An interview by Elena Vaitsehovskaya with Elena Vodorezova. Interesting details on the whole Gedevanishvili deportation.
"IF YOU'RE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, NOBODY WILL NOTICE YOU"
On November 16th in Paris, a fourth event of the "Grand Prix" will commence; three of our country's strongest single skaters will be there - Andrei Griazev, Ilya Klimkin, and Sergei Dobrin. The former is trained by Elena Buyanova, remembered by the whole world by whole maiden name Vodorezova.
If figure skating gave out a prize for the most fantastic debut, Vodorezova's 16 year old Georgian student Elene Gedevanishvili would have sure received it last season. She was fifth at Europeans in Lyon, was in top ten at the Turin Olympics, and became a national hero in her own country - in all of figure skating history, no Georgian athlete has ever risen so high.
However, the partnership broke up in mid-October, and Vodorezova's group became almost entirely male, as in April it added Artem Borodulin, the only Russian single skater who managed to get into the Junior Grand Prix Final.
Actually, we started our conversation with juniors. With the Junior Worlds of 2004, where Vodorezova first brought forth Griazev at such an important competition, and where the skater became champion.
"Two years ago, Andrei was on level with Evan Lysacek, and sometimes won over him. Since then, the American has twice medaled at senior Worlds, while Griazev never made it into even top ten. In your opinion, who competitive is he going to be this season?"
"I would put the question differently: how much does Andrei want to be competitive? A coach can only help. Same goes for the whole team that works for the athlete. Needless to say, the previous season was awful for Griazev. He was shocked himself. He went through a lot, and I hope he re-examined many things. I think he understood that this could well be his last Olympic cycle.
How much he has changed, and how well we've put together the preparation will become clear at competitions. I'd like to hope our work will pay off.
You know, we've all been spoiled by Lesha Yagudin and Zhenya Plushenko. We'd come to any competition, and not even have to worry about the results. We always knew we'd have gold and silver. Though for each of those athletes only first place existed. We were lucky that we, and not America, had them. There aren't any skaters like that now. Take Johnny Weir, whom I like a lot. He has everything to become World champion. But he hasn't! He was second in the short program at the Olympics, but only came fifth at the end. Every time, he lacks something."
"In your opinion, how will Plushenko's absence affect men skating?"
"Not having him on eligible ice is bad. He's our gem and our pride. On the other hand, it should make everyone else go the extra mile to occupy the niche that has now become vacant.
Talking about Russian athletes, each of them has to understand the responsibility that wasn't there when they arrived at the competition as number two or three. It's very different to not have someone else's back in front of you."
"Do you feel this responsibility as Griazev's coach?"
"I was never behind anyone's back. I always tried to have my athletes aim for the top. When I came to European or World championships with, say, Gedevanishvili, it wasn't to make it into the final and rest. Though Georgian figure skating association didn't hide that it would have been happy just to have Lena in the top 24 at those competitions.
We didn't expect to come first, but I prepared Gedevanishvili for the best result she was capable of. I well understood that if a Georgian girl comes to European championships, and skates like everyone else, she can't hope to rise beyond 15 - 20 places. In order to surpass others and attract attention, one needs something more than knowing how to perform required elements."
"Is this absolutism your inborn quality, or is is a result of your many years of work with Stanislav Zhuk?"
"I guess it's both. Zhuk always taught us that you have to be head and shoulders above competition. How else can you do it? Average is just that - mediocrity. In Moscow alone, junior competitions have 25 competitors. It's not easy to distinguish yourself from this mass. If you're like everyone else, nobody will notice you. There has to be brightness, an explosion."
"How come Gedevanishvili had to leave Russia?"
"When I was at the Netherlands "Grand Prix" with Borodulin, my husband called to let me know what happened. Gedevanishvili and her mom were coming home from practice when they were stopped on the street for a papers check. This was during a worsening of the Russian-Georgian relations, which, as you recall, was accompanied by increased police attention to people with Caucasian appearance (Ptichka: "Caucasian" here means from the Caucuses - Armenian, Georgians, Azeri). Lena's papers were in order, but her mom registered in one of the many Moscow firms. All necessary stamps were in the passport, but when they started a more thorough check, it turned out her information was not in the computer. This meant she was in Moscow illegally.
Many tried to help, but they couldn't change the most important thing - that Gedevanishvili's mom had to return to Georgia and get her papers anew.
When I returned to Moscow, Lena was in a terrible state. That's easy to understand - when someone has never been to a police precinct, and suddenly gets there under such unfortunate circumstances, that would shock even an adult. Her mom shrunk by half. Not only was she threatened with deportation, there was barrage of phone calls from her son's school (the boy was at an alpine skiing training camp in Austria) demanding the child's whereabouts. When I saw all this, I realized that the only thing I could do for Lena was to switch gears and have her concentrate on competition. Three days after I got back from Netherlands, we left for a competition in Austria together.
We planned to have Lena live with me after we got back to Moscow. In Vienna, however, I found out that Lena and her mom were ordered to return to Georgia, and, depending on how fast everything will be settled, either stay there or look for training somewhere else.
I suggested Estonia - I arranged with Anna Kondrashova to temporarily take Gedevanishvili. Sometime later, though, I got a phone call from the Georgian figure skating federation president, telling me that Lena's parents decided to send their daughter to the USA, to train with Galina Zmievskaya."
"How did you feel?"
"You have no idea. Lena skated with me from the age of six or seven. Getting a Georgian skater to this level is quite different from getting a Russian one there. This year we made very beautiful programs, the process was going very well - at the end, Lena looked great. We planned to compete at two "Grand Prix" events, but we had to decline after everything. I don't know if Gedevanishvili will be ready to compete at Europeans under current circumstances."
"So, the level your skater achieved in the Olympic season satisfies Georgia not to think of her athletic future?"
"Yup. Though, from what I've heard, Gedevanishvili's financing comes from a very high level. Lena visited several times with the country's president, she is well loved there, and she is truly a national hero."
"Did you get a Georgian medal as well following the Olympics?"
"I didn't even get a thank you."
"I know that in Russia, as in CSKA School, not everyone was elated to see you working with a foreign athlete."
"I started my coaching career in Elena Tchaikovskaya's private school, where nobody cared what athletes what coach worked with. Look at the USA - nobody there cares if American specialists work with Japanese or Chinese skaters. That's there bread and butter. Up until the end of last season, nobody paid me for my work with Gedevanishvili. So it's ridiculous to talk about my supposed financial gains.
Of course, no coach will deny themselves the joy of working with such a talented child. It's so rare to encounter a talent of this magnitude. I just don't understand this kind of talk. I remember people were saying that Tarasova, being Russian team's consultant, had no right to train Shizuka Arakawa. For some reason, nobody considered that Tarasova had a conrtact she signed back in the USA. Nor did they consider that the money she gets from foreigners helped Tarasova train both Ilya Kulik and Yagudin in America. At the time, she could not do that in Moscow, as our country did not have the conditions that USA did.
Myself, I've coached for 15 years, and just now I'm getting a chance to work as I see fit. I remember well how in 1995 I had to beg the rink's leadership to a accompany Olga Markova to European championships; I felt myself almost criminal doing that. Though we did get back from Dortmund with a silver medal."
"Do you ever wonder what you could have achieved if you got Markova now as opposed to 12 years ago?"
"I think she'd be above everyone else on difficulty alone. I've never seen a girl handle the edges like Olga did."
"Where you scared to take on such an elite athlete?"
"It wasn't like that. Markova and I were close friends. She knew everything about me, and vice versa. When I observed her skating from the sidelines, I never stopped marveling at how well Olga skates, how she feels the edges, but just can't jump. Then at one point she moved from Peter (Ptichka: St. Petersburg) to Moscow because another coach promised to work with her. But at the last moment this fell through. Having severed all Peter connections, Markova was left with nothing. She turned to me as a last resort - "At least you can work with me!"
My group at the time wasn't big, and I agreed without a second thought - it was such a challenge to work with an elite skater. Neither one of us ever demanded anything from the other. Part of this is that Olga conducted herself very intelligently from the start. We remained girlfriends in life, but on the ice it was clear - I was a coach, and she was an athlete who does what I say without questions. Olga trusted me. That's why it all turned out well."
"As I recall, that wasn't the first time you were offered to work with senior athletes?"
"I declined myself. All skaters I was offered after I stopped competing were of my age, they were my friends from practices, such as Alexander Fadeev. How can you demand you friends obey you if you don't have any coaching experience?
My relationship with Griazev wasn't easy at first. He came to me temporarily in 2004 as the student of the great Tarasova. Tatiana Anatolievna's husband was very sick at the time, so she couldn't possibly attend practices regularly. I, though, was a nobody to him, just a temporary person he was dumped with for the time being. At practices, Andrei neither saw nor heard me. We went together to Junior Worlds where Griazev won, then to Europeans, but it changed nothing at all in our relationship."
"Has it normalized by now?"
"I can only hope that's so. I hope Andrei trusts me. Though we're still rather like allies. Tarasova is the coach. I go along with this.
We had a difficult start of the seasons. Griazev had a meniscus surgery in April. He was insanely worried, not knowing how he'll feel, and what would come in general. During post-surgery treatment the leg muscles atrophied, so instead of going home to Perm, Andrei had to stay in Moscow and do general physical exercises with a special doctor. Then he went to a training camp in Sochi. He was killing himself with work to the point where even I was impressed.
When doctors allowed Griazev to go back to ice, he started testing out the knee. Obviously, he couldn't yet jump, Andrei was doing footwork, but I could see that in those steps he was testing the entry into triple axel. He constantly keeps this very jump in mind. He lived with his thought in mind - will he be able to do this?
It was so scary to watch him. It's like it's my responsibility - I was the one who brought him to the surgeon. I was restless until Griazev started jumping. He was doing everything just as he had the night before the surgery. Finally, when he did tat axel - then I could relax.
"What do you expect from Griazev this season? What would you like to see?"