Interview with Ekaterina Kostenko about the state of the pairs skating in Ukraine by Anna Savchik for sport-express.ua `Ukrainians only think of their athletes when they win medals for other countries'
Elizaveta Usmatseva/Roman Talan were spoken about the second they started skating together. They both medaled in Ukrainian nationals before. Talan took gold with Kostenko in 2008/2009 season and participated the Vancouver Olympics. After that the pair stopped skating together but became a family and a coaching team. One of the first pupils of Ekaterina and Roman were Elizabeta Usmantseva, who won the nationals 2012 with Sergey Kulbach. It was shocking when pair ceased to exist after less than a year together and the new partner of the 16y.o. Uskantseva was no other, than as if retire 26y.o. Talan.
It was that new pair that the federation counted on getting the Olympic spot in Nebelhorn Trophy in Obersdorf. Their calculations were right - Usmantseva/Talan qualified. Though they were never able to use the spot - the competition in Germany was the first and the last international competition last season for the pair. Despite having a more complicated elements list than Lavrentieva/Rudyk Kostenko's pupils lost the Ukranian Open in December, who were sent to represent Ukraine in Europeans and the Olympics. After the pair from Kiev was sent to Japan as well the rumours the pair from Dnepropetrovsk does not longer exist started circulating. We started with deferring those rumours.
EK: Right before the Worlds we received a phone call from the national team head coach Marina Amirkhanova, who inquired what was the shape of Usmantseva/Talan. I understood it was about a test skate, just like the one we had before the Olympics. Back then they had two skates a day - both SP and the LP. Elizaveta was suffering from a back pain for 2 years by then. In order not to injure her we are preparing slowly and cautiously to every competition. Such a skate would be too much for a pair that do a 3/3 combination, a throw 3jump and 3twist. And the pressure. After that her intervertebral hernia became even worse. Yes, we could get a faster treatment, to suffer and go to the Worlds anyway. But I just don't see a reason to make the skater suffer for our country. What for? Hence we decided to go on treating her back and other injures. The guys are practicing full force again now. The pair will exist anyway: a lot of specialists, foreign included think they have a potential. Right now the only question is under which conditions and in which country.
Q: Talking about the pressure you mean that the plan to begin with was to send the national champion to Sochi and your skaters were mentally not ready participate another test skate?
EK: Not only that. Unlike Lavrentieva/Rudyk, who only skated one programme we were told we would have to do both. To add more we were supposed to skate the LP in the morning. We started the warm up and the federation decided differently. `But they are already in the costumes' I said in shock. `It's ok, they can change, we'll wait' replied Amirkhanova. but let's not forget that while Roman is a grown and experienced skater Liza is a kid. She was unable to set her mind and ended up doing 40% of the SP steps from the LP. She also skated to the wrong direction and they failed their lift. A couple of hours later they had to skate again. Everyone saw how hard it was for them. Liza touched Roman with her elbow in the split twist. He was bleeding, yet no one stopped the skate.
So all and all we brought the spot for the Olympics, after which no one gave a damn about their health. I'm sorry that as a coach I believe all that crap - I understood that test skate was a mere show and no one was going to change the Olympic team. I sent a video of their skate in Dnepropetrovsk a day before to the federation. A solid clean skate. If they were thinking about the results only they wouldn't bug the skaters and drag them to another skate, which resulted an injury in the end.
Q: So to sum it up: Liza and Roman lost Julia and Yuri the competition in December in Kiev, which was deciding who would use the spot at the Olympics.
EK: I think it should be put differently. Even the ISU judges couldn't understand the Ukrainian Open results. In Germany in the Nebelhorn Trophy we got 47 points with a fall from a throw jump. Here with a clean skate we got 50. We thought it was a bit low, but well, the judging was strict, but fair.
Only reaching the hotel and looking at the protocol I saw Lavrentieva/Rudyk got the same points. They were doing a sbs double jump and a double split twist! We were warned in Oberstdorf this would be the scenario. I wouldn't believe it. I am sure had we even skated the LP clean in Ukrainian Open we wouldn't have won. We got negative GOE not quite clear what for, while Julia and Yuri got positive GOE for a double footed throw jump. They got 100 for their LP in Kiev. That's top 10 in Europeans. Where were they in Budapest? 19th. Davidovich/Krasnopolski, the Israelis, who we beat in Oberstdorf were 7th in Budapest.
Q: Lavrentieva/Rudyk who you compete with is coached by your ex coach Dmitri Shkidchenko. You used to speak warmly about him. What is your relationship like now?
EK: We are in very good terms, hug and kiss when we meet each other. He taught me so much being my coach and even now I can call him any time if I need an advice. Just that right now I don't really feel like communicating. We did not discuss that situation, even though we spoke about the test skates.
Q: You must be familiar with the feelings of Lavrentieva/Rudyk. You know what it is like being dead last, more than that you and Roman were blamed using the spots earned by Volosozhar/Morozov.
EK: After the test skates in Kiev I wished Juli and Yuri just to enjoy the Olympic experience. It's not what we experienced in Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany. We were fighting for that spot. In Sochi thye had to do out and have fun. We would be heading for something higher since Roman already had been last in Vancouver. I also have some ambitions.
If we wanted to compete just with Lavrentieva/Rudyk we would just land those clean double sbs jumps. But we write `top 10 in Europeans' as our season goals for a reason. We checked what is required: a 3t/3t combination, 3split twist and 3 throw jumps. Hence all the hardships and injures. Look - the skaters do quads in the Worlds, while Ukraine sends a pair who lands doubles! I would understand a popped jump here and there, things happen, but write a 2T in the planned content!
Q: Lets go back for 1.5 years - the Ukrainian nationals. Many were impressed with Usmantseva's skating with her previous partner Sergey Kulbach. I recall you were telling how hard it was getting him back to Ukraine - you had to buy him back from Estonia. Why all those efforts were useless?
EK: By the way we bought him back with our own money. The federation didn't need it. Why did they split? Sergey decided to retire, and I can understand him. In Estonia he had all the working conditions and a salary. He came back and he had to pay for everything himself. He had no support at all during the first half a year. Not only we payed ourselves for travelling, but we had to practice during the mass skates. It went down to renting the ice with our own money. Later we were accused for having an illegal business.
Q: Roman said it was you who convinced him to go back competing. What motivated you: feeling your husband has something to prove in the sport or lack of a partner for Usmantseva?
EK: Liza had offers from other partners, but I thought Roman would be the most suitable for her. They are very much alike. Both are workaholics. It was their `we can, we will' that we decided to go on with. After skating together for a week they had a full set of elements that Ukranians n.1 at the time - Lavrentieva/Rudyk had.
Q: Why do you think there are so many rumours around your pair and is it a good thing or a bad?
EK: Liza and Roma paired up last February and in March they participated their first event in Luxemburg. After just a month of training together they were landing a 3t/3t combination. I think they are so spoken about because they have potential. What they are saying is another matter. They say competition is pushing you forward. Not in our country though.
We had a test skate on 24/1, a day before I learned from the press Usmatseva/Talan will not participate the Olympics because of the doping. It's ridiculous: we were never even tested - not in Oberstdorf nor in Ukrainian Open. They weren't even offered to be tested before they were sent to Germany to get that Olympic spot. What was the federation thinking!? Also no one ever thanked them for bringing that spot. When we came back from Oberstdorf we were scorned for a cheap and ugly costumes, trashy music and horrid programme. I was told I was a bad coach and they should be sent to train in Russia.
Q: On whose expense?
EK: Their own, of course. We already had the federation `financing' the costumes. In November the president Evgeni Larin asked for my account number and promised to make a transaction. We spent 23.000G this year all and all. He also promised to refund Roman's medical bills. It's April now and there is still nothing. And now we learn that, apparently, there were price money in Ukrainian Open. That the foreign skaters received, but we, for some reason, didn't.
When they were deciding who would represent Ukraine at the Olympics we were told :you brought the spot. Shouldn't the country pay us at least party for that? If you count all the expenses we spent 25K$ on preparing Usmantseva/Talan. Right, I'm a coach, but am also a wife of an athlete who has no salary. We have a kid. How are we supposed to live? Larin, the president of the federation simply ignores my phone calls. On the other hand I receive calls from other federations, who are willing to take the pair or Talan or Usmantseva.
Q: Do I understand it right you hope to make a change and perhaps prevent your pair from leaving Ukraine through the press
EK: No. I just want people to know what is the state of the figure skating in Ukraine. I read the interview with Evgeni Larin where he tells he would bring a partner for Usmantseva to Ukraine if needed. Yet the federation had done nothing to improve her conditions and allow her living and training. The girl is a Kharkiv native who trains in Dnepropetrovsk. She used to live in my flat. Simply because she had no money for rent. Her mother is working all the time and haven't seen her daughter for 4 months now.
I'm not surprised our athletes prefer representing other countries. Kharkiv native Alisa Agafonova, who was not needed in Ukraine is doing great in Turkey. She earned an Olympic spot and competed with Alper Ucar in Sochi. She has a salary, normal conditions and medical help. I don't even know whether we have a team doctor. Or who is it. You asked whether I want to raise the awareness? Frankly, I don't think my words would make any change. I still remember how Tanya Volosozhar was running around begging for money to pay Ingo Steuer. How much Galina Kukhar had to go through for the same. There was never enough money for preparing or for travelling to the competitions. So many years passed and so little have changed.
Q: Do you keep in touch with your compatriot and Olympic Champion Tatiana Volosozhar?
EK: Sure. We've known each other since we were kids. We skated in the same group for 5 years as single skaters. Then were together in the team. We are in good terms. I congratulated her for her winning. Tanya is a unique skater and a very good person. She is so hard working, calm, level headed, behaved. I can't name a single bad quality in her. I guess this is what the perfect partner should be. Like Tanya or Aljona Savchenko. They are very different, but each strong in her own way. I set them as an example for Liza.
Q: Why do you reckon Aljona Savchenko was unable to gain what Volosozhar did?
EK: Each and her destiny. Tanya is more patient and was skating for Ukraine for as long as she could. While she was fighting the windmills Savchenko, who left earlier was winning medals. In the end she has more medals at the Worlds. Note the moment Tatiana switched to Russia she started winning. Immediately. Anyway, knowing Savchenko I think she has a future. I'm very interested to see her pair with Bruno Massot.
Q: Savchenko's age difference with her new partner is 5 years. You switched to pairs when you were 3 years older than Roman Talan. What did you have to overcome?
EK: First of all I'm very sorry I switched to pairs when I was 21 and not 16y.o. The age difference first of all meant I didn't let my partner compete in the juniors level. He was 17y.o., he was not yet physically as strong as the 22-25y.o guys. His previous partner weighted 40kg, I was 50. I.e. he had to work out alot. But you know, it passed so fast. Now I can only recall how we skated and competed. I understand the coach had to work so much harder - after all the athlete's job is just to train and think less.
Q: Usmantseva makes an impression of a very shy girl. Which is better - a quiet calm girl like Volosozhar, or those with strong opinions like Savchenko or Duhamel?
EK: Most important that the partners would suit each other. Liza's calmness was a disadvantage when she was skating with Kulbach. When they parted their ways I learned of things which I think she should had spoken about. With Roman they have a complete understanding. She communicates just fine with her classmates, she is just shy with the foreigners and rightly so. Things with her and Roman are good and calm. When I skated with Roman we used to fight. With Liza they never raised the voice. Sometimes I can't keep it low, while they just go on and repeat things till they work out without saying a word.
Q: Will your daughter become a skater?
EK: She is already skating. During our practices only, but still. She loves it when daddy and Liza do lifts. She is trying to climb him when we are home - wants to do lifts as well. She is just 2, in a year we'll decide whether we want her to be serious and in which country.
Our plan was to try and be top 10 in Sochi, but that was written off after the Ukrainian open. For a while it seemed that was the dead end. But some days later we decided to go on. After the worlds we received many offers. Now I just listen to those offers, but they are refreshing. You understand it's possible to train in a completely different conditions. When everything is payed for. Forget payed for -when you are treated as a human with some respect! Now then you work for free for 3 years, they keep promising you things or give you a 1200G salary. I spend more on the petrol to get to the ice rink - we live in a different part of town. Look, most of the Ukrainian athletes, not just the figure skaters were representing other countries in Sochi. Only when they were medaled for those countries they figured: how come! Our guys! The Ukrainians! But why did they become `our guys' only now, not when they were training here and received 0 support?