Translated by TAHbKA and posted with permission here.
Original article in Russian by Elena Vaitsehovskaya: http://www.velena.ru/in/RZ_2007.html
Rise and fall of the Black Magician
The event of 28/6 [June 26, 2007] was nothing unusual. The head of the Russian teams preparation centre Nikolai Parhomenko received a letter from the most known in the sports circles psychologist Rudolf Zagainov. A vacation request followed by a resignation, which was approved immediately. What preceded the resignation was the most tragical event which happened in Zagainov's apartment the night before: his patience, the European champion Julia Arustamova committed a suicide. Zagainov himself became the main witness.
Enormous number of people who I spoke to on the matter, among them well known coaches, sports managers, psychologists and doctors agreed on one thing: for a specialist of that kind such an event would put an end to his professional career.
If Zagainov was a regular person it would be possible to feel sorry for him. It's hard in this case. The only question that pops into my mind is how could it happen, that a psychologist with such an experience could let the situation so much out of control.
Parhomenko confirmed Zagainov was officially working with the athlete and being payed for it. Despite that in the last 9 months Arustamova lived in his appartment. According to her coach Garry Gerovkov her relationship with the psychologist were very close. More than that, she didn't try to hide the involvement from her parents nor her friends. The federation and the coach had to ignore the fact the 24y.o. athlete lives with her 67y.o. shrink - Julia wouldn't have any of that.
Zagainov's colleague, prof. Gennadi Gorbunov, who worked with the athletes for many years was quite explicit:
- It is well known women tend to fall in love with those who use hypnoses on them. Which is exactly why it is strictly forbidden for the psychologists to be in sexual relationship with their patients.
Another known specialist, the member of professional psychologists league, Elena Deriabina, who used to work with Totmianina/Marinin before the Olympics has a different point of view:
- It's a moot point to discuss now ethic's wise. If the relationship happen - it's between a man and a woman, not a doctor and a patience. On the other hand most of the athletes are still children at the age of 24, lacking any life experience. Their development is slowed with the constant pressures and the life style. The decision to part with one's life is usually taken when the person can't find any other solution. Or is afraid too much of the solutions.
It's funny that despite being so famous in the sport circles Zagainov is not so well known otherwise. None of the search engines finds his biography, nevermind his published papers. But plenty of memoirs and the list of the stars he worked with during his 35 years long career. Everyone who he worked with even briefly he writes down as his success: 38 world champions, 19 Olympic champions. He generously shares the details of his work in the interviews keeping alive the legend of his power which is easily believed. Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur. `The world wants to be deceived, let it'
Zagainov's career didn't start smoothly. Back in the USSR times the parapsychology was considered a pseudoscience and was almost illegal. Nevertheless, in the research institute Anokhin under the USSR science academy a special lab for the study which was curated by the Party. The head of the lab was dr. Artemii Medlianovski. His seminars were attended by such people as Dzhuna, Kashpirovski and others who became a country wide known extrasenses. Zagainov came as well, but after a series of tests Medlianovski characterized him as `not particularly talented in parapsychology' and never asked him to join his experiments. The `great magician' (as many called Medlianovski) had a good sense for people and was dividing them to `good' and `bad' extrasenses. The newcomer Zagainov was put in the latter category, which probably caused a trauma. He was so jealous of his more successful colleagues that decided to become something big no matter how.
Those who did their phd with Zagainov in Lesgaft institute in St. Petersburg didn't spread compliments to Zagainov. He was known speaking badly even about those he was in good terms with. That was the reason why in one of the practical conferences one of the presentations of one of the participants began with the words `I don't get it: why in order to be more self assured he has to speak badly of his colleagues?'
Zagainov's first real success was his work with Viktor Korchny in 1974. The chess player who back then was considered a political outcast faced a world championship in Moscow against the world champion Anatoly Karpov, for whom almost all the big names in chess of the country worked by then. Korchnoi lost by a margin. The known chess expert Mihail Botvinik said that game was the most impressive in Korchnoi's career.Zagainov gained a reputation of someone who makes his patients work on the most of their ability in the hopeless situation. The psychologist admitted it was partly because he felt like an outcast for a very long time, hence he worked without holding back.
Later Zagainov was hired by Boris Spasski, Karpov, Garry Kasparov. His huge advantage was his ability to find the common language and gain a total trust. He dwell in the work completely. He couldn't stand just one thing: rebellion.
That was the reason his parting was usually far from nice. Not only had he told the next patient all the secrets of his predecessor, including the professional ones in chess, but he also made a habit of writing a memoir about revealing all the details.
The first who was really mad about it was Karpov
- First of all Zagainov didn't even notify me on his attention to write such a book, - he said when I called to confirm some details. Secondly there were too many made up things. But most importantly - Zagainov revealed many personal details. And many things that were kept in secret by the team. Who knew he was writing down in his diary not only our conversations, but also everything he was able to eavesdrop?
Nevertheless, Karpov didn't sue. It was not a common thing to do back then. The book became a bestseller making Zagainov even more popular.
The next athletes were Sergei Bubka, Elena Vodorezova, Alexandr Fadeev. In 1991, when Zagainov and I met in Moscow he said he worked with Stephy Graph, Boris Bekker, Monika Slash, but I found no confirmation for that.
Though then it didn't even cross my mind to doubt his words. He could be incredibly charming. He knew a lot. Was able to teach the athlete concentrating. And, most importantly, could feel how far he can manipulate the person.
Zagainov always exaggerated in describing his role. Speaking to Vodorezova, who Zagainov called one of his best patients who he worked with for 4 years I suddenly heard:
- Zagainov wasn't working with me, he worked with the whole Stanislav Zhuk group. He was doing some general things: the atmosphere, taught how to control ourselves. When there is a trustworthy person from the outside who joins the group it can be a huge advantage. You can't talk about everything to your coach. I can't say anything bad about not so long ago work of Zagainov with my pupil Andrey Griazev. Andrey became more concentrated, learned to plan. But their work was rather brief. After Zagainov didn't come to be with Andrey in the nationals without giving a reason Griazev didn't want to work with him again.
I myself never needed a psychologist. Think Zagainov realized that. Fadeev was scared senselessly of him. He changed colours when hearing Zagainov's voice on the rink.
- But it was written that Zagainov was the one to bring you back to sport after your illness?
- It was written I had a child with Zhuk. Should you believe that as well?
From the interview with Zagainov of 16 years ago I remembered the following words:
- More and more often I realize the profession sports psychologist doesn't really exist. It's a fake. Spasski once told me `you have to be an emotional prostitute'. He was right. The psychologists job is to complete the athlete, to help him sometimes giving up his own mood and self. It's not really easy to be kind of a priest - listen to the whining and the problems and push towards the goal.
That interview was the first break in our friendly, as it seemed, relationship between Zagainov and I. After reading it in the newspaper he was unsatisfied: `I wanted to talk about something completely different, but you managed to get me into a discussion. I dont like it'
What exactly he didn't like I understood later. It was the first phrase of the article - `He is always famous. With someone else's fame'
In the end of 2001 I learned a well known psychologist started working with Alexey Yagudin. The news were quite shocking. In my point of view such a coach as Tarasova who coached him back then didn't need a specialist of that kind. I asked her directly and received an equally direct answer:
- I don't need a psychologist. But I can't enter the men changing room during the competition. I.e. I can't avoid a situation when my athlete can be told something that would shake him just before the competition. Hence I invited Zagainov. He himself is more than capable to shake anyone. Besides, Yagudin is an athlete who must be under control all the time. I spent too much time with him as it is. He gets tired of me. The choreographer Nikolai Morozov, Zagainov and I work out the details of every day schedule. We build it in a way that we'll be with Yagudin one after another. The talks about Zagainov being able to hypnotize anyone.... let them talk.
After Yagudin won the Olympics in SLS many said the reason he was able to beat Pluschenko was Zagainov. There was something in their words. Dropping a word about a person who can hypnotize working with Tarasova was done by Mishin. It seems Pluschenko took it seriously. He started to fear, and as a result, lost confidence.
I don't know at what point did Zagainov realize that given a certain knowledge and skills it's easier and nicer to overtake the patience mind than work with them. But it showed in his work with Yagudin several times. The conflict started before the Olympics.
- At first I liked talking to Zagainov. learned a lot from him. But we disagreed on the most important thing, - recalled Tarasova. He tried to control Yagudin almost 24 hours a day, to become irreplaceable. I thought that our common goal is to make sure that during the skate Lesha wouldn't need anyone. Nor me, nor Kolia (Morozov) nor Zagainov. He had to be 100% sure of himself.
When the Olympics began Yagudin was on top of his shape. Zagainov's actions started to resemble a bribe. The day before the competition he demanded that Morozov wouldn't be standing on the boards. He threatened not to show up in the ice rink at all otherwise. Tarasova was shocked. According to the ISU rules only one person except for the main coach can be present. But how do you tell a person who put so much work in the process there is no place for him?
Morozov saved the day. He told Tarasova `let him stand where he wants. I don't care. I won't be offended. Most importantly is for Lesha to skate well'
Right after Yagudin's win Zagainov gave several interviews, all with the same story line :the most impressive Olympic gold is entirely his doing. Tarasova was only a hassle and tired Yagudin when was present in the trainings.
It's hardly surprising the contract and relationship between coach & athlete to the famous psychologist were ended.
Zagainov's Olympics included another brief, a couple of days long work with the hockey players. The Olympic team management, including the main coach Fetisov, for whom the win in the Olympics was the most important thing believed in Zagainov's powers.
They didn't win, but Zagainov added another star name to his list - Pavel Bure.
The 2004 Olympics were marked by 2 failures in Zagainov's biography: work with the swimmer Roman Sludnov and canoe athlete Maksim Opalev. Both athletes contacted the psychologist themselves, but soon the coaches interfered feeling Zagainov is trying to take over. His work with Sludnov caused the athlete almost stopping contacting with his mother, who coached her son for many years. During the Russian nationals the athlete's parents were sitting in the crowd while Zagainov walked on the pool side with the stop watch. He was also the one to go to the Games in Athens with Sludnov as a coach.
Roman didn't even make it to the finals. Opalev won a bronze, though he was considered the favourite and was aiming for the gold
Not long before the games Zagainov published another book that gave details on his work with Yagudin. Including some very intimate details one would share with a very close person or a doctor. I then wrote a comment about the athletes and coaches being very helpless people. That in any other country just one of those publications would be enough to end the psychologist's career.
The publication made Zagainov mad
- Who gave you the right to write such things about my work?. He was shouting and cursing me in front of tens of bystanders in Olympiiskii pool where we met during the swimming nationals.
In 2005 he was working in RosSport. In various interviews he said among other things:
` I work with 120 athletes who spread all over the world. It is mainly the Russians, though some represent other countries. In the Olympic season I work with the Russian male and female ski teams, then it's biathlon, later - bobsleigh. In 36 years I haven't left a single team. It's my main achievement'
`After the Athens the agency of sports opened an institute of fundamental applied sports issues, where I was offered to become a head of the centre of applied sport psychology. My main goal is preparing the psychologists for Russia. I took a responsibility to give enough professionals for all 42 Russian teams before the 2008 Olympics'
By the way, the centre Zagainov mentioned was indeed talked about, but was never created. The psychologist was invited many times to give a talk in the institute of sports on his thoughts but he always ignored such requests. He continued being a regular sport psychologist without revealing his work secrets to anyone.
In the Turino Olympics Zagainov was officially a part of the ice skating team. Svetlana Zhurova, who became an Olympic champion told me later:
- He is too sticky in his attempts to help. He calls all the time and tells he is the only one who knows how to gain the results. That he can do everything. In my point of view if the athlete needs help he'll go to the specialist. Not the other way around. Hence I declined Zagainov immediately.
He was turned off the same way by the ice dancers Albena Denkova/Maksim Stavisky who represented Bulgaria. Zagainov approached several times Pluschenko and Mishin in Turino offering his services which ended with the skater and the coach officially requesting the Olympic team managers to defend them from such offers.
When Zagainov showed up again in the swimming team I asked the head coach Alexandr Klokov whose idea it was to work with him.
- I don't know him in person, first heard his name in Rossport, - shrugged the coach. We received recommendations. Seems that he worked with several champions. The guys are not complaining. He might as well go on working...
It was more or less what I was told by the head of the Russian biking federation Alexandr Gusiatnikov after the tragical death of Arustamova:
- The first impression was positive. We spoke quite a lot, though later Zagainov almost stopped talking to me. But I thought: if some of the athletes find him useful I shouldn't interfere. Once I was asked to send Zagainov with Arustamova to a competition in France, but we didn't have a budget, so I declined.
By the way, Arustamova was not the first Zagainov patience who became his lover. One Olympic champion, whose name am not going to reveal told me how she turned to the specialist in a low moment in 1986. She lived with him for a year and half and had a hard time breaking up with Zagainov.
Many years later she told me the story:
Imagine, when Bubka stopped working with Zagainov but hadn't yet retired Rudolf wouldn't miss a single TV airing of the athletics. He would sit in front of the TV and every time Sergey was on the screen he would shout `Loose! Loose!'. When I decided to leave him he stole my fur coat...
Zagainov didn't show his face in Arustamova's funeral. Right after the tragedy he left to his family in St. Petersburg meaning never to show up again in the capital.
- Frankly, I was glad to sign Zagainov's resignation, - said Parhomentko. I saw no point keeping him. What sane person would want to work with such a psychologist?