Andrey Simonenko talks to Zhulin
Just a year ago the World champion, European champion and Olympic medalist in the ice dance Alexandr Zhulin, the coach of the Olympic champions 2006 Navka/Kostomarov was working with 2 elite teams - the French Nathalie Pechalat/Fabian Brourzat and the Russians Elena Ilinyh/Nikita Katsalapov. Both teams left his group and the coach, quoting his words `is a bit out of the loop'. Nevertheless, Zhulin coaches several promising junior pairs and following closely the seniors competitions. The coach was asked by Andrey Simonenko, the R-Sport journalist to comment on the GPF results
AS: Alexandr, what do you think about the marks that the Americans Davis/White and Canadians Virtue/Moir received in the GPF?
AZ: It's a scary gap they opened. It's a sky high marks. On the other hand when you see it yourself you realize those pairs are indeed better. The Olympic champions, the World champions. They are the best. They skate on the highest level every competition and don't give a reason to give them any lower marks. The judges are so used to that level so they give high marks by default - all those 9,50, 9,75, 10. Though am not quite sure the 10th are a good mark to give...
AS: The 10 means, more or less, you hit the ceiling and there is nowhere else to go.
AZ: Agree, and that is what I would argue about with the judges. I wouldn't spread such marks freely. There is always some faults that can be found and I can't really tell Davis/White's or Virtue/Moir's skating deserves the 10th. I probably would have given such marks in the cleanest skate at the Olympics or the Worlds. It would make sense - the season is almost over, the pair skated brilliantly and it's a boost to give the athletes a 10. I'd rather keep the skaters in shape and show them there is still something to work on. But it's just my point of view. Let me repeat, I think those two pairs are indeed in a level of their own. The next level pairs are Weaver/Poje and the French. The next - Shibutani and Bobrova/Soloviev. It doesn't make me happy at all to realize with an almost clean skates Bobrova/Soloviev end up being 6th. They are national champions after all.
AS: If talking about your preferences on the highest level - who do you like more - the Canadians or the Americans?
AZ: The Canadians. They have the magic, their skating shows the relationship between a man and a woman. It've always been important for me. The Americans are more athletic, polished and clean. They are brilliant technicians. But if comparing, say, the SD of both pairs, even despite Scott's fall the latin dance by the Canadian is the real latin dance, the way it should look. Davis/White show the perfectly technical dance, it's just not a latin.
AS: Why is it than Davis/White receive a higher marks? Is there anything thas the specialists know without revealing the press?
AZ: It's hard for me to tell, I'm quite out of the seniors loop this year. As for what is visible... Many like the way the Americans skate. Their marks and placements are well deserved actually, they skate without any mistakes, crazily fast, with a huge amplitude, with the clean edges. I'd like to stress that the competition of those 2 teams within the same group pulled Shibutani/Shibutani much higher and Chock/Bates are to follow. I think it's great when there is such a competition inside the group. Oleg Volkov and I had the same in our group with Pechalat/Brouzat and Ilinyh/Katsalapov. They helped each other a lot and progressed a lot. Sparring is a very important thing.
AS: Do you have a feeling that because of that competition either Davis/White or Virtue/Moir will leave the group before the Olympics? Just like Belbin/Aghosto did?
AZ: I don't have such an impression. Though, of course, the pressure might become too mcuh, but a lot will depend on the coaches and how will they handle the situation. But I don't think there is anything to worry about now, the environment sounds good, the guys are reasonable. Though of course, should Davis/White go on winning all the time it will make Virtue/Moir think... They are not used being second. And they were skating great in the GPF. Brilliantly.
AS: Since you mentioned the French, do you think they can reach the leaders in the near future?
AZ: Depends on how will they be working, but in the near future - I doubt. It's hard to tell how will things go. A lot will depend on their programmes, on how they prepare during the off season and other factors. Sometimes the programme is a miss, there is an injury.. Things happen. Given the current situation I don't think it's possible to compete with the top 2 pairs.
AS: Was Bobrova/Soloviev's skate in Canada indeed clean? They missed the levels, didn't receive many positive GOE for the elements...
AZ: Of course not. They were shaky. It was visible how nervious they are in one of the lifts, for example. Soloviev was so unstable that I thought he'll fall. If we payed an attention of course the judges saw it. And this is where they lacked the points. The same can be said about the other elements. Then compare that to the quality of Davis/White's elements. No judge could give them less than +2. They perform everything so lightly and cleanly.
AS: Leaving comparing Bobrova/Soloviev's elements execution to Davis/White and taking Shibutani/Shibutani, again the Russians loose: the Americans' second mark was lower, but the technical was higher.
AZ: I think it's the example for how the CoP is imperfect. Shibutanis marks are a mistery for me. I don't mean the elements - I agree with the +2 and +2 they get there, no questions. I would give them 4th for the components though. The impression that there are two little happy persons who skate nicely and cleanly. that's it. I don't have anything personal against them, really, but it's unfair with Shibutanis get such marks. It says a lot. They still have a juniorish skating. Let us then get the other juniors participate the seniors competitions and give them 10th. Unfortunately the current system is so imperfect that a pair like Shibutani can be 3rd in the world.
AS: I.e. the charizma or a magic shouldn't even be mentioned?
AZ: You're kidding. Again, thank god there is such a pair as Virtue/Moir that shows the relationship between a man and a woman. Our sport is ice dancing, not gymnastics on ice. Come on, let's add the valnut and the parallel bars! I think some sort of change is needed. If there were some sort of ISU conferences I'd say the pairs to look up to are Virtue/Moir and Weaver/Poje. You get goosebumps when watching their dance. It's cool! This is what we should inspire for. Just rememeber Yagudin in the singles - he was landing the quads yet skating such programmes that made people cry. What tears would I shade when Davis/White are skating? None! If only from being too sad. Of course the tears are not necessary every time, of course the programme might be light and fun. But still there should be a relationship. The Americans are not even looking at each other once throughout the whole programme. They skate like machines. Two fantastically made machines, but it's not what the ice dance should be about in my point of view.
AS: When Weaver/Poje were skating I couldn't help thinking if such a beautiful dance about love was performed by Bobrova/Soloviev it would look so much more impressive then the witch/Faust they chose...
AZ: Without a doubt. Of course it's not nice of me to comment on the other coaches work, but I think Bobrova/Soloviev's dance this year is a miss. The lyrical, dancing themes are in. Shpilband's group have light and lovely dances. Weaver/Poje have a dramatic programme, but without overdoing it. Bobrova/Soloviev are a bit too `witchy'
AS: The juniors ice dance podium was swept by the Russians.
AZ: Yes, I liked all 3 pairs, think it's a good future. The coaches are working good and the results are showing. The placing was fair. I think Stepanova/Bukin would be second if Ivan didn't fall in the SD. Yanovskaya/Mozgov are a great pair. Sinitsina/Zhiganshin skated the FD great and were a clear winners. I think we are moving in the right direction here. Oleg and I have a very good pair in our group - Valeria Zenkova/Valery Sinitsyn. I think they soon will be a competition to the 3 pairs above.
AS: Don't you think Sinitsina/Zhiganshin and Stepanova/Bukin should had participated the seniors competitions?
AZ: I don't think anything wrong with them staying in the juniors. But it's not my decision.
AS: It's just that the ice dance seem to become younger. You let Ilinyh/Katsalapov participate the seniors competitions even though they could have skated in the juniors for a couple more years.
AZ: There is no point for them to remain in the juniors. They should had tried out in the major competitions. And I really believed they could fight for a medal in Sochi, perhaps even for the gold. I considered them the only pair who potentially could beat the Americans and the Canadians. Though I'm not quite so sure anymore.
AS: You don't believe in them anymore?
AZ: I just know them too well and can see the processes that began might bring them to a point when they'll be too late.
AS: Should they ask to come back to your group - will you accept them?
AZ: It's hard to tell. They left my group twice already. I'm not ready to answer that question