Vaytsekhovskaya's interview with Pliner `The theory of a sticking out nail is too strong in the USA' for sport-express.ru
Eduard Pliner was born June 13 1936. A known Russian coach. Among his pupils is the first USSR world medallist Anna Kondrasheva, he coached the Olympic, Europeans, Worlds and USSR champions and medallist. Among his pupils are Elena Scheglova, Marina Tveritinova, Vladimir Raschetnov, Natalia Bestemianova, Sofia Kitasheva, Andrey Torosian, Ludmila Bakonina, Ilya Klimkin and others.
Worked with the national teams of the USSR, Netherlands, Croatia, Germany, Austria. Since the 90s coaches in Austria, Finland, Canada and the USA.
Was given a golden ISU award.
Once Pliner’s name was known to the whole country and was a sign of quality, just like Zhuk’s, Kudriavtsev’s and Mishin’s. The he moved to the USA and settled in a tiny village Acton-Boxborough
on the East Coast. When we met in 1997 he said `I always dreamed living in a god forgotten place with an ice rink. Think my dream came true’
Pliner made a come back to the top with the Georgian figure skater Elene Gedevanishvili, who switched to him after working with the known Canadian specialist, the two times Olympic medadllist Brian Orsers.
When I asked for an interview in Oberstdorf the coach was surprised `You mean I’m still remembered in Russia? Well, that’s very nice to hear’.
Bananas in the figure skating Mecca
EV: I still recall our talk in 1997 about the ice rink in the village. During the years you’ve been living in the USA did it bother you going from the top to the village level profesisonally?
EP: It happened just recently. I’m still happy to live in such a place as Acton-Boxborough
, but it’s hard to come to terms with the fact I can’t raise a skater to a top level there. On one hand the conditions are great: there are 3 ice rinks in the facility, Marlboro, where Ilia Kulik trained before the Olympics with it’s 6 rinks is in the reach. Now another arena is being built. Just go ahead and work. It’s that `go ahead’ that is lacking, unfortunately. The figure skating is not as popular as it used to be in the USA. Yet there are so many coaches. Just our club has 96 coaches registered. They mainly work with the Chinese kids.
EV: Is there a big Chinese community in the area?
EP: A huge. And it becomes bigger every day. There is even a Chinese school in Acton-Boxborough
. The little kids are exceptionally gifted. Till they become a `bananas’
EV: A what?
EP: It’s not my invention, it’s what the Chinese say. It measn the person remained a Chinese outside, but in his mind he is an American.
Before I stopped travelling to the competitions I used to go to some main starts with the lower level athletes from Mexico, Taiwan, but I was so proud of what they could achieve, what I could do wit them, getting them on the international level.
EV: There are two approaches: one says the specialist who was successfull on the top level shouldn’t slide down to the novices, for he will loose his qualification. The other says working with the not too promising athletes teaches the coach to get a result out of anyone. What do you think?
EP: I think the coach should be able to work on different levels. Just that on the low level you won’t make the mistakes you made once upon a time. As for the high level you have to be up to it all the time. For instance, when I just started coaching in the USA I faced the language barriers and had to come up with the excersizes, rather than explanations, which would bring the skater to a higher level. I learned a lot from that period - now I know - everything I do will work on any level.
EV: Yet it was not a kind of job you expected to do when you were moving to the USA?
EP: Of course not. I was high thinking I came to the figure skating Mekka, a country with the long tradition of the best single skaters. I thought : now with their financial abilities and my knowledge and experience in figure skating…. but soon enough I learned the theory of a `sticking out nail’. Have you heard of that one?
EP: It means if the nail is sticking out you should hammer it so it will become the same as everyone else. The Russians envy the successful coaches. What you have here is not even an envy. It is just the way the things are.
EV: How did you learn it?
EP: I was constantly pointed at my mistakes, nothing would go unnoticed. It happened once two girls collided during a practice and one punchered the others’ groin arthery. Imagine it. The kid is bleeding all over, I snached someone’s belt and stopped the bleeding. When the medics came, about 14 mintues later the first thing the doctor asked was who did that. Everyone pointed on me. Apparently you are not allowed to attend to the first aid in the USA if you don’t hold the right license. The doctor thanked me and explained if it wasn’t for my actions the girl would bleed to death before the medics arrived. Then the girls’ mother sent me a thank you letter. And yet the rink authorities called me the next day for exlpanations.
I was one of the first to start using the rubber during the training. It was forbidden. They said it was dangerous, though now almost in all the rinks in the USA that method is used. The same with using the blade guards on the ice: there is an excersie moving the skate guard from one hand to the other during the jump - it helps teaching the right opening from the jump. Again, it was forbidden: should the guard fall on the ice and someone step on it they will fall and injured. During one of the seminars one of the known coaches was explaining there is an American technique and a Russian technique, that just doesn’t work for the Americans. I coulnd’t take it any longer, got up and said that indeed, there are two techniques in figure skating : the right one and the wrong one, while nationality has nothing to do with it. It’ve been quite a while, but that coach is still not talking to me.
Small countries, huge ambitions.
EV: The depression you mentioned before - what causes it?
EP: Guess the age. I want to pass my knowlge - I can’t use it from the grave. But it just doesn’t happen. Rigth now there are many Russian coaches on our rink, but I can see they are not working not like I did. Right from the beginning they try to become a local coachs’ assistances, so they would have enough pupils, hence enough money. So what happens then? My pupil Sasha Uriashev worked for many years with Gracie GOld, but the second she started providing results she moved to an American coach. Such situations happen all the time.
I was always a lousy politician. At my age I cant’ bend my back and bow. I can’t adjust to the new approaches, yet mine is not quite accepted either. So I have to work on the terms am offered. When Elene Gedevanishvili first switched to me she cried during the practices. There were 20 skaters and 14 other coaches on the same ice at the same time. I guess you can imagine why I agreed working with her.
EV: As a matter of fact I don’t.
EP: I was the one who started developing the figure skating in Georgia at the first place. It was 50 years ago. Gedevanishvili for me is a representative of that school. Hence when Elene’s mother called me I agreed instantly.
EV: I don’t think Brian Orser is a coach to leave for no good reason.
EP: I was surprised as well, but didn’t ask to explain the reasons. As it is done in the USA I asked whether she had any financial obligations towards Orser. When I heard there were none the subject was closed for me.
EV: Despite working with various specialists in the recent years Gedevanishvili’s basics are from Russia. Can you tell that?
EP: Of course. Elene started skating under my Geogrian pupil Tamriko Dzhikii. Then she switched to Marina Selitskaya, who I coached in SUP in Moscow. Then she switched to Elena Vodorezova. Elene got to the top level in figure skating with Elena. They had to part ways and it was not in the best terms, but that just happened.
EV: Guess small countries have huge ambitions
EP: Its’ a shame when those ambitions turn into the unnecessary wars. If you recall Kim’s leave of Orser - the troubles were not between the coach and the skater, it was between the coach and the skater’s mother. Yet Orser will never remain without pupils.
My situation is different: I’m not known in the USA. Every time I came to a competition with my pupil the Americans were surprised how many foreigners know me. But I was never good at promoting myself.
Skates on wheels and unanswered letters.
EV: Did you ever feel like leaving Acton-Boxborough
and moving somewhere more lively?
EP: Sure. I can even tell you where to. I was dreaming to go to Ural - there is a great school near Ekaterinburg. But the negotiations fell through. Then I tried going to Belarus, but felt no one was interested in me there.
EV: Why Belarus?
EP: I like creating new things. I love working with the little kids. You know why I had so much fun working in Georgia? It was a terra nova of figure skating. I came to the rink, took out the boots and started screwing the blades to it. The kids asked me: coach, will you put the whells there so we can skate?
I later heard there was a programme in Russian to return the coaches back. Vladimir Kovalev (Kovalev is a world champion in 1977 and 1979) were so excited… It was a known place, we wouldn’t have to start from the scratch. We started planning things, writing letters. We wrote the known and the influenced woman - Irina Raber.
EP : We never got an answer. When I see the Russian girls skate I shake with envy. In a good way. I know them all and follow them all. I’m thrilled for Evgenia Medvedeva who won 2 JGP - her coach is another of my pupils - Eteri Tutberidze. When I think of all that the feeling how unneeded I am becomes even sharper. I envy so much Viktor Kudriavtsev who has a chance to consult and conduct seminars all the time.
On the other hand I don’t regret leaving. We had to make a living. Besides, I got really tired fighting with the federation officials who I needed to give explanations to all the time.
EV: Perhaps it’s not a nice issue to ask about, but what happened between you and Stanislav Zhuk who was your long time friend? You viewed figure skating eye to eye, if I recall correctly.
EP: Indeed Stas and I were always in a good terms. We were rivals when we skated, but when I moved to Tbilisi Stas came a lot of times to visit with his wife Nina. We had no misunderstandings. But once I took a sin upon myself and participated a far from nice compaign.
EV: You mean signing a petition against Zhuk in `Komsomolskaia Pravda’?
EP: Right. I’m in an age when keeping things is no longer needed. I bent under the circumstances. I just came to Moscow from Tbilisi, I was nothing. I had to sort my life. There were all those important people who were signing the petition. So I signed two, realizing how wrong it was. I even said so aloud. Nevertheless I was able to rebuild our relationship with Zhuk. When Stas was left out and was suffering because of that we started working on the new system, which is used now, even though it was changed quite badly. I still keep all our notes.
Crazy salchow and an old matress.
EV: Why do you say the system was changed quite badly?
EP: With that 2nd mark - the components. First it was a positive thing, but even then I couldn’t understand what is the difference between choreography, interpretation and the execution. But now when everyone learned to perform the expected elements the 2nd mark is just a mean for the manipulations.
The advantage of mine and Stas’ work was classifying all the elements of figure skating. But lets see what happens now: there is a list of elements a skater is not allowed to perform risking a deduction. Take the jumps: there are just 6. You know that in the ISU book of the 50s there were much more? For instance, there is a 3A landed on the same foot. Or the take off is from the right leg rather than left. With a landing on right or on the left. I.e. there are 4 different Axels in figure skating. But then if you perform the jump not in the way the judges are used to you might get a deduction.
When Elene and I were choreographing her programmes I wanted to add an element to her steps which is called `a crazy salchow’. It’s a 1s which is performed almost without a take off. But Konstantin Kostin, who is working with me and is a technical specialsit said we can’t. Because it will be counted as a jump and the 2a at te end of the programme will not be counted. Why on earth is it a jump? It’s just a turn in the air!
This simplified view on figure skating thinned the sport. Of course the judging became easier, but the creativity is gone. Sometimes when I see Mishin I ask him `Lesha, why do you keep quiet? You are a world wide known coach, you voice will be heard’
EV: What does he say?
EP: That his job is to work according to the existing rules. It’s a comformism! If a person sleeps for years in an old matress finding a spot where the springs don’t bother his back takes the shape of that matress in the end.
To push from the bottom
EV: What are the goals you set to Gedevanishvili?
EP: To qualify to the Olympics. We haven’t set any further goals yet. If you knew in which shape she was when she came to me you wouldn’t be asking. I don’t want to diminish the work the others had done with her before me - everyone gave her a lot. But they all missed, I think, seeing not only a talented athlete, but a person. She is so lonely - that is the problem.
EV: Does Gedevanishvili live in the area?
EP: Yes, she moved to our village. But we mainly train in Marlboro, even though it’s cold. Our rink is overcrowded. In August Elene and I went to Vail. The conditions were great - a huge empty ice rink where we skated twice a day alone
EV: Who funded that?
EP: The georgian federation took care of the accommodation. We were given the ice free for working with the kids. But then we had to return home.
When we skate on our rink I keep thinking of Daisuke Takahashi. He came to me to Acton-Boxborough
a few times to edjust the edges. Then he would go above the borders to try the skates and would jump a 3t from one step. I started apologizing for the place being so crowded but he just laughed. `That you call crowded?’. On the rink he trains in Japan there are sometimes 60 skaters at the same time.
When I started working with Elene I told her `remember, kid, success - is not the results you achieve, but the distance you travel once you push from the very bottom you are in right now’. We are trying to make the biggest possible push right now. Together.