2002-2003 Season Interview with Chaikovskaya
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Q. You worked successfully with Lithuanian dancers Drobyazko-Vanagas many years. As soon as they quite, you started consulting Navka-Kostomarov and “vice-champion” of Europe Alexander Abt, who train with Zhulin in America. What for?

C: “I am so wrapped up in my lessons with my new athlete [trans. Ludmila Nelidina, who went to Chaikovskaya in spring 2002] that I didn’t have the least bit of desire to look for more work. But when I was asked to help skaters in other disciplines, who aren’t competing against Nelidina, I didn’t turn it down.

“Abt was always interesting to me, so it’s a pleasure to work with him. As for Navka and Kostomarov. I consider them the future of our ice dance.”

Q Does it bother you that at 27 Navka has been competing at Europeans and worlds since 1995 and her best results in Europe (4th) was with a different partner?

“Her age is advanced, but it doesn’t bother me because I don’t think she has hit her limit. More importantly I don’t see another pair that can compete with them. The only concern is Belbin-Agosto. It’s necessary to pay attention to them. As our coach Shpilband, and I don’t like that fact, is working with them.
“Everything else in dance is “already been there, done that”. There are no discoveries or bright individual personalities. But Navka-Kostomarov are very individual. Roman is a fantastic partner, which is fairly rare in dance.”

Q. What is Abt lacking to make the leap from good to great?
“Most of all he needs to do at competition what he does brilliantly at practice. Sasha is a great “skater”. He feels the blade, moves amazingly, he’s always interesting. Not just that. In all the time he’s skated, I’ve never seen a program that used all his strengths – great jumps, musicality.”

Q. Averbukh re: staying one more year. Danger they’ll lose the title as Linichuk did.
C: “I wouldn’t compare it. It’s easier for Lobacheva and Averbukh than it was for Natasha and Gennadi because there is no even competitor. The GP stages showed that. The young still need to break out. Now is the best time for that. Irina and Ilya are already masters. They have a full right to do what they want with this year. You need to respect world champions.”

Q. You’ve worked with hundreds and thousands of skaters. Who is the ideal for you?
“In men’s, definitely Kotin. Such a gift was only seen by Toller Cranston, but I prefer to talk about my own pupil. Kotin was always hurt by school figures. He would be 10th-11th in that portion and then it didn’t matter how well and brilliantly he did in the free, he could only go so far up… As for women…If I say Sonja Henie, you’ll laugh. But it’s true. There is still something to learn from her. Recently I watched her film and was convinced again. Such musicality and light skating. Of more recent skaters, I’m for Katarina Witt. She jumped great – German punctuality and mom’s dressing – and was a beauty on the ice as well. For that time, obviously.”

Q. Do you try to bring each new pupil to your ideal?
“Mostly you have to work with what you have. And start from the opportunities and talents of each athlete. Working with Nelidina pushes us in the direction of scary technical progress in ladies. You can’t stop it. However, God knows I wasn’t aiming for it. But Nelidina led us. The ideal in this case would be to add unusual artistry, great programs, and I hope it’s ahead of us. But already Lusya forces us to realize she has the most difficult program in the world and she can manage it well. Her 3 axel is clean on the exit, just as her triple-triple and all her other jumps.
“It’s hard to make a super-difficult program psychologically. Even the men can land quads in the beginning and then fail at everything else later in the program.

Q. Does kotin do the technical work?

“Volodya is on the ice with her the most. But I put on skates and showed her everything when we made the program. Honestly skated for 3 months. Lusya as I recall was quite surprised to see me on skates. I guess she thought I couldn’t manage to skate for a long time already. My family tells me that those 3 months were the best for the family. I wasn’t nagging anyone. I got home from the rink and collapsed.”

Q. about not liking Russians to work with foreigners, but she does it herself?

C: “Consulting foreigners and taking competitors of Russia into your group are completely different things. I tried not to. The only exception was the Lithuanian team. The year I took them I simply wasn’t allowed to work with Russians. I always considered dance my discipline. SO I decided to show how to work. In contrast to all prognoses and lacking all support, the Lithuanians got bronze at Europe and worlds.”