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Figure Skating - Coaches
Alexei Gorshkov:
Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin
Photo © Alex Wilf
Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin

The biggest sensation of the Grand Prix so far is Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin winning the ice dance event in China. This team was ninth in Torino, and in Nanjing, they've placed ahead of Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto. If Domnina and Shabalin win Grand Prix event in Moscow, they'll make the final with the same result as the World champions Albena Denkova and Maxim Stavijski. For several yeras, both teams trained under the same coach, Alexei Gorshkov.

- Alexei, judging by your first reaction in China, you didn't believe right away that your team was ahead of Americans. Did you think it was unrealistic?

- It's different. I was very upset because Oksana and Maxim got the deduction for the second combo lift in the free dance and one point was taken away for taking too much time. It was upsetting because they were going head to head with the leaders after two dances, losing only 0.3. Not only we competed with Americans as equals at practices, we just «took them out». And here's that point!

- Was it unexpected?

- Technically, if they do a lift in 11-12 seconds when we start working, I know that in a month they'll definetely do it in the planned 10. We had to work more on that lift. Tatiana Tarasova visited our practices several times and adviced us to change the layout a little so the element would be more effective. We changed once, twice, three times, and the final choice was made about 10 days before the competition. We didn't have enough time to practice it well. When Maxim and Oksana were done in the free program and were leaving the ice, I said right away that we drew one point on the second lift. However, at the end Belbin and Agosto also made mistakes, losing two points.

- What do you mean when you say, «took them out» in practice?

- That's were the competition starts. The singles try to outjump each other. One does jumps at one side at the rink, and another one - at the opposite, and it's like they don't see each other. True, it happened before that whatever happened in competition is different from what happened in practice. In ice dance, ability to build your work in public has a huge meaning. Every coach has a certain set of elements to be done in pracitce to define the skater condition. There are tricks - when the competitors skate slow part and skip some part of the program, you put your fast part right in there. There are many tricks. So, everyone who were at practices at Nanjing, new that we were stronger.

- Did you plan for the events to go that way?

- It's not my first year watching the ice dance. Of course, we can brag everywhere now that we defeated the Olympic silver medalists. However, I realize that despite the title, the Americans are the soap bubble. They were always the bubble. They are able team, they skate well, but they should've not been among the medal contenders at the Games. It was done artificially, first of all by the people who are on the technical commitee.

Andzej Dostatni is the most influencial person there. He's been living in America for many yeras and the annual exam results for technical specialists depend on him a lot. It's no accident that no Russian judge can pass this exam. Americans and Canadians pass it....

It's no secret that Dostatni consults the Americans even though officially he has not right to socilize with anyone. This is one of the reasons why Belbin and Agosot got level four for their footwork and lifts at the same time Navka and Kostomarov, Denkova/Stavijski, and Grushina/Goncharov - only level two. Kolia Morozov decided to outsmart everybody once. He made the same lift that Americans had for his Ukrainian team. He just copied it. So, at the Grand Prix the Americans got level four again, and Grushina/Goncharov - level two.

It's really a scary tendency. We are used to blaming the judges, but what do they have to do with it when ten of them are on the panel, and the results are defined by a technical committee of three people. And two people can always make a deal, excluding the third one. And it's easy from there. Give one team level three, another team level four, and they'll finish with one point difference.

- What do you say to your skaters in that case?

- They understand it. What I like about Domnina and Shabalin is that there is no hysteria. For as long as we've been working, they realistically see their level and others' level, and they are aware that the only thing that depends on them is how they skate. It's unreal to predict the result. You can finish at one spot with one technical committee at the desk, and completely different with another.

Their rivals are Belbin and Agosto, simply because they will most likely stay until the next Games, and maybe even for four more years. We are thinking about it too.

Now, we just work. We did nice programs - we are satisifed. We improved technically - it's good.

- Nice programs, are they the results of search and thought or are they a coincidence?

- We were told last year that our free program is no good. The argument was that we skated it at Calgary Worlds, and the Canadians didn't applaud. i remember Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh skating their rock'n'roll in Washington DC. Whatever they did - shook their heads, all other body parts, and no reaction from the arena.

Oksana and Max are now at the level where anything can be done. We didn't think about placing in the Olympic season. We knew all the efforts were for the team number one, and that's why our program were more developmental. This year, we decided to do something new and more interesting. We usually don't have any arguments. We sit down, talk, and discuss the options. Sometimes Sergei Petukhov, our choreographer, just says let's take a CD, go to the hall, move in front of the mirror and see how it comes out.

- You've became a coach for the country's top team for the first time. Does it feel different?

- Of course. I was going for that goal knowing it'll definetely happen, so I'm not burdened by responsibility. On the other hand, I feel that the RFSF looks at us differently now. I'm used to solve all the problmes since I worked in Sverdlovsk and when I took my 12 skaters to Bulgaria. Now, I feel the support and readiness to help.

- What do you think about the situation in dance now?

- Denkova/Stavijski don't look bad. I can't say it's something new, like what I and Petukhov tried to put into their skating all the yeras before because we knew that Albena and Max are of a small fracture and a team like that should have something special. what I see now is a good level even though the half of their original dance are Sergei's old ideas. Argentinian tango is one of his favorite themes. When he still danced and was on the tour in Argentina, secretly went to local tango school to study. By the way, Albena called Petukhov in the summer to ask if he could choreograph the exhibition for them at least.

- What is so surprising? If I'm correct, the Bulgarians skated with you for eight years.

If you leave - go. It's not about the money.

- Are you still that upset?

- How can I say it... It was a normal split. I knew that Max and Albena will leave anyway. They were jealous of Domnina and Shabalin because they saw that both Sergei and I enjoy working with that team more. The complaints started. On top of that, Natalia Linichuk, who Denkova and Stavijski went to, guaranteed the Bulgarians would get a medal in Torino. I couldn't do that.

- Were there talks about that?

- Of course! I honestly told them that no doubt they'll be first at 2006 Worlds, even only because the top teams will leave after Torino. There could be no guarantee at the Olympics. Linichuk not only gave her word to Denkova and Stavijski, but also to the Italians Fusar-Poli/Margaglio. As a results, they were fifth and sixth. I can't lie to my skaters.

- Are you skaters ready to compete with Denkova/Stavijski?

- Technically, yes, but we don't have that goal. I'm not looking at this season, I'm looking three years ahead, even though logically, Domnina and Shabalin ready to be in the top three in the World.


© Елена Вайцеховская, 2003
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