«TRAINING FIGURE SKATERS IS LIKE PLAYING CARDS»
Tamara Moskvina (right), Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze
I called her in the middle of February, but she wasn't at her place. «Tamara is in China with her students, - Moskvina's sister explained. - Give me your number and she'll call you back».
Two days later I was waked up by the ring. «Good morning, Elena. Tamara is speaking...»
- Some time ago we discussed your plans for the near future and potential return of Elena Bereznaia - Anton Sikharulidze to eligible competition. However, there was something you said that I couldn't forget, something you said five years ago at Nagano Olympics: «If only they knew at what price all this comes...»
- When you are stressed and tired like that, did you ever vow to leave it all and never come back?
- No. Good times always come after bad times. Every Olympics were difficult in their own way, but they were interesting as well.
- You've been asked about double gold in Salt Lake City for Sale/Pelletier and your team more than once already. And now, even IOC is inclined to think that this decision was less than appropriate. Do you see any advantages at all in this decision?
- None for myself. Although I think it was beneficial for Russia as a whole. Specifically, because of this scandal, Russian fans, including the country's leadership, started paying a lot more attention to figure skating. In fact, I would even venture as far as to say that the scandal became a wake-up call, of sorts, for the Russian patriotism. But the rumors that the scandal made Elena and Anton more popular or increased their professional fees are nothing but bull. I am not certain they would be less popular without the scandal. Although I won't deny it.
- But would you personally be happier if there was only one gold?
- Of course I would. If you follow the logic that trumped in the end, why not have ten gold medals?
- Was it you who made a decision to step on this pedestal for the second time?
- Yes, although many counseled me against that, including people close to our government.
- What if you decided against it?
- What's the point? No one knows the implications of such a step. We happen to live by the laws laid down by the ISU. And if they decided to stage a second ceremony, the right thing to do, for all the reasons, was to do what they say.
- I can't help but mention that your reputation is that of a very commonsense, logical person. Do you ever listen to your emotions? Do you ever do things that you want, and not things that need to be done?
- Very often I do just that - what I want to do. Take my and my husband's return to St. Pete. Many asked me why we did that. «You shoulda stayed in the U.S. and kept making money». Well, I wanted to and came back, dammit. I feel much better when I'm in St. Pete. And I don't give a rat's ass about money.
- Now you are much more visible than you husband Igor Moskvin. What was his role in your move from skating to the coaching career?
- All 100%. All Igor's students, incidentally, became good coaches, so it's not surprising that he pulled me into this. And there were many things about coaching that I absorbed without thinking. Although when I studied Tarasova and Chaikovskaya, I did it with full awareness of everything.
- What DID you study?
- The way they work, the way they structure their programs and influence their students. I tried to understand why their athletes end up being the best.
- You said once that coaching is a craft. Then what is inspiration?
- By saying it's a craft, I meant that certain steps need to be checked off. Develop the program, put together a preparation plan and make your athletes stick with it. Inspiration is not just knowing how to coach, but make sure that everyone around you and everyone who plays a part in your work is driven by their energy and enthusiasm. Make sure you come home happy, regardless of how tired you are, and not take it out on your family.
- So are you saying that even during inspirational moments, your actions are calculated?
- There are inspirational moments in any work. My rule has always been to enjoy everything you're doing. Only then your life becomes a positive force. And if trouble happens, do not let it hurt you twice. Don't agonize after the fact if things happened.
- The longer I stay a sports journalist, the more I'm inclined to divide all coaches into two groups. The first and the largest has no idea what level they can reach when they start working. The second always has a specific goal and work toward that goal. Which group would you put yourself in?
- When I started working with pairs, I had no idea if I can achieve anything. And for the longest time, all I saw in front of me, pardon my French, were behinds - these of my husband, Stanislav Zhuk, Chaikovskaya, Tarasova...
Their athletes wre so far ahead that I could never think of ever becoming one of them. But once you make this road to gold at least once, then you become more specific about setting goals when you pick up new students - the path to your goal. Experience is nothing but a series of actions required to achieve the result. Once you have it, you can afford to cut corners to find the shortest path to your goal. Of course, it is different every time. Sometimes you have more obstacles, or less talented or difficult-natured students.
- So what is the perfect mold for the final product called «Olympic Champion»?
- First of all, the individual should strive to become one, and be prepared to put in as much work as required. The person should enjoy what he or she does. And have some brains, too.
- Your pairs won in four Olympics. Which of them resembled that idea best?
- Can't say - they were all different. Say, Artur Dmitriev, who wanted another win after he and Natasha Mishkutenok split, or Oksana Kazakova, who was nothing when she started, but desperately wanted prove that she is A Person. Lena and Anton, even more so. I can't even compare them because they skated in different times.
- What is the main thing for you, process or result?
- The process. Depending on how the process goes, I can predict the final result. Although unpredictable circumstances do happen, for instance, at the last Olympics.
- Do you mean the Canadian team?
- What I mean is a somewhat unexpected support they received from the Western media and public. But regardless, the win itself was predicted ahead of time, and was achieved. Going through preparations, developing the program, identifying the style, the music, the preferences of judges and the public, and the psychological mindset of the athlete, making sure he or she is ready to face whatever happens - all of this is extraordinarily fascinating. It's like playing cards. Every time you start the Olympic cycle, you know that four years later, on a specific day, minute and second, everything down to the smallest detail must fall into place. That kind of preparation involves communication with a vast number of people. Choreographers, Zamboni men, people from remote fields occasionally without any connection to sport. Which is also great fun!
- On that note, let me ask you this: do you feel that nowadays, a victory in a figure skating competition is much more of a team effort than it was, say, 20 years ago?
- Absolutely. For instance, earlier we didn't give costumes a whole lot of thought. They were frequently made by skater's parents out of commonly available stuff. Right now, figure skating climbed to a level where no detail is too small. Music edits, program structure, style - I am not a genius! This is why I need a sound person and a choreographer who can design a program so that it looks unlike all others, and the costume fabric that isn't just pretty, but also allows complete freedom of movement for the skaters.
The athlete, too, cannot afford to not speak English if he or she counts on proper attention from the press. And the same goes for the coach. Otherwise, he or she won't be able to penetrate professional circles that mind figure skating careers in the West. I'm sure your field is just the same. Working for «Podunk Daily» is not the same as «Sport Express»!
- You said once that at competition, the coach's place is at the concession stand...
- Exactly right.
- Then what is the coach's role at the Olympic games?
- As you can understand, learning elements at the Olympics is senseless. So all you have to do is keep your athlete in a positive mindset. Praise them, comfort them, make sure their stress level remains manageable, give them water and napkins on time, make sure they don't lose their passes and aren't late for the warmup? Basically, remove all concerns except their own skating. At the same time, you need to smile here and there, talk to reporters and make sure that the performance is as you planned it, and not ruined by unpredictable factors.
- Do you ever feel guilty for giving your athletes more time and attention than your children?
- All the time.
- Have you ever felt that no one cares about what you do except yourself?
- Well, that one is true. I am doing something that I need more than anything. I stayed in this career for as long as I did for one reason alone - because I was interested. Not because I am this great patriot and feel the duty to my country or some other person. Although I admit that at competition I occasionally think that hey, since you are here at this level, you need to look good.
As for pangs of conscience, I always tell myself that while I'm minding someone else's children, someone else is minding mine, in exact same way. And if I give 100% to my work, why should I doubt that other teachers do the same?
- Have you ever cried because of professional failures?
- Does anything that you thought to be very important 20 or 30 years ago feel completely irrelevant today?
- The concept of prestige: good stuff-trinkets and good opinion of the management.
- What do you mean by management?
- The opinion of people in high places became less important to me. What I think is much more important. I can't say I don't give a slightest damn about other people's opinions, but my own is generally a priority for me. For instance, I don't know much about clothes but I usually wear whatever is comfortable for me, and not what someone else believes I should wear.
- Do you believe in luck, fate or predestination?
- I believe that I am a lucky person. There have been times when I needed to get somewhere, and all doors were closed, but at the last moment, someone either peered out of the window, or another door opened a crack.
- I believe your husband's hobby is working with wood (some kind of small wood craft, making pictures on wood surfaces). Did you ever want to have one?
- You are wrong about my husband. His hobby is sailing. He used to be No. 2 in the USSR in the Finn class. That means he's an excellent handyman, as all sailors. And more importantly, his personality is that of a sail: he'll always support and help me. My hobby was always figure skating. Because my main job was university professor, not figure skating coach.
- With all your tremendous experience, do you feel the need to train coaches instead of athletes?
- I used to, both at the Physical Education Institute, where I used to teach for 15 years, and at the skating rink. I never had a home rink while I lived in St. Pete. Nikolai and Ludmila Velikovs and Natalia Pavlova used to work very close to me, and I think they learned a lot from me. All my students that became coaches also seem to use our experience. Not just things we taught them, but the way we taught them. From time to time I teach coaching seminars abroad. In Russia, no one asks for these.
- What was the most unexpected gift you ever received?
- A woman from Gudermes (a small city in what used to be South of Russia, and now independent Chechnya ravaged by the war) once sent me a will leaving me all her property after she dies. That was in 1969. First she wrote a letter saying this: «My mother was bedridden for a long time. Once we were watching a competition where you and Mishin performed. My mother was so touched by your skating that she tried moving, and she recovered completely. I don't know if I'll ever be able to thank you properly».
At first, she used to send me huge fruit baskets that I used to have to pick up from the railway station. And then she sent me her will. I don't even know if she's alive now.
- I enjoyed tremendously your old performances as well - I saw some on TV. Are you a pairs or a single skater by nature?
- I enjoy a big crowd. I come from a big family. My grandparents and parents had three kids each. I have two daughters. Professionally, I'm more of a single skater, a loner. I try to be independent and autonomous. I don't like meddlers.
- I still remember when I missed the European championships before Nagano Olympics because my father became very ill. You didn't know that, and called me unprofessional. Do things like these really annoy you?
- Jesus! I was only kidding. You see, ever since I competed myself with Mishin and trained with Moskvin, we spoke a double-entrendre language that only we were able to understand. I still run into situations where I say something and they I see that people look at me funny. It would be very stupid of me to make a comment like the one you mentioned to a reporter, and mean it.
- Why such politeness to sports journalists who are not exactly the popularity contest winners in sports circles?
- You see, journalists are professionals in their own field, just like I am in my own. There is nothing wrong with someone who wants to write a piece and tries everything he can. Just like a coach who trains an athlete. Some are better at it than others, but I know that the more I talk to the press, the more information there will be out there about me and my students. And in that case, reporters will write what I tell them, not what they find out from someone else.