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Figure Skating - Coaches
Maxim Shabalin:
Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin
Photo © Ivan Sekretarev
Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin

When I asked the Olympic bronze medalist Maxim Shabalin what is he doing he replied : `resting'. A day later his status had changed - he became part of the committee of the Russian Ice Skating Federation. That's what we started the talk with.

- Maxim, during the conference you had a change to see the inside processes of the figure skating. Would you like to become an insider of that?

- In order to answer your question I would have to be part of those processes for a while. I was merely a viewer in the conference. It was breathtaking. For me even more so since everything was a new thing for me and before the elections I didn't even know who was to become the president and how things would develop from there.

- Do you find it awkward there are no young or even remotely young people in the Russian federation?

- Not anymore. Oksana and I are there. I didn't even know I would elected, but when was asked during the conference whether I would be interested to hold such a position I said yes.

- Did you come to terms with the fact the sport is behind you?

- Yes, and quite easily too. I even like it : finally I have free time and I can do things I never had time to do before. I visit the theatre frequently, for example. I would have clinged to the sport if there was a slightest chance, but with the state of my knees even talking of any chances is an absurd.

- Would you mind if your partner would have continued with another partner?

- If only briefly.

- Do you dream of the Olympics still?

- Not anymore. It was quite hard right after the games, mainly because of the uncertainty of the future. No one was calling, I didn't have to hurry anywhere... It's something I had to get used to.

- As you had to get used to the Olympic games result. I still find it hard to put into words what do I feel about your placement. I realize with the state of your legs the bronze was the best you could had hoped for. On the other hand it's not for the bronze you went to Vancouver.

- No, not the bronze. Hence I have mixed feelings about the medal. It was a hard thing to get. From that perspective our participating the Olympics is a huge win. But we were going for the gold. We were fighting for the gold.

- Really?

- Yes. It became clear we don't have a chance after the Original Dance.

- It is probably hard to be objective while in the middle of the competition compared to the outside glance. But let me remark: it was obvious for the outsiders that the first two places will be decided between the Canadians Virtue-Moir and the Americans Davis-White.

- I disagree. Oh yes, the Canadians - they are brilliant and it's obvious, even though am not overwhelmed by their programmes. If Oxana and I didn't have to make changes in the programmes according to my leg's state I don't think Virtue/Moir had a chance to beat us. What the Americans showed doesn't look like and ice dance to me at all. I can only see the kids who are running fast across the ice and do some acrobatics. If I were a judge at the Original I would put them outside the top 3.

- I understand that in Vancouver the tactics decided with your partner and coaches was the same as in Tallinn during the Europeans: to make a big as possible margin between you and the others during the Compulsory dance and then just hold to it?

- In a way - yes.

* * *

- Did you ever think during the time you suffered the injuries that participating the Europeans 2008 in Zagreb just a couple of days after the surgery was a terrible mistake?

- Thousand times. And was really sorry I did. But it was too late to change anything.

- In all your interviews you insisted it was your idea to skate. I still can't believe you made such a decision without consulting the others.

- It wasn't my first surgery. The first was on the other leg a year prior to that. That operation was a success but since I didn't have any experience I had no idea how important the meniscus is. It was way too late when I realized I didn't work as well as I should had on my knee after the surgery. But then I didn't even know quite how is it done. So I only recovered half a year after the surgery - in the autumn, when the season already began.

I didn't have a clue that if one knee is injured all the pressure will be on the other knee. But I was facing the consequences quite fast: in Grand Prix Final that Oxana and I won I injured the other meniscus. I was hospitalized and after the surgery I had an impression the leg was far better than for the first time: a week after I could walk, step on that leg. This is why I started skating again so fast.

- And there was no one to stop you???

- You probably imagine that someone was holding me back and I was fighting and willing to train? Not quite. The only one who told me I should pressure my leg in stages was the doctor who operated on me. But I didn't take his words seriously. First I thought everything was fine, but when the leg started hurting from all the pressure I didn't want to put all the hard work I've done in the drain. I thought I'll overcome the pain and nothing will happen to the leg.

- For some reason I thought the idea to participate those Europeans was Aleksey Gorshkov's - your then coach. And that it was the reason for your misunderstandings which at the end cause your and Oxana's departure to the USA to Linichuk's group. I also had an impression you were not eager to leave.

- We reached the decision together with Oxana. It was tough. I knew quite well how will Gorshkov take the news. I knew how much he would be offended, that he shall listen to no reason and will stop talking to us altogether. Despite all that I also realized that I do not want to remain in Russia. I felt the change was needed. Some new ideas. After the third surgery when I came back on the ice to Odintsovo I felt I face that ice, those walls. It was all connected in my mind to a constant pain, problems, troubles. So we just left.

- Counting on what? The ever powerful American medicine?

- That was too. But those illusions fast disappeared. I realized quite fast the European medicine is more progressive. In the USA the doctors are so worried about being sued that they don't dare trying anything new. They wait for the others to gain enough positive experience and only after that they would experiment. At least that's my impression.

- The Russian team doctors were not happy about your changing your lifestyle a couple of years before Vancouver. They even related all your injuries with your becoming a vegetarian : according to them the bones became weaker.

- I think it's an exaggeration. I became interested in yoga and, as a result, became a vegetarian after the first surgery - I spent the summer in Elbrus in yoga seminar that I found about on the Internet. Though I've only been a vegetarian for 3 months - then I was checked into the hospital with an appendicitis and after that I felt that my body "wanted" meat. And well, there were the doctor's instructions.

* * *

- What did you gain in the 2 years you spent in the USA?

- First of all the impression of the country. I improved my English alot and realized, I don't want to and will never want to live in the USA-

- Why?

- Tough question. Let's put it that way : I would send my child to study in the USA. It's a positive experience. More than that, I would not try to convince him that living in the USA is a bad thing. I would allow him to make his own mind. But I would feel uncomfortable there. For example the lack of the sidewalks : you get out from the house and realize there is nothing to walk on.

It was hard to come to terms with what people wear on the streets. I hated the way they communicate: for example it seems that the person is talking to you, but they are really hiding behind the usual smiles and the templates. And god forbid to answer `how are you?' with `bad'. It causes them panic, some sort of misunderstanding - how come `bad'?

- On the other hand it must had been hard to be with the same Russian speakers all the time?

- Oxana and I are often asked about our good relationship. I repled: our secret is not seeing each other after the training and resting from each other.

- So you are familiar with a partner overdose state?

- Of course. The same with the coaches overdose. When we just moved to the USA we met with Natalia Linichuk and her husband Gennady Karponosov and discussed the manner of our relationship. Gennady warned us not to expect becoming friends with them. They demanded a distance between the coaches and the skaters. The coach has sometimes to make the skater do things he doesn't really want to. When the coach is your friend you expect an understanding and support and get offended when that understanding and support are not provided.

- Were your relationship with Gorshkov different?

- They were definitely more friendly.

- Were there times when you wanted to leave the sport?

- Al lthe time. Especially during our first year in the USA. The leg was hurting all the time, we came in quite a state to the Europeans in Helsinki and I fell in the Compulsory Dance. Everyone were saying it's our end - the press, everyone.. It was a hard period.

- What did Linichuk said?

- She supported us, was telling we are the best.

- And that was the feeling you went with to the worlds in Los Angeles?

- More like fierce. And a will to prove we are not to be counted off yet.

- Who is more fierce: Oxana or you?

- I would say Oxana is more about setting the goals and getting to them. In everything. The sport was more important for her. All and all we had always have a great understanding. During our skating career we had only had one fight when we first started skating together. Not even a fight, just near that. When the situation became close to shouting at each other one of us, I can't recall who just left. Since then we never had a fight.

- Even when someone made mistakes on the ice?

- Even more so then. I have to admit when you are the one who does the mistake it feels horrible. I fell on the serious championships twice in my life and it's enough to understand what a nightmare it is.

* * *

- Did you ever try to choreograph your programmes?

- No, though I'd love to.

- What seems the most interesting in the ice dance next season?

- I don't expect much changes. According to the judging of the first two couples in Turino no one can get anywhere close to them. The first and second places at the worlds are more or less decided now.
I would love to see what will become of Hohlova/Fedorov. Am even more curious since I've never seen him on the ice. Am also clueless about the young Russian couples. When you skate yourself you simply don't have time to watch the others.

- You must had seen them during the competitions?

- Of course. When it;s about the rivals I would try to see their skating, programmes, style, how well it is all executed. The experienced couples can "kill" even during the trainings.

- Did Oxana and you learn that as well?

- Sure. Everything is counted : what to show in the training, how to show. We always beat with our confidence. Even though I couldn't do much with my leg.

- How did you train in such a state?

- It's weird, but we trained in the USA much more than in Russia. Plus - the constant competition with the Americans Belbin/Agosto and then with the Italians Faella/scali. Working in such a company was, of course, hard, but very productive.

- Two times Olympic champion in Ice Dance Oxana Grischuk in her speach during the RSF said that all the coaches who train abroad should be brought back to Russia. What do you think about it?

- If getting them back to Russia was within my powers I would try to do that. Everyone surrounding the good coaches learn from them and it's a shame that Linichuk, Shpilband, Zueva work abroad.

- Why don't you want to coach yourself?

- May be I will one day. But right now I want to forget the ice. I don't want to put the skates on. It was too painful in the last two years


© Елена Вайцеховская, 2003
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