Yana Rudkovskaya: “Women’s figure skating is scarier than show business. Neither men nor pairs have such a concentration of undercurrents, squabbles and intrigues.”
Interview with Yana Rudkovskaya, producer, co-owner of Plushenko’s Angels Academy and wife of Evgeni Plushenko.
source: russian.rt dd. 18th July 2022 by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya
The current evaluation criteria in figure skating do not always objectively reflect the state of affairs, which is why the concentration of undercurrents, squabbles and intrigues in women’s single skating and ice dance goes off scale. This was stated in an interview with RT by producer Yana Rudkovskaya. According to her, in show business, many processes are much more transparent.
You said not so long ago that figure skating in Russia is a much tougher thing than show business. Can you explain what you mean?
Yana Rudkovskaya: Of course. In Russian show business, there are both public and unspoken rules that everyone obeys in one way or another. If the rule suddenly stops working, a revolution happens. Suppose someone undeservedly received some kind of award – this is discussed quite openly, and people are not afraid to raise such topics. The person who received this award may get booing – in a word, the situation begins to improve one way or another. I have been in this for more than 17 years and in general I can say that the vast majority of music awards are awarded on the basis of merit, and not as a result of some secret intrigue. If you’re number one in streaming and on radio, it’s impossible not to recognize your success.
In general, show business is a rather difficult story. But when I came to the sport, all my previous experience seemed, as they say, a slight fright. Women’s figure skating is scarier.
I thought it should have been the other way around.
Yana Rudkovskaya: So it seemed to me too, well, what, really, can I face in sports? What can be simpler and more honest than sports? Faster, higher, stronger – and you won. But in relation to figure skating, this turned out to be an illusion. For some, for example, the judges stubbornly see the wrong edge or under-rotations, while for someone exactly the same edges and under-rotations go unnoticed. Why? What about the components? This is generally a separate song. Isn’t it logical that the rules should be the same for everyone? How can you get 10th for components if you made mistakes in the program? It turns out that the one who has more rights and more weight wins. The performance of an athlete, the quality of his skating become secondary in this scheme.
Does it only seem or is it really a a stone in the garden of Eteri Tutberidze?
Yana Rudkovskaya: What does she have to do with this? These are rather questions to Alexander Lakernik – he invented this system. Previously, everything was clear, if you fell, no matter what you do next, you can no longer get 6.0. And now the system allows you to fall and get a ten for the components. Is it fair? I think not. In principle, I have lived to the age when you can afford to tell the truth, regardless of who it is addressed to.
As for Tutberidze, all last year’s stories, all my disagreements with one or another of her actions do not cancel the fact that Eteri Georgievna is not only a cool coach, but also a cool manager. She raised women’s single skating to an unattainable level, built a unique system. It would be foolish not to acknowledge this.
But other schools are not standing still. Other coaches have appeared who build their training systems in the same way, invest in athletes a huge amount of their strength, nerves, time, and attention. Children jump ultra-c in the same way, achieve results. Therefore, I want the competition, especially in women’s skating, to be as fair as possible.
Why exactly in women’s single skating?
Yana Rudkovskaya: Because neither men nor pairs have such a concentration of undercurrents, squabbles and intrigues as there are in women’s skating or ice dance. I say this as a person who has been watching all these processes very carefully for all five years that the Plushenko Academy exists. Those intrigues that existed in figure skating during the times of Alexei Yagudin and Evgeni Plushenko rivarly are just baby talk compared to what is happening on the women’s ice now.
When a young specialist just starts working, he is constantly limites in some way: his students are taken away from him, judges do not work for him. All coaches go through this in one way or another. Maybe this is just some effect of delayed justice and you just need to wait? After all, Sasha Trusova and Alena Kostornaia returned from Plushenko to Tutberidze, primarily for a judging resource, not because they lacked something.
Yana Rudkovskaya: The whole story with the transfers of the girls from Tutberidze and back happened, I think, prematurely for our academy. That’s why it ended like this. Now, for example, we have clearly separated groups that Evgeni works with personally. They are called – EB1, EB2 and EB3. In one of these groups, nine athletes jump quadruple jumps and triple axels, and they learned this from our team.
What is good about the Tutberidze system – it has collected the best of the best, who flock to the school from all over the country and wage a continuous fight among themselves to become number one. We do not have such a huge flow. Now 98 children are training at our site in Gorki-10, of which, at best, a fifth can be called super talented. Despite this, we treat each child with the utmost care.
Nikita, Sofia and Kirill Sarnovsky, as well as Sonya Titova came four years ago, Sonya Muravyova has been skating for the third year, she has been jumping a triple axel for a year now and now works on quadruple jumps. It is clear that children feel care for themselves, sometimes they ask for something, and we try to satisfy these requests. This is mostly my task, as one of the founders and investors, to develop the school, marketing, PR, and attract sponsors. Thanks to the latter, all of our talented children have advertising contracts, including individual ones.
Do not forget that we are not a state, but a private school. It is much more difficult for private schools to stay afloat – own ice is very expensive, electricity costs are crazy. Not so long ago, I talked with Ilia Averbukh, he also noticed, they say, it’s not profitable to take on such a business.
Well, from a business standpoint, this is really unprofitable. Why do you need it? Evgeni, in his recent interview, called the cost of the academy the price of a dream. But you, as the business manager of the entire project, must have some final and at the same time profitable goal?
Yana Rudkovskaya: Our academy is already not unprofitable – we have reached zero. In general, I want to realize a business idea, and not just my husband’s dream. At the moment, Evgeni and I are investing our own funds in the construction of sports arenas, now we have completed a number of large halls, and in August we’re officially opening a hotel for athletes. Now they already live there, and everyone really likes that it is only 50 meters to the arena.
In the future, I would like to make some ideal model on the basis of the academy, and then transfer all this into a franchise system. There is already interest in making a similar complex in St. Petersburg, where there is already a school that Evgeni opened together with Roman Rotenberg, in other cities of Russia. Create figure skating centers where children could practice according to the Alexei Mishin’s system, according to the Plushenko’s system, where coaches would come for training, bring their athletes to the training camps. And so that it becomes a chain of schools.
Can such private schools be profitable?
Yana Rudkovskaya: Figure skating, unfortunately, cannot be profitable in principle if there are no hockey schools also, the Night League does not play, and tournaments are not held. In Moscow, just for this purpose, we are building arenas with stands. We declare absolutely all our income, pay taxes, all the coaches of our school and other staff officially receive a large salary – in this regard, from the very beginning I was categorically against the “envelope” system (when parents bring cash to coaches personally – ed.), I think that it has become obsolete back in the 1990s.
Accordingly, people can take loans and feel protected in a certain sense. I have never worked in the state system, which is probably why the mechanism by which our business is now being built is completely clear to me. The main principle is that if I myself grow and develop as an entrepreneur, then the people who work with me in the team must also grow. Therefore, I am so proud to say that we have reached zero: for the first three years it was a complete minus and a continuous infusion of our own money.
What are the sources for covering costs now?
Yana Rudkovskaya: Accommodation of athletes at the academy, the constant system of camps, hockey. In the future, the school system will cover the expenses. It’s like a chain of fitness centers: if you have one club, it’s not profitable. If there are many clubs in a single system, this is a completely different story.
In general, my idea is not only about sports, but also about skating for health. At the beginning of next year, we plan to open a public school, led by Vladimir Lelyukh, who had previously worked at Khrustalny for a long time. Children will have the opportunity to come to classes three times a week for money that is quite small for figure skating – about 10-15 thousand rubles a month (160 – 250 USD).
There is a very large residential area, so the demand for available ice should also be high. We want to create elementary training groups at this school for three or four hundred children, and the most talented ones will later be transferred to our sports groups, where, as I said, everyone will have either grants or individual sponsors.
Where is the guarantee that the most talented children will go to the Plushenko Academy?
Yana Rudkovskaya: There is no such guarantee, of course. They can go to Khrustalny, CSKA, the Figure Skating Army, somewhere else. I understand very well: if we suddenly begin to lose to these schools in the coaching staff or management, the athletes will start to leave us, any contracts won’t keep them. There are no contracts in our country that cannot be violated. Not to mention, you will never force a child to train against their will. Contracts only work when it comes to big athletes. If this is a child whose parents for some reason are no longer satisfied with the coach or the conditions, are we going to sue for 300 thousand or 500 thousand rubles spent on this child (5-8k USD)? No, of course not.
Why do you even bother looking for additional financial support for athletes who skate with you today and go to other specialists tomorrow? What difference does it make to you whether people bring you sponsorship money or their hard-earned money?
Yana Rudkovskaya: You can’t even imagine how often we hear this question from our friends. Like, what is our interest here? It’s one thing if you ask for money for the academy, but not for each of the athletes.
Well, I’m talking about the same.
Yana Rudkovskaya: It really happened so in out school that individual sponsors pay for skates, and costumes, and additional lessons, and camps, and permanent residence at the academy, if necessary. Why are we doing this? You know, once I saw how one of the women, whose daughter is training at our academy and is really very talented, brings her child to training by hitchhiking. They walk to the skating rink from the highway in the snow, in the rain, in the cold, in the blizzard. And they return home the same way. I can’t describe how I felt looking at this. I thought that if I found myself in a similar situation, I would probably remember anyone who helped me for the rest of my life.
For some reason, it seems to me that not all parents are able to appreciate everything that your give their children.
Yana Rudkovskaya: This also happens. When you see that people take some things for granted, and even dissatisfied, to be honest, the desire to help decreases. But another feeling is much stronger – when you see a talented child and understand that you can give him the opportunity to realize his dream, you really want to do it.
Doesn’t it break you that the well-being of many families is built on the very hard work of their own children, but at the same time the children themselves are absolutely powerless and legally have no right to vote?
Yana Rudkovskaya: I’m afraid you greatly underestimate the children of today. In our shows, for example, a fairly large number of juniors and very small skaters skate, and it can be completely impossible to tell a child that he will not be involved somewhere. Another question is that I would start signing some contracts with children, or rather, with their parents, no earlier than at 14 years old. At this age, athletes already clearly understand what is happening, they begin to feel responsibility, which cannot be forced on a child.
What could we do with the same Nastya Zinina, who kept saying that she would jump, despite the leg injury and all the prohibitions associated with it? So she jumped to much more serious problems. And in the end, the head coach is always to blame for this – Evgeni Viktorovich, who, by the way, was terribly worried about this whole story. Especially when he found out that Nastya was taking additional lessons from coaches, whom he once kicked out of the academy. One – for beating a child on the ice, the other – for systematic drunkenness. The girl is really amazing. And the parents are wonderful, intelligent people.
What is the solution?
Yana Rudkovskaya: Only one: to establish very strict rules in the academy in terms of sports discipline and obeying to the coach. A child shouldn’t control the process.
Do you often have to deal with parents who take their children to Plushenko only because they know that there you will give money?
Yana Rudkovskaya: I wouldn’t say that. There were several stories. There was a case when a girl came after an injury and her parents said right away that they were not going to pay for anything themselves, since their daughter is a star and this must be taken into account. In such cases, Zhenya has a standard answer that there is only one star in the Plushenko Academy – it is he. If you become Olympic champions, you will also be stars.
Evgeni refused the girl, by the way. He offered her parents a membership for 50 thousand rubles (800 USD) and said: “If you want to work under these conditions, I will be happy to train your daughter.” And free training, like an individual sponsor must be deserved first. How Sonya Titova, Kirill Sarnovsky, Sonya Muravyova, Veronika Zhilina and our other athletes deserved.
Many famous athletes, like coaches, leave the sport with the feeling that they were not given enough: money, attention, power, support from government agencies … Theoretically, Plushenko could also have this feeling: four Olympics each of which he returned with a medal, ten victories at the World and European Championships, and at the end he had a lot of injuries and the need to build his life from scratch. You, as the closest person, didn’t feel hurt?
Yana Rudkovskaya: You know, when we received a state grant for our show this year for the first time, everyone wrote about it, as if something out of the ordinary had happened. Although Tatiana Navka and Ilia Averbukh previously received exactly the same grants for their shows. That’s right, especially now when skaters don’t have the opportunity to earn money by skating in shows abroad. For example, until this year, Zhenya went to perform in Japan every spring and summer, plus he took his show to Italy, Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia …
As for your question, I will remember for the rest of my life one of the first conversations with Evgeni’s mother, Tatiana Vasilievna. When we first met, she asked: “Do you know why he became who he became? Because he worked very hard, he wanted to become the best, and I constantly said that no one would ever bring him anything on a silver platter. That if he wants to achieve something, he must achieve it with his own work.”
It seems to me that thanks to those mother’s words, Zhenya has never expected that he would be given something. It’s just that it’s hard for him as a coach now because he grew up in a system where a fall meant that you lost. Although that system now is called imperfect, in a certain sense, it was much more fair than the current one.
As Tarasova likes to repeat, a fall does not prevent victory.
Yana Rudkovskaya: Well, it’s hard to argue with Tatiana Anatolyevna, she is a guru. It’s just that gurus also make mistakes sometimes.
Do you mean the not too flattering assessment that Tarasova expressed regarding the prospects of your son Sasha?
Yana Rudkovskaya: Well no. I just think that not a single person is immune from erroneous statements. Do you know why I have always treated and will treat Tarasova in a very special way? Because figure skating has always been the main thing in her life. Everything else, it seems to me, was very much relegated to the background.
In addition to Tarasova, I can name only one such person in figure skating – this is Yuzuru Hanyu. Yes, he is much younger and still an active athlete, but his whole life is subordinated to ice – there is simply nothing else in it. You can argue as much as you want, whether it’s good or bad, right or wrong, but for me personally, such devotion causes enormous respect.
Perhaps you should have found an opportunity to invite Tarasova to your academy, as you have invited many other coaches?
Yana Rudkovskaya: Before our quarrel on the Internet about Sasha, Evgeni discussed this with her, they were constantly in touch. But I have to explain one thing.
When they say “Husband and wife are one Satan,” this definitely does not apply to Evgeni and me. We often have different opinions, especially regarding sports. And then Zhenya tried to explain to me that Tarasova was right in her own way when she said that she did not see any special data in Sasha. That he himself did not stand out at the age of ten, until he got to Mishin. Yes, he jumped great, but it was Mishin who made him that Plushenko.
I just had mixed feelings. With all due respect to Tatiana Anatolyevna, as a mother, I categorically did not understand her. We were just then on a tour from nine cities and people gave standing ovations to Sasha’s performances. Even if we assume that they did this solely to support the child, there are a fairly large number of specialists, including Mishin, Rafael Arutyunyan, Nikolai Morozov, Ilya Kulik, who note that even now Sasha looks like a copy of his father on the ice, he skates very well, shows incredible emotions. Believe me, I am a rather critical person and I am able to understand that all these words are not spoken because we are Sasha’s parents. That’s why I didn’t restrain. Although Zhenya still remained of the opinion that I shouldn’t have got involved in that discussion.
Something else surprises me: you, like no one else, know the cost of Plushenko’s victories, what injuries he had to go through. At the same time, you do not completely exclude a similar fate for your son. Isn’t it a pity to throw a child into this?
Yana Rudkovskaya: At one time, my eldest sons, thanks to sports, or rather, thanks to Zhenya, who made them fell in love with sport, have changed a lot in terms of discipline and organization. And just looking at them, I realized very clearly that sport, like no other occupation, is able to discipline boys, make them people with an active lifestyle, able to stand up for themselves. Therefore, we sent Sashenka to hockey quite early. To be honest, it didn’t matter to me whether he would become a hockey player or figure skater.
What is it like to live with an outstanding person?
Yana Rudkovskaya: You have to keep adjusting. We are both with characters, but I clearly feel certain boundaries. I never get into with my remarks about Zhenya’s work as a coach. I can give advice on the program, dresses, if they ask me about it, but this does not mean that the dress will be changed if I did not like it.
Zhenya, by the way, has a peculiarity: he works the best only in a male team. At the same time, you will never hear a swear word from him. I can, he is not. That’s how parents brought him up. In our family, it is he who is an island of stability and tranquility. One word – Olympic champion.
Do you think it is possible to come up with a project of Eurovision magnitude in figure skating?
Yana Rudkovskaya: Actually, there is an ice “Oscar”.
Which never turned into a significant event due to the pandemic.
Yana Rudkovskaya: In order for such a project to become significant and successful, it must look like an Oscar – without any discounts on whether it is ice or something else.
Any project can be made spectacular and large-scale, it only takes three things: desire, a cool creative team, and funding. There should be a beautiful, memorable opening, closing, people should be looking forward for these ceremonies. Voting is a different story. Just to gather people and announce who is the best coach, the best athlete or the best newcomer, sorry, it’s not an Oscar.
But there are many events that can be promoted globally. It can be both a professional championship and a jumping event – in this regard, Channel One has already launched a very good story. It just needs to be improved.
Now in Russia there are several ice shows touring the country: Averbukh, Navka, Plushenko. Isn’t it difficult to share the field of ice show business?
Yana Rudkovskaya: Answer you honestly? Of course, it is difficult to fight with Tanya. Although the word “fight” is probably the wrong one. It’s just that while Tanya was not on this market, we earned much more. Well, and Ilia Averbukh, I believe, was more comfortable in all respects before Plushenko has come to this marked. This is normal: when a new and very high-quality player enters the market with good sponsors, support and, accordingly, opportunities, this cannot but affect the overall business.
How did you manage to get Alexandra Trusova on your show, despite the fact that you, to put it mildly, are not friends with her coach?
Yana Rudkovskaya: I have a very good relationship with Sasha and her parents, despite her departure from the academy. Evgeni then reacted more emotionally, because he was really very upset by the result of the World Championships in Stockholm, where Sasha finished third. But the more I think about that situation now, the more I am convinced that everything in our life should happen on time. Perhaps then there was simply not enough experience, or maybe some kind of life wisdom. It just becomes clear now, when experience is gained with each new competition, with each season.
As for Trusova, I personally really like her character, and perhaps that’s why there have never been any problems between us. I really regretted, that Sasha, who was ready to win the World Championships with her quad starfall, took only bronze. Perhaps a combination of circumstances played a role or too much disappointment with the result in Stockholm, I don’t know.
The disappointment was really huge then, and on both sides.
Yana Rudkovskaya: It’s probably easier for me, because I’m not a coach, but I just love Sasha very much. In general, I love people who overcome themselves, overcome circumstances. Trusova is unique in this regard. For those 15 years that I have been next to Evgeni, I have never met another such athlete. There are stubborn ones, there are persistent ones, there are talented ones, but to combine these qualities with an incredible ability to work hard in training is an absolutely exceptional option. She’s still a child in some ways, dogs and all that, but she’s so mature about everything that helps her grow that I just admire it. When I say that for me Trusova is a real Olympic champion, I put everything that we are talking about now into this phrase.
I understand you perfectly. With all that said, Sasha really deserved the Olympic victory more than anyone else. Like Evgeni Plushenko in 2010.
Yana Rudkovskaya: So for me Plushenko is the real champion of those Games. If you remember what insane popularity he had after Vancouver … As soon as Plushenko’s name was put on the poster, tickets were simply swept away – either in Japan, in Korea, or in Europe. Everything was sold out and none of the managers cared at all whether Evan Lysacek would skate in their show or not.
So is Trusova. It is she who is now the headliner of our show, like Evgeni. When Sasha jumped her five quads in Beijing, but didn’t become the first, I remember turning to Zhenya and saying: “She will become the most popular figure skater in Russia.” The whole world was watching her. It’s just incredible what she did.
For many years I wanted to ask you this: how could such a cool PR professional like you fail to calculate the situation in Sochi-2014, when Plushenko suddenly turned from a truly national hero into the most criticized person of the Russian team? And how could such a mediocre scenario of withdrawing from an individual competitions be allowed?
Yana Rudkovskaya: If it really was a scenario, believe me, I would have calculated it to the smallest detail. The trouble is that what happened could not be predicted at all. After the team event, Zhenya signed all withdrawal documents, all of which have been preserved to this day. But the next day, at three in the morning, right after the doping control, we were dragged to a meeting. I still have that picture before my eyes: Alexei Mishin, Alexander Gorshkov, and Vitali Mutko is calling – and they all say that the situation is hopeless and you need to participate. Zhenya tried to object – he was in terrible pain. And yet he was persuaded.
As the surgeon Ilia Pekarsky, who operated on Zhenya in Israel, later said, if the husband had not taken off after the warm-up, but had gone to skate the program and fell, he would most likely have died right on the ice. Zhenya himself admitted latter that the pain was so strong that he did not really understand what was happening to him. Probably, I am also to blame here: I should have dissuaded Evgeni from competing. But he was too strongly convinced that only he alone is able to help the team out.
Ilia Malinin: “Jumping is my strong side. I think that I will be recognized as a good jumper. But if I want to achieve a good result at the Olympics, then I need to improve other aspects of skating.”