Ermolina/Flade's interview with Zhulin

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Olga Ermolina/Tatjana Flade's interview with Alexandr Zhulin for fsrussia.ru

E/F: How does your book coming along?
AZ: I am done. It's 178 pages long. Sent it to the editors, they replied what needs to be changed/cleaned/added. Think we'll be done by September. I wrote it all myself, no one helped me with a single word. During the раndemics I was bored and started writing down, then I showed it to my wife, friends. I saw people liked it, laughed, it was a lively story. I sent it to Viktor Petrenko and Sergey Ponomarenko to read. Ponomarenko was so taken away that he started recalling various stories, though mainly about himself. I told him `Sergey, this book is about me'. But there are lots of funny moments there. The toughest was writing about my personal life. I was first in fear. I didn't want to hurt anyone. I didn't get too personal, everyone knows everything anyway. It's a book about my life, starting from the very childhood and on and on.. Think the last chapters are the most boring where I write `so there were Europeans, then the Worlds, then the Europeans again...'. I tried to breath some life into it, but there isn't much you can add. The childhood and yough, being a brat - that part is interesting. Things we did in Collins' tour. There are things to remember...

E/F: Think many will be looking forward for your book. Back to today: this season was under a question mark for Viktoria and Nikita and ended so successfully. How did you overcome?
AZ: The beginning was a catastrophe and nothing prepared us for that. Think because of the раndemics it was the least successful season not just for us, but for the whole world. But it ended so well for us that I can't recall another season like this. Actually we never won two worlds (Worlds and WTT) back to back. It was cool.
Viktoria was suffering with a hurting knee first, then she was down with the соrona. Nikita had a severe back problem. I didn't talk about it, but there was a moment when he drove home and was unable to leave the car - he had to call his neighbour who went down and helped Nikita up - it was that bad. He did a movement in the practice, lifted Viktoria and when he got home he was in pain.
But this year many had injuries because the preparations were forced in time, of course. Everyone spent a while home and no matter how much you work on your abs or your legs the ice is different and you must be in shape. The guys went on the ice, wanted a new programme, wanted to polish the SD and wham! But we all went through more or less the same. Hence the season was unusual and I dream about the next year be normal with no lockdowns

E/F: Where do you plan having the training camp?
AZ: In Novogorsk. Will not take any risks going somewhere else in case we are locked down again. At the worst case we can be locked down in Novogorks and just stay and train there.

E/F: What do you take from this season?
AZ: The less we skate - the better.

E/F: Seriously?
AZ: So it seems. Ok, am joking. What did we take? For me the most important conclusion is that Viktoria and Nikita are people who are not becoming stars after winning, the opposite, winning the Europeans in Graz united them, they believed in themselves, finally stopped being nervous that they would make some mistakes. They started working differently and am more comfortable with them, we understand each other well. Hence the conclusion: we should continue in the same way, there is no need to argue with the coaches, argue within the pair, we picked that road last year, it brought us to Graz and we keep it that way. It became obvious we lacked about 3 weeks to be super ready for the Worlds. In Stockholm Nikita and Viktoria were in a really good shape. They were shining. They did all the coach told them and were initiating it. There was never me asking them to do something and they declining with something hurt, it's too tough, I don't want to. They just went and did it.
So the conclusion is: 3 weeks are enough for the athletes in that level to be ready for a competition when skating the old programmes. Next season the most important is to hit the right programmes, so they would be comfrotable, and that there will be no interruptions like соrona or some other stuff, so we would just have enough time to polish it all. Usually it's hard working on a new material. We need to test it all first in the test skates where we will be notified about our errors. Somewhere in the Russian cup events, say in Syzran or Saransk we are allowed to make mistakes and not be afraid: it's the beginning of a season, we can go and do our things without being afraid. Then challengers- we picked Bratislava and Alma-Aty
The GP are not yet clear, but if all goes well we'd like to participate Moscow and China, but we'll see. Moscow - for the obvious reason, China - to understand what the scheduled will be like at the Olympics - the competition will be very early and the practices as early as 5am. Hence in Krasnoyarsk camp before the Olympics that our federation kindly organizes we'll wake up very early and have run through at 9am. We have to get used to it and not just got up, went and lost the Olympics, I don't remember a thing.

E/F: The schedule in Korea Olympics was similar
AZ: It's all suited for the USA TV translations.

E/F: Do you mind the schedule is comfortable for the TV and not the athletes?
AZ: I can understand it. No one in the USA will wake up at 5am to watch the competitions. Besides, you have to think of the sponsors - we need money in our sport - with Tutberidze all the figure skating will move to Russia and the whole world will be done. Of course am joking, but it can become a real problem. I think Eteri should accept some foreign pupils to create a competition. I wouldn't mind if she was coaching a Japanese or an American girl. Now if you send 7 Russian ladies to a competition they will be come 1st-7th. Hence people in the USA are done with the sport - they don't understand how to compete with the Russians.

E/F: Tutberidze does coach foreigners. Shoma Una came but he couldn't take it.
AZ: Dudakov later told me Shoma did a 15mins off ice warm up - off ice! was upset and hinted `you go on training like that yourself' and departed to the comfortable Lambiel. You see the result.

E/F: After the practice in Novogorsk Shoma even declined sightseeing in Moscow so he could just rest.
AZ: Here is your answer about the drugs. You just need to work really hard. If you can take it - you are winning.

E/F: You have a vast experience preparing for an Olympic season: you medaled twice yourself, got Borbrova/Soloviev and Navka/Kostomarov prepared. What do you stress in the Olympic year preparations?
AZ: Navka/Kostomarov were my first experience on such a level. It was tough. We lost the CD to the Italians and it was a very unpleasant moment. Previously we lost the CD at the Europeans in Lyon and we were told to withdrow because the judging panel was not in our favour, but we didn't do that. Just a couple of months before the Olympics Tanya broke her foot and was off the ice the whole October. Can you imagine - breaking a leg during an Olympic season? She was wearing a special `boot'. Roman was skating alone. We only started preparing in November but we did all we needed to in 4 months.
As for the Olympics: after so many years I understand you shouldn't make the Olympic season a special one. You start runnign around - it's the Olympic year! But when you don't and just do a programme you have so much fun and then you get things like `Singing in the rain' or some other masterpiece. You just work and then Nikita and Viktoria just go and do something on the ice for the first 20 seconds. Back then Petukhov and I just looked at each other and said `Let's just leave it as is - we don't want to change anything , it comes from the atheltes'. It sometimes happens. Hence the Olympic season you have to stay away from it being an Olympic season. The most important is for the music to be liked, the steps be nice and the athlets to enjoy it and start worrying sometime in December.

E/F: What do you mean worry?
AZ: Understanding the Olympics are soon. No matter what do you all the excitement begins. Like with Lipnitskaya in Sochi - I don't believe for a 15y. skater doing both the team and the personal event was such a stress. But when she was so demanded after the team, she was overwhelmed and all that stress could be a reason for her skate in the individual. Sotnikova, who was upset not being part of the team could prepare with no interruptions. She went there and won. Hence we try to stay away from the unneeded attention and imagine it's a normal season because believe me, no matter how the athlete prepares every night they go to bad and run through the programme in their head - how will I skate it at the Olympics. Those are the thoughts you have to chase away.

E/F: But Viktoria and Nikita already have an Olympic experience.
AZ: Nikita is a veteran. Was Vika in Sochi?
E/F: Yes, with Zhiganshin. They both will be going to their 2nd Olympics. Nikita's injury in the Russian nationals in 2017 prevented them from going to Korea.
AZ: But after these Nationals they sat down, talked and they came back different people. The worst that happened turned out well - at that moment things were so bad - they understood they were out of the Olympics, the season was done and they had a name of the team which was hard to overcome, though all the judges were just waiting for them to go out there and skate. So when the time came they did and all fell into the right places.

E/F: Viktoria changed so much, they compliment each other.
AZ: Agree. Viktoria matured, smartened, she probably analyzes and we talked and talking about it. First season the difference with Nikita was obvious but then they erased. It started with a Tango programme where Viktoria looked so different and they matched. Previously I was told by many `Nikita, of course, is Nikita, Viktoria is pretty'. Now she is a real skater. I know why, there are secrets. They had a different technique, which was a big problem.
It seems a little thing, but these details bother. The partner when he understands he can't give it all because he is skating with a person, who, so to say, goes to the opposite direction and it annoys to no end. When Maya Usova and I were skating I tried to break things down so all would be comfortable. Who wants to work just for the sake of it? We want it to be comfortable and convenient and not just waste work. Since then I have been doing it with my pupils: first build it to be comfortable so the programme, so the athletes would enjoy in a way and then we start stretching it, speeding it up. Of course some things are ruined on the way, but it's different from jumping at once into the programme and skating it full speed and then suddenly you notice your butt sticks 1km out and you can't change it - you are already used to the programme. Hence it's better start learning all when its' good looking. It's my approach. Perhaps some completely disagree.

E/F: We heard a piece of music that you are working with Viktoria and Nikita on the FD. Can you voice it?
AZ: It will certainly be a Rakhmaninov. Which exactly I can't tell - we are not yet decided. I hate the cut pieces and Rakhmaninov is so self sufficient but by the rules we need a change of rhythm, mood and there is a piece that would be ideal in this programme. If you noticed we've been doing it for the 3rd year now: Dvorac, a piece of Einaudi then Dvorac again till the end. The same with Bach with a piece of Kreisler. When my friend the violinist Edgar Akopian sent me a piece of Kreisler I asked`where did you find it'? I was so sick of all these POTOs and all that and it was a piece that suited right.
Hence in the new FD we'll leave the same practice: a powerful music that will be the leading part, then choreolife, another piece for the lifts, which i can not yet name because I am not yet decided.

E/F: Rakhmaninov as a shadow of the programme your choreographed for Viktoria and Nikita in 2018 Olympic season?
AZ: Frankly, Nikita brought that piece, he and Viktoria started skating to it with so much soul and love that I instantly understood: they love it. They. And it's a very important condition. When people like the music they work differently. I had a different interesting piece of music, I put it on, watched their faces and understood: yes, they like it, but they are not burning inside. I checked it myself, asked them to do some last year's steps to Rakhmaninov and then my piece of music again. It worked at once with Rakhmaninov, the piece I offered lacked something. Of course I tried another 15-20 pieces, searched, listened on the ice and then decided: the piece they brought is amazing.
Of course I loved the Rakhmaninov programme they skated the last Olympic season, but at that moment they were not yet ready for it. It will be a different piece. They are a mature ripe pair and they can skate differently to Rakhmaninov. Besides , the Olympic year, a Russian team, a Russian compositor and such a genius music - it should work.

E/F: The Olympic season the programme must be one that will not be changed during the season.
AZ: Yes, no experiments like the `Birds' for Bobrova/Soloviev in 2014. After all Katia and Dima are a pair who had to come up with a character, if they skated just something beautiful and abstract it was not enough. With Nikita and Viktoria we come up with the themes within the programme. We don't explain anything, but then we are never asked to explain - they fill the programme so much, they feel the music so well, they have a charisma. Petukhov always comes up with a story that he tells them off the ice and they know what do they depict. We talk it all through ad know in which part you show love and light, in which sadness and we need it to work and how. Viktoria and Nikita are good skaters.
I try to choreograph in a way that only only me and the skaters like it, but the whole coaching team. When everyone agrees then I integrate the element. But when I really want something, have a gut feeling the element will be great and the coaching team dislike it I still leave it in the programme - I'm the main coach. I have some experience. I try not to overload the programmes with the complicity - I sinned that way before. I liked when things were so complicated, and then I would watch it on the TV or a screen and think `why did I do it?'. I wanted the best, so the judges would say `oh, it's so cool, they do such complex things' but the general impression was of rushing. With the time I understood I have to pic things and not be afraid to hold them. But it comes with an experience.

E/F: so the FD is to Rakhmaninov will be contrasting with the `street dance' SD. Do you understand how to work on it?
AZ: The street dance came from the USA and for now I struggle to understand what the programme should look like. We are told it can be a blues, but not a classical one. Then what? For now no one can elucidate and the rules are not explicit enough. You can use a tango, foxtrot, latin... but it's not my thing because all these themes are the same rhythm and mood while I would like to see the slow and relaxed blues, the real one, sensitive, while the 2nd part would be the rest: the step where you can show the rap, hiphop, street dance, whatever. It's my point of view.
Now we are all stuck in the given theme and try to do something about it. But it's unclear. While, say, the finnstep is clear: it's a quickstep and you more or less understand the jumps, the polka style and all that. The blues in our understanding was always a slow dance, sensual, all slow on the wave. But they say the way the blues is danced on the street is different. How?
Of course we'll consult with the specialists, send the video to the highest level - our judges as well because we don't want to miss out during the Olympic season.

E/F: We hope it will become clear with time. Now during the practice together with Nikita and Viktoria there were some more teams. Tell us about your group.
AZ: The new team - Abashkina/Drozd. Pavel's previous partner Konkina was severely ill and her health did not allow her continuing the sport career. Pavel remained partnerless. Then there was an option skating with Angelica. She used to represent France, but she was finally released and will be representing Russia. We have certain hopes up with this team. But you have to take into an account Angelica did not skate for 2 years, she was coaching in Switzerland. When she came over she immediately got an injury because of the amount of work she had to do. But think things will work out for the guys. Of course Pavel matured a lot as a skater. It will be tough for Angelica to follow his lead. But their programmes are really successful. We want them to compete soon. We'll try to rush it. They are very hard working.
Two French teams who work here: Lopareva/Brissaud and Wagret/Souquet. For now because of the соvid sutiation it's not quite clear what will our work look like, probably the guys will be sharing time here and in France. At any rate we'll discuss it with the French federation. Hurtado/Khaliavin from Spain are working. In July the Ukrainan Nazarova/Nikitin will come. I love that team. We keep being friends with Ukraine, I don't see any problem collaborating. We were and are friends.

There are also juniors - about 15 teams. Shichina/Hubulov are part of the junior team this year. Kachushkina/Muratov - the boy from Ukraine are skating here. The team is good, my ex pupils Zlobina/Sitnikov are working with them, and doing a great job. They choreograph the programmes, don't wait for anyone, they just go out there and work hard. Am very satisfied. Of course I watch over and give advice. If my help is needed am always there. But I was always prioritizing the senior teams and the guys gave me some freedom with that. Juniors need a different approach: more strict and you have to make them work. The seniors don't need that, they are motivated.
The most important is the mood on the ice - it's good. A good ice rink, the Canadian size. In August a new one will be opened - the big 60x30. I was even told `May be you should remain on the old rink, that rink brings you luck, you won everything'. I asked whether we'll be allowed on the big ice 5 days before the competition to get used? I was said no problem, skate as much as needed. Indeed that `Canada size' is a lucky one.
 

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