Since some questions arose about Piseev after the last interview with him I translated, I figured I'd post an excerpt from Elena Vaitsehovskaya's book "Tears on Ice" (she's one of the best Russian sports journalists; she's now unfortunately concentrating on biathlon, but she wrote about FS for a long time) that deals with that particular character.
I got my first taste of the "reverse" side of figure skating in all its glory three years later, at the 1994 European championship in Copenhagen. In the previous season, I managed to get to the World championships in Prague (Verner found a super cheap "fleabag" on the outskirts of the Czech capital, and while it would take us an hour to get there from the rink, the trip didn't break the budget of the still modest "Sport-Express"). At the end of the year, Verner informed me that he had an eye on a cheap hotel in Copenhagen, if, course, I was planning to show up there.
I was planning it. Pre-Olympic Europeans, where the professionals newly returned to the sport were going to skate just a month prior to the Lillehammer Games, seems quite remarkable. In addition, I was approached by the Russian figure skating association president Valentine Piseev shortly before that at one of the Russian skating events.
He had his own history with Verner. In 1992, Artur published an article called "A black figure on the blue ice" (basically, this is what really launched him as a scandalous personality); there, in his usual style, he presented his views on Piseev's role in figure skating, stuffing it not only with the excellent knowledge of his subject matter, but also with a hatred toward Soviet officials that all immigrants share. The article was replete with facts, the agglomeration of which painted a fantastically unsavory portrait.
At the time, Verner had a contract with "SovSport" to officially report on all international competitions as a special correspondent.
Verner showed up at Prague's 1993 World championships to morally finish Piseev off. He even ordered a T-shirt where the whole "SovSport" article was printed on the back, and didn't take it off for the duration of the competition.
"Sport-Express" was then the only alternative to "Soviet Sport". Other media correspondents did not make it to big competition due to lack of funding. Not that there was too much other media.
In any case, during the aforementioned Russian event (I think it was in Peter), Piseev himself appeared at my table in an empty semi-dark press bar.
"We really like working with you, Lena", he started after a few introductory phrases. "By the way, do you plan to attend the Europeans?"
"Hardly", I shrugged. "I don't know if I can get the funding."
"Is that all?" the eminent official seemed sincerely surprised. "We will be happy to take you to Copenhagen at the federation's expense. We will be happy to do so. I'll write the letter to your editor in chief myself."
The letter was written. Moreover, the paper was jubilant. We didn't have a penny. Employees didn't get paid, and we always kept looking to sponge off (what they now call for sponsors) to pay for the trips.
A couple of months later, as I was leaving the paper for the airport, I accidently bumped into the first second editor Volodya Geskin. Having wished me a safe flight, he suddenly asked,
"You have money?"
"Piseev is paying", I shrugged.
"Wait" Geskin looked in his pockets and produced a torn dirty old bill for twenty dollars. "Take it. Just in case."
Just as I showed up at the rink to get my accreditation (there were a few hours left before the start), I found a charming and familiar group. Sitting at the table were Verner, TV commentator Sergei Cheskidov, and Irina Rodnina. All three were laughing so loud that it was impossible not to join this happy company. Having thanked Verner for the hotel and mentioned that the federation was paying for the trip, I immediately got the question,
"Did you get the money yet?"
"Then leave us immediately. If Piseev sees you with us, I guarantee he won't give you any."
I became really annoyed,
"Artur, stop playing with me. Your relationship with Piseev is your own affair. He sent a letter to the paper. On his own, by the way, I didn't even ask him!"
"Don't be cross, silly," Cheskidov joined in. "You don't want to leave - no one is forcing you. After all, we'll scrape together something for your hotel…"
At that very moment, Piseev walked by our table, carefully looking at our group. A few minutes later, he walked by in the opposite direction. A little later, he appeared for the third time. Catching my attention, he suddenly asked,
"Lena, a minute of your time?"
I stepped aside with him.
"Lena, you're new here. There is much you don't know. There are some real thugs among us. I hate seeing you sharing their table."
"Excuse me, whom exactly do you mean?" I asked quite cynically.
Piseev realized he might have gone too far.
"Well, you see… All I mean is that all people are different. They can tell you many things you don't need to here. It would be better if you asked for my advice instead."
"In other words, since you've brought me here, you believe that I should present exclusively your point of view in my newspaper?"
"Oh no, no… How can I explain…"
The reserve of politeness and self restraint suddenly ran out. Piseev's face tensed up.
"If Verner's name ever appears in your newspaper, it will be the end of our good relationship. Is that clear?"
"Certainly, Valentine Nikolayevich." I smiled sweetly. "Can I get back to my table now?"
Three days later, a manager stopped me in the hall.
"Excuse me, but you're leaving day after tomorrow, right? Could you settle the bill before tomorrow morning?"
I rushed to the rink. I found the federation's account and relayed the request.
"Sure, sure," he said benignly. "Unfortunately, I don't have it on me. Could you stop by the official hotel in a couple of hours?"
I waited without results in the hotel for the participants until that evening's finals. I then returned to the rink. I again found the federation representative.
"You see," he seemed embarrassed. "As I understand, your hotel was booked by Mr. Verner? Piseev doubts the amount you requested. We'd like to check."
"The hotel is just thirty five dollars a day! Here is the official bill," I mumbled.
"Sorry, there is nothing I can do."
My brains started spinning with a crazy speed. The moral side of things didn't concern me at the time. All I was thinking was - where do I get the money? Verner? Cheskidov? Rodnina? I got out the still unbroken torn twenty from my pocket, and suddenly instead of fury and fear was enveloped with the icy cool that even surprised myself.
I found Piseev at the seats for the important guests.
"Valentine Nikolayevich." I smiled nicely at his neighbors, whose view of the ice I temporarily blocked. "I am sorry to bother you at this time." One more nice smile. "Could I have a few minutes of your time? No, not here, why inconvenience others? Could you step into the hall?"
Outside the auditorium, it was empty. I stopped abruptly. I turned to face Piseev. I said very calmly, but nailing each word as if I were nailing a coffin,
"Seeing as I've encountered some problems with hotel reimbursement which I haven't been able to procure throughout the day, I've been forced to notify my editor of the situation. The editor in chief asked me to tell you personally that from this day forward he considers any relationship between "Sport-Express" and Russian figure skating association to be nonexistent."
"What do you mean, Lena?" Piseev tried to appear surprised. "I don't even know what you're talking about! You know how I feel about you?"
"Moreover", I continued without pausing. "If you think I have nothing better to do than to chase your accountant around all day long, I can assure you that's not the case. I don't even request my per diem expenses be met, but in this situation I believe that since you have officially included me in the delegation roster, you've simply pocketed the money. One more thing, Valentine Nikolayevich," as much of the steam was let out, the smile turned out almost sincere, and the voice - almost friendly. "I've been warned about you before. Now, though, I've seen it in person. Good day!"
Getting back to the hotel around midnight, I went to the receptionist to try to delay the payment by at least a day. The concierge looked at me strangely,
"Your bill has been paid an hour ago."
Much later, I realized how silly it was to be angry with Piseev. As someone who's led the federation of his sport for several decades, and contributed substantially - as per Verner, among others - to its demise, he was in reality an outstanding bureaucrat and a true expert at "divide and conquer". In figure skating, he managed to break and crush such individuals, in comparison to whom I was like a baby chick, understanding nothing, as it turned out, in "adult" life. Piseev first of all needed a loyal journalist. I was so stupid to believe in his altruism.