Zhulin: the skaters can smell the coach's sincerity.
Elena Vaitsekhovskaya for sport-express.ru
Zhulin: the skaters can smell the coach's sincerity.
In two and half weeks the leading Russian skaters will gather in Novogorsk for the first official test skates. Zhulin is expected to show two of his pairs - the European silver medalists Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitrii Soloviev and the 2011 Junior World champions Ksenia Monko/Kirill Khaliavin.
Knowing how busy Zhulin usually is I didn't expect to set the interview date anytime soon. We spoke about the end of August. I was going to end the call when he suddenly asked `you live not far from Olympiski, right? I've just finished the training, so I could drop by now. What's the address'
15 minutes later we were having tea.
EV: Sasha, when Monko/Khaliavin came to you they expected to become n. 1 for their coaches, which they were lacking in Kustarovas' group. Yet right after you accept those very skaters who they were trying to avoid training with. Were you worried they might see it as a conflict of interests?
AZ: When we had our first training together I explained them they'd have to prove me who is the best every day.
EV: Nevertheless, were Monko/Khalavin shocked by Bobrova/Soloviev's switch to your group?
AZ: I guess. I wasn't going to accept Katia and Dima even when they asked. Frankly, I was a bit afraid: they were regressing already. They lacked any style, I didn't like their costumes, some aspects of their technique. But then I decided it was worth a risk. After all Bobrova/Soloviov are still Russia n.1, despite their failure at the Worlds in Nice. They have a potential and it shows. After all they are European silver medalists not for nothing.
I explained the four of them that I, myself had my best results when we were training in Dubova's group together with Marina Klimova/Sergey Ponomarenko and Oksana Grischuk/Evegeni Platov. Dubova didn't hide how much she enjoys every training. It was because we were motivating each other and doing our best to make sure the coach pays attention to us. We were not fighting with each others, there were no conflicts within the group.
I want to create the same atmosphere in my group now. We can talk all we want about figure skating being subjective and the judges deciding everything, but quoting Tatiana Tarasova - no one cancelled the skating skills. I'm amazed that on Tuesday one pair would be the best, but it would be the others on Wednesday. I have no idea whether it's their ability or their character, but I know for sure a good competition never hurt anyone. Isn't it bad to be the first and second pairs in the world and fight on that level?
EV: When both of your pairs started training together did they expect to be divided into the first and the second?
AZ: Sure. It's always in the air. And, after all, Katia and Dima are Russia n.1 pair, while Ksenia and Kirill are only 5th. Both pairs have a huge potential, I just have to develop it. Bobrova has to run forward and not look back. Ksenia and Kirill's situation is a bit easier - they have an example in front of them. Let us not forget Yulia Zlobina with Alexey Sitnikov and also the young pair that became much better while looking up to the others - Lera Zenkova with Valerii Sinitsin. There are also the kids in the group who stay on the rink to watch the seniors after their practice is over.
EV: When the coach sets a goal he usually knows how to gain it. You more or less voiced your goal by mentioning the fist and second pairs in the world. What needs to be done in order to beat the current champions?
AZ: I have some ideas, which, of course, I'm not going to voice out right now. And what for? Have you seen David Rudisha winning the Olympics in London? He created a huge gap at the very beginning and finished first, breaking the world record. It's easy in sport: work hard, do more than the others, be the best on the floor, on the ice and the result will come. What is Igor Shpilband's secret? His students are listening to his every word and never questioned him. And Igor is a very demanding coach. That's the whole secret. When Shibutanis joined the group they saw from the first day how hard Virtue/Moir and Davis/White work. I reckon Maya and Alex realized they would get to that level only by working even harder. The result, as you recall, was the Worlds in Moscow when 3 Zueva/Spilband's pairs were on the podium. That's really cool! Dubova was the only one who've done it before.
EV: In Vancouver Olympics where Zueva/Spilband's skaters became first and second the most amazing thing was that the result was absolutely correct. I.e. the coaches were able to prove the ice dance gold medal does not depend on who are the judges
AZ: I agree
EV: Can you comment Zueva/Spilband's split?
AZ: I guess the moment when two people realized they don't want to or can't work together came. I don't know the reason. In my view Marina complimented Igor and Igor complimented Marina. It was a very powerful combination.
EV: When you were building your coaching group did you have them in mind as an example?
AZ: No. I decided there will be no women in my team. It's enough my wife Natalia works with us. Not that I had to do anything about it, it just happened, but I'm happy. I trust Oleg Volkov completely, we've been working for four years together and I think he trusts me as well. I can say the same about Sergey Petukhov, who joined during the spring. He is an outstanding choreographer, a great coach and an great personality. I'm generally lucky to be a around interesting people. It's Igor Orshuliak who I met through the TV show, Maks Staviskii, who I'm going to use a lot for working with my skaters. Such a bunch of guys we feel comfortable in. Whoever comes to the trainings first of all feels the great atmosphere. Yes, there is a hard work, all the time. And yet everyone smiles.
EV: Did you consider your coaching career over when half a year ago Ilinyh/Katsalapov left to be followed immediately by Pechalat/Bourzat?
AZ: I lost 4kgs. Volkov lost seven. Oleg took it much harder than me, but it was really hard for me as well. Frankly, I had a harder time then during my divorce. Though now I think everything worked out for the best. Lena and Nikita are unique and working with them is a pleasure. But it's much nicer dealing with very hard working people. It is a huge talent to know how to work. That's the kind of group I have now. No matter what I offer them they do it. I attend every practice as if it was a celebration. It's worth a lot.
EV: Typically Zueva and Spilband would start the season with a B competitions, which is almost ignored in Russia.
AZ: It's bad practice really and only means we never had skaters who we would not be ashamed to show in August. But we should! That leaves enough time to polish the programmes and to change them before the main competitions.
EV: I recall talking to you about two years ago and you reassured me Ilinyh/Katsalapov shouldn't start the season early because they have to peak in January-March.
AZ: I was taking into an account they have just switched to the seniors. I was afraid to break them. Not only Lena, but also Nikita seemed too fragile. They could injure themselves in a way that would demand a lot of time to recover. I realized how and in what way I'll take them to Sochi's Olympics. There was no point overdoing things in their first year.
EV: Nevertheless it was painful to watch how Ilinyh/Katsalapov are being beaten by the Shibutanis, who switched to the seniors circuit the same year, yet had better standings. The progress was planned by Spilbadn and Zueva.
AZ: It is why I kept saying even then Marina and Igor are far ahead of the other coaches. We should change our ways of trainings, our point of view on figure skating. Spilband and Zueva were the first to adopt to the new system. Right after the system was accepted there were lots small competitions in the USA under it. It is why we now have an impression the system was made for the North Americans. Yet here nothing was done about it. I recall working with Tanya Navka and Roman Kostomarov and reading the new system even the little hair I no longer have raised. I didn't know where to start and where to move, how to adopt.
EV: And now?
AZ: Now I understand. The hardest thing is that nothing is left unpolished. Everything is important. Actually several coaches are needed: for the shape, technique, lifts. acting....
EV: Do you have such coaches in your team.
AZ: Of course. We started the season much earlier than usually and it is precisely so we'll be in shape at the Autumn. Monko and Khaliavin missed the whole last season and have to prove themselves. Bobrova / Soloviev have to climb up from where they fell at the Worlds.
EV: Are you ready for the mental pressure that can be provoked by such competition within the group?
AZ: Yes. So far so good - the guys are not in a situation when they'd divide something that is not yet theirs. If I see a pair is `breaking' or is not comfortable I might add a psychologist to the team. It's not easy for the coach either when you start working with a team, put yourself into it and suddenly the understanding is gone. Of course the skaters were switching coaches and will go on switching coaches. Sometimes it's the right thing to do, sometimes it's not. I decided I'd be as honest as possible. The skaters can smell the coach's dishonesty.
EV: You yourself as a skater had to go through a period when your coach bet on another couple, even though your and Maya were the World champions.
AZ: It's not exact. When Klimova/Ponomarenko skated in Dubova's group for 4 years Maya and I were not even nearly as good. We became better, but Marina and Sergey switched to Tarasova. And won the Olympics. Maya and I were offered to leave Dubovas' group after the Olympics. I never left and never regretted.
AZ: It's just that Dubova picked me when I was in a bad situation. I was 17, I was kicked from everywhere, sometimes I would waste a day drinking alcohol. I stopped skating for half a year. Dubova picked me, promised to find me a partner and she did. She tried to do everything within her power so we'll succeed, and we did. It's not something you forget. SO deep down I knew I'll never betray Dubova. Under no conditions.
EV: Yet you and Maya lost the Lillehammer Olympis
AZ: Yes. That didn't work out. But other things worked out later.
EV: What you would never forgive those you work with?
AZ: It's hard to tell. Just that if a person set me up or lied I would let them go easily. But when I see dedication and trust from those I work with I will never let anyone else hurt them. They are my people, those I spend my life with. Oleg Volkov was offered a job in another country for far better money. Yet he stayed. I know for sure we'll make it. If not this Olympics - the next.
EV: Do you have any free time?
AZ: We are talking now, right? I'm not participating any TV shows this year - there are none. By the way, I was constantly criticized for participating them but I can now tell this year I used 6 musical themes from the `Ice Age' TV show and 3 ideas we came up with during the show.
EV: When we met over the spring and I asked what will be the first thing you'll do with Bobrova/Soloviev you said you'll change their dressing style and haircuts. Was it hard?
AZ: Quite the opposite: that was the easiest. I'm amazed how open all the guys are to all the suggestions. They are great!