Vaytsekhovskaya's interview with Arutyunian

TAHbKA

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Elena Vaytsekhovskaya's interview with Rafael Arutyunian for ria.ru
(please click the original article for the paper counter & :swoon: photos)

My phone greetings on Brezina's silver medal and making it to the GPF for the first time in 7 years and how he did it the coach replied
RA: I was happy as a kid. First of all Michal and I have been working together for 2 years now, which is exactly the time needed for the athlete to learn working hard and get the result. I didn't realize it till recently, hence now when I sign a contract it's for 2 years time. If the person is not ready to sign it I will not accept them - I don't see a point. To change the athlete's approach to work in a shorter period of time is almost impossible and I was proved that several times. It's not the technical problem, that you can teach. But that most of the athletes are not training right.

EV: Can you explain?
RA: Sure. The result is mainly the technology. It depends on many little things: how does the athlete warm up, which practices they do and what for. Many times the athlete shows up for the practice, does what he is told, sometimes quite well, but does not really think why they are not progressing. They keep doing the same job day after day not understanding it will not change a thing. Hence you have to work on the athlete's set of mind. Teach them to listen and do what they are told and not they think is right.

EV: Taken the said Brezina came to your group as an adult person the process must have been tough.
RA: It always is. When an adult athlete joins a group, he have already met several coaches work with whom was not a big success and he looks at you the same way he saw your predecessors. I.e. with a certain amount of mistrust, with a certain model that is developed in their heads with the years. Sometimes while getting used to each other there are conflicts, after all the athlete is yet to understand you are nothing like he imagined you would be. More than that, he does not trust you do begin with. It's a problem as well. Like in real life: if you were bitten by a dog you will avoid the other dogs. But it's wrong, right?

EV: What was the deciding point in your relationship with Brezina?
RA: I can't really saw there was one. Just the process took time. Michal, by the way, was not as hard as the others because he comes from the European school. There are quite a lot of skaters with whom you bang your head on the wall with no result.

EV: Yet you keep banging your head?
RA: I love the process. When you dig people from the hole it's much more satisfying then when the work just flows.

EV: I.e you are in a way a crisis manager?
RA: Guess you could say that. A lot of times you get to bring into life the talented skaters, who are too old to be taken seriously. It was the case with Ashley Wagner when she switched to me from John Nicks and became a world silver medalist, when no one expected that. All the money was on Gracey Gold.

EV: AT the beginning of September I spoke to Mikhail Kolyada who said how effective the summer camp under you was. But the season began and the athlete is again falling quite a lot on his quad jumps
RA: Yet he started the season quite decently - showed a great result in Bratislava. Just that afterwards things started falling apart. I think there is an explanation: first of all Mikhail, like many other Russian athletes are under a constant pressure of the expectations, just like Maksim Kovtun was before. They are all over the place, except for, may be, Sergey Voronov, who is quite consistent. Mikhail is also not the most trusting skater - it was obvious when we were working together he was trying my advice before taking it for granted. I always tell the athletes in that case `don't come here as to a kitchen factory where you want to try everything on the counter thinking what is the tastiest. You should behave like in pharmacy: you were given a pill and you took it and went to work. No matter whether the pill was tasty or not.
But I can admit: when the athlete does not trust you it's not his problem, but ours, the coaches. It means we, the coaches are doing something wrong. If our advice stop working it means something is wrong with the advice. It's the first and the biggest problem of the coaching.

EV: Where you always thinking this way?
RA: Of course not. It took me a long time to come to an understanding of what am talking now.

EV: Technically how do you teach an athlete to fight for the elements? Take Kolyada - when he comes to the competitions he shows an amazingly high clean jumps in the practices, while falling the landings in the competitions.
RA: It's hard to judge how well or badly the person trained back home when you see them at the competition. How many practices do we see? Two? Tree? So how can we tell whether he was landing it all so well back home as well? Perhaps he just worked harder in public?

EV: It's not exactly what I meant. Take Hanyu - he landes the jumps that any other skater would fall from. It looks as if he was working on purpose landing from any angle.
RA: Let me draw a parallel: can you imagine a ski jumper who would even consider he can do a whatever landing? Or do whatever in the air? No, there is no such thing because they understand :you might not stay alive. In figure skating no one dies if they fall, hence people allow themselves to rethink, open up in the air, pop a jump. Hence I spend those 2 years I was talking about on that as well. I explain the skater has no right to pop a jump because it's nothing but practicing the pop and learning a wrong skill. If you go for a quad jump a quad you must do. I spend a lot of time explaining it to my athlete. So they would understand what is following the instructions. That if I tell them to do something 3 times they have to do it 3 times, not 2 or 4. Sometimes a person genuinely doesn't understand: 4 is more than 3. But I don't need them to do more, I need them to do exactly.

EV: If an athlete learned to accept these things is it for good or it needs a constant reminding?
RA: It's an endless every day process. It's what they call the coaching work.

EV: I.e. Nathan Chen, who got accepted to Yale and moved from California shook the process?
RA: Of course. But what can be done? Of course Nathan has a huge technical back, a solid base, he knows how to practice. But you know, my son had a girlfriend who was living in Netherlands and they were in a relationship over the skype. You know how it usually ends, right? It's the same. The serious work in sports demands a daily interaction. Face to face. It will be hard for Nathan, of course. It's easy to overtrain and be injured, hence am very worried. But what can I do? Perhaps for Chen getting accepted to Yale was the dream of his life? It's the top of the education - there is a reason only the special ones get accepted there. Nathan told me recently he became friends with a girl in the uni whose father is a high shot in the Georgia government. You understand the level? Just that I love my job so much that I find it hard to imagine how would anyone want to do anything else. Guess it's my Yale. But the athlete does not have to think the way I do, right?

EV: What did you think of Chen when you came with him to the first competition of the season?
RA: He is not bad, he even improved in a way. He admitted he became much more attending to certain details than he was before when we were working together on the daily basis. But I don't know for how long it'll last. Not only he has to maintain the level, but always to think how to progress, find new things, get on a higher level. For now it doesn't happen. Of course, we are trying to use every opportunity we have to train and not things just flow. Now, for example. Chen plans to come with me to Moscow for a couple of days to practice together before his GP event in Grenoble. We even found a place to train. Before the Nationals Chen will spend the holidays with me in California, and he'll come over at the summer. But it's not the work I would love to see done. The rivals are not sitting back and waiting.

EV: Not long before talking to you I spoke to Janna Gromova, who after Irina Slutskaya's retirement focused on working with the little kids. She said it was a conscious choice because the adult skating, where the current result is the most important thing is not interesting for her.
RA: She is right about the current result.

EV: You think it's for good?
RA: It think it would be a wrong thing to say because the rules keep changing and who knows how will it be later. It's another thing that I dislike: every time there is a rules change I try to figure: is the ISU trying the hit and miss theory till the get to the right option, or are they playing for certain players? Who can explain why the new rule is such? Those who decide? I doubt. There is hardly a single person there who speaks the same language the coaches do. Those would be the builders, engineers, mathematicians and stomatologiscs.

EV: But if the most important thing is the current result it seems working with the female skaters for a long period of time is useless?
RA: Liza Tuktamysheva's example proves you wrong. Let's first set the goal. Do we want a certain skater to be unbeatable for two or tree years, like Evgenia Medvedeva was? Am not sure it's right. I personally don't like the idea of one person being unbeatable. I like the elite, where several athletes are competing on the same level. You can enter that elite at any age. Agree with me Carolina Kostner was an elite skater at the age of 30.

EV: That's true. But agree with me the countries where the competition is high it's hard to be in a state when the leader survives for 2-3 years after that a younger skater `swallows' her?
RA: Of course it is. Hence I have been repeating for years the girls and the ladies skating are two different sports and it would be nice to divide them. Right now, for example, it's much more interesting for me to follow Alina Zagitova and Zhenya Medvedeva. How she changes under Brian Orser. Tuktamysheva, Kostner are interesting. That's the essence of figure skating - it has to vary.

EV: Who will you be taking to the GP event in Moscow?
RA: In the ladies the Korean Eunsoo Lin, then am moving to France, where except for Chen the Japanese Marine Honda will be skating.

EV: I heard a point of view soon the main competition in the ladies will be between the Russians and the Koreans. Do you agree?
RA: I wouldn't write the Japanese ladies off. But indeed, the Koreans are really good.

EV: In what?
RA: In their training approach. Very responsible and organized. They do exactly what you tell them. The American skaters not always tread the practices that way. The Chinese do as well. It's a mystery for me why there aren't any good Chinese ladies.

EV: When a foreign athlete wants to join your group how does it work? I.e. how hard is it to become a Rafael Arutyunian pupil if you don't live in California?
RA: I don't deal with the organization at all. It's too complicated. Hence it's all on the parents or the federation of the country the skater comes from. Not long ago I got two athletes from China, a Japanese, a Korean skater. The living in California is expensive, besides, as I mentioned before, I don't accept skaters for less than two years - I don't see a point. Besides the serious work I also work a lot with the local skaters, and there quite a few of them. But that's just money.

EV: Is there a limit?
RA: Of course it is. If I see the athlete does not suit me for some reason, I usually tell them I simply don't have the time they deserve. Which is, by the way, the truth.

EV: What if the athlete is talented, but the group is packed?
RA: The reality shows that every coach will find the time for the talented athlete. Always. Am not an exception
 

starrynight

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Some interesting points:

- Raf provides a good discussion of why training adults is a much harder game than children due to having to to win over their trust and minds.

- He doesn't sound that enthused about the long distance training arrangement with Nathan. Although I'm not sure what coach would. I gather he's expecting to lose Nathan bit by bit - similar to a long distance romance petering out.
 

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