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Figure Skating
Alexander Gorshkov:
Ludmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov
Photo © Victor Velikzhanin
1976. Ludmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov

Alexander Gorshkov. Born October 8th, 1946 in Moscow. Competed in ice dance with Ludmila Pakhomova from 1966 to 1976. USSR Honored Master of Sportrs. Six times European champion, six times World Champion, 1976 Olympic champion. Member of World Figure Skating Hall of Fame. ISU Ice Dance Technical Committee chairman since 1998. Married, and has a daughter.

The way people loved Ludmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov 30 years ago couldn't be compared to anything. It's not even about them winning the first ever Olympic ice dance gold in 1976. For the whole country, they represented an unachievable, mysterious and beautiful life - fantastic music, costumes, ability to dance elegantly, winning new titles year after year. With all that, Pakhomova and Gorshkov were constantly surrounded by air of unbelievalby pure human relationship, dignity, and none of backstabbing that is so common in sport, particularly in skating.

10 years after their retirerement from skating, Ludmila was gone. She died from cancer in 1986.

Gorshkov was in the skating scene, but he was in the shadows. He didn't participate in society events, he didn't try to turn attention to himself. Somehow, the qualites that set Gorshkov the athlete apart, appeared in his new life - patience, insistence, ability to reach his goals and still, the human decency and modesty. In 1998, the Olympic champion became the first Russian to head the ISU Technical committee.

Gorshkov turned 60 on October 8th. When I came to interview him before this date, I saw the eyes of a happy person and in my head, I couldn't connect it to the serious number 60.

- We are used to think that people are thinking about their lives before they turned a big - 0 number. What are you thoughts?

- I won't say anything new. We all see that with every year, the time goes faster. Before, everything took longer. Now it's like you are looking at the blinking lightes in the subway's tunnel. The further we get, the faster time flies. I don't remember who said it - the bad part is not us getting old, it's our soul staying young.

- In other words, you don't feel your age?

- You start taking your age as the reality when you feel that your physical abilites become more limited - you can't do everything you did 10 or 20 years ago. You are pushed to think - will my life be as interesting? As for work, my life rhythm haven't changed in 10 years. It's time to think about retirement, and I wasn't even asking what is the retirement age in our country. For me, it's completely abstract. I can't imagine how I could be done with work, skating, and the daily schedule. I know that some start growing roses, for example, when they retire. This is not for me.

- Does it mean your job is very interesting?

- I think I'm lucky that I got the chance to do something that I fell in love with and still love. Although, I do it in a bit different quality now.

- That's what I'm saying. In the world of sports, athletes and coaches are very respected, but the officers are looked down upon a bit. You represent the latter.

- Of course, the athletes and coaches are the main mechanism. In my time, the word «officers» meant all of them were people from the outside who never got higher than Degree III, but came to manage us. I have a different situation. I came from the sport and I've been working since my competitive career was over. At one time, I was called a State Coach, then the Head Coach, even though I never had anything to do with the coaching job.

- You didn't want it or it didn't work out?

- When Mila and I stopped performing, naturally we stated to thinking what to do next. Mila always liked coaching and that's what she started to do. We never talked about working together. We saw too many families when both husband and wife coahced and I can't say we were inspired by their example.

When we came to then Sports Commitee Chairman Sergei Pavlov and told him we won't compete anymore, he immediately offered me a job at State Sports Committee. I took it. That's how my post-sport career started.

- Did you have other offers?

- Yes, but it's not in my nature to try looking for the greener pastures, especially since I've already gave my word. Maybe this is not the best quality, but that's how I am. Almost immediately, I was appointed the Jr. Team's head coach, and later - USSR sr. team head coach, and at the same time, I started judging competition. 22 years ago, I was elected to ISU technical commitee for the first time. I won't hide it - I wanted to get there very much.

- Why?

- When I was competing, the skaters held ISU in such respect. Technical committees deinfed the development policy of their disciplines. For example, Laurence Demi from England was heading ice dance tech committee and sometimes he would come down to Earth, to us - that's how we saw it. He would come to skaters and coaches, explain some things, voice some opinions. I can't say I wanted to be like him, but then I started to understand that tech committee is the «kitchen» of figure skating.

After being on tech committee for 14 years, I took Demi's place. This is my third term. I can say that the chairman's job takes more time and effort than from a regular committee member, especially now.

My predecessor and friend, Austrian Hans Kuchera, headed the Committee for three terms in a row as well. During his time, there were no big changes, maybe the number of compulsory dances at the official events were cut and several new dances were introduced. I got right into hot spot with all the changes.

- Were you terrified, at least initially, by Ottavio Chinquanta, a new ISU President's initiatives?

- Overall, it was logical. If you remember, there were talks after '98 Games about taking the ice dance out of Olympics. After the SLC judging scandal that resulted to awarding two sets of gold medals in pairs, everyone started screaming tha not only ice dance, figure skating has to go. That's why this solution came up. It's not about new judging system only. Cinquanta offered a different approach to the whole sport. I have to say that skaters and coached adjusted to his ideas earlier than the judges.

- You always held the reputation of compltely conflict-free person. I think figure skating is not an environment where people are like to have conflictfree and even friendly relationship.

- I wouldn't say that. Naturally, there is tension when you are talking about high results. It could end up with arguments and figthing, but it's working moments, not defining moments. It depends on the people. I have many friends among coaches, and people who I competed against, and people who were on the team with me. If it didn't work out with someone, I don't remember them.

In most cases, the relationship betwen rivals is made intense from the outside to create the intrigue. I don't think Evgeni Plushenko and Alexei Yagudin didn't like each other as strong as the newspapers used to write about when they competed. Each of them was just doing his job.

It was always like that in sport. I'll tell you sincerely that it wasn't easy for Mila and me in 1975. By that time, it looked like we were done with all foreign rivals, but here come Irina Moiseeva and Andrei Minenkov. Moreover, they came so close at Europens. They skated great free dance and they were wonderfully greeted. It was upseting to share popularity, but it was our fault since we became less interesting that season. It silly to be upset with the competitors. Upset feelings are not the best advisor especially when you compete on ice and not the backstage.

That was the first time when I thought that most of us are not likely to view the rival from the achievement point of view. It's much easier to allow yourself to be annoyed and then it'll transform in jealousy. I realized than that you can clearly evaluate the other person achievements only when you are confident and have a feeling of self-esteem.

- Just like Alexei Yagudin evaluated Plushenko's victory in Torino, calling it exceptional in one of his interviews?

- Exactly. If Yagudin's victory in SLC wasn't as great and if he felt upset, unsatisfied, or have some similar feelings after he left the sport, it would've been hard for him to say something like that and to say it so sincerely.

- I think Olympic champions are likely to have enough self-esteem. Any way you look, you won't earn more fame in other fields, just because there is no other profession, except sport, where you could officially become the best in the World.

- I agree, but at the same time it sets some bar for everything you do afer sport. You want to stay on the level and you try hard. I'm not an exception. Being elected ISU Tech committee chairman three times in a row shows it. I don't think people vote for me only because I, Sasha Gorshkov, was ice dance Olympic champion once.

- Does the title help or does it make your life difficult?

- It was making it difficult at first. The total admiration and world-wide fame relax you a lot. To some degree, you lose the ability to fight and make your way to the top. You start believing that everyone loves you and that is how it'll always be. Suddenly, you notice that not everybody loves you, and some want to step all over you, and you reputation is shrinking. You start fighting for it again and it could be much harder than in sport.

- Did you ever regret that at your time there were no bonuses or opportunites that the skaters have now?

- If I say no, nobody will believe me. I like to joke that during the time we competed, Mila and I earned the huge number of crystal vases and there is a good thing about it - when you are going to a birthday party, you don't have to think about the gifts. Now you don't have to be an Olympic champion to get a completely different money, but these thoughts usually come to your head when there are financial difficulties and you start thinking about where you could get the money.

- Were you ever realyl in need?

- I always had a pretty well-paid job. Of course, there was situations in life, like when Mila got very sick. She needed expensive medicine and my salary was enough for one week. So, we had to sell some things that we earned before to make it through.

Sometimes I think about how our life would be if Mila and I competed now. I have no answer. I think the morals are seriosly lost their values. The biggest thing is to steal. The form of entertainment is to make fake medication and buy islands and villas with the money earned from it. I can't call it anything else but morals degrading. We had different rules in life. Of course, we wanted to have something and go somewhere, but when you have too much, you stop understanding what's really important and that's money is not everything.

- About the money. After Torino Games, there was a row of interviews where skaters who became the champions said that they are ready to stay in the competition only if they get a decent compensation from RFSF. At the same time, I know that they and their coaches, in addition to President's Stipend, recieved and keep receiving pretty large grants. Nobody limits their ability to perform in shows. So, is it a blackmail or the skaters expenses are not comparable with their earnings?

- I don't know who makes what because the skaters make so much in the shows, it's impossible to track. The eligibility rules are very liberal in that aspect. To lose the eligible status, you have to have a big disagreement with your own federation and international federation as well.

On the other hand, if skater says he is done competing, he has the right to live how he wants. Everybody decides for himself. Mila and I left because we were just tired. We won the Worlds six times and encountered an uneasy situation. When you are going for the title, you compete with others. When you won, you start competing with yourself. You have to constantly remember that today, you have to be better than yesterday or a year ago - in music, programs, condition, mood, because nobody will forgive you a step back.

These thought exhaust you. The moment comes and you understand that mental and physical effort is not worthy of the result.

- Denis Pankratov, two-time Olympic champion in swimming said something like that couple of years ago. When he touched the wall first at Atlanta Games, he realized that this moment wasn't worth of all previous years of sacrifice and suffering. What did you feel in Insbruk?

- We felt about the same. We waited for so long for dance to be included in the Olympics, and when the wait was over, the problems started.

- Do you mean your 1975 surgery?

- That too. Nobody thought it would end up so difficult. Even the surgeon couldn't explain the cause of the illness. First, there was a hole in the pleura, and when we were flying from the Europeans, through Helsinki to Moscow, I turned when I was on the plane, and the branch of pulmonary artery broke. It hurt so much, I couldn't sit in the bus that took us from the plane to the terminal. I was standing on my toes, squatting when the bus hit a bump.

At first, everyone decided I had myositis because it was cold somewhere. They recommended to go home and take a hot bath, and that's what I did. In 30 second, my vision got blurry. Somehow, I crawled to bed and lost the consciousness.

Next day, one of team doctros came to me. He was considered an expert on myositis. He put the tiger ointment on my back, put the pillow on it, and pressed it so hard, I felt like a hot iron was on my back. Then the doctor said, «Get up fast, and bend several times». I got up, bended, and fell. The doctor left. Next day, the others came to do the EKG. So, I made it to the hospital on the day three and went under the knife right away.

- Why didn't you turn to experts right away?

- I was afraid. All of us are crazy. I thought that if I won't be able to go to Colorado Springs Worlds, our participation in Olympics will be questionable. I can't say I was hiding my condition much, but I didn't advertize it.

- How did you manage to recover for the Games?

- We were going to compete at the Worlds despite the surgery. I started training in the hospital right after I came out of anestethia. I tried to get up right away. It was very important to find out fast what was cut from the inside of me and whether I'll be able to move after it. So, in a day, after persistant threats I was moved from intensive care to regular floor. In six weeks, Mila and I went to the USA. We found a place to practice - a separate rink at the US Air Force Academy sports complex, so nobody would see me. For the international community, we had a legend - I came to the Worlds right after the bad flu.

Later, I thought about it many times. If the Worlds were held anywhere else, we would've been able to compete. The altitude in Coloardo Springs is more than 2,000 meters. Healthy athletes can't always take it. Add in the time difference. I had enough for half a program at the first practice, and I couldn't skate it to the end. So, I had to deal with the fact that I wouldn't be able to compete, especially since Mosieeva/Minenkov were able to replace us.

- In other words, you gave those skaters the chance to beceme the World champions in your absense?

- It just happened. Thanks to Anna Sinilkina, then RFSF president, for making a deal for us to participate in the exhibition and later go on tour in USA for a month. By the end of the tour we were almost back in shape. Later, there was one more tour of Siberia and there I felt completely confident. It was very important psychologically.

- After you and Pakhomova left the sport in 1976, did you ever wanted to return?

- Of course. Making a decision to stop skating is not easy for any active athlete along with the fact that you are going into nowhere straight from the top. When we say that fame is a burden, we are being coquetish to say the list. I watched our great athletes for many years and I can't say that any one of them was really burdened by it. In any case, when it's suddenly of your shoulders, you start missing it very quick.

Something else is really hard - knowing that afer you are done with your career, you'll have to catch up with people your age, those who studied, got professions, and won certain position in life while you trained and climbed to the podium. You have to start from zero. The most hurtful is watching the competition and not participating. Sometimes you have this feeling for five - six years.

- Did you loose ground as Russian representaive at the international arena when all top skaters left the sport now? In a sense, in one shot there was nothing left.

- This happened in figure skating history severa times and not only with us. Remeber GDR, USA. How many medals skaters from these countries took at the Worlds before and what is happening now? I don't want to talk about all the disciplines, but in ice dance Russia had just as serious problems during the last two four-year cycles. Didn't we solve it? So, I wouldn't make a tragedy out of it. Moreover, none of the best Russian skaters made the final decision.

- What would you wish for yourself on your 60th birthday?

- You see... I can only enjoy the life if I can live it to the fullest, like it was during all those years and I want to have this chance as long as possible.



© Елена Вайцеховская, 2003
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