Interview with Galina Kukhar for sport-express.ua by Anna Savchik
The known Ukranian coach Galina Kukhar was watching the worlds on the TV despite the fact 2 of her pupils were medalled - Aljona Savchenko took gold with Robin Szelkowy, Tatiana Volosozhar - silver with Maksim Trankov. The single skater Alexey Buchenko participated the worlds for the first time representing Israel. All those skaters are coached by other people now, but as Galina Kukhar once mentioned `there is no such thing as a ex pupil'
She is in the good terms with everyone who ever trained in her group. The misunderstanding with Kovalevski were left in the past. When the Sport-express journalist dialed Kukhar's number she said `Anton Kovalevski is in Kiev now. He has a break in his shows and came here'
Can't recall a single Pluschenko programme
The sight in the ice arena was quite interesting: the step sequence choreographing for the Ukranian junior silver medalist Igor Reznichenko. `Try a twizzle or a spread eagle. Single twizzle, chocktaw' offered Maria Tumanovskaia. It was her birthday and there was a box of chocolates and flowers on the board. Reznichenko tried, finishing flat on the ice. `Guess it's going to be a comfortable steps sequence' laughted Kukhar. `It was the compulsory part, now we have to come up with something to be remembered' and went on the ice.
`Those are the skates from the times I was performing in the ice ballet', explained Galina seeing the journalists' baffled look on her old skates and blades named `Zhiguli'. `Probably from the beginning of the 90s'. When Petrenko saw me skating in those he mentioned it was an antique.
AS: I realize the coach's salary is low, but not that low so you couldn't afford a new pair of skates in 30 years?
GK: Breaking a new boot was always a nightmare for me. Those are comfortable. When the ankels are strong you can skate on any boots. We were talking to a coach from Latvia during the pracices in Romania. A wise woman. She works with a girl whose ankle looks as if she was a ballet dancer. I was amazed how well she can point her toys. The coach repled `I don't let my skaters use hard boots, otherwise they will stop working with their feet'. So sometimes it's a good thing to have feelings in your feet.
AS: Igor Reznichenko didn't take his eyes off you during the practice. Are all your pupils equally devoted?
GK: No, not all of them, of course. It depends on a person, on their manners and wishes. Igor wants to progress. I left for a while and he was coached by Vitali Danilchenko, who is recovering from the back injury and doesn't participate show right now, helping Dmitrii Shkidchenko. Vitali was thrilled working with the kid.
AS: DO you didn't hesitate long before accepting Reznicheno to your group? езниченко?
GK: Elena Ferafontova- his coach, is a very kind and modest person. She asked me herself. There are cases when you come to a dead end with the skater. You must pass him to another coach then. I was in the same situation with Volosozhar/Morozov understanding they have to move forward.
AS: Reznichenko's `Don Quixote' stood out between both junior and senior competitors in the nationals. Jsut like any programme you take part in. You generally don't accept skaters who cant' feel the music to your group or can teach anyone not just skate, but dance on the ice?
GK: I can teach almost everyone. Last year we hit the character in the LP, but not the muscles rhythm of the skater. I said immediately `Igor, you'll have a hard time skating to that music'. He realized it himself by the middle of the season, though first he wanted to skate to it so much. Dmitri Dmitrenko and I wanted him to skate to `Romeo' combingin the contemporary music with Prokofiev's. Igor declined. The guy preferst skating to the music he can feel.
AS: Why did you decide using MITIM? Were you worried taking the music so many people associate with Yagudin and his olympic skate?
GK: It was Reznichenko's idea as well. He said he gets goose bumps from this music. We tried to pick less used parts and only towards the 2nd part of the programme there are familiar sounds. The programme suits Igor very well. Till he did some toes moves on the ice I forgot Yagudin was skating to it. In general we are trying to avoid copying.
AS: In figure skating, just like in the movies, the most successful role becomes a skaters' visiting card. Which characters do you remember most?
GK: Of course Yagudin's MITIM and Winter. Strange, I can't recall any of Pluschenko's programmes really. I remember he skated to Michael Jackson, but that's about it. I loved Anisina/Piezerat's programmes. Before them the ice dance was about moving the salon dances to the ice. They brought drama. The others attempted to do that as well, while the ISU tried turning back.
Aljon is more German, than Ukranian
AS: For the last 2 years the first two places in the worlds are taken by Savchenko and Volosozhar. How is it - seeing your pupils on the podium?
GK: I think Aljona is more German, than Ukranian. Tanya is still closer. I was afraid calling her mother after the SP. But I just knew Tanya and Maksim would do allright in the LP. The mental stress waas behind them. They came out freely on the ice and it worked.
AS: Did mistakes of the kind that happened in todes occured when Tanya was skating in your group with Petr Kharchenko or Stanislav Morozov?
GK: It wasn't Tanya's fault, it was the partners. I guess. It's hard to recall now. Their competitive level was not so high back then. Making such mistakes in the Worlds in the SP is not something the judges would forgive.
AS: The fact all 3 Russian pairs had silly falls on the french ice- is it a coinsidence or there is no such thing in sports?
GK: Who knows. I recall the previous worlds in Nice, in 2000. The Russians were not lucky either. Berezhnaya/Sikharulidze were disqualified after the Europeans. It wasn't so good for us either - Obertas/Palamarchuk had a bad fall. I watched the SP on one of the Russian channels and the commentator said they were too relaxed and partied too much. What a silly thing to say! Bazarova/Larionov's fall in the end of the programme for which they were not penalized was indeed a case of loosing control a bit too early, but the rest of the mistakes were on the elements. Kawaguti/Smirnov missed the Europeans, perhaps they miscalculated the effort when finishing the lift. Tanya's fall was a silly one.
AS: It seemed Volosozhar took the mistake much lighter than Trankov. Is she much calmer or is better in keeping the emotions?
GK: Of course, Trankov is much more emotional. Tanya is logical. She is very strong willed, she was holding it together herself and calming the partner. When the camera focused on her eyes the commentator said `if you are looking for tears - look elsewhere'. That's right! Tanya can fall apart when she is out of the rink for no one to see.
AS: Did Volosozhar/Trankov win the silver or loose the gold?
GK: Reckon had they have 2 clean skates they would have won.
AS: Perhaps a not politically correct answer- but who were you cheering for this championship - Aljona or Tanya?
GK: No comment. Tanya is still closer - she left no so along, while Aljona 've been living in Germany for 10 years. Recently meeting her in the competition I see she had changed - became softer. She is easier to talk to. She used to be very jumpy. Would just spit `hello' through her teeth and run away. Now we can have a chat, she asks about my family - she knows them all having spent so much time with us.
AS: You mentioned Savchenko becoming softer. I'd add calmer. She takes all the success and defeats with a good humour.
GK: When they are young they take all the defeats and victories very personally. Life teaches to adjust. It's not the last world championships and not the first medal. If you look closer on the top skaters it doesn't happen that they have a good season and then an even better one. It's always ups and downs. Most important is to make sure the up is during the Olympic season. This is why some skaters miss the season after the games - you can't be on the top of your shape and be stressed all the time.
You have to take time to want to compete again. Aljona works non stop, she doesn't even have breaks between the competitions participating shows. If I were Steuer I would take a break. Look at the Chinese Shen/Zhao - they took 2 seasons off, recovered and won in Vancouver. Morozov was trying to convinse Ando to take a season off after she won the worlds before getting ready for Vancouver. She declined and by the Olympic season was drained both mentally and physically.
I didn't expect such a calm kid to become such a fighter
AS: Savchenko/Szelkowy's LP was controversial. Some consider `Pina' a masterpiece, some think it's their worst programme. What do you think?
GK: I like almost all of their programmes. SOme are better, some are worse, but it's always original and interesting. Aljona and Robin prove they can be different. Perhaps `Pina' is calmer than the other programmes, there is no exact character like in the `Pink Panthere'. Some skated to that music before, but never as expressivly as Savchenko/Szelkowy.
AS: Whose doing is it - Aljona's or their coach Ingo Steuer's?
GK: I think both. When Savchenko represented Ukraine I choreographed most of the programmes. We invited Irina Chubarets for the last one. Both ALjona and Stas are very creative. I just had to give them a push and they would process the thought and depict it on the ice.
AS: Who was lucker with the partner - Aljona or Tanya?
GK: Bot Tanya and Aljona are perfect for pairs skating. AS for their partners- each has a strong and a weak side. Trankov became much calmer now. Tanya knows how to tame a partner. She did the same with Stas at the time. I call Robin silky (in Russian Szelkowy is silky). He is more trustworthy, though he sometimes makes mistakes in the jumps. He is older as well.
AS: Who is more of a champion material - Volosozhar or Savchenko?
GK: Both are very motivated and their goal is to become Olympic champions. The fight in 2014 will be incredibly interesting.
AS: How were they as kids?
GK: Aljona was 7 when I saterted working with her. She was quite willed back then. I remember she hated the LP to Strauss I choreographed. She couldn't really admit it, but she skated it so badly I would go mad and jump after her on the ice. I thought the music suited her. When she became older and started skating pairs we would choose the music together.
I realized I must listen to the skater. Tanya was 14 when she joined my group. It was a very calm kid and I couldn't expect she'd be such a fighter. She is very calm, very loyal to her partners, always helps them. When things dont' work out she looks for the rason in her skating.
AS: Stanislav Morozov was probably the luckiest skater partners-wise...
GK: Morozov/Savchenko were two leaders who decided at the very beginning who is the leader. Tanya was very calm and took the leadership slowly. Stas didn't even realize how did that happen.
AS: The fact he wasn't too successful with either partner - his fault or his grief?
GK: Certainly not fault. Just the way things happened. A family fault even. If he was motivated from the very beginning to become a skater and was told what to do to reach his goal... But he was just skating with his father because they didn't have anything else to do with him. No one ever really worked with him. He was more or less self coached at the age of 15. Which is too late - his jumps technique never existed. The only thing he inherited from his father is the feeling of the lift. The rest he must had been taught and he wasn't.
When under the stress, during competitions all those problems popped out. Besides, mentally he was not very stable. He called me on the new year saying `Galina, I never realized it was so scary to stand near the borders when your skaters are on the ice and you can do nothing to help them' `Aha, now you finally understand me!'
AS: Do you think Stanislav Morozov can be called a coach?
GK: Yes, and a long time ago. He started with Aljona Savchenko teaching her the pairs elements. I couldn't teach him the pair lifts - as you can imagine I was only lifted. I could give advice to a girl. The female partner must trust the male partner. This is why Tanya and Petr Kharchenko split. She was afraid.
Stanislav just underwent a surgery and I took him with us to the summer training in Turkey to help Petr. It was always good for Stas - he needed that climate for the sews to heal faster. When he was showing the lifts Tanya felt confident in his arms.
Every female pair skater should follot Tanya's steps
AS: All the world pairs medallist were international. How much of a Japan is in Takahashi/Tran's bronze?
GK: Takahashi is Japanese, even though thye train in Canada. There are yet no good Japanese pair coaches, like there are in singles. So they calculated everything correctly. They have an option to invite a partner from a different country. I was asked numerous times `Couldn't you keep Tanya in Ukraine? Bring a partner?' Sorry, but someone has to pay for it...
Tanya has a good scholarship, everythign is done for them. Medical help, training conditions. Who would have payed the partner's salary here? Rent? Not the federation. How can you keep a skater now? Just with the money and a promise the federation would fight for them. Russia would - they need medals.
AS: Nevertheless, it was possible to invite Konstantin Medovikov to skate with Alexandra Gorova.
GK: You think Russia would release a good partner? Never! Medovikov is a good kid, but it wasn't figure skating he cared about. He doesn't have an athlete's set of mind. There are many international pairs now and it's hard to find 2 parts of the whole, so the guy would fit, the girl woudl want to skate with him... Many are just afraid. There are several decent female single skaters in Ukraine who'd love to try pair,s but there are no partners for them
AS: There is just one team with no international pairs and even with no partners switches. I mean China. WHy?
GK: Figure skating is so popular in China and there are so many kids who skate that you can choose and filter. BEsides, the country is very closed and the discipline is famous. They allow their skaters ask Morozov to choreograph, but tthat's about it. Besides, why changing partners if they skated together for a while, have a reputation and points.
If the girl will become too tall I reckon they'll change partners. Or use medicine. Chinese male pairs skaters look the same. I've been to China and haven't seen such tall peopel there.
AS: When Zhang/Zhang started competing internationally their technical ability was above everyones, but they are not much better than the others now. Do you reckon the same expects Sui/Han, or is it a new generation of pairs skating?
GK: Zhang/Zhang are complicated. They are both very tall, but even that is not a problem. No matter how much they worked they didn't have anything special in their skating. Even thouhg he is quite emotional. Pang/Tong are gorgeous- the way they communicate on the ice. Shen/Zhao are amazing. The 3rd pair was lacking something. They skated well and automatically received a high second mark, but objectivly, it was not deserved - their skating is boring. By the way, when Savchenko/Morozov won their Junior worlds Zhang/Zhang were 5th and were performing their quad split twist and quad throw jump. They stopped later. Tried in the Olympics where she hit the boards and that was it.
Tamara Moskvina attempted the throw 4 jump with her Japanese/Russian pair. An injury and done. But how old was Yuko when she learned the element? 25! The bones are different. Sui/Han started learning such elements when they first paired. Just like Pluschenko - he was landing a 3A when he was 14 and it is still not a problem for him
Now lets take Igor Reznichenko. He only started landing the 3l, 3f and 3lo this year. Of course for him those jumps are harder than toeloop and Salchow he've been landing for 3 years.
AS: In Minsk where Sui/Han became the 3 times junior world champions another of your previous pupils medalled - Andrey Deputat. Could you imagine him on the podium a couple of years ago?
GK: Yes and I'm thrilled for him. He could never be so high had he remained in Ukraine. Andrey is a very hard working. We couldn't find a suitable partner for him here. If you enter the pair skating you must be a good jumper. There will be no time to work on the jumps - you'd have to polish the pairs elements. He left Ukraine with a 3S, 3Lo and 3T.
AS: Andrey is a good guy. His partner is wise for her age. Will they find it hard working together in the future?
GK: Perhaps. But first, the success in the juniors is nice, but once switching to the seniors is like starting fromt he scratch. In Russia it's possible to change partners. If I was asked for an advice I'd say all the girls should follow VOlosozhar's steps: if you want to be the leader in your pair do it patiently and without sticking out. Perhaps Tanya will write a book `how to tame a partner' one day.
Sometimes I have an impression the Japanese and Chinese skaters do 5 revolutions in the air
AS: 3 of your previous pupils participated the Worlds in Nice. Alexey Bychenko represents Israel now. Wasn't it too early for him to leave? With Anton Kovalevski and Stanislav Pertsev retiring he could be Ukraine n.1
GK: Whats' the point? Have you seen Pertsov skating in Ukraine nationals? And he is the first nevertheless. Igor Reznichenko without a single mistake is 4th. Alexey would rotten here and would never had made it to the worlds nor Europeans. I'm sorry he started skating in such championships so late. My relationship with the Israeli federation is quite good and I'd love to see Bychenko progressing.
The guy can do a 4T jump, which he did in the Ukranian nationals last time he copmeted, after which one of the judges told me `Even if he jumps several quads he'll never win!'. There are no skates, no boots, no costumes.. Everything is payed by the parents, and what is he supposed to do it he comes from a single parent family!?
He is now training in the USA where they work with him day and night. So no, am not sorry for releasing him. I was an athlete myself and I know how fast it goes. You haven't yet achieved a thing yet there are younger and more talented skaters who push you away.
AS: Do you think Anton Kovalevski achieved everything he could or had he retired too early?
GK: We skated with him yesterday. I said `you rested for a year, come back'. `Tell it to the federation president', he replied. How am I supposed to explain an athlete I haven't seen her for 2 years. The athlete trains abroad, which is indeed expensive. Perhaps he doesn't place too high, but think it's a huge honour for our country to participate the Olympics.
Right now, who can we send? An ice dance pair perhaps, but that's it. I hope Natasha Popova can make it - a wonderful gir. Seriously, am very fond of her- calm taktful, hardworking. The guys are nowhere near competing in Sochi. With our silly approach the good skaters remain home while the worst participate the Worlds and Europeans.
AS: Popova is a Ukranian who trains in the USA or an American with a Ukrain passport? аспортом Украины?
GK: Natasha speaks Russian well, her style, maners and all are typically ours. She is a slav.
AS: Continuing about the single skaters: do you think the last worlds proved Chan is not reachable or was it the opposite - a glimpse of how he can be reached?
GK: It wasnt him who made him unreachable, but the judges after the SP. His LP was indeed good. I think if the skater fails their SP another skater should have a chance to get the small gold medal. The judges are slowing down figure skating development when the skater with even small mistakes is far higher than a skater who skated a clean programme. Guess I shouldn't complain about the Ukranian judges if even on the world championship level all is decided in advance. When I spoke to Anton Kovalevski he said Chan and Kostner would win. Of course, if Kostner won't fall apart like in LA
AS: Was Uzuru Hanui's bronze medal decided in advance as well?
GK: I think his rivals helped him by making mistakes in the LP
AS: Besides Takahashi one of the skaters who skated clean was Brian Joubert.
GK: Guess everyone gave up on Joubert. The competition in men was quite high. Unlike the ladies, out of which only 3 had a clean skate in the SP. I don't recall such a bad ladies championships. I was impressed with the men though - if in previous years only 2-3 would attempt a quad jump now there were at least 10 with some attempting several quads.
The young Japanese and Chinese skater doing their 3A and quad jumps so earliy that one can think they are working on a 5 turn jump with the quads being an easy thing
AS: Pluschenko won his first worlds bronze medal when he was 15 without attempting a quad. Udzuru Haniu did a quad both in the SP and the LP. Jan Yan became a junior world champion with the whole package as well. Can you compare?
GK: Pluschenko performed a 3A which was considered a hard element back then. Pretty much like tha quad now is an entry ticket to the top 10. If a skater can land a 3A but not a quad it's mediocre. Though lets take the 3s/3t/3t that KVDP does. It's 12.5 points. 3A is 10, 4T is 11, so what's the point performing them?
So it's kind of complicated: on one hand it's good for the image but after the calculations you realize landing two 3/3 combination and one jump you gain more points then for a 4/2 or 3a/3t.
AS: If you were Mao Asada's coach would you include a 3A in the programmes?
GK: The SP - no way. It's your chance to medal. There are just 3 jumping elements, how can you risk so much? Whether she should perform a 3A in general? Of course, it's so beautiful! I saw it in Paris, Asada had a really good season when she won everything. It's just a question of calculations. I've always said: if you land 12 out of 10 only then include the jump in the programme. But if it's 5 out of 10 it's a risk. Though perhaps Asada landed it in the trainings in Nice - we don't know, do we?
If it wasn't for Reznichenko I would be a full time grandmother
AS: Are there any of your pupils who you are especially sorry for not skating to their full potential?
GK: Yes. Galina Maniachenko. Family and injuries took her out from the sports. She competed with Kostner and even beat her in the SP in Canada GP. Galina's child is 5y.o now. Karolina still skates and hopes for a medal in Sochi. And the Italian doesn't even attempt the lutz, landing the flip from time to time only.
Reckon Kovalevski could achieve more.
AS: I thought your parting was not too smooth, but you seem to be allrigth now?
GK: Time health. People become older an wiser and it hurts less.
AS: Are you sorry you gain nothing but gratitude from your former pupils success?
GK: What can I do, that's our country. I actually slowly wrap up my coaching and if it wasn't for Igor Reznichenko with whom I enjoy working so much I'd dedicate myself to my grandchildren completely. I have 3 boys, the 4th on the way.
AS: Any of them skates?
GK: No, their parents couldn't take it bringing them at 5-6am to the practice. The oldest playes football, the youngest tries as well. When we were vacationing in Cyprus even the adults payed attention to how well he played.
AS: We are sittign on the new ice rink now. What did you feel leaving the old `L'dinka'?
GK: I was afraid we'll loose our jobs completely or will do mass skating. When I came here everything seemed so light. Not because it's white, but because I liked everything so mcuh - the ice, the chairs, the place. `Ldinka' was dark like a morgue. I don't miss it at all. Perhaps because it was quite a suffer working there while this one was in building.
The only disadvantage is that there is no warm up place. Guess the builders haven't thought about it. But I wish there were more rinks at least like this one. There are so many kids who want to skate and the finantial state of their parents slightly improved now despite everything