Simonenko talks to Velikova in St. Peterburg The interview with Ludmila Velikova, a coach from St. Petersburg who together with her husband Nikolai Velikov coached the world champions Shishkova/Naumov, Petrova/Tikhonov and worked with such skaters like Trankov, Sikharulidze, Smirnov took place a couple of weeks ago, but became more actual now, when their pupils, the 2 times World Junior silver medalists Stolbova/Klimov are going to represent Russia in the Europeans. AS: Ludmila Georgievna, if you don't mind, my first question is not about Ksenia and Fedor, but something that I've been unable to understand the whole season. Can you exlpain why Savchenko/Szolkowy decided to experiment and learn the throw 3A, which so far no one was able to perform consistently? LV: I can, and think Savchenko and Szolkowy are absolutely right. They feel they have a competition - Volosozhar/Trankov. The Germans' goal is to become Olympic Champios. They need to have a gap between them and the other skaters. As a coach I would do the same if I were in their shoes. AS: We all remember how the previous attempts ended - Kawaguti's injuried shoulder, Dan Zhang's fall in Turino Olympics. LV: That's true, the throw 3A or quad throws are very dangerous for the girls, hence hardly anyone attempts them. The Americans Inoue/Baldwin performed the throw, but were able to land it just once in 4 years. Besides the injuries you mentioned I saw some other sad episodes, for instanse how the Chinese skater Wenjing Sui was taken from the ice. By the way, after that insident they put the stress on the quad twist, where the chance to get injuried is smaller than on a throw. But in Aljona's case - I rememebr how they just started putting the throw jump at the end of hte programme. Aljona used to fall from it all the time. It was the time when Petrova/Tikhonov competed with them and won. Now it's their special element - to finish the programme with the throw jump. I.e. they overcame the element. So there is a chance that for Savchenko/Szolkowy the throw 3A is possible AS: You think they can't hold to their leading position by just skating their programmes cleanly? LV: It's hard to say. Of course Aljona and Robin are so original, that when they skate cleanly they win. But they feel the competitors are near. AS: You said you would learn the new element if you were in Savchenko/Szolkowy's shoes. Do you try it with your pupils? LV: No, I feel sorry for the girls, so I'm not trying. Stolbova/Klimov don't perform the triple twist because Ksenia had a crack in her rib. Working on a triple twist would mean hitting that rib all the time and she would be in pain. We didn't risk it. Of course we'll learn it once, just not yet. AS: I.e. the other coaches don't care when the skaters are in pain? LV: I guess. The coahces are different. I always think of the skaters. AS: What do you think about the difficulty of the pairs skating in general? LV: I don't like it. I think there should be other things to beat with. An interesting choreography for example. Going for the harder elements is injuring the girls. One has to skate themselves to know how is it - beating the boards when the throw didn't work. I know. I have broken muscles and other injuries. AS: In order to beat with other things and not just technique one has to be in a constant search. I reckon it took you a while to find the music for Stolbova/Klimov's programmes? LV: It was my husband, Nikolai Matveevich who found the music, he is the one to thank. He is listening to an enormous amount of music all the time being in a constant search. But yes, indeed, we are technique oriented. If the Chinese Sui/Han perform a quad split and a quad throw they beat all the original ideas and interesting choreography. I think it's wrong and it's the current rules fault. The reason I mention the Sui/Han is because for 3 years Ksenia and Fedor were fighting them. The Chinese do the revolutions, but they don't even skate! They walk on the ice and get high elements. I don't understand why is it the direction in the modern pairs skating. In the other disciplines the quality of the skating is encouraged, yet it's the opposite in pairs skating. AS: Many call their skating running around. LV: They don't even run. It's an antitechnique of the crossovers. When I see them skate I get a toothache. It's a horror. Yet they beat the guys who skate decently. I don't mean just Stolbova/Klimov, there are others. AS: It seems the pairs skating is going through a crisis. The amount of competitors goes down, the number of decent pairs is low. Why is it? Not many talented skaters switch to pairs skating? LV: Frankly, yes. There is no one to work with. Many coaches are trying to create pairs from well... nothing. What else can we do? I have a junior pair who I hope to show next year. The girl is a smart worker, the guy is well built. There are other young teams that the other coaches have but.. it's not the winners pairs. Indeed there aren't enough talented skaters. AS: What is the main problem? LV: All the junior pairs are the same mediocrity. It's hard to watch AS: Yet the other disciplines are on the rise. Take the ladies for example.. LV: Yes, we have some amazing ladies. But they don't switch to pairs skating. First being afraid of the injuries - pairs skating is the most dangerous discipline. You try to get the really ready elements from the floor to the ice and yet they fall, break and injure.. AS: There much be some other reasons... LV: There are, but they are general. You know, I think of the old times often. When the kids were becoming athletes to be different, to prove something. I remember a girl who became a figure skater to prove her father that he was wrong to leave the family. She said: I want to win, so my photos will be in all the newspapers, so my father would see and be sorry he left us. The kids are different now. They are better off. Look how the skaters look in the junior competitions - thye are better dressed than we are. Did you see the cars that are parked near the Academy? I get lost with my old manky car. A lot of times the skaters train only because their parents make them. And still they came to have fun, not work. Imagine how is it to work with such families. AS: Is it hard communicating with the parents? LV: I was lucky - Klimov's mother is a very smart woman. Ksenia's mother takes good care of her yet they don't interfere the training. The parents trust me. In the past they just gave me their kid and that was it. AS: A lot of junior pairs break up after switching to the seniors. Why? LV: There are many reasons. First the girls and the boys grow differently. Secondly they can compete in juniors level at different age. For example Klimov could remain in a juniors circuit for another year, while Stolbova can't - she is 19y.o. There is also the patience thing - after being the first in the juniors they have to stand in line to become the first in the seniors. Some can't face it. AS: Does it happen they dont' get along? For example Mukhortova and Trankov were Junior world champions, but they didn't achieve much in the seniors. It was known they used to fight all the time... LV: No, Mukhortova/Trankov's situation was different. Trankov is a very talented choreographer. I think this is what he'll do in the future. When he was skating in my husband's group Maksim had an equal part in their programmes choreographing. He later found himself in a situation when he was just silenced all the time. He had no right to speak out his mind. So when he was offered to pair with a girl who works with a smile on her face and a great mood - I mean Volosozhar, of course he jumped on the opportunity. Tanya and Maksim came here for a week when they just started skating together. He was showing her off! Maksim is in a good relationship with Nikolai Matveevich, so they spent a lot of time on the ice here and was just asking to skate a bit more. He was shining with happiness. Of course he feels comfortable now. AS: I know you wanted Trankov to skate with Volosozhar while he was still in your group... LV: Yes, while Petrova/Tikhonov still skated. But Tanya and Stas Morozov just got married and she wanted to be with him all the time on and off the ice. She was sure they'll be successful, while I just saw what a great pair would Volosozhar/Trankov be. Technically they are fantastic. I think they are the best pair right now. AS: Do you keep in touch with your previous pupils? LV: Of course! Even after I moved they found us (laughts). They said `Ludmila Georgievna, you can't escape us! We will find you'. I mean Shishkova/Naumov. We are in touch all the time with everyone. Tikhonov calls all the time. Invites us to their shows, though I never have time to attend- work... All my past pupils are decent and grateful people. AS: Petrova/Tikhonov participate many tv shows and skating shows. They are different skaters now. Are you sorry they didn't follow your steps and became coaches? LV: They tried to coach. But it was hard. Lesha Tikhonov told me: Ludmila Georgievna, as long as I can I will avoid coaching. I think he will be a better administrative workerr. He is good in getting in touch with people. Maria probably could be a coach. I think she will one day. But right now they don't need it, they enjoy their lives. AS: Vadim Naumov did follow your steps... LV: Yes, and it's nice. They were very indipendant while they still competed and I always took their opinion into an account. When Vadim started coaching I helped him as much as I could. He used to call and ask how to do a lift or something. There are their own hardships in the USA - for example in order for the pair to skate together the parents have to be economically equal. Naumov thinks about coming back to Russia from time to time and work in normal conditions. They would be good coaches. But they have a house in the USA. I tell them: how will you survive with say, my salary? Which kills any thoughts of coming back. Most importantly - they have a 10y.o. kid. Their work there , unfortunately, is not inspiring. They are trying to build a pair but the girl just said she likes to perform,but doesn't like to work. There you go. AS: Ksenia and Fedor are still young, but what do you think of them? LV: They are very gifted. Ksenia helps a lot, she comes up with the ideas and sometimes wants to do things by herself. She is very emotional and sometimes it seems that she is the leader of the pair. It's not the case really, Fedor looks more disciplined, but he just looks so. I have to say they found each other. They work well and now they just have to remain healthy. AS: Indeed they found each other. They used to skate with different partners, right? LV: Yes. More than that - at the time I didn't accept Fedor to the group. Nikolai Matveevich did. Ksenia skated with Arthur Minchuk but they didn't get along. At all. We thought for a long time who should she skate with. We searched and thought and then looked on the ice - there was Fedor! We tried and it worked. It's Nikolai Matveevich's achievement. There is a reason why his pairs won the Junior worlds 7 times. He doesn't want to work with the seniors because working with juniors goes so well for him. AS: I've been waiting to ask both you and Nikolai Matveevich where do you get your motivation from? The saraly is low, the life is modest. What inspires you? LV: What else do we have except for work? It's kind of a need. We were discussing with my husband that and he suddenly ssaid: I don't see a future in what I do now. So I said: allright, drop it and just go on listening to the music - we can live on my salary. We don't need much after all. So he replies: I can't. I can't not work. It's kind of a drug for us. Have to admit I dislike the holidays - don't know what to do with myself. So I work on holidays. The skaters hate it, but I work. AS: Do you feel you are underappreciated enough by the bosses and the press? LV: You know, I never wanted to be famous. Yes, we are in the shadows, but I like it. Everyone in the team are kind to me. It's enogh for me.