Simonenko talks to Platov in Minsk. Published in rsport.ru
The famous skater Evgeni Platov have been coaching for the last 10 years. He came to the recent Junior Worlds with his British pupils - Smart/Buckland. The R-sport journalist Andrey Simonenko spoke to the only ice dance two times olympic champion.
AS: Evgeny, the ice dance changed so much even since the not so long ago when you were skating yourself and it is due to change more - the ISU came up with a revolutionary decision to let the juniors use hip hop for the SD. Do you agree with the way the ice dance develops?
EP: Yes. It's boring watching the same things again and again. If someone should take a hip hop and create a good dance it will be interesting. It's a different style. It will be entertaining.
AS: Will you try?
EP: Perhaps. Olivia and Jo are fun. So we might.
AS: Are you bothered by the not clear definitions on one hand and the strict rules on the other? The Russian ice dancers Riazanova/Tkachenko were penaltied for the lack of rhythm in their FD this season. Someone might decide there is no rhythm in hip hop.
EP: The rules will be more defined next season. The programme can not exist without a change of rhythm and the mood, the change of emotions. I agree with that. ISU tries to push us creating more entertaining programmes. Of course there are some interesting dances to the classical music as well. When Virtue/Moir skated to Mahler in the Olympics it was breathtaking. It was a piece of art. In the past the dances put to a single piece were in fashion. If you recall at the end of the 80s everyone were fed up with the musical cuts and started creating whole programmes. It was great. Now ISU got bored, hence we have to change the rhythm. Once it will become old and be changed. but right now I support the ISU decision. Indeed many recent programmes were painful to watch.
AS: And you got bored?
EP: You bet! All that drama on the ice... How much can you take? One could suicide of all that draaaahhhhmmmmmaaaa
AS: But drama is the Russian style, isn't it?
EP: Sure, but the drama differs. It is possible to create an uplifting programme, where not everyone dies after 4 minutes. So it would be dramatic, yet would be interesting to watch. Take Ravel's `Bolero' for example. It's kind of a drama. But it's genious! Then on the other hand there funeral style dramas. So I think it's a good thing we can't use one piece of music for the programme and have to change the rhythm and the mood.
AS: It seems figure skating in general and ice dance in particular is far less popular than ice shows. What should the ISU do to bring people back to the ice rinks? Half empty seats during the Russian Grand Prix in Moscow became a usual sight.
EP: I wouldn't be jumping to conclusions based on GP only. It's not such a big event. There were many people on the rink during the Worldsi n Moscow. By the way, when we were skating the sport was far from popular. In the 90s we attended one competition a year, that was it. Now thanks to Ilia Averbukh, kudos to him, thanks to those shows figure skating became so much more popular. Though I think people had a bit too much of figure skating on the TV, which might be a reason they don't attend the competitions.
AS: I.e. it's not about the CoP being still not clear enough?
EP: No. Quite the opposite, think the fans started udnerstanding the system. They used to look at the numbers understandning nothing, now they do. They react to the numbers immediately with cheering and booing. The downside of the system is the amount of elements that have to be integrated into the programme without putting an accent on them. If the programme doesn't look like a collection of the elements it's a good programme. To create a dance to the same `Bolero' is close to impossible under the current system. Though that's the beauty of the system. To have some who manage choreographing interestingly under the current system. When I watch the programmes of the world top 3-4 pairs I forget about the system and that I'm a coach. I watch it as an ice dance fan. They get me interested.
AS: Besides the top pairs you think the rest are not for watching?
EP: Not at all. Some create good programmes as well. The trouble is that if the programmes are bad they are really bad. Strokes - element. When the system was first introduced ice dance begame a bad pairs skating. All our dances were just entering the elements and recovering from them. With 11 elements we calculated the remaining time and it was less than 10 seconds. What character can you create in that amount of time? When the amount of elements was decreased it became more interesting. Of course not as interesting as it was under the old system. On the other hand back then we didn't have any exact rules. We were trashed constantly. `What kind of sport is it? Let's cancel it!' we heard all the time. Agree many did exactly the same on the ice and were judged with `like it' `like it not'. The pair had to be unique to be liked by everyone. Now the ice dance became indeed a sport. I'd compare the twizzles the ice dancers do to a quad jump. Just calculate the twizzles sequence: 4, 4 and 3 it's 11 rotations. We couldn't even do 2 at our times! Perhaps the programmes became a bit less impressive to watch, but, as I mentioned before, everyone has a chance to create something unique.
AS: I wanted to ask you for a long time: have you ever tried judging your programmes with Grischuk under a CoR? How many points would you gain? Realize it's not an exact science since the programme construction was different....
EP: I did, but not in many details. I should try it again, good idea, I'm curious as well. But I can tell straight away - we didn't have steps sequence like they do now, the lifts were different. There were no twizzles nor spins. No one set a goal to stand on one foot and make several turns. Perhaps once in a while and even then 2-3 turns were considered a great performance.
AS: So all you have left to mark are the components?
EP: As for the components, the whole 2nd mark is our old good rules which were never canceled. It became more defined and clearer - not the abstract `artistry', but with 5 components. When judging fairly it became easier. Of course it was hard at first - 5 components with their paragraphs, but the judges are more experienced now. They do mark the pointed toes and the lines too. Only that the pairs who had a reputation before the CoP used to receive high marks at first and the opposite- the lower marked skaters had a harder time to gain recognition. The new system is like a child - it had to grow up. It had to be educated, fed and dressed to look wel. Our kid is 10 y.o this year and it starts to become a person. We start to understand it ourselves. If in the past not too many knew what to do with it now everyone knows the ruls and where to skate on which edge.
AS: Is the kid objective?
EP: Let me put it this way: any sport, where the result is decided by humans and not machines there always will be a slight bias. People are people and they are biased. Nevertheless, if taking the Moscow worlds I would have judged the first 10 pairs exactly the same. I absolutely agree with the placements. All was fair. The French Pechalat/Bourzat wouldn't lost Shibutanis in their life if they didn't fall. But they did, lost the points and - good bye! Nothing can be done.
AS: Many specialists disagreed with Shibutanis' 3rd place...
EP: How could they disagree? Ok, I realize they are young, lack experience etc. The 3rd place in the world debute is a record. But how can you argue when falling and loosing points? If you get a 4th level for the steps with a positive GOE it's 10 points. If you fall you loose 5-6 points on the spot. Add the fall deduction, so it's minus 7-8 points. Off you fly. Under the old system if the French fell they would receive 5.7 instead of a 5.8 or so and they would have remained where they were before.
AS: You think it's right the price of a fall in the ice dance, especially on the element became so high? In the singles it certainly hadn't changed much - some win after 3 falls, while in the ice dance one fall is enough
EP: The penalty for a fall not on the element didn't change much. Had the French fall after the step it would be just one point. They would have remained 3rd. But he fell on the steps and we already calculated how much it costed. I think the price is fair. It's what makes our sport better. Say, in diving if the diver falls on his stomach, where would he be placed? Nowere. He'll be last. It should be the same in our sport. In general my point of view on the ice dance changed. I respect the contemporary ice dancers. They are real athlets and have to perform a difficult programme giving all they have. And understanding the responsibility. We knew if we make a mistake nothing major will happen. Now a mistake can change everything. The mental preparation in the ice dance is completely different from what it used to. Completely. So is the level of the dance. Take an old tape and see the junior dances of 15 years ago. They try to do something on the unbent knees. It's a nightmare! See the junior worlds now? Sure not everyone looks good, but a lot do. And the lifts!? The male partner in a spread eagle, change of positions - who would dare that before? Never in our lives!
AS: When the CoP was first introduced did a thought `the ice dance is gone' cross your mind?
EP: At first. It's what I meant when calling it a bad pairs skating. No one could do the spins. Nor the twizzles. The lifts were in some idiotic poses and everyone were doing the same ones because there weren't enough difficult positions for the girls in the rules. Sometimes you would watch the dance and think - it's a nightmare. But then the baby started to grow...
AS: And the parent, aka ISU tried to educate the child - the rules changed, completed...
EP: The rules change every season. After which everyone whines - there we go again. But they must be changed! We need to balance them, to find the best. We have lots of ideas. There is a heap of coaches workshops where we say what is better to do and what not. Of course, it is impossible to accept everything we say, but they do consult with us more or less. Reckon in about 5-6 years the ice dance will become awesome. Even not many things become right. See how everyone liked the SD...
AS: I was just going to ask whether you liked it.
EP: Not at the first, but that's because I loved the compulsory so much. But the SD contains the compulsory and I'm glad. Many were for eliminating it altogether, but I was always against. The compulsory dance is the indicator whether the pair can skate or not. Many pairs' FD is good with interesting lifts and spins... But put them on the ice, let them gain some speed and ask them to skate for a blues, for example. Or even the easiest dance, the kilian. Everythign will become clear straight away. So to sum it up the SD is a good thing with a bit of the compulsory and the elements. The audience finds it more interesting and it's better for the ISU - the competition can be held in 2 days.
to be continued..... (in a couple of hours)
AS: But the weight of the compulsory went down nevertheles...
EP: The opposite! Increased at least twice! You know how we used to dance the compulsory? Put a nice shirt, skate nicely and here are your marks. No one even payed attention to the steps. And now? Every step is defined - on which edge in which position etc. Shot with a camera. Went on the inside edge got your marks, went to the outside - other marks. And then the key points - got level 4 - here are another 10-12 points. Didn't get level 4 - get 2-3 points and off you go. So the compusolry's weight is much higher! I've seen a lot of rhumba which was this year SD. If you take world medalist and judge them by CoP they wouldn't get a point. Level 1 or 2. Today's rhumba is completely defined. You have to show the outside edge/inside edge/outside edge. The judges have cameras and see everything. When we were skating no one looked at it. Danced nicely and no one care you put the inside edge instead of hte outside. Take the choctaw. There wasn't a single girl, and take the champions who at my time would do the choctaw on the outside edge. They would strike the pose, would do something, but there was no edge. Chоkтаw in rhumba is the most difficult element ever. It's like police car taht drive and maneouvre at the same time. A slightest wave of the whell, and here a slightes lack of synchronization and you are off the line. When I was coachking Coomes/Buckland that step we were collapsing with laughter watching the video seeing what we did. But then they slowly learned. They understood how important it is to skate in unison. That a couple of mm away are tearing apart.
AS: Right, so the judges can see anything. But do they look?
EP: As I said before - in gymnastics and in our sport the elements of bias were always present and will always be. But mainly the judging is fair.
AS: Does the judges anonimity hurt the ice dance?
EP: Of course. I'd cancel that. I always rooted for the open judging. But the ISU doesn't want it , doesn't want the repetition of Olympics 2002, when everyone knew where to point fingers. Though of course, when the country and the last name are written right near the given mark the responsibility is different. They wouldn't put weird numbers. But Chiquanta is absolutely against. I personally spoke to him a lot of times and pointed it's a very important thing. Useless. Besides, the coahces can't appeal.
AS: But that's so wrong! Perhaps pointing fingers and scandals should be forbidden, but an option to explain the marking at least within the ISU should exist...
EP: Indeed. All and all I like the new system, work became much more interesting. It used to be boring. Choreograph a dance and off the skaters go. The judging based on like it/like it not. Now there are definitions and it's great. Wish it wasn't anonymous...
AS: If I'm not mistaken you worked for a year or two under the oldsystem?
EP: No. I started coaching at 2003, when the CoP was introduced. It was a horror. Let me tell you a story: I was working with the Israeli dancers Chait/Sakhnovski. There are new rules, no one has a clue what is going on. We had help from the specialists, but they knew nothing either. Everyone is confused. No one knows what is allowed and what is forbidden. Hey ho, we do the programmes. Was a good one, by the way - LOTR. Sounded good. But that's not the point. So we went to the Moscow GP. Landing. Skating. And receive zero levels. We were shocked by the marks, but then the technical controllers who managed to understand the rules helped the skaters and the coaches. After the competition we were explained what was wrong. And then we realize we have to change 2 lifts completely, work on the steps and the spins. But the competitions are not over yet. Next day we fly to Japan where the next GP is 3 days away. And I realize we're doomed. Had we have at least a week we could make it. Not much we could do, off to the airport we go. The kids are sleeping, I take a piece of paper and start changing the programme. The easiest way possible - from here move there, catch a leg there, stand, rather than sit on the spins and so on. We land in Japan and I saw guys, in order not to drop any lower I made a list of changes. They look at me as if I grew another head - we only have one official training before the competition. When are we supposed to make all the changes. Ok, we check in to the hotel and go to the conference hall, move the chairsand the tables to the sides. And start changing the programme according to the list with no music.
AS: Was there a happy end?
EP: Yes! They went to the ice and did everything right and received good levels. So you can conclude what kind of a mix that new system was 10 years ago. It's quite clear now.
AS: I ask many others and will ask you as well: do you agree with the 10th that receive the Canadians and the Americans under the CoP? The 10 is supposed to be unreachable?
EP: I agree the 10th should be given. To the best pairs - Virtue/Moir and Davis/White. We did receive the 6.0 undert the old system, our skating was considered ideal back then, the Canadians and the Americans are idal now. Speaking of the 10th there was a special order it's allright to give 10th. A couple of years ago an 8 was considered very high and 9 was hardly reachable.
AS: Till the Sochi Olynpics who do you think anyone can come close to the Canadians and the Americans?
EP: In theory. Our skaters can. But they will have to work very hard. There are still 2 years to go. Working to the maximum of their ability they can become as good as today's leaders. They have the potential. But it's a lot of work - the gap is big right now. I heard rumours that not all our pair's practices go as they should. That there are psychological problems, some personal relationship... If our guys will give 100% they will close the gap. But they have to give a maximum on every practice, to overcome themselves. Without it no talent will help. Chasing someone is always hard.
AS: Out of the top 3 Russian pairs who are the favourite to close that gap?
EP: Bobrova/Soloviev used to be above the others in the past. But now I think Riazanova/Tkachenko are a bit behind, while Ilinyh/Katsalapov may now fight to be the first Russian pair. But again, only given they show good skate and work hard. So that at the beginning of every season it was obious the pair improved over the summer. The offseason is a very important time for us. It shows the people were working. If your programmes are ready by the beginning of the season it will be smooth later. Cleaning the programmes during the competitions
AS: This is exactly what the Canadians and the Americans do, while our pairs come to the test skates with half done work. Is it a national thing to take a while to stear?
EP: I guess. To take it easy till the autumn and then tear the limbs, be heroic. It's wrong. Summer is the time to work.
AS: I'd like to change the subject. There is a belief a great skater doesn't necessarily become a good coach. Were you under pressure when you first started coaching?
EP: I was under pressure, but it wasn't that. Imagine: you won everything. You fly very high. And then you have to land, forget who you are and work hard. Give your soul to those idiots, who don't understand a thing first. That is what was hard. During the first year I thought about giving up. It was impossible! I was the greatest just a moment ago and all of the sudden I'm critisized, spoken about and told you did this and that wrong, your work is rubbish. I thought: what do I need it for? But as the time passed it became better.
AS: How did the other coaches take it when from two times Olympic champion you became their competitor?
EP: More or less like :`you are no one'! I could read in their eyes : you? a coach? really? you have a long way to prove having a right being named a coach. That `proving' was very hard at the beginning. When I won my first medal as a coach I felt the way it changed to `oh well, may be you are not hopless'. But guess about 6-10 years have to pass between being no one and gaining some respect.
AS: Have you ever considered coming back to Russia from the USA like many of your colleagues did?
EP: You know, when I was skating and training in the USA I liked it so much. Russia was falling apart while in the Delaware uni in the USA we had perfect conditions. Like in Novogorsk, but cooler and cleaner. Then I have a family there, my parents moved... I was offered to come back to Russia after the 2006 Olympics. And again after Vancouver. But that's life. I've always wanted to work with the Russian skaters and when they came to me I had a great time working with them. Working in Russian is a different world! I coach Angelina Telegina, who used to skate with Valentin Molotov. They were skating and I was thrilled to finally have a Russian pair. But Valentin was injuried and retired. Angelina remained alone. At the same time I was coaching a Georgian pair - Reed/Japaridze. But they didn't get talone. Otar started coaching but decided it's too earlyt to retire yet. So Telegina and Japaridze will be representing Georgia.
AS: What's the main problem trianing with you- money?
EP: Of course. Attending the competitions is expensive - the flight. If I were working in Moscow like Zhulin, Svinin, Zhuk, I would be working with the Russians only, of course. Why would I want to work with the foreigners? But I live in the USA, my SO is an American and I dont' want to change a thing. I chose that country and I like it. It's made for people. My parents like it. The disabled and the eldery are respected here. I look at my parents and see they became 10 years younger. Thats the way it is and if any Russian skaters want to come and train in my group - juniors perhaps - I'd love to work with them. I'm a Russian and its' a shame I don't get to work with any Russian pairs.
AS: I have an impression every Russian in the USA needs a piece of their motherland to avoid nostalgia. Whether it's a vegetables yard or a garden. You, as a person from Odessa - is Brighton Beach a part of your motherland?
EP: The sea! Brighton beach - I dont' even want to mention that area. Guess I could only go there to a good restaurant to have a borsch. The rest I'd rather avoid. It's a place where people live for 20 years and insist not speaking a word in English. I like the Americans USA. As for being from Odessa.... I can't go on without the water, hence I chose New Jersey with it's wonderful beaches. Since the 20s various presidents vacationed here. Really great beaches. Every holiday morning in the summer I go swimming. You can't swim far though - there are sharks. But the water is gorgeous. Though nothing compared to Florida.
Simonenko wrote it's not the end of the interview, so to be continued when the 2nd part is up