Elena Vaytsekhovskaya's interview with Svetlana Sokolovskaya

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Elena Vaytsekhovskaya's interview with Svetlana Sokolovskaya for rt.ru

EV: Tamara Moskvina once admitted when she started coaching she saw in front of her an imaginary wall of those who were greater: her husband Igor Moskvin, Stanislav Zhuk, Elena Tchaikovskaya... she was dreaming she would be standing in the same line with them one day. Are you familiar with that feeling?
SS: No. Mom took me skating when I was 6, I put the skates on and said I wanted to be a coach. I didn't want to be a figure skater at all even though I did have an amazing teachers. I wanted to be like them. Like Zhanna Gromova, like Sergei Gromov. I started skating in their group in Norilsk. I love kids and I never searched for the super talented ones. That never mattered, what did - was having `my' people. Like Sasha Samarin, like Mark Kondratuk. Though Mark, before he was noticed spent a year not skating at all - he was growing up and he couldn't even stand on the skates. I knew his life without figure skating is quite good as it is, so I kept asking `Mark, will you continue'? `Yeah, I want to'. Ok, go ahead then. I liked him, hence I forgave him everything. The falls, the constant vacations.

EV: What do you mean constant vacations?
SS: He goes with his grandmother or parents 3-4 times a year to the sea or ocean side. Before the school, for the New Year, for the Sprint holidays...

EV: Is there something you would never forgive your pupils?
SS: The lack of discipline and not following my demands. I can't stand it when someone is late to the practice. Everyone knows that and frankly, being late is a rare occasion in our group. I try to explain at once: if you are skating in my group, you have to accept my rules. I am sometimes in awe: they all know they can manipulate me but none of them does. I guess it's because of that coaching them is easy - it's easy to fight with them, easy to make peace. I generally like being friends when it's easy to fight. That's how I live. If the person takes an advantage of that - he is not `my people'. If they get offended and walk out - they are not `my people' and I let it go.

EV: How can you survive in figure sktaing being so open and not trying to adjust to the situation?
SS: My life is not just the figure skating. I have plenty of friends, some of them are childhood friends. I treat them the same way I treat my athletes.

EV: The climbers have a saying `there are no friends above 7K meters'. How hard is it being friends when you are aiming for the same Olympic spot? I know you are very friendly with Evgeni Rukavitsin.
SS: We learned to tame our feelings. Each of us wants their pupil to win, of course, it's normal. When Samarin failed the Europeans and didn't make it to the Olympics, while Aliev became 2nd I spent 2 days lying flat in my hotel being unable to move and just cried. It was not an envy. I was just so hurt that it didn't work for me. Rukavitsin came to my room and said `Svetlana, if needed, I will be sitting by your side for as long as needed'.

EV: That's quite a thing
SS: This is what I call friendship. I asked Evgeni to give me some time to collect myself, and after Samarin and I cried together and spoke it all through I said `this is it. We switch to something different. We can't change anything, we lost all we could, so let's go and congratulate our friends'.

EV: Your athletes are also friends?
SS: They are. In my group Mark is following Sasha, in Rukavitsin's group - Makar Ignatov is following Aliev. We spend a lot of time in the training camps together and the guys see how we communicate. So they form their relationships which last for years.

EV: For several years Samarin was obviously the centre of your coaching universe. And then suddenly there is Kondratuk. Was there jealousy?
SS: When last year Mark won his first national bonze I didn't see any envy or anger from Samarin. He later told me `Svetlana Vladimirovna, I let you down, so at least the kid did well'. And I understood we must be doing something right.

EV: An equal competition between the skaters within the group - is it a good thing?
SS: I think it is. I generally like it when the skaters compete during the practices. I keep telling both Sasha and Mark and well, all the kids, it's an amazing feeling when you beat the rival in an equal fight. There is no satisfaction when you won, but your rival actually failed. I think it's the right way of thinking. You are not competing against the handicapped. Besides, the sport career will end and then a new life will begin and I think the guys should enter it with the right set of mind.

EV: Was it your decision to send Kondratuk and not Samarin to gain the 3rd Olympic spot in Oberstdorf?
SS: It was my request, not decision. Yet I wasn't even thinking of that Olympic spot, I just really wanted Mark to get known. Later, when he was 5th after the SP I was feeling faint and panicking: what if we don't get that damn spot?

EV: It was considered there was no one really to lose to
SS: I wouldn't say so. A person is skating for the first time in his life on such a level. One popped jump or a fall and that's it. And then there is the 2nd mark, which, obviously, no one will the new guy higher than needed. Mentally I quit 100 times during that competition. I was standing near the border before the LP and thought `god, I have such a nice family, my life is great, why am I doing that to myself?'

EV: Why is it so hard for Samarin to get into this season?
SS: He grew 2cm last year and I'm ashamed to admit, I haven't noticed soon enough. 2cm is 2 additional kg if not more. Hence his back was injured, his knees. In an addition to that we switched 3 pairs of boots. So all that together...
I took him to St. Petersburg, he was hospitalized, tested, checked and mended. But we had to withdrow from the Russian Cup finals. Frankly, I was not even sure he'll want to continue skating. I even told him I understood how severe the situation is and I would accept whatever decision he takes. I gave him a week to consider. After 3-4 days he came to the rink. Holding flowers and wine...
EV: I.e. what you usually bring the coach when parting your ways?
SS: Yes. My head was spinning. And then he goes `Please forgive me, I would not leave you. Let's give it a slow try'.
So we did. Slowly. One day we skated, one day we rested. At the same time he was still being treated, and then we went to Kislovodsk. And suddenly he progressed so well. Of course he LP is not polished yet. We are attempting to integrate two 4lz, which need a lot of work, and it's not a fast process.

EV: You once said when you started working with Samarin you were looking up to Kolyada. Why him? With his ballet like basics he is exactly the opposite to your skater.
SS: We were not aiming to be like him, just that we always liked how Kolyada skates. But I always understood, and so did Samarin, that skating like Kolyada would never happen if only because of his height and build of the muscles. So we tried to understand: how can we beat Kolyada? The answer was obvious: with the jumps only.

EV: The distance from one quad to a different 4 in the LP - is it physical or mental?
SS: If the person is generally capable landing the quads it is first of all mental. Mark learned his quads in Kislovodks. But it really depends on the person. Pretty much like the spread eagle - remember that actor Yana Khokhlova was skating with in the `Ice Age'? His hips are naturally built in a way that doing a spread eagle whether inside or outside for him is easy. For Samarin that element would never be easy no matter what you do. He achieves everything with an incredibly hard work.

EV: In one of his interviews Samarin told me `Once you lose the concentration in the programme you get a kick from the universe'. In which cases the universe kicks the coach?
SS: I have a feeling the universe is hiding above our rink and kicks for every possible reason. As for Samarin he does not lose the concentration, but he wants to do things so badly for the best he can, to jump above his head. Hence things go wrong. I keep reminding him: do not go out there and perform miracles just do what you can. Like in a practice.

EV: A couple of years ago you were saying you are growing up as a coach together with Samarin. What have you learned working with Kondratuk?
SS: Patience. I was rushing things up with Samarin, I wanted all and at once. Now I have my own rink, I have a team - Lilya Biktagirova, Stas Zakharov, Vitali Butikov. They are super `my people'. But the most important is that indeed I stopped rushing and I learned to wait.

EV: Nathan Chen or Yuzuru Hanuy?
SS: Nathan, I guess. Though I can't pick one or the other. Hanuy for me is a legend. Complicated, talented, stubborn. Nathen - a smart guy. He reminds me of Mark - he is learning new things all the time. I recall when Nathan first appeared. He was a great jumper and lacked the 2nd mark. What he is doing now is unreal. On the other hand Hanuy had been around for so many years. How much energy must he have to spend so many years on the ice and attract the audience, the judges? No one in the world can do it. You can't help admiring him.

EV: Do you understand his obsession with a quad Axel?
SS: It will be legendary to be the first one to land it. He is a legend as it is, but he wants to prove himself in figure skating again and again. Such people are rare. You can't judge them like the others. Just like Trusova with her five quads.

EV: I was sure you were only working with the guys. Was surprised to learn I was wrong. Is it very different coaching the girls or the boys?
SS: Very different. You can shout and curse the girls and they just work and work and work and try and try and try... Shouting at the guys is useless.

EV: You're shouting at your girls?
SS: When I say `I can shout' does not mean I should. I very rarely shout at all. But if I lose my mind everyone gets their share.

EV: What can make you lose your mind?
SS: Not so long ago: the day before we went to Oberstdorf with Kondratuk I walk to the rink with my recorder, just like every time. And I see Kondratuk with a haircut of а Ukrainian peasant. He decided to get a nice haircut before the flight. In Obesrtdorf we are going to our first international competition with JCSS...

EV: I can imagine your reaction
SS: I'm afraid you can't. It was as if someone spilled boiling water all over me. Mark skates to the border `good mo...' he saw my face and the next second he was at the other side of the rink. I was hysterical, I could not stop shouting. I threw the recorder on the ice, it broke to pieces. I was even able to think while it was in the air `why the recorder?'. The whole rink went quiet and I heard Samarin saying skating near Kondratuk `Couldn't you cut your hair when I'm in Syzran?'
I was crying and Butikov was comforting me. Though frankly after I broke the recorder it became easier. All the emotions probably went there. And then the practice went great! Each and every one of them did their best, skated their programmes clean. I even thought perhaps I should shout more often?

EV: Many coaches know if the skater has too many hobbies he is useless. That they need to be 100% focused on their sport.
SS: I disagree. Mark has thousands of hobbies. If I limit him he'll go mad. And make me go mad. He can't even stay in one room. When he goes to a new city he checks on the internet what is there to see, where to go. Even in my native Norilsk where he went for the exhibition he toured the whole city and saw it all. The first wooden house which is now a museum; the street where I used to live...

EV: How a girl from Norilsk ended up in figure skating taking it was always focused in Moscow and St. Petersburg?
SS: I went to Voskresensk. We were taken there by Yurii Razbegalov. He took me and Irina Zhuk. I was an ice dancer. Zhanna Gromova sent me to the ice dance after I gained 12cm in one year and became tall and thin. I was crying so badly. I thought the coach deserted me. We were almost family - my mom was the doctor Gromova was giving birth with. But Razbegalov convinced to send me to him.

EV: It's such a shame Gromova left the ladies skating after Irina Slutskaya retired.
SS: She once explained me: I did not find a girl like Ira in the next years. And didn't want anything less. Ira probably took so much of her life, she never let her down and they spent the whole life together. It's such a rare thing not just in figure skating, but in the life. It's hard to continue after such a pupil. I understand Gromova quite well in that regard. when I had Lilya Buktagirova and Vika Romanenko I also thought: should they retire I will die. But then there was Nikita Mikhailov and Anna Ovcharova. When Anna moved to Switzerland Samarin came, then Kondratuk... Coaching is an endless thing. I was celebrating my 55th birthday in Sochi this year during the training camp. I can't list everyone who remembered. Some came to Sochi, some wrote a message, some sent gifts, some sent flowers. Of course once they retire they move on with their lives, but they are really staying near. And they always come back.
 

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