"It's not the technique one needs to win the Olympics, it's the nerves of steel" Elena Vaitsekhovskaya talks to Elena Buyanova (Vodorezova) for sport-express.ru
For the well known past skater now coach the Grand Prix Final might be tense. Maxim Kovtun, who joined her group just this season won both of his events and is to participate the JGPF, while Adelina Sotnikova has a chance to earn a spot in the GPF.
We met in TSKA rink right after Buyanova and Sotnikova returned to Moscow. Naturally, we started the conversation with Skate America, where Sotnikova became 3rd.
EV: In the LP Adelina's jumping combination didn't count. Don't you teach your pupils to control what they do on the ice?
EBV: It's funny, but in Adelina's case it didnt' even cross my mind. She've been landing all the combinations clean in the practices and we didn't anticipate an error. In a way I'm to blame for her redundant combination. Adelina's math is just fine. It's her favourite subject at school. I guess she was just lost in Kent - it was quite unexpected. Nevermind. It's an experience to have.
EV: You were a great skater yourself. After you started coaching you worked with Olga Markova, Elene Gedevanishvili. Do you have a role model you are aiming for when working with your female skaters?
EBV: There are no skaters I was a huge fan of. Ever. At the same time I always liked Dorothy Hamill's skating. She had some sort of harmony no other skater had. When I became a coach I wanted to create such a skater. What I loved about Makarova was her gliding. It was perfect. But she could only jump 2 jumps. We learned all 6 with her later. She later was injured and retired. But it was thanks to her I realized great gliding and jumping is possible.
We were following the same route with Gedevanishvili. Guess we were just not meant to work together. And then Adelina came along. She is just 16y.o. now and it's her first season in the seniors, but I think she looks quite in place there.
EV: Among her rivals this season does anyone stand aside?
EBV: I follow everyone. What they do, what is the potential, what to expect.
EV: Can you share: who of the now skating ladies is to become the biggest competition?
EBV: Potentially Julia Lipnitskaya. I like her a lot. Of those who have been skating for a while now - Mao Asada. The Japanese skaters in general are so soft, jump so well, thye are `flying'. They amaze me. I wouldn't miscount any of them.
What's the difference between us and the Japanese skaters
EV: Not so long ago Nikita Katsalapov told me the whole group started training differently ever since Daisuke Takahashi joined.
EBV: And what prevented them from training like that before? It's great when a skater has an example to follow and understands how to work but.... We're just a year away from the Olympics. That's the difference between our skaters and the Japanese skaters for you.
Adelina and I spent 12 days in Japan in July participating the shows. I was shattered seeing how the Japanese male skaters work. Take Hanyu - he was landing quads and 3A in all the shows. With spot lights only. I don't think any of our guys could do it. When skating with the spot lights only you can't see the ice, can't feel the borders and don't really understand to which direction to skate. It's like walking in the dark. And if the light gets into your eyes - you're blinded. And they land quads and 3A in such conditions!
I didn't miss a single show. Was waiting for Hanyu to make his programmes easier. No way! The practice began at 8AM and he would do all his jumps at the instance!
After witnessing that I'm not surprised the Japanese skaters took the podium in the first Grand Prix event. On the other hand you can't really explain the coach's preferences. We are used to discuss the technical part: who jumped what, who progressed in what. And still in SA I came every day to watch Jeremy Abbott practicing. I was sitting and melting when he wasn't even doing the elements during the practice. His control of the ice is incredible. I like the men skating in general. It's the energy and the quads. As Mishin likes to say working with the girls is like spilling the water into sand - you never know what will happen in the end.
EV: Last year Adelina went through puberty - she was growing and some elements didn't work - I was wondering about the coach's feelings in such situations. You put so much time and energy into skater, choreograph the programmes, teach the technique and take the skater to a certain level. And then something uncontrollable and unpredictable happens.
EBV: Well, women are enigmas, right? You don't say that about men, do you? As far as the sports goes - I went through the same when I was skating. I was coaching a lot of girls of various ages. So I have the experience and take it quite calmly.
EV: I can't recall you having weight problems as a skater.
EBV: You not being aware of things doesn't mean they didn't exist. There was a time when I had to consider every 500g. I even skipped a competition because of the weight. It happened. Hence I take it as a given.
On the other hand I lacked patience. Now I realize: first you must teach the kid and then demand. It's useless shouting at the skater if he can't do what you want him to. When I was younger I didn't realize it. And I used to be ... a loud coach - it's when you work on the ice and they can hear you from the 2nd floor.
It's also important the skater not only gains knowledge and experience, but is able to use them later. It's less important whether the knowledge comes from good skates or failures.
What shakes the coach
Last season Sotnikova participated the seniors Grand Prix events, but despite everyone's expectations she didn't make it to the GPF. Was it hard on her?
EBV: Sure. When the skater wins almost every junior competition and doesn't have a single miss up he sets his standards high. At some point it becomes hard to remain there. This is what I'm trying to explain to Adelina. We still talk a lot about it.
EV: Do you think some of Sotnikova's programmes are a bit too much for her?
EBV: It's always the same: if you skate well no one has anything to say on the programmes, but if you fail they start discussing everything else: the choreography, the costumes... Of course I try to bring my skaters to skate with no fails, to fight for gold. When you realize the athlete is ready to win but becomes only 3rd it is disappointing. Especially if it was for silly mistakes. It's not about my work, but about the chance the skater missed. I can't settle at such moments.
EV: Perhaps you are not aware of the fans thinking you demand too much from Adelina. People see how you react to a bad skate when you sit in the K&C.
EBV: It once happened when Olga Markova and I were at some competition where she didn't skate well. It's hard to be behind the border, see all that, especially when you lack coaching experience. The blood pressure goes up, the sigh becomes blurry, you hear the blood in the temples. I remember sitting in front of the monitor and watching the marks and I couldn't see a thing - all went blurry. Olga, who we were always in good terms with realized I'm shaking. She said quietly `turn to the table, the numbers are bigger there'. When we came back to Moscow someone asked me why do I behave the way I do during the competitions. Apparently the commentator who was commenting said something like `see those relationship, the coach is not supporting the skater and turns away from her'. So what am I supposed to explain exactly?
There was a time when I was watching figure skating and was trying to figure skater-coach relationship from what I've seen in the K&C. It was funny sometimes: they seem so good towards each other on the screen, and a week after the athlete switches coaches.
EV: Speaking of switches. Kovtun, who joined your group- is he your `project' or Tarasova's?
EBV: I think Tarasova has a special feeling towards those `hard' skaters. Those who it's hard to work with. After Morozov kicked Kovtun from his group for unacceptable behaviour Tarasova offered me to take him. I did - for two months try out. But it was Tarasova who is responsible for Kovtun as far as the federation is concerned.
EV: It've been more then 2 months now, so reckon you are satisfied with Kovtun?
EBV: First of all Maxim is the only Russian skater to win his GP events and make it to the final. Second not only he won the events, but he skated really well. HE landed a quad and two 3A in Zagreb. No other junior skater showed such a skating. So I don't know, we'll see. During the practices he works really hard and I have no complaints. Of course I want him to prove himself.
EV: I know Sotnikova was training in the men group for a while. What did she learn there?
EBV: When you skate with the guys the practices are different. The speed is different. It's not easy to keep up with , but Adelina is mentally very strong. We had a situation last year when Tarasova decided to make a new dress for one of the programmes and it was not ready for the competition. In the morning the tailor came to the rink and was working on Adelina - sewing, cutting, changing. It went for a quite a while - any other skater would be in a state - instead of having some time to rest she had to stand on her feet. And it was not obvious whether the dress will be ready for the competition or not. But Sotnikova just didn't mind. Someone even asked her whether it gets to her. She just waved it away as in : never mind, if I have to, oh well. It's hard to get her out of her mood during the competition - she is so focused and concentrated.
EV: Does she care about her costumes?
EBV: She is as much a fashionista as I am. We both love shopping so much that the team makes fun of us : the coach and the skater are equally bad. If Sotnikova dislikes the costume she will certainly tell so. When we make a dress the sketches are first shown to her, not to me. And she had the choice. It's just that I don't think for Adelina it's the most important thing.
EV: Will you mind if she doesn't make it to the GPF?
EBV: I guess a bit. But it's not the most important thing. We'll just have to move on. It's better to fall and raise then to be on the top and slide down.
EV: Will you dare to predict the Olympic results?
EBV: It's impossible. It doest' matter how they skate now. Some predictions will be possible when the Olympic programmes are made. I'm sure everyone will come to Sochi equally ready and in a great shape. It's just that you win the Olympics not with the great technique, but with the nerves of steel