| Maya Usova:
«THERE SHOULD BE MONUMENTS FOR THOSE WHO STAYED»
|Photo © Alex Wilf
Moscow. Maya Usova
Every time when I see Maya Usova at the competitions after she retired from the sport I think she's the one with the hardest destiny. To spend almost 25 years in the competitive sport, to win the Euros and Worlds just before the Olympics and to loose the most important competition. And where? In Ice dance! Where the line to the gold lasts for years and where Maya with her partner and husband Alexandr Zhulin stood till the end.
Two years prior to those Olympics another disaster happened to Usova - her marriage failed - from something that once was a warm trusting relationship the only thing left was a stamp in the passport. But they had nowhere to go, they had to stick together and play as if everything was fine.
Afterwards she was alone for a while. Was ill, depressed... The only short positive period was competing with Evgeni Platov in professional sport. After a couple of months of intensive training they won the professional world. But the sport was over soon and Usova remained in the USA. I thought - for good.
Then all of a sudden she called «I'm in Moscow. God married. Work on the ice rink»
We met in Odintsovo Ice rink a year later.
- Will tell you the truth Maya, if I were asked to make a list of coaches who work in the USA but could potentially come back to Rusiia I would put your name last in the list if at all. Nevertheless you are back. Why?
- If you remember, at 2005, when the Worlds were taking place in Moscow the Russian federation invited all previous champions. I didn't plan to go. By then I had a stable life in the USA. Mother, house ,a dog, ice rink... On the ice I was coaching little kids and was absolutely happy about - it's such a rewarding work! Many times I said if it wasn't for the figure skating I would became a kindergarten teacher.
But then I really didn't plan to go. One of the reasons was pain in the shoulder. It hurt so much that I was dizzy. Still mother insisted I should go to Moscow. She was sure I should go if only to remind my fans I still exist.
I was trying to convince her figure skating phase of my life is over, but she insisted.
In Moscow on the 2nd day of the competition I spotted in the crowd the Russian team doctor - Viktor Anikanov. I told him about my shoulder problems and asked to see a specialist - I couldn't stand the pain anymore. Anikanov introduced me on the ice rink to Anatoly Orletsky - my future husband (Prof. Orletski is the leading surgeon of sports trauma in Russia)
- Orletsky worked in sport for many years. Haven't you ever met?
- I never had injuries. Even mild ones. Respectively, I had no reason to go to doctors. Apparently it's destiny that we met. When Orletsky started checking me - he lifted my arm up 3 times and I fainted. That's where it all started. Later I asked my husband why did he pay any attention. Anatoly said I had an incredibly sad eyes.
- What's wrong with the shoulder?
- I need a surgery, but that kind of operations are not done in Russia yet. So far I receive therapy. The problem, as it turned out is not in the joint, but there is a gemathoma under the collarbone that doesnt' go away. I have only one version how could I get it - in professional sport when we started skating with Platov and training in the US - the ice rinks there are very cold. Once we were working on a spin where Evgeni spins me holding my leg. Because of the cold his fingers couldn't hold and I flew away, got a bump but couldn't even figure in which body part. There was no pain really, but guess it's where the injury is from.
- After you and Alexandr Zhulin finished competing I often thought that your career was well, cruel, perhaps. For so many years to go to the Olympic medal, to give up so much for it and to loose. What do you think?
- I don't think it's useless, that's for sure. I often think that all we have to go through is written somewhere above. Alexandr and I remembered, loved and for many we are holding a higher place than those who won the Olympic gold. The only mistake and the mistake was mine was, probably, not leaving the partner right after our family broke apart. Alot of things could be different.
- What do you mean?
- Career. I shouldn't had held for the relationship with Zhulin. I should had paired with Platov then. At the time Dubova kicked Oxana Grischuk from the team for personal reasons. Dubova was very fond of me and wanted to clear the field for the medals for Zhulin and I. I wasn't strong enough to tell the coach that it's not Grischuk who is to blame, but the relationship that is impossible for me. But after what Dubova did I couldn't land another blow on her and leave the pair. If I did, I wouldn't write off the chance that the result with Platov would happen in competitive sport and not in professional as it happened at the end of the career.
- You are saying having a relationship in figure skating makes both partners weaker?
- It was true in my case. 100%. Thousands of unrelated problems interfered with work and it prevented me from taking right decisions.
- In recent years I thought that your bad experience in previous married life was so bad that you'll never dare to start a family again. Yet you waited all those years just to come back from the USA to Moscow and fall in love at the first sight?
- Apparently so. When I came back to the USA after the Moscow worlds and told mother everything she was thrilled for convincing me to go.
- It must have been very hard to decide to move back to Moscow?
- Actually I can't say I moved. We have 2 houses. I can't leave mother alone there and I cant' take her to Russia either. There is also a dog, which 13.5 years ago I brought to the US as a tiny puppy. At this age the dog might not survive the flight , so mother and I decided not to risk it - the dog is almost like a baby for us.
- You started working on the ice rink in Odintsovo for fun or for money?
- I earned money my whole life. Am used to count on myself only and be responsible for others. It's hard for me to come to terms with the fact I don't have to work at all.
- I heard those who remained in Russia through the hard economic times are not too fond of those who left and came back.
- Only now I realized how hard it was for those who stayed. There should be monuments for them. It is them, who despite all the hardship raised today's Russian skaters. To tell the truth I can never understand the coaches who only come to Russia to take the most talented skaters. To take them away from those who worked with them for years to get them to a high level. I think it's a betrayal. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I can't get away from that feeling.
- You touched a sensitive point. With a personal reasons. I guess from the personal point of view when the sportsmen is leaving it is a betrayal, but there is also the career side to look at. How can you hold a student if he feels that the coach can't teach him nothing new? And can you judge that sportsmen?
- I don't know. That's my point of view.
- Weird really. You worked for so many years with Tatiana Tarasova, who often took other coaches students.
- I could never judge Tarasova. Perhaps because I saw that she would only take those who are focused on result only. And she provides the result. No matter how hard is it. And fast.
- Was it your will or just happened that after finishing skating you did not continue to work with Tarasova?
- It was my decision. You see, there are those amazing female coaches in figure skating : Moskvina, Tarasova, Chaikovskaia. I admire them, but can't even imagine what inner power must one possess to get such results. It's very hard. I probably realized on time I don't have enough straight. It was hard for me to work with Tarasova, though I do work alot with Platov now.
During the whole time we skated together we didn't have a single disagreement. It's an incredible luck a trustworthy partner. Last year when I cam to the USA after a 8 months break the first thing I did was to call Evgeni - to ask whether I could work with little kids on the ice rink he works at. My kids were all gone... He said immediately : «Come, we'll figure something». Ever since we work together when I'm in the USA.
- Are you there alot?
- I come to the USA at the summer: it's convenient: home is very near the rink, it's possible to earn money. After all I am used to make money myself and am not yet ready to sit home and do nothing.
- You could make money in Russia. In those TV project for example.
- The TV didn't work out well for me. When I was skating with the first project on channel «Russia» with Ivar Kalnysh I was invited by Vladimir Molchanov to his talk show. He asked how fair is the competition. I couldn't contain myself and told everything I think about those shows.
- Which is?
- I asked him a question: if one couple's commutative age is 50, the other's -100 - is it fair? What can be compared, if I'm 45,my partner is 58 and we are competing with 20 something years olds? We did have a contract that said the unprofessional partner can not be older than 45. In one of the shows I though I'd put the partner on one knee, I would skate around and somehow make it work. But after the 3rd training Ivar told me it's too hard for him - the knee hurts.
I understand it all. You can't take off the age. But we are sportsmen. To look silly and ridiculous on the ice is unacceptable and humiliating for us.
There was another episode. I always thought that the partners, whoever they are, are a team. My husband and I ever went to Riga when Kalnysh was filming there and there was no other option to hold a training. When he decided to leave the show I found out at the last moment- I was getting ready for another shooting when received a phone call telling our team does not exist anymore.
It can happen. An injury, for example, like it happened to Sergey Selin. He came to the shootings, asked to hold the start a bit, came out from the room with a huge flowers arrangement, knelled in front of Oxana Kazakova and asked her to forgive him. I think that's the manly thing to do.
After those things I said the project producers asked me not to comment anymore and promised to let me pick the partner myself next year, but I was never invited again.
- Now you are working on the rink where Domnina and Shabalin grew. You are probably following the Euros. What do you think - should had Shabalin risked starting the training just 9 days after the surgery in order to win the Euros? And how did your husband who performed the surgery react seeing that all his work will probably be flushed because Shabalin didn't keep the recovery times?
- It's hard for me to explain. On one hand you can only respect Shabalin. I can't start to understand where did he find the courage not only to come back to skating but to win such an event. My husband did say, of course, that nothing good will come out of it and Shabalin should had waited.
I did follow Domnina and Shabalin before as a person who spent many years in the ice dance and can see many things others can't. I liked seeing how professionally did Alexey Gorshkov could hide their faults. It's an incredibly hard work to hide all the lacking sides of the sportsmen and make them invisible to the judges.
I don't know whether it's the injury or a change of coach, but now those faults are screaming. Perhaps it will go away if the leg will be healed. But it's a long process. What happened is that one chord was operated and weak so all the pressure was on the other, that didn't hold either. He probably should wait now and let the leg heal, but it's not clear what will happen next and the time passes. So probably Domnina and Shabalin were right in their decision to win last Euros no matter what. Perhaps I would do the same if I were in their shoes.
- Are you following the ice dance now? What do you think about it?
- Ever since I decided to become a technical specialist - yes. I don't know why, but all of the sudden I decided to come back to figure skating. I can't even explain why. Probably because I saw that most of the technical specialists are American and Canadians. There was one of ours till recently - sergey Ponomarenko. I thought it was - don't know, not right. You can always see that even a technical specialist has it's own preferences. The fact such a judge is almost not payed for his job only emphasizes. I think if those people had a good salary at the very least they would be afraid to loose it.
- Do you like this job?
- Frankly - I don't even know. If I didn't have a husband on my side next to whom I feel completely protected I wouldn't be doing it at all. And I wouldn't live in Russia. Moreover, because of that job I gained some enemies. Some Russian coaches are expecting me to give their students hither levels. I can't give levels if there is nothing to give them for. Sometimes it's hard to explain them.
On the other hand while I wasn't a technical specialist I didn't really like the new rules. Now I look at the ice dance from another angle and starting to change my point of view. I like it that everything has it's give value, I like the fact ice dance will not be eliminated from the Olympic games. Obviously the theatrical part is gone. Only 4-5 strongest couples can afford being artistic. The rest are just competing in technique and as a results are looking much more similar. Altogether the level of ice dancing is much higher.
- Are you happy?
- Yes. I'm grateful to my destiny that brought me together with a man who I love. It's a true happiness for a woman to realize that there is someone who she can trust. It's a shame it happened so late, but I still hope I have some time to become a mother.
Translated by Tanya Drubetskaya