what is currently assumed.

You don’t want to say that you question the total dominance of Kamila Valieva this season?

Valentin Nikolaev: Why not?

Unexpected. I don’t even know how to react.

Valentin Nikolaev: Well, look: Trusova made so many mistakes in the last two seasons that sooner or later everything should work out for her. Perhaps this will happen just in Beijing. As for Shcherbakova, I saw at the European Championships that she was gradually starting to gain momentum.

By what signs did you understand this?

Valentin Nikolaev: It’s hard for me to explain such things. It’s like asking why one coach manages to bring athletes to the result over and over again, while the other does not, although both specialists seem to be doing the same thing. I just see it. As I see a problem in a jump, which the athlete has not yet jumped. I see a certain scheme for entering an element, and if a person starts to fall out of this scheme, it means that a mistake is very likely and you need to look for the cause. By the way, even if the scheme itself is ideal or if the coach sincerely considers it to be so, it is not a guarantee of success. Because it can work for one athlete, but not for another.

Frankly, I’m afraid to ask you about forecasts. In 2014, before the Games in Sochi, you said that you don’t see many chances for Yulia Lipnitskaya and Adelina Sotnikova to win. In 2018, these words were practically repeated, but already about Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva. It turns out that coaches of your level also tend to make mistakes?

Valentin Nikolaev: However, both times I did not say that there were no chances.

Agree. But now I just don’t see how Kamila Valieva can lose the Olympics. And I think I’m not alone in my mental predictions.

Valentin Nikolaev: In figure skating, in order to lose, it is sometimes enough to fall once in a short program. There is a common saying that ice is slippery, but I will elaborate: the supporting surface at the moment when a skater lands from a jump on a toe pick is no more than four square millimeters. The slightest inaccuracy, the slightest influence of a stressful state, an unnecessary thought and anything else can lead a skater to a fall. Athletes at the peak of their shape are considered to be robots, but in a stressful state any automatic skill begins to fail – previous mistakes returns. And no one is safe from them.

But are there exceptions?

Valentin Nikolaev: Remember Zhenya Plushenko in Salt Lake City? In the previous season, he won every competitions he participated in. Became the Russian champion. And at the Games in the short program, he lay down on an element that he had almost never failed.

By the way, you told me on the eve of that Olympics that you prefer athletes who take risks and thereby move the sport forward. Does this mean that now you are cheering more for Trusova?

Valentin Nikolaev: You can cheer for someone you either love very much, or someone you feel very sorry for. Both cause emotions that make it difficult to objectively assess the situation. That is why it is so difficult for coaches to accept the defeat of their athlete immediately after the performance. It seems to me, that we should cheer for the coaches. An athlete at the Olympic Games does not even have time to get scared when he goes to compete: it seems that the music has just begun – and immediately ended. And the coach is in this horror around the clock.

That is, you are still rooting for one of your colleagues?

Valentin Nikolaev: Probably, yes. I root for Rafael Arutyunyan, but not at all because I like or dislike his athlete. It’s just that this coach is now leading to the medal athlete whom he took very young and raised himself. This is a very special achievement. Michelle Kwan or Mao Asada, who also trained with Arutyunyan, is a different story, despite the fact that Rafik invested a lot of coaching work in both of them.

Do you remember saying that you didn’t understand why Rafael continued to train Chen after he made an attempt to leave him for Marina Zueva in 2016?

Valentin Nikolaev: Of course, I remember and do not refuse these words. I myself would not take back the athlete who left me.

Turns out that Arutyunyan acted more presciently? If he had refused Chen then, the world would not have seen an outstanding athlete.

Valentin Nikolaev: So it would have seen someone else. Well, judge for yourself: what would have globally changed in our lives if Vasnetsov had not painted Bogatyrs? Absolutely nothing. So is here. You will laugh, but I don’t agree with half of the technical remarks that Rafik makes. But this does not prevent me from appreciating the enormous contribution that Arutyunyan made to figure skating. Therefore, I want his athlete to win. Although I am aware that the Olympic gold medal is four of a kind in poker. Everything came together or not.

Agree, Chen has more chances for “everything came together” than anyone else.

Valentin Nikolaev: If Nathan really wants to win the Olympics, he should make the short program easier.

What for?

Valentin Nikolaev: To take not the maximum, but the needed score. In a short program, it is very difficult to secure a large margin. But here you can fall down a lot. Remember, there was such a legendary pole vaulter Sergei Bubka? He approached the 1992 Olympics as an absolute favorite, there was no one even close. And he failed to take the initial height.

Arutyunyan also actively participated in the preparation of 17-year-old Ilia Malinin, who is now amazing the world with his unique quadruple jumps and who was second at the US Nationals.

Valentin Nikolaev: That’s a different story. I like to say that in figure skating there are no miracles, tricks or some kind of coaching magic. But sometimes there is luck when a talented athlete gets to a talented coach and everything starts to work out for them. The guy jumps really well. But if you watch the video of Malinin’s performance at the American selection again, I think you will agree that his skating is still boyish.

Do you think it’s fair that Malinin was not taken to the Games?

Valentin Nikolaev: No, I don’t think so.

I won’t be surprised, by the way, if Malinin, and not Hanyu, who continues to “kill” himself on this jump, becomes the first to land a quadruple axel with a good landing.

Valentin Nikolaev: Apparently, Yuzuru wants to go down in history not only as a multiple Olympic champion, but also as a “technician”. I understand him. The same Elvis Stojko is remembered as the first performer of the 4 + 3 combination, Sasha Fadeev is much less often remembered. And completely in vain, by the way: he jumped the quadruple toe loop in the early 1980s, that is, before everyone else. But Hanyu is primarily remembered as a great skater. His ability to do complex elements as if in a casual way, without breaking the rhythm of skating, is an absolutely fantastic thing.

This is given to very few. The vast majority of those who make programs of comparable complexity simply run from corner to corner. And the program itself is decorated with either jumps or falls. Although, from my point of view, if a person does not have an interesting program, the scores must necessarily reflect this. It happens, however, and vice versa: the program is interesting, but the person skates it quite mediocrely. Not because he doesn’t glide, but because he haven’t been taught.

Do I understand your idea correctly that for quadruple jumps, a skater does not have to run across the entire rink?

Valentin Nikolaev: It’s just a prerequisite. But who said that you need to pick up speed only by stroking, spreading your arms to the sides, as if you are going to take a wing? Yes, gaining speed with interesting steps, like any difficult approach to the element, takes more strength and more breathless. But it all comes with practice.

Still not ready to agree. Take the same Trusova: in comparison with her programs of two years ago, her current programs look, one might say, high art.

Valentin Nikolaev: I do not urge you to agree right? But I myself believe that it is necessary to compare not with what the skater did two or three years ago, but with the level that is required in order to win.

How close, in your opinion, is Hanyu’s quadruple axel to being performed in Beijing?

Valentin Nikolaev: Based on the videos that I saw on the Internet, Yuzuru is still very far from the quadruple axel. He lacks not height, as for some reason many people think, but the initial rotation speed. The height here is not too important. The same Tara Lipinski, who took off the ice by one and a half centimeters, rotated all her jumps. And Sarah Hughes flew to a meter height and did not fully rotate anything.

The possible number of rotations in a jump is determined by two components: the speed that the skater gets while on the ice, and the ability to accelerate himself in the rotation. And what a person takes from the ice is more important here. That is the initial speed. A simple example: you and I went to the bank, but I deposited $5, and you deposited $10,000. The annual percentage is the same, but in the end you will receive a lot of money, and I will actually stay with the same five. So it is here: took the maximum from the ice – did a bunch of rotations.

Why, by the way, is the quadruple toe loop considered a simple jump, and the lutz is considered difficult?

Valentin Nikolaev: In my opinion, lutz is just one of the easiest jump elements to perform. Axel and loop are much more difficult.


Valentin Nikolaev: In edge jumps, you need to be able to use the entrance arc very actively. Acceleration on the arc, when you start to load it, increasing the steepness, entails additional difficulties. The slightest miss in the forward slope – and you are turned over. Or starts to shake in the air.

That is, popped jumps are not a problem of the psyche, as is commonly believed, but of technique?

Valentin Nikolaev: Ha! Good question. Everything comes from the psyche – it is not for nothing that they say that all diseases are from the nerves. But let’s take a look: what is the psyche? This is an elevated emotional state that often inhibits reflexes. So mistakes begin to happen which can sit in the skater’s subconscious from childhood and in a calm state throughout their sports life do not make themselves felt. Although there are very few mistakes that a skater can make. Basically there are problems of varying complexity.

What difference does it make how you call it? The essence is one.

Valentin Nikolaev: Uh, no. Suppose we agreed to have dinner with you in St. Petersburg. You arrived there in a train, having had a great rest on the way, and I spent eight hours driving, and even driving off-road. Accordingly, before going to a restaurant, it would be good for me to find a place where I can take a shower and change clothes. This is my problem, although globally I achieved the goal – I arrived at the meeting place. But if, following your example, I prefer the train, but I don’t take the train to St. Petersburg, but the one which goes to Yekaterinburg, this will already be a mistake. Do you understand the difference?

More than. Tamara Moskvina said that the biggest mistake an athlete can make at the Olympics is to get emotional. And what is most correct is to attach as little importance as possible to what is happening around. Here, after all, there are already many factors that can cause irritation: daily and rather painful tests, bans on movement, a bunch of all sorts of rules and restrictions.

Valentin Nikolaev: I’m afraid that in order not to react to this, you need to be over sixty and have a lot of not only coaching, but also life experience. By the way, this is another factor that makes the Beijing Games very difficult.

There is an opinion that stressful situations are easier for little girls than for adults. Although Tara Lipinski once spoke quite sharply on this subject, saying that adults do not even understand what a horror it is to face the Olympic realities as a child.

Valentin Nikolaev: You know, once one of the American astronauts was asked how a person feels when he finds himself in weightlessness. And he replied: “Have you ever felt like all the internal organs seem to fall down somewhere when a high-speed elevator suddenly starts moving? Stretch this feeling for ten weeks and you’ll get a rough picture.

A rigid and controlled nervous system is an adult story. Children are much more emotional, more receptive to everything. In training, I agree, it’s easier with them to some extent: they try quadruple jumps, not really understanding the possible consequences. But otherwise, I completely agree with Tara. The Olympics are a huge stress.

But it is believed that children endure stress more easily.

Valentin Nikolaev: Nothing like this. Have you ever heard of an adult nervously falling into anorexia? I think no. No matter how much you say to an adult that he is fat and eats a lot, most likely there will be no reaction at all. And in the same Norway, childhood anorexia is becoming a widespread disaster. School teachers are strictly forbidden to raise this topic in conversations, and at the legislative level. They don’t even give grades in the primary grades, because it’s a lot of stress for children.

I do not have a special education to discuss such things in more detail, but all my coaching experience over so many years of work comes down to exactly what I said. You can yell at an adult athlete, but not at a child. When I first started coaching, I also screamed like crazy. I was sure that it was necessary. And then I somehow noticed that I was yelling, and the athlete had glass eyes, like a frozen fish has. Curtains fall. This is a natural protective reaction, which intensifies many times during the hormonal period. Hence, the problems of adolescence in families, which are called “did not find a common language.” And if the parents failed to do this, will we hope that the coach will succeed?

Are pair skating in Beijing as interesting as single skating for you?

Valentin Nikolaev: Everyone who claims a high result is doing everything very well. But personally, it doesn’t touch me.

Do you understand the reason?

Valentin Nikolaev: I think so. The main advantage of the pairs is, in my opinion, the ability of the partner to focus the attention of the audience on the girl. If a partner knows how to do this – the pair becomes a phenomenon, like Natasha Mishkutenok and Artur Dmitriev, Katya Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. If we start talking about the latest champions, I’m sure that first skaters anyone will name is Alena Savchenko and Tanya Volosozhar. That is, ladies again.

But duets, where the skaters work on equal terms, for some reason do not attract the attention of the public, no matter how correctly the elements are performed. It’s not just in pair skating. For example, I never liked Plushenko. He did everything great, he deservedly received all his awards, but no matter what he skated, he remained cold, did not touch the soul. Just like Yura Ovchinnikov. Who jumped better – he or Igor Bobrin? Of course, Yura, there is no need to even argue here.

But everyone remembers Bobrin.

Valentin Nikolaev: Yes. The arenas screamed with delight. And it turns out that he is a phenomenon of a much larger scale in figure skating. For the same reason, I don’t get overly excited when Chen skating. I don’t always like the choice of music, I don’t like it when an athlete skates in whatever clothes. Maybe I’m just too old person who is not used to people skating in rags. In the same way, I did not like it when Yagudin and Plushenko went to training in bloomers. By the way, do you know my joke theory about how figure skating appeared?

Tell me.

Valentin Nikolaev: It’s simple. Skates, as you know, were invented in Holland, where there were always many canals that froze in winter. Once a Dutchman got bored, sitting at home, put on his skates and drove to a friend for a drink. This is how speed skating was born. Drinking, as usual, was not enough, and these two guys decided to look for it in the neighbors. And they went, holding on to each other and doing figures. This is how our sport was born. Although, speaking seriously, figure skating in my understanding is the ability to wear suits and a bow tie …


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