Anna Manakova's interview with Urmanov `I told Mishin I'm not a `boy', my name is Alexey' for rsport.ru
AM: Alexey, first question is academic. Have you ever tried marking your Olympic skate by CoP? It's always interesting to compare what was in the past to the present. For example, compare it with the record skate of Patrick Chan this season.
AU: No, I never thought about it. Now that you mention - it's quite easy to do and wont' take much time. Yet it would be wrong to say `What skater X did 20 years ago wouldn't score half of what is scored today'. It's incorrect, rude and just wrong.
AM: Can it be done taking into an account the rules changes?
AU: It wouldn't be correct still. The jumps remained the same jumps, but the demands to the spins were different. So probably 90% of the steps and spins, not only mine, but the others' as well will probably be level 1. The marks will differ quite a lot from the level 4 of today. Of course the men figure skating progressed. Did any one land 2 quads in 1994 Olympics? Nope. Have they attempted? Nope. It's a good thing the figure skating progressed.
AM: Did you have a clue back then how will figure skating progress? There were serious talks about the 5 revolutions jumps, while no one really considered a progress in other elements.
AU: I fully understood the quads will continue. Of course no one could predict the CoP. We will never find out whether the jumps would progress. Perhaps skaters would be landing the quad axels by now. They could theoretically. i guess. But in real life it's different. Did our paying so much attention to spins and steps caused the lack of a quad axel now? Perhaps. But it's all academic now.
AM: There are many versions who was the first to land a quad toe loop. Some name you. What did you feel when you landed it? Was it like going to the space?
AU: Had I ever flew to the space I could compare. It was a feeling of an athlete who learned an ultra complicated element and was able to do it in a competition.
AM: Back then landed a quad guaranteed a victory?
AU: No, just as it doesn't now. Despite the system change no one cancelled the figure skating. It was always a blend of a sport with an art and back then we were also trying to show beautiful and interesting programmes. Besides, now a days the 3 jumps are not a big deal. The best ones land the 3L, 3F, 3R and the combos - anytime and anywhere. 20 years ago we would make mistakes on those elements. To land a quad was a huge thing, but you had to do the rest of the elements as well.
AM: Alexey Nikolaevich Mishin likes recalling he glided into figure skating literally - he would catch the lorries and glide on the icy streets. Do you have such a story after which you became a skater?
AU: No, I don't have such an amazing story. It was quite boring. They brought me to a club, I tried, liked it. But I always claim the kids don't like things for no reason. My first coaches - Genrikh Mikhalovich, unfortunately I can't recall his last name, and then a couple of years later - Nina Nikolaevna Monahova. They were so positive, loved what they did, very sensible to the kids needs. They caused us to love the sport. I think it played a huge part.
AM: Do you recall your first steps on the ice? Many skater recall falling on their faces...
AU: Not on my face. I did fall on my head on a bicycle. I can't recall really falling much - I was quite confident on the ice. What I do remember, however, that my first steps on the ice were in a small church on Vasilivskii island. Back then, on Schmidt promenade was an ice rink. It is a church again now. I skated there for a short while and switched to `Yubileinyi'. What I do recall form there is my mother taking me to the rink and me being so afraid of that huge building - it was quite a change after the small church, I was hysterical. I kept telling my mother `why did you drag me here? I don't want to! Let's go home!'. But then mother and Nina Nikolaevna found just the right words to make everything ok.
AM: What were your impressions of Mishin?
AU: He has a great sense of humour, he is smart, moderately demanding and moderately kind. He loves his pupils , but at the same time demands. He never gives up on your and is always near if needed. I am not afraid to say he became a coach while coaching me, think if he ever reads this interview he'll agree.
AM: Mishin is known for his scientific works. Had he practiced on you?
AU: A lot of his scientific work took place before I joined. I came to the group at the beginning of the 90s. It was a bad time for science. People were dealing with the problems such as where to get food. So yes, he was still doing some scientific work, but less than he used to before. I also didn't really let him experiment on me, I wouldn't be his guinea pig who you send and check whether it's head spins...
AU: Guess I was sensing all that stuff and understood I had to practice more and not waste time on some nonsense that would do no good for me. Even if it sounds egoistic. I thought it back then and think I was quite right. I would consider some things and tell Alexey Nikolaevich am more interested in practicing things then the theory. I understood some theoretical stuff, but I had to invest more time in the practice.
AM: Did Mishin listen to his pupils?
AU: Things change. First it was his point of view and the wrong one. He had many sayings, such as `I'm the boss, you're the idiot, you're the boss, I'm an idiot'. And first we had to do what we were told, but it changed a lot. You know Alexey Nikolaevich calls Pluschenko `Zhenechka' now? 24 years ago it just wouldn't happen. We were just `boys' and `girls'. When I came to his group there was no Alexey, Evgeni, Vitali, Leonid, Marina or Natasha. There were just boys and girls. I'm a weirdo and I recall telling him during one of the practices `I'm not a "boy", my name is Alexey!'. Since then I became an Alexey. I'm serious, I think I made a difference in his attitude.
AM: What was the first success you remember?
AU: When we were 6 there were two coaches with 14-15 kids each. At the age of 7 those two groups went to the first grade. I was a bit better than the rest and would almost always be the first. We used to live in a very small flat, yet my grandpa found a place to put all the medals and trophies I got. I remember it really well. As for the first success - it was a young skaters competition which I won at the age of 5. Since we were little kids the price was a toy - a plastic pinoccio. I had it for a very long time. Of course it's arms and legs went loose, and I didn't keep it, but I remember it.
AM: Were you ever motivated by money?
AU: Fortunately, no. I'm not greedy. Of course I wanted to win, but in order to be better than the others, not to have more money. Not as a kid and not as an adult. You can't earn all the money in the world anyway.
AM: Your first Olympics in 1992 was a bit weird- it was not the USSR anymore but not yet Russia. Did you feel that weirdness?
AU: Believe it or not but we were so much into the figure skating we didn't care much about the politics. Besides, it was still the Unified team - Petrenko, Zagorodnuik and I competed there - two from Ukraine and one from St. Petersburg. We were a team. Yeah, the countries were independent, but the team was the same. It wasn't really important since figure skating is a personal sport. Perhaps a hockey player would feel different having half a team from `Dinamo' Minsk and half from Moscow. It was easier for us. Though yes, it was weird not having a flag nor an anthem.
AM: What else do you remember from your first Olympics?
AU: It's mainly positive - I was a young athlete and did quite well - I became 5th in my first Olympics. Of course I remember Viktor Petrenko winning. He had an incredibly hard preparations and was only able to be in the right shape right before the competition, which he won in the end. I also remember how the Canadian skater Kurt Browning, who by then was a 3 times world champion someone threw a crutch with a Canadian flag on it.
AM: He was the main favourite...
AU: Yes, but it seems some athletes are just no good at the Olympics. The Olympics are just not their thing and they just can't perform there. Kurt was one of them.
AM: Was there a pressure for the team result?
AU: Sure, there was a pressure, but I think there was much more pressure on me in 1994. I had more responsibility. It will sound banal, but the kids are fearless because they don't understand what they do. They climb the highest mountain and are not afraid to slide down because they don't have that not needed information on the danger. The more mature person will not go up the mountain and will not slide down understanding how it might end.
AM: What do you remember the most from the Olympics you won?
AU: Several things. The SP, where the guys who came back from the professionals: Petrenko, Boitano skated in the 1st group. I was in, I think, 3rd. I don't like watching the rivals and never follow their skates- it's easier for me to go and skate when I don't know what happen and don't store the not needed information. When I left my room and went to the rink the guys had just finished. Oksana Grischuk was walking towards me and happily said `Do you know how they skated?'. I have to say Oksana was always very emotional, a bit over the top. I didn't even have time to reply whether I know or not, but in about 6 seconds she gave me all the information. `Thanks a lot' I said and thought `why, oh why did you have to speak!?'. But I kind of forgot that immediately. Kurt Browning, unlike me, didn't have an Oksana Grischuk, someone else told him or he watched it on the TV, because when we were going back he was sitting in front of me so happy and satisfied. We were skating in the same group in the LP but in his mind Kurt won the gold before the competition even began. A couple of days later I got that gold medal. Swear it was visible. I thought back then it was a bit weird - it would be a good idea first to skate and then think you have a medal.
AM: Who you were afraid of the most or you knew you were one of the favourites?
AU: Throughout my whole career I mainly cared about my own condition: my shape was always the most important. I came to Lillehammer in a good shape both mentally and physically, I was confident. I haven't thought about being one of the favourites or planned anything, unlike Kurt. He had to focus on what he was doing, while he relaxed even before the SP. It was too late after and the 3 guys who were in the front were the ones who took al the medals - me, Elvis Stojko and Philippe Candeloro. The 3 favourites - Browning, Petrenko and Boitano took a wrong train, so their chances depended not so much on what they would do but what the 1st three would. And we lef them no chance.
AM: Back then the Russian media used to neglect Stojko - he was just a jumper with no artistic skills. What did you think of him?
AU: If an athlete looks down on his rivals it's wrong and it's the athlete's weak spot. `This guy can't do that, this guy can't do this'. What about you? I was treating everyone equally, but I think even now there isn't much love between people who compete against each other. If there is a handshake and a good luck wish it's a good thing.
AM: After the Olympics the ladies champion Oksana Baiul switched to professionals, Grischuk/Platov considered it. Were you hesitating whether to go on competing?
AU: No. I think if you retire at the age of 20 - was there a career? Take Tara Lipinski - she won at the age of 14 and retired. Was there a sport in her career? Not much. I think an athlete has to go through the build up, the success, the nerves, the fight - it makes it a real career. When you come, win and run away as a kid - I don't get it. No one said an athlete has to retire at the age of 30 rather than 15, you're right, there is no limit when to start and when to finish, it's individual. Sometimes the injures make the athlete retire earlier, sometimes there is a right moment to retire, sometimes athletes remain for too long. It's really hard to figure what the right time is.
AM: Those were hard times: the middle of the 90s, the crisis. Why did you stay if there was an easy way out - to become a professional and ear a lot?
AU: It's all about the money, we come back that. Did I need the money? Sure, everyone does, the more the better. But it just how it happened. And to your next question whether I'm sorry - no, I'm not. I had a sport career and I think it was a success.
AM: Was it a blow not participating the 3rd Olympics?
AU: The injury made me sit out the whole season and I couldn't participate the 3rd Olympics. It was the hardest moment of my sports career and the hardest moment of my life. Perhaps it's why I think the athlete should have a long career. In the end he would be recalled, it would be possible to make a documentary about his sports life. Let me give you a recent example: during the GP in Moscow I was walking with my pupil Nikol Gosviani. Nikol is just 17, but she looks adult. A 15y.o. Japanese skater Satoko Miyahara who looks like a kid was walking in front of us. Without thinking much or meaning anything bad Nikol says: who is that kid? When I told her it was a skater who Nikol would be competing against Nikol couldn't believe it. Now imagine tomorrow that kid will win something and retire. Will you remember that kid? I'm not so sure..
AM: If we assume the Olympic gold is the biggest achievement in the sport where do you find motivation to continue?
AU: Some aim to break records. Is it a bad thing? Not at all. Everyone decides for themselves. I think retiring from the sport at the age of 14 is wrong, but it doesn't mean everyone has to agree with me. I would also like to mention I think the minimum age should be higher. Lets separate the kids, juniors and the adults. If the novices and juniors are not the same, trust me, the seniors are so different from the juniors. It's important and the kids should not be competing with the juniors or adult 25y.o. women. I might be blunt, but I feel very strongly on that issue. They are so different and it is just wrong letting kids competing with the adults. Especially the ladies.
AM: Some specialists say it's a huge mental blow for the adults to loose to the kids.
AU: If we elucidate on that we'll get to the `guys, are you mentally ok? No? Well, then may be you shouldn't be competing at all'. I think the kids should not be competing with the adults, but that the way things are right now and we have to live with that. I think the age limit should be higher and we will only gain from it - seeing older skaters skate. Perhaps not immediately though.
AM: When you were still competing have you considered becoming a coach?
AU: Not necessarily. I like to live in the present day and I don't plan much ahead. So at the age of 15 I haven't thought about becoming a coach. I was offered, thought about it and agreed. That was about it.
AM: Does it feel different?
AU: Totally. It took me 2-3 years to get used to things, but think I adapted quite fast. First I was too involved when I went to the competitions with my pupils, now I react less emotionally.
AM: Do you remember being together near the borders with Mishin for the first time?
AU: We always were in very good terms with Mishin. I told you he had a great sense of humour. Sometimes he picks on people, but I don't mind. We can joke together sometimes. I don't recall the very first time, but I do remember when Sergey Voronov was skating in my group and won the nationals Alexey Nikolaevich said `a pupil of my pupil is my pupil'. Was there a point to be offended? Perhaps, but it would be silly. So we had a laugh.
AM: Can you name Mishin your main tutor in coaching?
AU: No. As I said I was lucky all my coaches were amazing people. I am very grateful to them and I took a bit from each of them. We spoke of everyone except for Natalia Viktorovna Golubeva, who gave me the basics of all. She worked with me from the 1st till the 9th grade. She gave me a great base for the triple jumps and the 2A, which decides how will you be doing the 3A later. I am very grateful to her and I took a lot from her. I keep learning from the other coaches still.
AM: Do the coaches communicate during the competitions?
AU: The coaches watch each other and learn from each other. There are those who just still though, which is wrong. I don't take it nicely when a skater or a pair do an interesting element and a little later others start doing it as well. Stealing is wrong. I also dislike it when the skaters take other skaters' music - the one that was arranged by someone else.
AM: It happens in the ice dance to eliminate the competition.
AU: In the singles it's not out of malice, but more of lazyness. They are just lazy to come up with ideas. Why bother thinking when you can take from the others. It's only that such work costs money, it's a tedious and a hard work. The music becomes your own because you came up with the certain arrangement. If you hear the same piece used by someone else it's not theirs - they have not done all that job.
AM: You could complain...
AU: Perhaps, but what's the point? You can't change their ways.
AM: The last question. What does the olympic champion Alexey Urmanov dream about?
AU: My own ice rink