«I HAVE LESS FRIENDS AFTER SOTCHI»
|Photo © Fedor Uspensky
The changes in the group of the most successful of the Russian coaches Nina Mozer made me interview her. She is also the most mysterious coach - no one can answer the question `who is Mozer'? The creator of the greatest victories or just a successful manager who was lucky with the athletes?
EV: Nina Mikhailovna, how do you define yourself?
NM: Certainly not a manager. I just try to combine the work on the ice with the organization so my athletes would feel as comfortable as possible and could focus on their main job.
EV: You are doing it so well, that I keep hearing `Mozer is not a coach, she is a great organizer'. Do you mind?
NM: No, I stopped carryng about that a while ago. My athletes show results, which is the most important. What they name me... who cares
EV: I know how much time and effort you have to invest to create that flawless system. Yet the coaching work is also a daily demanding job. How do you combine things? Or you trust the coaches you work with so much that can let them do the job any time?
NM: God forbid. I am on the ice daily 10.30-14.30 and 16.30-19.45. It's not something I endure, it's something I love and do. Hence, guess, there is enough time and energy for everything.
EV: Seeing how your group expands, and not just with the athletes I can't help thinking you can ask the higher sports management anything and any request would be fulfilled.
NM: It was never my goal to expand the group. But when the new pairs were created I realized it would be too much work for me and my team. During 4 years we had a clear division of the roles. I picked the not-so-easy task coordinating the general strategy and preparing the skaters right before the skate. The most difficult times are coming now - the competitions are soon. One can be able to do everything during the practices and show nothing in the competition.
EV: And you have to make sure none of the athletes would lack attention.
NM: That's a problem we never had. I never lie to my guys. I always discuss my actions with them so they understand what are they facing and they trust me to tell them the truth. Just like I speak to my managers. If I need something I come and tell them why do I need that. For example, why do I need a certain choreographer. Guess am really good in explaining.
EV: Can you explain then why did you need to invite Robin Szelkowy, who has no coaching experience, to join your team?
NM: I was interested in Robin while he was still skating in Steuer's group with Aljona Savchenko. His conduct of the blade is great, he has very soft knees. Most of our skaters can't skate like him. I was very interested meeting with Szelkowy after Sochi - it's the athlete who Tanya Volosozhar/Maksim Trankov were competing with for years. Yet he always stood out with his inner manners, which were even more obvious compared to the coach and his partner. he would always come out and smile, say hello to everyone, while Aljona and Ingo are set to `kill'.
Robin admitted he wanted to get to know me - he loved watching how Tanya, Maksim and I communicate during the practices. Yet it was close to impossible: every time we were on the same ice we all hid and were ready for a fight.
EV: Yourself included?
NM: I guess. When in the GPF in Japan a series of unpleasant issues happened it was obvious they were to make Tanya, Maksim and I uncomfortable. Deep down I thanked the Germans it happened in Japan and not during the Olympics. It was thanks to that incident that I came to Sochi prepared. Guess it became part of the strategy.
EV: I know you were always interested in that.
NM: That's right. Recently I went through my old notes which I've been trying to put into a system for more than 20 years and found some brilliant pieces of information which we never had time to go through
EV: Do you want to add an academic title to your coaching titles, or is it just an inner wish to leave a legacy?
NM: Neither. Am just interested in everything new. I'm interested to understand how things work. When you write things down the conclusions are easier to come to and it's easier to understand things. I was taught that by Stanislava Lyassotovich, who was working with Stanislav Zhuk at the time and by Michael Drei - people who had a huge part in developing the pairs skating. Now I can see so many new things that can be done in our sport. That is, of course, if the ISU will not come up with the new rules that will tear the skaters' shoulders.
It's a serious problem. Previously the positions that were used in the lifts were derived from the human body natural poses. Now in order to get the 4th level one has to get to positions which are not only hard, but unnatural, I would even call then inhuman.
EV: And demand completely different muscles, i.e. a different preparation system?
NM: It's not that. We have great coaches in the group, so the skaters' muscles are well developed. The injures are not caused by the lack of strength. When the poses are unnatural any small move can cause an injury.
That what happened to Trankov - Tanya lost her balance during the lift and Maksim had to catch her in a bit unusual position. So now we are dealing with the injury, since we decided to remain in the sport for another Olympic cycle.
EV: Was it worth it? Taking the rules are changing all the time and it becomes harder for the older skaters to adjust?
NM: There are so many examples when the athletes go out and win despite all odds in various sports. It's so interesting just to try. 4 years that Tanya and Maksim have been skating together is not enough to get sick of the sport. The most important is whether they want to keep going. They do. I always supported them and I will for as long as they need me.
EV: I've been hearing for a while now the pairs skating in St. Petersburg - with all the traditions of the skating there is slowly dying. Your school seems to thrive. What's the reason? Is it better working conditions or something else?
NM: We've been talking for 15 minutes and it's the 2nd time you imply I have some special conditions.
EV: It's obvious once switching to your group your skaters can afford focusing on skating only. Their living conditions are resolved, they are well financed, have enough support of doctors etc. Hence the feeling of, perhaps, some special conditions.
NM: It's not true. For example Natalia Zabijako who came from Estonia is living on my expense here - on the money I received after my athletes won in Sochi. We receive funding for the other skaters, of course - from the ministry of sports, the RFSF, Moscow sport committee. As do all the other coaches. There are 120 skaters whose preparations are funded by the government. If they need flats, coaching expenses including the training camps abroad - all are paid for. The scholarships my athletes receive are the same as the other athletes their level receive - whether it's in St. Petersburg or in TSKA. I just try to make sure they are not deprived of anything.
Am not a spontaneous person. I wake up and go through the whole day in my head. I think what do I have to do, who do I have to meet, which athlete do I have to talk to and which words should I chose. Perhaps I'm just good in communicating with people. I think the feeling our team's life is easier than the others is thanks to the fact everyone knows what they have to do and how. I keep telling my skaters you have to go out and skate thinking about a victory, not of the mistakes you might make.
EV: I can't help but recalling a phrase I heard recently in one of my interviews `Go out there as a winner and you will win!'
NM: Exactly. The fear and panic are caused by the lack of understanding of the situation. When we just started working together with Tanya and Maksim we went to one of our first competitions to Italy. When we were going to the ice Maksim said he is afraid of the LP. I stopped a couple of metres from the border and said `let's get out of here'. Maks was taken aback `What about the competition?'. I said `If you are afraid skating why do we even bother going out there?'
I smashed Maksim's usual set of mind with that conversation. I came to a conclusion a while ago: working with a skater who is afraid is always hard. Of course I try explaining, advising and so on, but if they don't believe me and don't understand me we'll end up parting our ways.
EV: The coaching switches in the Russian team are usually quite dramatic. Do you have your own no-goes in that?
NM: During my coaching career I went through certain changes. A while ago I couldn't understand Tatiana Tarasova and other coaches who would accept other coaches' top skaters. A year ago I found myself in a similar situation.
EV: You mean Stolbova/Klimov?
NM: Yes. First they approached my skaters and not me directly in Sheffield during the Europeans 2012. I declined explaining I would be willing to talk to them only after Sochi. The real reason was that during that time Stolbova/Klimov were working with their coaches Ludmila and Nikolai Velikovs, they were progressing just fine, they became 3rd that competition. I understood I can not step on those relationship and ruin it. A year later the situation changed. There wasn't a conflict as such, but the guys were not enjoying working with their previous coaches. Perhaps they were tired not having a sparring partners and having to push the younger skaters while having no one to push them. I understood I would not be the cause of the end of the relationship because there were no relationships. Stolbova/Klimov weren't even hiding the fact they were looking for a new coach.
I got a phone call from Nikolai Velikov who told me should their skaters switch coaches they'd rather have them switch to me.
Not long before the Olympics I was the one to call Velikovs. I told them I can't compensate their moral loss caused by the whole situation, but they should have no worries about the material part. I fulfilled all my obligations towards them for every competition Stolbova/Klimov participated during the Olympic season.
At the time when my own pupils Brozovich/Nimenko left it hurt so badly that I said that's it! No more! I can't let the skaters become so much part of me. It changed me.
My skaters are my friends, but once we start working together I tell them: should you feel a smallest uneasiness - tell me and I'll help you find the specialist who will help you to move on.
EV: What can cause a uneasiness?
NM: When a new athlete joins a group you can never predict how things will work out. You see the skaters from the other groups only when they are in a certain shape. You have no idea what are they like in the daily routine, how do they take stress, how do they behave. It takes a lot of time to find the right points to push which will bring the needed results.
Sometimes it happens fast like it did with Stolbova/Klimov. Though our work began with Fedor breaking his leg. It wasn't even during a practice - he fell of a bicycle during a 5 days vacation.
EV: How did you take it?
NM: I wasn't mad or upset, if you mean that. I immediately started thinking how do I have to organize things so he recovers as fast as possible. Yes, things happen. What's the point dwelling? Will it heal the leg faster? No. Then no point crying over the spilled milk.
EV: You are unique.
NM: I am what I am. I witnessed a lot of times how figure skating destroyed the coaches mentally. I decided I will never be one of them - I will never be like everyone else no matter how many rumours it will spur. I was bored with that. What I was interested in is the result. And I know how to get it.
EV: It's not something that would make you popular among your colleagues.
NM: Yes, but my life is interesting. I'm blessed with interesting people surrounding me. Guess it's a payoff for my approach. For example this summer during the training camp in Italy I met in the hotel a great pianist Oleg Marshev. We chatted for 3 hours about anything! Oleg even came to the rink, though he was never interested in the figure skating before. He presented us his CDs and offered to come and help should we ever need such help. We keep in touch by emails. I attended Marshev's master class and walked out charmed with the way he talks to his pupils.
Such opportunities is what I appreciate so much. We don't really see what our life becomes like. Usually when you take a look it's nothing to be proud of. People forget how to be happy about things, the victories included. They prefer to dwell in the past and not think about the future. They are not questioning what do they have to change to be happy. They are happy with the other's misfortunes because in comparison their own failures don't look so bad.
Guess in that my life is easier. I can listen to any critique, but I don't have a problem telling a person they are just not important enough in my life to care about his point of view or emotions.
EV: How much freedom do you give the coaches who work with you?
NM: Currently we coach 22 pairs who work with 7 coaches. I only work with the 5 senior pairs. I don't take any part in the coaching of the others unless asked.
As for the leading teams we work according to my plan which is discussed with every party involved. Every coach knows thye are free to leave any time. We spoke about it several times with Vlad Zhovnirski who is currently working with Stolbova/Klimov. On the other hand Ksenia said she cares about what I think. She also needs me near the border during the competitions. I will be there for as long as she needs me.
EV: What you can't forgive your athletes or your co-workers?
NM: Betrayal. It sounds weird in figure skating context. It's like talking about decency. I don't really understand how can you betray someone who trusts in you? Hence when I see a person being indecent I don't try to change them. I just step aside. Taking how busy I am right now it would be silly wasting my time on something am not interested in.
EV: Have the Olympics changed your life?
NM: I certainly have less friends now. Success is not something that increases the number of friends. I don't thin I changed much though. Yes, it happened I was able to do my job good in Sochi. Yet I wasn't doing it for the awards, but because I love my job. I liked award though, it's well designed. But it haven't changed me as a person.
I keep telling that to my skaters: you held your medals in your hands, now put them in a box and lets go back to work
EV: Are you getting tired of all the work, the constant moves?
NM: Lying on a couch the whole day will not make me stronger. Am used to move around. I never have enough time in the short flights, yet in the long I have my own rituals: I love computer games and can spend the whole flight playing
EV: You are a gamer?
NM: I don't care about the game itself. I just want to win.