Interview with Valentin Piseev: "Success depends not on presentation, but on skating and consistency"
Valeria Mironova (VM): How do you explain the unprecedented interest to figure skating during this off-season?
Valentin Piseev (VP): By the increased importance for skaters of all the upcoming competitions, including the Grand Prix series, that will immediately show who is who. But the the most important will be the World Championships, where the Olympic quota will be determined. The Worlds will be in Canada, and skating there is not very easy to us due to the time difference and the fact that we are not very welcome there. Ideally we want to get three spots in pairs, ice dance, ladies singles, and two – in men's singles. Let me remind you that due to the lack of success of our athletes in men's singles at the World Championships in Nice, we have just one spot in London, Canada. But if Evgeni Plushenko is the only one in Sochi, it will be difficult for him to fight for top placement in both events – individual and team.
VM: The competitions this autumn have shown that our pairs are doing well, except for Yuri Larionov and Vera Bazarova, who got a hip injury. Is that so?
VP: In any case, programs of our leaders - silver World medalists Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov and former European champions Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, who won their respective events in Oberstdorf and in Sochi, are very interesting. For example, Volosozhar and Trankov, knowing that elements in the second half of program bring bonuses, moved the most complex elements to the end of the program. Their main rivals World champions from Germany Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy do not show anything extraordinary, at least for now.
Pairs skating is our signature discipline, and Russian teams must compete for medals. It is a pity that we have lost one medal in Nice because of stupidest mistakes. China's Pang Qing and Tong Jian and World bronze medalist from Japan Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran are very strong. I don't think Canadians and Americans are being lazy, either. If Canada's Megan Duhamel and Eric Radford have a decent skate at the World Championships in London, they will have a shot for podium. I hope to see Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov in December at Russian National Championships in Sochi. It is possible we will see them earlier – at the Grand Prix events in Moscow and Tokyo. Placements in all four disciplines will depend not so much on the presentation but on consistency in performing the elements. I remember how the great Stanislav Zhuk yelled at Marina Pestova who underrotated a jump in her gypsy routine: "When you portray a characater, don't forget the elements."
VM: How is the 2011 Worlds bronze medalist and 2012 European silver medalist Arthur Gachinski, who didn't perform well at Worlds last year?
VP: It would be nice if Arthur was more consistent right now. His coach Alexei Mishin says he will be in shape for the main events. Meanwhile, in the men's singles skating there are more than ten skaters ready to fight for medals, and you can't surprise anyone doing just one quad. Look at 17 years old Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan! And Michal Brezina from Czech, Canadian Patrick Chan...
VM: But at the recent competition in Japan, the two-time World champion Patrick Chan finished only in sixth place. How did that happen?
VP: Due to the fact that he terminated the cooperation with his former coach Christy Krall. He could not cope with her strictness and her demands. But if in the past judges had forgiven him even the falls for his great basic skating, in Japan, it seems, he did not perform quite to his level. Chan's phenomenon, it's his stroking and the ability to do the jumps without long entries. He is compared to the famous ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean for his talent to intricate elements and steps, and I think skating at home he has a good chance to become a champion once again.
VM: Don't our coaches possess such methods?
VP: Figure skating requires primarily skating skills that should be taught from childhood. And our coaches sometimes dress it up for parents with jumps and spins. Skating becomes secondary. That is why we have introduced into the classification program stroking tests system developed by the famous coach Victor Kudryavtsev. Now athletes are not allowed to skate in competitions without passing these tests.
VM: So, it seems that senior skaters who were not taught the right way are the lost generation?
VP: If you didn't learn it in childhood, try harder now. Plushenko, for example, has better skating skills, others – worse. Presentation is one thing, but judges are looking for something else. Look at Hanyu's skating - superb! Now we have seminars for coaches after each stage of the Russian Cup. If colleagues attended Nikolai Morozov's practices (the coach of ice dancers Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov and World silver medalist Alena Leonova. - "Ъ") more often, they would benefit a great deal. But there aren't many people who want to learn Everyone feels great in his little corner. And for coaches like Stanislav Zhuk, Igor Moskvin, or Edward Pliner to appear, it takes time. But now there are innovators among young coaches. For example, Eteri Tutberidze and Inna Goncharenko.
VM: Evgeni Plushenko, like Patrick Chan, had an unsuccessful outing in Japan. Fourth place, is it his level?
VP: One competition does not mean anything. I am sure he will look different at Russian Nationals and especially at European Championship, Zhenya again will skate only at these two events. The most important thing that he is not in pain and has serious attitude. He had lost weight and works very hard. And it's despite the fact that Plushenko turns 30 on November 3.
VM: Has anyone already seen the Olympic champion Evan Lysacek who returned to competitions after a two-year break?
VP: Ari Zakarian (Plushenko's agent. - "Ъ") says that the American is in good shape and does quad jumps and combos in practices. However, he has withdrawn from the Grand Prix in the U.S. – the only Grand Prix event Lysacek was scheduled to skate at. Perhaps he didn't come to an agreement with organizers. I think he will skate at the Four Continents Championships and the National Championships, win that, and go to Canada.
VM: Won't it make Plushenko uncertain about Sochi?
VP: Remember how all his praised competitors were literally blown away when Plushenko appeared at the European Championships in Sheffield. His credibility is so high that such a reaction is probable in Sochi. And tremendous support from audience is guaranteed. The main thing for him is to stay healthy. Any medal at the Olympics will be an outstanding result for Zhenya. As for him skipping the Grand Prix, in particular here, in Moscow, Patrick Chan will perform here. I understand Plushenko: he wants to see how others do, and then make a strike himself.
VM: Previously, Evgeny Plushenko was doing quad toe loop only, now he's learned quad Salchow, and his agent has mentioned that he's trying also quad Lutz. Does it mean we will see three different quadruple jumps in Sochi ?
VP: No. Learning more complex jump, in this case, Salchow, makes toe loop easier for the skater, and learning Lutz makes Salchow easier. Plushenko is right: Lutz is the most complex of quad jumps, and trying to do it makes Salchow easier psychologically. Two quads — toe loop and Salchow — will be enough for him at the Olympics.
VM: What is the situation in ladies?
VP: There is no apparent leader. The reigning World champion, Carolina Kostner of Italy, had withdrawn from the Grand Prix series. I think she realizes that she does not deserve gold, and I do not rule out the possibility that she is considering ending her career. But Olympic champion Kim Yuna from South Korea is back. She is going to skip Grand Prix, but we will probably see her at the World Championships. Ex-world champion Miki Ando from Japan is also back and will compete at the Grand Prix, but is unlikely to show something remarkable. In my opinion, the most promising ones are 18-year-old Kanako Murakami from Japan and Gracie Gold from the U.S. However, women are unpredictable: good skate and bad skate are equally possible. So the door is open to all, including the Russians.
VM: The more so given that Adelina Sotnikova and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva can now participate in European and World championships.
VP: Sotnikova has almost overcome her growth spurt and prepared very interesting programs. She has everything - speed, steps, spins, flexibility, jumps, so if she skates well she is guaranteed high scores. Tuktamysheva has grown a little over spring and summer, and she is gradually returning back to shape. Liza will skate at the second Grand Prix. World junior champion and Junior Grand Prix Final winner Julia Lipnitskaya is recovering after an injury that set her back in training for a while. Nevertheless, she just has brilliantly won Finlandia Trophy. Lipnitskaya is a workaholic, she needs to be stopped so that she doesn't overwork herself. Alena Leonova looks as good as she did last season. She can get herself together, and in comparison with our other girls, is the most consistent.
VM: Did coaching change help Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, who had switched to Alexander Zhulin, and Ekaterina Ryazanova and Ilya Tkachenko, who now train with Igor Shpilband in the U.S.?
VP: The fact that Bobrova and Soloviev's scores in Finland were mostly in nines says a lot. It was rare for them before. But the partner still struggles with twizzles. The Americans do them at breakneck speed. Well, first you skate consistently, then there is something to talk about. Yet once again they are busy portraying the characters and cannot get their feet on the ice. And guys, please read the rules. Ryazanova and Tkachenko trained in the off-season in the U.S. with Igor Shpilband. His collaboration with Marina Zueva, together with whom they prepared the Olympic champions, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir from Canada, and Vancouver silver medalist the Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, had recently ended, and the two top teams stayed with Marina. So Ilya, returning from the U.S., in contrast to the other ice dancers, had no problems answering all questions about the rules. Athletes must clearly know where they lose points. And they need to train more. At Shpilband's practices it's impossible that a team does not do a full program run-through once or twice. We do not work like that. With Shpilband, people train for ten hours. We work much less. We tell them, go to Irina Viner's practices and watch how rhythmic gymnasts work. Or syncronized swimmers... As for our leaders Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, their preparation has slowed down a bit due to Elena's shoulder injury. But when skated in pieces, their programs look great. We hope they will be in good shape for their Grand Prix events. So far, it will be difficult for our ice dancers to fight for medals at the World championships. But they must be able to do it at the Olympics.