Shpilband & Zueva interview
Here is an interview with Shpilband & Zueva by a great Russian journalist Elena Vaitsehovskaya translated by me; it was, unfortunately, taken before Belbin & Agosto decided to leave Detroit. - http://ptichkafs.livejournal.com/31853.html
Marina Zueva and Igor Shpilband: OUR PEOPLE IN DETROIT
At the World championships in Göteborg, three ice dancing teams of Maria Zueva and Igor Shpilband ended up in top six; the youngest, Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, won silver.
[CENTER]HOW THINGS WORKED OUT[/CENTER]
Zueva and Shpilband ended up abroad at about the same time. Back in Russia, Marina was the permanent choreographer for Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov; she continued to create programs for the legendary pair after moving to Ottawa; after the skaters became two-time Olympic champions in Lillehammer, she continued to work with them on the professional ice. When Katya started skating as a single after Sergei’s sudden death, Zueva remained nearby. She then moved to Detroit.
Shpilband’s American career was far more dramatic. In 1990, he along with three other athletes from Tatiana Tarasova’s theater decided against returning to Russia after a tour. It was in Detroit that Igor started his coaching career. At first, just to make ends meet, he would train anyone who was interested at one of several rinks; then, he started achieving results. The coach’s first elite team was the many-time US champions Elizabeth Punsalan/ Jerod Swallow; the second were Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto, with whom Shpilband worked together with Zueva. In 2002, those skaters became Junior World champions; four years later, they won silver at the Turin Olympics.
The ascent of the Canadian team of Virtue and Moir was likewise swift. They won junior Worlds in 2006. A year ago, they jumped to the top six at the senior Worlds on their first try. In Göteborg, they won the free dance, prompting talks about the 18-year-old Tessa and 20-year-old Scott being the more likely contenders for the Vancouver gold.
Then again, the coaches were far from happy on the day of this interview. Tanith Belbin unexpectedly fell in the compulsory dance, and the team that was hitherto a hands-on favorite for the gold ended up off the podium. The Canadians, too, were third after he original dance, trailing not only the leaders (French team of Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder) but also to the Russians Yana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitksi.
[CENTER]SHPLIBAND: IT’S IMPOSSIBLE![/CENTER]
Normally, an ice dancing coach should not have similarly ranked teams in their group. In your case, there is direct competition between Belbin/ Agosto and Virtue/ Moir. Is that good or bad?
Elite teams have approached me on several occasions, but I turned them down for that very reason. The competition within our group was unintended, as they were on entirely different levels when I started training them. Now, the competition is actually among three teams. Meryl Davis and Charlie White even got a higher technical mark than Belbin and Agosto in the Yankee Polka at the US Nationals.
Did this situation result from too rapid improvement of the young, or the too slow one in the older team?
Each team and each athlete develops differently. There is no standard for improvement. By the way, I don’t think that Belbin and Agosto have peaked. Perhaps they are on a loosing streak at this particular stage, but I continue to see great potential in them.
How hard is it to train direct competitors?
I guess we’re lucky, as all our teams display unique friendliness to each other. Marina and I love them all equally and dedicate ourselves equally to all of them, so there is no hint of jealousy in our group. Sometimes it even seems to me that it’s not possible, but nevertheless it is.
When Belbin and Agosto entered the international arena, they became the talk of everyone. Now, it’s the same around Virtue and Moir. As coaches, do you do anything to create additional advertisement for your athletes?
We don’t do anything extraordinary. Whenever a new interesting team emerges, it attracts attention.
Do you at least invite people to practice sessions?
All of our lessons are open, but we don’t invite strangers. Obviously, American journalists tend to stop by at the height of the season, especially just before Nationals. Besides competition, there are also many shows, and athletes don’t always get paid to participate. For example, Harford annually hosts shows supporting cancer victims.
Is it an honor or a responsibility to take part in those shows?
All of our athletes consider such invitations as a chance to somehow help those who need it most. In the same was they take part in the annual “911” show, where all the proceeds go to support accident victims. Clearly, an athlete must have some name recognition to be invited to such events. On our part, we try to make sure our students are always in this pool.
[CENTER]ZUEVA: MY KIDS[/CENTER]
Could Belbin’s fall result from your athletes feeling like they were already champions after Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin withdrew from Göteborg?
I wouldn’t say that the absence of Domnina and Shabalin lowered the competition. There were still the French and the Canadians. However, Tanith and Ben were a hundred percent ready for the compulsory dance. Trust me, they have never been so ready in their lives. So, they were absolutely confident. Perhaps, they lost focus toward the end of the program as a result.
What did you do after that? Sympathized with them, comforted them, or explained the reasons why it happened?
All three. Of course, it wasn’t easy – falling like that and loosing all chances for a victory from the very start of championships. However, there were no hysterics. Belbin and Agosto made a big step forward. They managed to prove to themselves that they were able to keep on fighting even in such tough circumstances.
I always tell athletes – he was does the most makes the most mistakes. There is nothing tragic about this.
Every time I talk to you about your athletes, I can’t help feeling like they’re your children. What does a coach feel when there are that many children, and when they all covet the same medal?
They are indeed, all loved and cherished. I think, though, that when there are many of them, the coaches, just like parents, have an easier time making the right decisions. When there’s only one, you make more mistakes. Also, athletes learn a lot from each other in such a case.
Which of your three teams is the most ambitious?
Each athlete is ambitious in their own way. There is always someone in each pair. I don’t want to name names, since it is a big component of our psychological work with them.
So, why not switch some partners around, pairing up the most ambitious ones…
That’s one thing we’d never do. All of our teams are in some sense unique. All three have skated together for a decade. They’ve never had any other partners.
Do the Canadian and American skating federations support you in some way?
They partially finance athlete preparation. I, however, have no idea what sums we’re talking about here. Igor has been the American coach of the year several times. Canada doesn’t have that. However, both countries look favorably at us, and that’s a big thing in itself.
[CENTER]SHPILBAND: OF ROCKERS AND TWIZZLES[/CENTER]
Did anyone try to lure your athletes away from you?
Yes, about five or six years ago, but I don’t want to talk about it. It concerned Belbin and Agosto, and they were the ones who eventually told me about it. I was glad that Tanith and Ben thought about it on their own and made their decision accordingly.
Maxim Shabalin once noted that Virtue and Moir are of an entirely new generation. They even warm up differently.
Well, Maxim certainly pays attention.
Is it really so?
Certainly. Tessa and Scott grew up with the new rules. Four years are exactly what they spent as juniors. Previous ice dancing generation did not have to do twizzles in different directions. They did not have to learn so many new spins, or so elements such as “Rocker” or “Counter”.
Many coaches still have mixed feelings about the new requirements. Some are openly hostile. What about you?
Some things are indeed annoying. In particular, the fact that the rules change annually. For example, in the upcoming year the choice of the compulsories will be between Paso Doble and the Viennese Waltz. However, ISU dictates that which of those dances is performed gets determined by a random draw. As a coach, I do not find this acceptable. I want to understand all the details of why my team wins or looses, and what exactly it did well or poorly. The whole point of compulsory competition today is in comparing the teams. ISU, however, insists that it should be judging as opposed to comparing. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what is skated. However, how do you compare two entirely different dances? What’s better – apples or oranges?
It seems to me that it would be fairer to just abolish the component mark for the compulsories if it is a purely technical competition. However, as far as I know, ISU plans to abolish this program altogether in the near future.
Compulsories have played an enormous role in the development of our sport, but they will be left behind sooner or later. The same thing happened with school figures in single skating, though those lingered for a long time. If we want dancing to remain interesting for viewers and for TV, and for this sport to even survive and continue to develop, there is no other way, especially since ISU unequivocally insists on cutting down the ice dancing program.
ZUEVA: OF GLIDING AND DOCTORS[/CENTER]
Now that the season is over, what’s next?
Two of our teams are guest stars on Stars on Ice. We know the schedule, including the days off. Now, we play to get some rest and start working on new programs.
Do you have a concept of vacation?
Of course. However, if Igor and I would leave simultaneously for 20 days, I guess all of our athletes would just scatter. Therefore, we also have to play our vacations in advance. Usually, it’s not longer than a week.
Many coaches complain that the new rules are causing more injuries. Is that true?
Much depends on the athletes’ natural flexibility. We work on it a lot. In truth, the rules don’t force anyone to break themselves. Those who’re not flexible enough can make due with other lifts and elements. By the way, the compulsories cause no less injuries than the free dances. I’d even say they cause more, especially the slow ones. They carry too great a burden on ankles and knees. The gliding has to be carried for along time to be solid and expressive. Any position in the compulsory where a leg is bent backward is unnatural for a human body. It carries a great stress on the spine. That’s hard to endure, since those moves must be repeated not a hundred but a thousand times.
Do you hire specialists who monitor the athletes’ health?
Of course. That forms a part of the rehabilitation preparation. I can’t vouch for all coaches, but in our group it’s the law. I’ve been in figure skating too long to fail to understand the importance of this. I therefore insisted from the very start of my work with Igor that athletes work with a permanent doctor, physical therapist, and masseur. We also have nutritionists on hand if any athlete requires it. Many of those doctors also work with the Detroit Red Wings hockey players.
When we were at the Turin Olympics, I visited the center that housed the medical and scientific group of the American skating team. I met everyone, and arranged to be able to come to them at a moment’s notice if we need help. Sport is too dangerous a profession to leave anything to chance.
2008, interview by Elena Vaitsekhovsksaya
Moving up the testing structure
Quite an interesting interview. Both coaches seem particularly grounded and good-natured, ie. treating each team equally and seeing a good thign in each. Maybe I'm naïve, but they sound quite nice as people!
Thanks Ptichka for the translation!!
Thank you for the translation. You are the best!
Thank you so much, Ptichka!
Wicked Yankee Girl
Ptichka, Great interview and a great translation! I was particularly interested in the comments on the riskiness of the compulsories. And I think Marina is right--the tech mark should be most, if not all of the compulsory grade. And nice that Igor put D&W right up there with B&A, reminding the interviewer that D&W had the best tech marks in the YP at nationals.
I wonder whether the coach who tried to 'raid' B&A 6 years ago was Linichuk, and whether she is thinking now what my grandma used to say, "Success crowns persistent effort."
That was actually the comment of the interviewer, Vaitsehovskaya, who is extremely knowledgeable about this sport.
Originally Posted by dorispulaski
I wonder what Shabalin meant about Virtue and Moir warming up differently from other skaters. What do they do differently?
Ice Dance Obsessee
Ooh thanks for the translation! I'm glad I got to read this. I understand their stance on CDs better now and it actually makes sense to me; the tech mark should be the majority of the compulsory score. Hmm...thumbs up to Igor and Marina, this makes my opinion of them go way up (not that it was low before but you know)!
The Zamboni Rocks!!!
Thanks as always for the translation.
Great translation as usual, Ptichka.
A little bit OT, but one reason I am sorry to see Belbin and Agosto leave the Detroit area is they they have build up a considerable local celebrity which has called attention to figure skating here. They organized two successful big-time charity skating shows, plus Tanith has made a nice start as a TV spokesperson.
I hope they come back "home" to continue their post-competition careers after the 2010 Olympics.
I think one reason I am rather sorry to see the switch is that I have great respect for Shpilband and Zueva. They have really built their school from the ground up without stepping on anyone's toes; they seem to me to be really grounded hard working people. Linichuk & Karponosov, of course, are of the entirely different ilk.
That was a wonderful interview, I admire them both so much as coaches and am pleased with their success. I thought it was interesting what Igor said about training all three teams at once...the fact that they were on different levels at first. It must have been difficult when D/W and V/M really took off in their very first senior year but it sounds like Igor and Marina dealt with it well and how nice is it that all three teams got on so well.
But now, B/A have moved on, I can't help but wonder how the dynamics have changed. I think that D/W and V/M are friends and at least they don't have to compete against each other in their own countries but they still have to compete internationally against each other. Obviously Igor and Marina will have more time to devote to each of them and I can't help but think that they will have to think of D/W as the #1 team for the US...at least they should think of them that way competitively. I know they will want them to win the US championship since they will be their main US team now.
I remember watching the vid of the CD from US Nationals and Igor saying "wow" when D/W's technical score came up. I think he was surprised but pleased. Actually I think both D/W and V/M have surprised them with their rapid progress.
Hopefully this coming season and the Olympic season will bring success for them. Ice dance is going to be very interesting especially for the next two years. Nice to see it so competitive and entertaining.
Igor's argument regarding the CD caught my attention. I wonder, too, how anyone can evaluate the mixed field of Paso Doble and the Viennese Waltz and call it fair. Like what Igor said, it is comparing apples or oranges.
Also, before reading this interview I thought the skaters were given a choice between the two dances, however, now I know that it is determined by a 'random draw.' How awkward is this?
... or has there been a change in the rule regarding this matter after this interview?...
Last edited by jyshin; 05-16-2008 at 11:09 PM.
I don't quite get this either. I know earlier there was talk of having mixed CDs during a competition but is that truly what's going to happen? I've seen from the ISU communication and from threads on FSU that the Finnstep will be the CD at 4CC and Europeans and the Viennese Waltz at US Nationals. At least I think that's what I've read. I'm really confused right about now. When will the Paso Doble be skated?
Originally Posted by jyshin
My understanding is that the Paso Doble and Viennese Waltz will be skated in the GP events (outside of the Final). Both CDs will be skated at each competition (half the couples skating the Paso, the other half skating the Waltz).