«HALF MEASURES ARE NOT FOR ME»
|Photo © Tanya Flade
Maxim Trankov, Tatyana Volosozhar and Nina Mozer
I was trying hard to find the words to ask the first question: it doesn't happen often the skaters who are considered the potential champions switch to a juniors coach. She suddenly laughed:
- Go on, ask away. I hear `who on earth that Nina Mozer is?' quite often.
* * *
There were talks before the Vancouver Olympics and at the beginning of April was officially announced the 3 times European Medalists Muhortova/Trankov are not to skate together anymore and the Trankov is to pursue his career with the Ukranian Tatiana Volosozhar. Many were certain they would train under Ingo Steruer in Germany, who coached Volosozhar/Morozov for the last 2 years. The rumour was Steuer didn't even mind having Morozov as an assistant and was even looking for a potential partner for Tatiana himself.
But those plans were cut by another Steuer's pair- 2 times World champions Alyona Savchenko/Robin Schelkowy. They decided to remain in the sport.
SM: I spoke to Savchenko right after the end of the competition in Vancouver and she was quite upset by her 3rd place. She said she'll have to remain in the sport for another cycle. I then realized Tatiana and Maxim can't skate under Steuer - there would be no point - it is obvious who his pair n. 1 is.
This is when I got a phone call from my best friend Vlad Zhovnitsky, who used to train under Nina Mozer and advised me to talk to her. Nina Mihailovna knew my father, who also was a figure skating coach. We spoke and decided to come to Moscow with Tatiana and Maxim.
- What caused you to make the final decision?
- Mozer has an incredible working conditions. I realize quite well what does it mean for a foreigner to come to Moscow and have a job, a salary and a place to live at the instant. It's a science fiction.
* * *
- Were you vary taking Volosozhar/Trankov who are considered the potentially champions? - I asked her when saw her on the ice rink.
- The hardest part is to make a decision. But in the families like mine the decision making is something we do from the age of 3.
- I checked your background, of course. You father is a 27 times national champion in Tenniss, your mother - twice a national champion in figure skating. Your uncle is a football player, who played for "Spartak" that won the Olympic series in 1956. And, if am not mistaken, you were born in Kiev.
- All correct. I used to skate under my mother and Petr Orlov. He used to coach such stars as Stanislav Zhuk, Igor Moskvin, Ludmila Belousova/Oleg Protopopov. Then Orlov moved from Leningrad to Kiev and took with him 10 figure skating families from Moscow and Leningrad. My mother included, who used to skate under Tamara Tolmacheva in the ice rink, where my grandfather was a vice director when it was built.
Everyone who moved to Kiev got a flat in the same building. Petr Petrovich (Orlov) was our neighbour as well and when I was growing up I spent alot of time with them. Orlov was constantly visited by Zhuk, who used to consult with him. I was listening to their talks and trying to understand everything. Some things sounded nuts to me, but only when I started working as a coach I realized how lucky I've got with the teachers.
I remember once I came to Orlov - he was not quite well by then, and started telling him about a training. If I was in a bad mood he knew how to make me feel allright. He would, for example, say something like "Stop being depressed. You have amazing kids!". But if I came all flying after a good training he would put me back on the ground: "Who said it was good?! I can't even watch it!"
Later Orlov explained me, that the real coach can't afford being dependant on the emotions. One has to be totally balanced. Otherwise he'll get hysterical skaters. Any strong emotion brings a mood drop afterward.
* * *
- When did you start coaching?
- When I was 15. I had a choice: either to stop skating because of an injury or be in a cast on my leg for half a year. Since I always had some weight problems I realized, that I will not come back after half a year off. Besides, my parents were against my skating.
Our family always went for the full measure. Not only were my parents big sportsmen themselves, they always hosted a bunch of a champions, including the whole "Dinamo" Kiev team. That whole athmoshpere... I realized very young what does it mean to work for the results. How one has to work for that. I saw how those people live for the sport. I realize even now when doing something this is what I look up at. I can't work in half measures.
When I had a choice where to study my father said I can choose anything, but the sport. He was playing tennis with alot of important people and had enough of the connections to get me into a uni.
- And, of course, you immediately decided to go against him and apply to the sports faculty?
- Of course.
- Your mother didn't want you to become a coach either.
- Not quite. She knew pressing on me is useless - I grew up on the ice rink and was very independent. I realized quite early that if something happens shouting for a mom is useless. I have to call her in her full name, then I might be heard.
Hence mother reacted in her own way: when she realized speaking does no good she gave me a 10 y.o kid, who had never skated before. He was considered too late to skate. 4 years later this kid was in the juniors team. He wanted to achieve something. So did I.
At the age of 25 I went to my first international competition as a coach of the junior USSR team. I was then told by someone that no one is accepted there before the age of 40.
- All your coaching achievements so far were with the juniors?
- Yes. In 1987 Kalinuik/Podvalnyi won the USSR Cup in pair.s I was then graduating the uni. At 1991, when I was having my son my skaters Vlasenko/Ostryi participated the Junior worlds and were 5th. The first medal is by Galina Maniachenko and Evgeni Zhigurski - they were 3rd in 1994 in Colorado Springs. This is when I moved to Moscow. 2 years later Maxuta/Zhovnitski became the champions.
After that it was taken for granted, that my skaters always come back from the junior competitions with the medals. The only exception was 2001, when the girl in the pair became 12cm taller within September. Everything we worked on just fell apart. The president of the Figure skating federation - Valentin Piseev blamed me, we had a misunderstanding and I moved to the USA to work for the next 2 years.
- You didn't see a reason to stay in Russia?
- There are too many "oversitted" coaches in the juniors skating. To get into that group is hard. Of course, there are exceptions, but only if your skater trusts you enough to go against everyone. The same way Irina Slutskaya was with Zhana Gromova for some many years. Though it is known how many times was she offered to switch and to whom.
I understand the federation, that is trying to give the good skaters to the experienced coaches, who proved they can get the results. But this system means there are alot of coaches who don't even know what they are capable of.
For example, in my group there were 6 generations of junior skaters. But when your skaters are taken away for once, twice, three times... you stop understanding what are you doing wrongly.
* * *
- Did you accept Volosozhar/Trankov immediately.
- Of course not. I was doing pros and cons for a while.
- What were the cons?
- All that I told you before. It's hard to take a pair without knowing for sure you can manage. I was not worried about the sporting part, besides there is Stas Morozov who works there with me. But see: after the worlds when the season was officially over Volosozhar/Morozov and Mukhortova/Trankov skated in various shows. In May we only had 10 days for the tryout and make a decision. This is, by the way, when we made the Short Programme.
The real work started on June 5th, 2 weeks later we went to Novogorsk to work on the Long Programme. On 2nd August we moved to St. Petersburg because of the fires and since began the tests. It seems the Federation thinks we have to be under a control all the time. What we really need is a calm work.
There is so much work to be done. When skating with Morozov Volosozhar never had to think about the lifts, twists, throws - during the 8 years of their skating together everything worked automatically. Trankov is more emotional, he has a different technique. Volosozhar is stressed all the time - she doesn't know what to expect of her partner on the ice To get used to each other they need time.
Volosozhar is one of those skaters who take a while to learn the element, but once they do - they know it forever. Morozov knows about that and he told me straight away not to worry about the elements. Now Trankov is getting used to that, though at first he didn't understand why would his partner stop in the middle of the programme.
Besides Volosozhar was never under such a pressure : together with Morozov they were Ukraine n.1 for many years and they didn't even have to participate the Nationals - they could just go on training. We are tested all the time. There are still 3 months till Russian nationals, but we are expected to show. One can't be in the top shape for 5 months, there is no need for that!
But I'm not complaining. Everything that goes on around us right now is really interesting.
- Did you take into an account you might not be able to work with one of the skaters?
- Certainly. There were rumours about Trankov's behaviour. Besides, I didn't know him in person before, while I've known Volosozhar/Morozov. He was a mystery for me. I only knew the beginning of the season usually is hard for him. It was the same under Velikovs and under Vasilliev.
But there was no problem communicating with Maxim. He's an interesting skater to work with. He likes taking the decisions. In our sport a skater must be able to. Not to expect toe coach to make a decision for him.
- A known swimming coach Gennadi Turetsky once told me the same. He explained he can't really tell the swimmer how to behave at the Olympics finals. Because he've never been. And if the sportsmen is to pursue a result he has to be able to make decisions himself.
- Actually I remember quite well how I first saw Alexey Yagudin. I came with my Ukranian skaters to the Junior worlds in Colorado Sprints at 1994. We came to the ice rink. The boys were finishing their LP, and all of the sudden Yagudin made a 3A at the very end of the programme.
I was shocked: wow! I though. 2 years later when I went to Birsben with a Russian couple I spoke to him on the bus. I recalled my impression of him back then..
He told me he always keeps an empty spot at the end of the programme. If one of the jumps will go wrong and he needs to repeat it. At the age of 13! He was thinking of that at the age of 13!
On the other hand, I think, that's the miscalculation Pluschenko had in Vancouver. Had he figured he is to add a silly 2T in his programme he would get a gold medal. But he didn't.
* * *
- Going back to Volosozhar/Trankov: it's not the first time you have a chance to work with top skaters?
- No. Back when I was working in Russia, before moving to Chicago, Totmianina/Marinin were planning to leave Pavlova to skate under Moskvina. Moskvina was not ready yet- she was working with Berezhnaya/Sikhrulidze in the USA and couldn't take another pair. Assumingly there were talks (I heard the rumours) about taking that pair.
I then thought how should I behave in such a situation. And I decided the principles of the coaches brotherhood are more important for me, then getting some good skaters.
I understand it might be wrong when working in Figure skating to have such principles, and perhaps I would be a top coach by now if not for that, especially since I was asked to coach by someone else's skaters many times. But that's the way I am: the people relationship is more important for me than the career. Though I was the one who found Tatiana Totmianina in the singles at the first place.
- Planning to put her in the pairs?
- Yes, with Andrey Chuvilyaev. He was skating in my group back then. Totmanina started doing the paperwork to come to a skating camp and I was silly enough to mention during the nationals she will be skating in my group. A week after it turned out she is skating in Pavlova's group...
The same happened with Chuvilyaev later. He simply disappeared, stopped coming to the trainings. Then it turned out together with his partner - Viktoria Borzenkova he moved to Pavlova. the third were Arina Ushakova with Sergey Karev, who left me for Pavlova when being the Bronze medalists from the University games and Russia n.4. After leaving me they existed as a pair for 8 more months.
When Morozov, Volosozhar and Trankov came to me this spring I kept hearing `who will let her work with them?'.
- When the skaters decide to move from one coach to another usually one hears "we want...". What do Volosozhar and Trankov want?
- To win, of course. They already participated the worlds and the Olympics and realize they can do more.