Figure skating coach must be a figure skating fan
Simonenko talks to Viktor Kudriavtsev for rsport.ru on Kudriavtsev's 75th birthday.
The USSR/Russia coach Viktor Kudriavtsev celebrates his 75th birthday on 24/10. He is the coach who created the first USSR world champion Sergey Volkov is still in the figure skating world - he is consulting the Russian team. We met not far from Novogorsk - a place where Kudriavtsev spends quite a lot of time.
AS: Should I pick you up?
VK: Why? I'll drive myself.
When he walked into the cafe I realized there will be no questions such as `what you'd wish yourself on your birthday' - we'll talk about figure skating only. He started from the very beginning
VK: In my understanding figure skating starts with the gliding. The softness, the pattern are very important. I was always amazed with my pupil's Volkov's ability in that. Even though back then there were no complicated jumps to perform Volkov's gliding was so soft and it was so attracting that everyone loved him. Back in those times, especially in the West - USA, Canada the skaters were far better than the Europeans in gliding, but the appreciation of the gliding came with the new system only. I never expected the CoP, but now everyone works on the skating skills. The turns, the edges became important. In the most important competitions we get to see the skaters performing the hardest jumps and not winning the competition.
AS: Had Volkov skated now would he receive high components?
VK: I think he would be one of the leaders. He was the king of the figures. He used to win or be second in every Europeans and Worlds in the figures. His skating skills were his positive side. The technique was flowless - he skated with no sound, very fast, did all the turns on the very deep edges. As for his artistic side - I'd call it more classical, a bit remote.
AS: Was Sergeys' talent recognized instantly?
VK: He is from my very first group - I started working with him when I just graduated and started coaching. Of course he stood out in his skating. He was not always consistent in the artistic programme, but that's understandable. He had very soft legs and he was not in a shape I wish he was. We now know how to prepare the skaters to peak during the competitions. Back then it was mainly based on the intuition. We are now using the knowledge we gained. For example, now it takes a skater a season to learn a complicated. element. In the 60s or 70s it took several years to learn a tripple. Figure skating progressed a lot in the methods. Besides the experience the video helps a lot - we can use it during the practices, watch any competition....
AS: While back then you could hardly leave the country....
VK: Exactly. Now you can go wherever you wish and the competitions are availabe on the internet. Back then we were limited in going abroad and in communicating with the foreign coaches. It showed.
AS: What was the main thing we lacked compared to the other countries back then?
VK: The skating itself. Why had the NA progress so much with the CoP? Because they payed attention to the gliding back then. We hardly did. We mainly focused on the jumps and the elements and didn't really teach to glide.
AS: You first started skating when you were 16 and started coaching when you were 22. Why have you retired so early?
VK: That's the way the life was. Not like now. I'm not a local, I had to prove myself. Since I realized I didn't have a chance to become a great skater I decided to coach. Graduated the physical education institute and got a really interesting job - the central coaches school of Russia. I was offered that job because during my studies I taught the 1st year students. There weren't enough teachers and the students from the higher years taught the lower. I worked there for 5 years and finished my time there. As you know back then you were given a job and had to stick there for the given time. The sport institute in Malakhov sprang from that school, but I was already working with the kids at the same time and realized the creative work is more interesting.
AS: I.e. you felt you wanted to coach?
VK: I did when I applied to the physical education institute. I knew then that I wanted to be a figure skating coach. BTW, I had to apply twice -didn't get accepted from the first attempt.
AS: Were there coaches you admired?
VK: Back then the leading coaches were Georgii Felitsin, Petr Orlov and Tatiana Tolmacheva. I was looking up to them and learning from them. I trained in Felitsin's group in `Spartak', then he became the main coach of the team. It's important to note I attended lots of athletics and gymnastics practices. I like those sports as well and it gave me a lot in building the figure skating training methods. There are a lot of things in common with figure skating: in athletics it's the shape - all the speed-power abilities the figure skater must have come from athletics. Another aspect of figure skating is the coordination ability, where the gymnastics comes close. I payed a lot of attention to the excersises which were used in gymnastics. To learn teach a jump is not just tell a skater `go on, speed up and jump an axel', there is a preparation. Besides, some of our athletes are too young to even walk correctly, so you have to come up with very specific moves. Of course now I have enough experience to tell exactly what the skater must do. But I had to come up with those tings once. That's the creative part. In figure skating being creative is not only choreographing the programmes, but coming up with the methods to teach the elements.
AS: Still figure skating differs quite a lot from the athletics and gymnastics. The mental state is very important. Did you concentrate on that as well?
VK: Frankly, back in the old times no, I didn't. In the 60-70s the mental state was not considered at all. Then figure skating developed, became more intense, the complicated elements which include a certain degree of risk, that demand confidence were introduced. This is when we started involving the psychologists in sports.
AS: Did you have skaters who were `The Practice Champions' but were so nervious during the competition that were unable to perform?
VK: Yes. Some skaters become so nervious during the competition that no psychologist can help. Perhaps it was my fault as well not being able to set the skater in the right mood for the competition. If you remember Elena Sokolova - she is the practices champion, but she was so nervious during the competition that she couldn't remain consistent. Despite that she did have some achievements during her career - she almost won the Worlds in 2003. Many said Michelle Kwan only won because the competition took place in the USA but really Sokolova should had won. Another skater who trained in my group - Alexey Vasilevskii. His gliding was fenomenal. But not much came out of him. He switched to Tchaikovskaya, but wasnt' successful in her group either. He was a genious in steps and jumps, but he couldn't put it together in a competition. There are athletes who can overcome themselves, but there are those who walk away with nothing.
AS: I know you coached one pair...
VK: Two actually
AS: Why just two?
VK: I'm a singles coach. In some period of time I was the head coach in Spartak. A pair Smirnova/Suraikin skated in Leningrad. They skated with Belousova/Protopopov, who were still competing and coaching those juniors, but at some point they stopped coaching. I was asked to take them. The thought of coaching pairs never crossed my mind before that. But I succeeded! During the 4 years they won the Universiade, were second in Europeans and Worlds right behind Rodnina/Ulanov, but most importantly: they were ready enough for the Sapporo Olympics winning the SP and loosing the LP with one voice only. They became second. The pair split after the Olympics. Actually it started before the Olympics: Smirnova had an affair with Ulanov. Viktor Anikanov, who was the team doctor and a neighbour and a friend met in the Olympics and I told him `Viktor, help. You have to help Andrey mentally'. Nevertheless the pair split after the Olympics. Smirnova and Ulanov started skating together and came to me.
AS: Was that the 2nd pair you worked with?
VK: Yes. I later worked with lower leveled pairs, but it was very hard: I spent 8 hours a day on the ice - 4 with the singles and 4 with the pairs. I kept my promise to lead the pair to the Olympics, but at the same time I had a group of potentially good single skaters and I had to spend time with them. Of course, had I had my own ice rink like many do now it would be different. But back then there weren't enough rink. I used to work in an open rink in Sokolniki, that's where Volkov skated. After that I worked in `Kristal' in Luzhniki. When `Kristal' was closed we moved to `Olympiiskii', then to `Moskvich'. I'm officially retired now. After I retired I was called by Nagornyh and Piseev. Who said: we are not releasing you,you'll remain a consultant in the team. I have been doing that for the last two years.
AS: I can't avoid asking what you probably were asked many times. You coached Maria Butyrskaya, but she became a world champion under Tchaikovskaya. You coached Ilia Kulik, but he became an Olympic champion under Tarasova. What did you feel?
VK: Perhaps I didn't show, but frankly... not everyone could get himself together and raise a new generation. Guess I was strong enough.
AS: Do you keep in touch with ex pupils?
VK: It was quite tense at first. But now they are very considerate to me. I'm very close to Kulik. He comes to work with me in the international camp in Switzerland for 6 years already. We share our experience. He is coaching as well. I'm in a good relationship with Butyrskaya. Guess the time smoothed things. It's nice they remember and appreciate all the things I gave them as a coach and as an educator.
AS: The skaters switched coaches for as long as figure skating existed. And nevertheless, every switch is a drama. Why is it so much easier in other sports? Except for Elena Isinbaeva's switch from Trofimov and back I can't even recall when a coaching switch would be talked about. Yet it's a common practice in figure skating.
VK: The figure skating coaches are very ambitions. Besides, the contact between the coach and the skater is much deeper than in any other sports. The skater must be variously educated. Who will take him to the theatre? Of course the skater wont' go there himself and the coach will go with him. In the end it's a relationship that seems unbreakable, yet it happens. Hence the drama. But time health -things are realized and the relationship become normal again.
AS: I.e. the coach treats a skater more or less like his child?
VK: Of course. It happened to me a lot of times.
AS: Is it right? Father-son/daughter relationship is different from father-pupil?
VK: What can you do? You have to realize we spend so much time with the skater it can't be avoided.
AS: Was your son jealous of your pupils?
VK: It happened, though it was more about his mother (Marina Kudriavtseva who is a coach as well): `why don't you teach me', he would say. He had to spend a lot of time alone. But in the end it all worked out. He found his way in life. He stopped skating when he was young deciding it's not what he wants to do, but Marina and I are proud of him today. He graduated from MGIMO (a Russian internal affairs ministry uni) with good marks and is now working in one of the leading companies in the country. He is fine.
AS: I'd like to ask you about Viktoria Volchkova. She became European bronze medallist 4 times in a row. She skated beautifully, her jumps were great. What was she lacking?
VK: I was wondering about it myself. She was the favourite in Russian juniors and yet she never won. It was the same in the next stages of her career. You see, she lacked the immune system - once we came to the competition she would run a high fever. When skater with a weak immune system is in a great shape he is still subjected to illnesses. It's what happened to Viktoria all the time. She missed little things in every competition and she was never able to skate to her full potential, even though during the practices she was skating great and many counted on her. Potentially she could be a world champion.
AS: Who is your most talented pupil?
VK: Kulik. He is phenomenal. A year before the Olympics I came to the federation and said he'll be the champion. Of course it hurt he switched to Tarasova, but I knew he would be an Olympic champion. This conversation was not forgotten by the federation and I received the price money for preparing Kulik for the Olympics. It was a right decision - you can't make a champion in a year.
AS: And for Butyrskaya?
VK: No. But I wasn't as confident about her as I was about Kulik. Kulik was not simply a hard working. I don't like to use that word, but he was mercantile. He knew what he was fighting for - big money. For him it was a huge motivation. Perhaps it's why he went to Tarasova - he thought in the USA conditions - they had more ice time, better life quality he'll have an easier time to prepare to the Olympics. He was dreaming about the USA. He retired from the amateur skating for money - he was offered a huge contract. Yet he could still compete - he is a brilliant skater, he lands 3A easily. Our current skaters don't want to leave. What for? The conditions in Novogorsk are better than in the USA or Canada. There is much music or ice time as you wish, while in the USA there is a line - 15 skaters are training at the same time on the rink. We have enough ice to train alone. If you compare that to the times when Volkov, Kira Ivanova - the first Soviet female skater to metal in the Olympics trained - the competition for a chance to go abroad was huge. While now... Will I go to the Europeans or not - who cares?
AS: Were the 90s a huge blow on Russian figure skating?
VK: You have no idea! The kids skating schools were closed. For 10 years there were no new skaters. Everything was leaning on our old USSR leftovers. The new generation that eventually came was not ready to replace the leaders. It will all become great gain in about 5 years - we have many really good kids and the level of the kids skating is much higher than in the USA or Canada. Though there is another problem - we need young specialists who would work with those kids.
AS: Is it the 90s fault as well?
VK: Sure. More than 400 coaches left abroad. Those who stayed are much more focused on making money so they work with the eldery who'd pay rather than with the kids, realizing the salaries in the schools are low.
AS: Should the coach be a figure skating fan?
VK: It's necessary. And ambitions. He has to think all the time `my skaters must be the best!' When you treat your profession like that and go on the ice with such a thought it motivates. You don't just stay on the ice 8-17, but you are ready and know what to do. It is not only about preparing at home, it's general - you have to analyze your work all the time and progress.
AS: So you dream about figure skating when you sleep?
VK: Quite often. You wake up thinking your pupil can't land a 2A and start thinking what excersize will help, what to tell, how to trick him into being confident. When the skater is not confident he is limiting the moves. He understands it, but can't perform. Nothing comes out of those who are afraid to jump.
AS: Did you ever go on vacation?
VK: During my 40 years of working - once. Marina and I went away once. Otherwise all my vacations are in the training camps. I think you can't leave the skater from the coach's sigh even for a month. Especially the kids. The adults are allright if they can analyze their behaviour. It's even good to get some rest from the coach from time to time. But not the kids.
AS: You were sometimes blamed not being strict enough. Do you agree?
VK: I sometimes see the way the coaches are working now - it's unacceptable! The swearing, the shouting! I can raise my voice at the beginning, but all and all I'd rather teach the kids to analyze rather than shout - at some point the shouting will no longer be effective. The skater is alone on the ice, without the coach and during those 4 minutes he has to take decisions himself. Though sometimes the skaters need someone to annoy them: Butyrskaya once told me : I needed all that shouting and cursing. Which is what she found in Tchaikovskaya's group. You wouldn't expect me to curse Butyrskaya, right?
AS: As for Butyrskaya it didn't work for long - after winning the worlds in 1999 she was never able to repeat that.
VK: Exactly! I also don't accept a totalitarian regime when working with the adult skaters. They have to have a mind of their own. They can't be put into tight boundaries. They should always be listened to. Of course there are exceptions - there were cases when I had to shout and take measures. Guess I'm not as soft as I seem to be.
After finishing the interview I recalled another question I wanted to ask
AS: I read you were landing the double jumps when you were 70. What about now?
VK: The knees are not the same anymore... But I spend all the practices on the skates. I don't understand the coaches who like working without the skates - it's allright if you can't jump, but show the immitation! I think being on the skates is a must. It disciplines. Both you and the skater.