She is the international judge, the member of the ISU Ice Dance Technical committee, the principle of the Odintsovo figure skating school. Nevertheless, when getting ready for the interview I realised am mainly going to talk to Valentin Piseev's wife - the controversial Valentin Piseev, who for the last 20 years rules the USSR/Russian figure skating.
Shehovtsova herself is not bad either, what wasn't she called - the first lady, the grey cardinal... you name her....
The cunning new system
EV: Alla Viktorovna, during the last ISU congress you were selected to the ice dance technical committee. At the same time the head of the ISU ice dance technical committee changed and it's no longer Alexandr Gorshkov, the president of the Russian Figure Skating Federation. Does it mean Russia's influence in the international level went down?
AS: Unfortunately the Russian rule of the ice dance was so big and so long that the rest of the world started looking for the ways to break it. They found and easy way out: a new and completely alien for us judging system. When we talk about advantages and disadvantages of the new system we have to keep in mind it was invented by the Canadians.
EV: What about all those talks Stanislav Zhuk came up with the same system?
AS: Indeed he did thing of a similar system at the time, but it just happened that the Canadians were the ones to give it a green light, while thinking of their advantages and abilities.
We miscalculated how cunning the new system is. Indeed many new positions were invented, while the emphasise now is on the technical ability, rather than expressiveness. Russian used to set the rules in the artistic side of the skating - even figure skating choreographers studied in GITIS (one of Russian main artistic unis)
EV: Agree. Nevertheless, the new system is not that new, it've been used for 10 years now. Reckon it's enough time to raise a new generation of skaters who skate according to the rules. It seems many of our coaches are just incapable of doing that?
AS: I wouldn't be so harsh. There is a pack of reasons, which acts like a pendulum: you move it slightly on the top....
EV: ... and it'll tear everything away at the bottom?
AS: Exactly. And it's not only about figure skating. Yes, we are not as strong as we used to be. If you look for a reason the CoR solemnly is not it. It's just a consequence. Much more upsetting, that we lost the pyramid structure we had that was giving good results for decades. We lost schools, coaches, traditions and heritage. What is the current state of the affairs? Zueva and Shpilband work in Detroit. So does Krylova. The great coach Tatiana Tarasova is more interested in ballet and mainly choreographs shows. Another great coach Elena Tchaikovskaya left the sports for a while to open her own children theatre.
What is the system based on? First of all on the flawless edge control. Lets' say there are about 35 ice rinks around Chicago where the skaters train. It's a huge resource! Then take Odintsovo, where we opened a school 10 years ago. There was no figure skating tradition there, no crowd that would understand what this sport is, no parents who would be willing to take their kids to the ice etc.
We still have a lot of young coaches. But let's think: what does a coach require to give results? I'd compare sport to the architecture here: so the architect has to build an amazing castle and shake the world with his creation. He would need a brilliant idea and bunch of specialists working on it.
It's quite the same in figure skating. The times of the single coaches is gone. In order to give results a bunch of specialists is needed: acrobatics specialists, dancers, general physician, choreographers, theatre coaches. And there mustn't be a single weakest link in the group. I'm not even mentioning the money needed to support such a group. Like our great coach Mishin says even if you clean the manky old car and colour it it won't overrun the Mercedes. The only consolation is that the situation changes to the best quite rapidly.
Where does the Ice Dance go?
EV: Let's take a look at a particular case: the great ice dance specialist Elena Tchaikovskaya has her own rink, her coaches, her quite talented ice dance pair Gorshkova/Butikov, and, quite importantly, a great experience in coaching. You can't watch their skating without tears. It's not quite clear whether Tchaikovskaya's view on the ice dance is not related to the current rules, whether she is just tired and lost the ability taking the skaters to the highest level
AS: It's a very painful question. No one cancelled the ethics, you know.
EV: Nevertheless, it is a question many fans ask.
AS: As a matter of fact am grateful to Elena Anatolievna and her skaters. Many are talking about the Russian ice dance going to a wrong direction, but not many understand what the right direction is. The example of the pair you mention is a good one for where we should not go. Starting with the costumes and finishing with the choreography. They prove there is no going back in ice dance.
EV: Do you think perhaps the lack of results on the top level is also due to some sort of ceiling the young coaches reach? It seems the coach works so hard, the skaters are talented, the junior competitions results are good and then - hitting a dead end.
AS: Of course the coaches have to develop. But I don't think the current state of things is a disaster. Our main problem is the lack of inner competition, including within the groups. Take Kustarova & Alexeeva's group: for many years their leading pair was Bobrova/Soloviev. They pulled the rest with him and were in the worst position. On one hand everyone were trying to skate like them, on the other there was no competition within the group.
EV: Yet many times a competition within the group causes the skaters who feel deprived to look for another coach. Did you even have to interfere in such situations?
AS: I try not to. The coach-skater relationship is a delicate thing and no foreigners advice should be needed there.
Of course, if the skater turns to me, like Yana Khokhlova did when she was left without a partner I try to help. But initiating the coaching switches or helping it - that's something the skater and the federation should deal with.
EV: Do you think there is a point splitting decent pairs for a potential very high result?
AS: It's hard to give a general answer, every situation is very different. I think the times when it was possible to create a competitive pair from two different skater or a single skater and an ice dancer have passed. First of all the rules demand a high synchronisation, which means the skaters have to feel each other. It's not something to be learnt within a year or two, hence two brilliant skaters might not become a brilliant pair. Second it's not the right time for the one season duets, but for the real teams that've been skating for a long periods of time. I'm not even mentioning the partners must be mentally compatible. So am not sure such an experiment would be possible now a days. On the junior level - yes, but not the seniors.
There is always a reason for coaching switch
EV: Does the Russian Figure Skating Federation take steps to make sure good coaches don't remain with no pupils, like happened to Zhuk/Svinin at 2010 and Zhulin last year?
AS: Again, you are asking me a question you should had asked the federation leaders.
EV: I've always assumed you were quite influential in the RFSF
AS: I'd say the rumours of my influence overmarked. In general I disagree with the saying when the skaters retire the coach is left with nothing. After all they gain experience, knowledge, moves to a different coaching level, so later they can take the new skaters to a higher level
As for preventing such situations.. No matter what you say every skater has only one skating career. And a short one too. How do you explain a skater they have to sacrifice their career for someone else's interests? We usually blame the skaters, but every time I want to ask the coach: perhaps the reason is you? Why arent' you looking for it? There is always a reason for a coaching switch.
EV: Do your pupils in Odintsovo always notify you before leaving?
AS: They usually ask for my advice. For example Domnina/Shabalin who left to the USA to train in Linichuk's group a year before the Olympics.
EV: Were you trying to talk them out?
AS: There are circumstances which you can't change even if you want. If you recall, Shabalin was back on the ice too early after his knee surgery, which was followed by a series of complications. When the skater looses hope to recover and remains the same conditions he starts looking for a way out.
EV: Linichuk is now coaching Pushkash/Gureiro. Does their stay in the USA payed by the federation?
AS: Yes. Unfortunately not all our skaters can afford such trainings. The initiator to move was Gureiro's mother. As far as I know the federation was notified about a decided fact.
EV: I can understand financing the champions, but when financing those who just want to go abroad doesn't it mean the federation is hurting itself?
AS: So we are talking about the federation again, do we?
EV: Right, let me rephrase. Let's take your best pair in Odintsovo - Riazanova/Tkachenko, who, as far as I know, also plan moving to the USA. The federation will finance the move,while the school will be left with no top skaters again?
AS: I think we should use every possible opportunity for the result. The guys are not going just somewhere, but to our, Russian coaches, who are very familiar with the Russian ice dancing traditions and support them, despite living abroad for many years. In general I think it's wrong burning the bridges when someone leaves. What for? For example, I don't rule out working together with Krylova sometime soon.
What is the home judge for?
EV: When you were following two top ice dance couples during the Worlds in Nice ,did you have an impression the results were not totally fair?
AS: It's quite hard talking about the fairness without looking and analysing the protocols
EV: Agree. Nevertheless, I had an impression the 2011 world champions Davis/White were held back by the judges from the very beginning of the ocmpetition.
AS: I think Virtue/Moir were unquestionable leaders in the SD. As for the FD I preferred the American pair. They made the dance look easy, but there is a very hard work behind it. When starting analysing the complicated elements and how easily they were performed you realise what an awesome amount of work was done. Their `Fleidermouse' is a perfection of the ice dance.
EV: Still they lost the free dance. Could it be because there was no American judge in Nice?
AS: Could be. The home judge is not only needed to give a higher mark, but because he can promote the skaters among the other judges. Just like we used to do. I remember in one of the competitions I was blamed for national bias. I explained it was not a national bias, but a national understanding of the ice dance.
If the judge can explain his colleagues his point of view, to convince his skaters' programmes are exactly what the ice dance should be like he can influence quite a lot.
EV: I recall the times when the coaches were trying to have as many judges on their side as possible. Does it make any sense now?
AS: The highest and the lowest marks are not taken in an account. So you can overmark your skaters as much as you like and your marks will not be counted. Nevertheless, I think the skaters should be promoted in every possible way. No one cancelled the power of PR. If there are no talks about the skaters they will be forgotten.
EV: Were you sorry Joubert was not medalled in Nice even though he skated great?
AS: I was. Brian is one of the skaters who people would come to see. Like Pluschenko. One can skate beautifully, perform all the jumps and steps, but leave the crowd cold. Everyone likes to see emotions. I reckon if there were two shows with Joubert and Pluschenko vs Chan and someone else the crowd would rather see Pluschenko and Joubert.
EV: Even though their components are not considered high?
AS: As a judge I can't say their components are not high. For instance, what is `performance'? It's the energy the skater projects to the crowd. No one can compare to Joubert and Pluschenko in that. Both their dancing ability is quite high. Joubert's weakest component were always the transactions, but he took it very seriously this year and worked on that. Or at least hid it well enough. After Pluschenko's skate in the Europeans I saw many people in tears. I wanted just to stand up and take my hat off.
The advantages of the family
EV: Do you discuss figure skating with you husband home?
AS: Of course. Not because we have nothing else to talk about, but what are we supposed to do if we work in the same field, equally passionate about it and there is always a subject to discuss. I'm grateful at the time Valentin Nikolaevich taught me a system: explained how to use logic and knowledge, rather than emotions. He explained how to build a system that would work like a clock. The family is almost a curse in our country, but see how many married duets work together: Tamara and Igor Borisovich Moskvin, Mishins, Velikovs, Tukovs, Kudriavtsevs, the mother/daughter duo Alexeeva/Kustarova. Two people in the team mean double information, double logic - everything multiplied by 2. It's a good thing. You can't dedicate yourself completely to something your partner doesn't understand nor share.
EV: While your husband was the president of the federation did people try to influence him through you?
AS: We had an agreement: I knew my boundaries. There must be rules for every game. If they are set there will be no problems. Yes, I can pass the information, give my point of view on a problem. And I'm not the only one to do that - my husband is known for analysing problems from every possible angle. But the decision in our family is always made by him
EV: How is it to be married to a person who is considered the source of all evil in figure skating?
AS: You see, throughout the years we've always looked for one to blame. Once we found the guilty - we jump on him with the whole world. No many stop and ask `What have I done to change things'? Valentin Nikolaevich gives everything he has to his work. I'm positive he is where he should be. How many sport federation survived the changes when our country was falling apart? Not so many. Breaking is easy. It's building that is hard.
p.s. the journalist probably will be reading the comments.