Samokhvalov's interview with Zhulin


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Anatoly Samokhvalov's interview with Aleksandr Zhulin for R-Sport / RIA

- Aleksandr, how are Vika and Nikita?
- Everything is okey, we had to stop working for a little bit since their new pairs of skates didn't come on time. But now they are breaking them in. Their eyes are lighting up, new elements have been found. Rhythm dance is set - 'Singing In The Rain' , by Gene Kelly. It's a musical. As for the free dance, we have two very good ideas, but we haven't chosen one yet, so I can't name the music.

- Should we expect some big changes in their style?
- It seems to me that they are good in anything, but there definitely won't be a tango.

- It's a pity.
- It is. But I also like the way they look in finnstep, they show such a flowing skating, their skates sensitively follow all nuances of the music. I can tell you that it is hard to make a bad program for a couple on this level. But I have developed a perfectionist approach to them - every step we add should be liked, we are not just adding anything into the programs. Everyone on my coaching team has a keen eye, and if I notice that someone evaluates a part of the program as “normal” and there is no emotion on his face, I immediately make changes.

- That means Sinitsina / Katsalapova won't have any unnecessary movements?
- Well, it is difficult to say so, but their tango and free dance last season were very much to my liking.

- And if you look at them supercritically?
- I wouldn't change a single step! But it's always scary to start putting a new program from scratch. And every year you think: "Damn, I probably won't do this again." But then the work begins, and you realize that everything is not so bad.

- You have choreographed tons of programs in sports and for the 'Ice Age', do you feel that the passion could be lost in the near future?
- This applies only to the sports programs , in which you are dependent on the quality of the elements. It is very important to receive "pluses" from the judges, and you have to think about it all the time from the beginning. For example, last season out lift in the rhythm dance didn't get a lot of "pluses". So now we need to continue to skate consistently, which basically happened this season with the exception of one nonsense at the European Championship. In the past such things were systemic for this team, but now this mistake can be called a nonsense.

- By nonsense you mean Nikita's fails?
- Why only Nikita's? Vika also can make a serious mistake. Yes, of course, Nikita was prone to such mistakes, but they needed several years to gelled. I really hope that in these two years Vika has improved tremendously. Many people notes this. It makes me happy, because it means that we have this “chemistry” between the coach and the student. She understood my ideas: what should be done to make the partner more comfortable. Now Sinitsina and Katsalapov have really gelled, they match each other, and in my opinion, Nikita is now way calmer because of it. They began to skate with pleasure, and with the same pleasure they started to work harder, in a way they couldn't have worked before - sometimes they couldn't even finish their program, because of some technical issues related to their different techniques.

- So you got to the bottom of the nature of Katsalapov's nerves?
- I think that one of the reasons for this was their different understanding of the technique. Thank God that Vika, a smart and capable girl, understood the importance of this and accepted Nikita's and my terms. They may seem trivial, but without them it is impossible to achieve outstanding results. Good results are possible, but outstanding - not.

- I remember that talking about Katsalapov's nerves you once said that Nikita can't skate to something that requires our favorite Russian skating with "breaking the aorta" (overdramatic).
- But he was also very emotional in their last season's tango. And he was not supposed to tear his shirt off in the first part of the free dance (Air by Bach).

- So will you use the same tactical scheme with Katsalapov in the future - not letting him got to emotionally invested during the program?
- Katsalapov should be placed in a comfortable environment in terms of life, relationship with the coaching team. For Nikita it’s important to feel that there is a wall behind him. Music is not the root cause. The main thing is the atmosphere of one family, where everyone is responsible for each other. Responsibility, love and understanding. This is what Katsalapov needs. There are, of course, also some secret things that the coach says to his students, but these are our internal affairs.

- Has Nikita become less emotional at the training sessions?
- Excessive nervousness occurs when a person has some kind of dissatisfaction - in technical compatibility, in the coaching team. I hope that we have solved this problem. I hope. I do not want to predict anything, but I felt absolute comfortable working with the guys in these two years. In my opinion, they are also quite pleased with me. There is no longer any internal anger in Nikita's eyes, that used to manifest itself. Today only his charisma has remained. And honestly, Katsalapov is a very kind person.

- Anger probably came from the fact that they had to prove that they are no worse than others.
- And they will prove this next year again. But it can be done in different ways - either "without the head" or "with the head."

- But now they have really felt that they aren't worse than the others.
- So, there's a head on their shoulders. But each new season there's is a bunch of new obstacles. We have to wait for the start of the season to see if we choose the right programs.

- By the end of the season Vika got the highest levels for all the element, even her partner did not always succeed. Is Sinitsina a true prima in current ice dance elite?
- A person who wins silver at Worlds is obviously cool. And to call her "Primа" or "Pamir" ... I do not know. But what she had done is really impressive.

- Can you somehow calculate how big is the gap between the guys and Papadakis/Cizeron?
- You can't just deduct. It will depend a lot on the programs the French will create and how ours will look in comparison.

- Whatever programs Gaby and Guillaume put on, everyone will whine that they have already seen this and the French haven't shown anything new
- They will whine, and the French will receive all the 10s. What's the sense in whining? Only if the judges start to whine, then maybe something will happen. But we see them as a very strong team, and their elements are brought to near perfection. So we need to work on quality, to see that each leg is stretched and moves in synch, that the arms are beautiful and etc. But we have our strengths - charisma, the specifics of the relationship between a man and a woman, and indeed Vika and Nikita are a really beautiful couple. They still have time for a chase.

- It is safe to say that your students will keep their Rus#1 status?
- I do not want to make any predictions. It's like asking, will “Spartak” be the champion of Russia in football?

- Most likely, no.
- With clean skating, with good programs and some luck, the guys became the best Russian couple last season, and it was natural. But I like the fact that we have a second very strong Russian team. They (Aleksandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin) are very good guys, and we have a healthy competition with them.

- On the sidelines, in a whisper, I heard more than once that Vika and Nikita were more favored by the judges than Aleksandra and Ivan. What are the roots of these guesses?
- You shoals have asked on the sidelines. There are small, elusive to the eye things in which Vika and Nikita are slightly stronger. I also talked on the sidelines last year and heard that Vika and Nikita had the best tango.

- This was openly stated to me by Igor Shpilband and Rostislav Sinitsyn.
- And, nevertheless, we were second. All these talks on the sidelines are in favor of the poor.

- In the Grand Prix Final, Stepanova and Bukin received the lowest, basic level on tango pattern and couldn't explain why it happened.
- And I can't explain what happened. I saw their tango, but didn't understand why they were given a basic level. Apparently, they missed something. But I don't think that it was due to some judicial intrigues. If we talk about ourselves, then when we get the second level instead of the fourth, the first thing I do is dig in myself, ask the experts and try to solve the problem. Sometimes it turns out, but sometimes it does not. It is important to understand that we are all people, including judges, and when a couple regularly medals at major competitions, the judges are a little more supportive to them.

- Last season there were talks that the judges won't let two Russian couples on the Worlds podium.
- Bullshit. Once Dubova (Natalia) had all three her couples on the podium.

- But that was back in the Soviet times of our domination in ice dance, and now we just began to catch up with the leaders
- The political moment certainly exists, and in recent years the judges favored the Lauzon's group. It was felt that the Montreal group had a priority and a certain new direction in dancing, which eventually began to pall. We are trying to change it. But the massive presence of Americans and Canadians in the technical committees is a serious matter. But I am not trying to say that they treat us badly; on the contrary, I saw how we were given the top marks by both Americans and Canadians. So you just need to improve your skating, and you will receive higher points. If something is cool, it's cool, and no one will argue with that.

- Did the dominance of Lauzon/Dubreuil 's group affect you? Have you borrowed something from them?
- On the contrary, I'm trying to step aside. I myself was in a similar situation in America. I was coaching six teams, trying to grasp the immensity. In the end we got zero result, because in my opinion, it was a mistake to take so many students. It is necessary to work on a single piece and not to create an empire. All empires collapse sooner or later, because the coach gets an eye on himself, he begins to choreograph the same thing over and over again, starts choosing music on the principle of its comfort , so it could suite all the elements. And everything in between the elements became secondary. The main thing - to be "skaty" and "glidy." And flow. But when you see six or seven pairs skating in the same way, you will soon hear the whining. And from the judges.

- But if you look at the non top teams in Lauzon/Dubreuil's group, all of them skate beautifully.
- Beautiful, because the level of skaters is very good. But they all gathered in one place and it's difficult for them to find different directions. Skating school is the same, well, look, all these pairs sometimes my look lethargic. The music is so viscous, and they skate and skate in the same style ... I understand perfectly well that Lauzon and Dubreuil themselves know it. I think they are also in search.

- Dima Soloviev assured me that he still wants to compete. Did he ask you for an advice?
- He and Ilinykh had the idea to start competing, but then Lena refused and the idea was gone.

- Ilinykh now has a lot of interesting projects, but can you imagine her on the competitive ice again? For example, in a year.
- I think her train is gone.

- Even if she wants to come back?
- It will be hard to do that.

- Don't you have a partner for Soloviov - young and promising?
- Even if I had one, it would be a completely new team to which you need to get used. Remember the first year of Sinitsina / Katsalapov and Ilinykh / Zhiganshin. Personally, it was very difficult for me to simply perceive these two pairs. It was a bit easier with Vika and Nikita since they fit each other in terms of parameters, but as a bystander I had a hard time trying to perceive Ilinykh and Zhiganshin together.
By the third year I got used to them too. And what do you offer to Solovyov? Start now and show results in a year? It's almost impossible. And Dima is not fifteen years old himself, the Olympic Games are near. In my opinion, if you skate, you skate for the sake of the Olympics. Hasn't he had enough of figure skating in his life? When I finished skating with Maya Usova, I had an idea to team up with Pasha Grischuk. She was so fast! And Valentin Nikolaevich Piseev said me wisely: “Sasha, calm down. Skate in your shows and everything will be fine for you”. Over the years, I realized how right Piseev was. At that age , just a little over thirty, we thought that we would tear everyone in a minute, but time is changing.

- So, Dima has only one chance - Bobrova.
- I understand your joke. And even if we fantasize, for some reason it seems to me that Katya doesn't want to be involved in competitive figure skating. Naturally, if I see him with Bobrova on the threshold of our skating rink, I will take them. Another thing is - what will come out of this? ..

- You haven't choreograph for single skaters in a long time
- Yes, but I do not grieve. I am at that age and at that stage of life, when it gives me much greater pleasure not to run to the rink to choreograph a program for a single skater , but to come home and play with the child. But if someone asks me, then I will agree to work on a program with joy.

- Are you still looking at single skaters through their programs?
- Of course.

- Then what should Evgenia Medvedeva do? She had to change her new interesting short program to 'Tosca' last season. How can she try something new and not make a mistake at the same time?
- When I worked with her, at one moment I thought that the Isaac Schwartz music from the film "The Captivating Star of Happiness" will suit her.
This is a very strong piece of music. And Zhenya told me: "I do not feel myself in it." I insisted: "Zhenya, you will tear everyone apart! Can I turn on the music, and you will just go and skate for a little bit?" I turned it on. She skated and completely dissolved on the ice. Medvedeva has become so little, that strong, large-scale music simply “devoured” her. I stopped the music. "Zhenya, you are absolutely right, this is not yours at all" , I said.
The next day I brought her the music from the movie “Melodies of the White Night” (also written by Schwartz). She made first few steps and I immediately understood: "This is it, it is your theme."

- And with that program she won all possible championships.
- Yes, but then it was easier. We also choreographed "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and "Tango Tschak" ... If she asked me to choreograph something for her again, I would try different things to understand what she really needs right now. It also seemed to me that her first short program last season, that blues, didn’t suit her, because she didn’t feel this music, she was born in Russia. Medvedeva is not Ashley Wagner. Kurt Browning can turn Frank Sinatra's music , skate to it and it will look like Sinatra wrote music especially for him. This is their culture, they know these compositions since early childhood, and we, and Zhenya, are different. Medvedeva needs programs where she can show her soul. But if she asks me, I will choreograph the blues with a Russian soul for her. Zhenya is a very artistic girl. It happens sometimes - you choreograph a program, think "Wow!", but in fact it turns out as a failure. I, too, am not sinless, and it has happened to me.

In general, I really like Kamila Valieva. If she skates like this on the senior level, it will be a masterpiece.

- Do you think she is more talented than the 2-times JWC Alexandra Trusova and Russian National Champion Anna Scherbakova?
- I didn't say that. We must look at Valieva's jumps first.

- She already has quad toeloop.
- We'll see what she will have closer to the Olympics.

- And in terms of choreography it seems that she is better than her older rivals.
- She is not better or stronger, she is a skater from God. How to compete against with YuNa Kim? That was almost impossible, because everything was from God: the lines, the face - just everything. Valieva is a great new talent. But you don't know what to expect in the future. Ok, she will come to the rink, land a quad and skate brilliantly, but and then Trusova will come out and land four quads. And who will win?
And other things being equal, I think that in terms of components Valieva and Alena Kostornaia are the best skaters we have right now. But no one can compete with Scherbakov and Trusova in terms of jumps.

- Their coach, Eteri Tutberidze, recalled your recent phrase that you want to look at the women on the ice, not young girls.
- I have already accepted the fact that the rules can't and won't be changed. I adore and respect Eteri Georgievna very much. She is a great coach. But it's good that I like to look at the grown up women on the ice. But if someone with soft and beautiful gliding will step on the ice, for example - Valieva, who was kissed by God, I will also look at her with great pleasure.
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This is their culture, they know these compositions since early childhood, and we, and Zhenya, are different. Medvedeva needs programs where she can show her soul. But if she asks me, I will choreograph the blues with a Russian soul for her.
Eyerolling so hard, I almost saw inside of my skull.

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