FIGURE SKATING Born August 30, 1929 with the town of Bezhentsy in the Bryansk region. Renown USSR figure skating coach. First Soviet skater to take part in European championships (in 1956, with partner Maya Belenkaya). Three-time USSR pair champion (1952-1954). Carried the Olympic team flag at the closing ceremonies in Innsbruck in 1964.
TUESDAYS WITH Elena VAITSEKHOVSKAYA
Igor MOSKVIN: "I NEVER THOUGHT OF MY WIFE AND ME AS COMPETITORS."
Personal trainer of the first Soviet Olympic champions Lyudmila Belousova and Olet Protopopov (1964). Other students include Uri Ovchinnikov, Igor Bobrin, Igor Lisovsky, and Vladimir Kotin in single skating. Among pairs, he has coached Tamara Moskvina/ Alexander Gavrilov, Tamara Moskvina/ Alexei Mishin, Irina Vorobieva/ Alexander Vlasov, Irina Vorobieva/ Igor Lisovski, Lyudmila Smirnova/ Andrei Suraikin, Marina Eltsova/ Andrei Bushkov, Larisa Selezneva/ Oleg Makarov, and many others.
Lives and works in Saint Petersburg. Married to the famous coach Tamara Moskvina (Bratus). Has two daughters.
Coaching is hard work. Being a wife of an extraordinary coach is an almost impossible feat. What’s even more difficult, though, is having a wife who is also a coach, and who’s spent her whole life proving what a good student she’s been.
Tamara and Igor Moskvins have been married for 45 years. In fact, though, they’ve been together for much longer, ever since a 16-year old skater walked into the class of an already famous Saint Petersburg coach back in 1957. This August 30, Igor Borisovich will be turning 80.
A week prior to this anniversary, I came to Peter to visit the star team. Looking from behind the glass of the Yubileiny sports club at how Igor Borisovich unhurriedly walks toward the exit, I recalled Moskvina’s words:
“Igor was always an elegant man. I always knew women liked him; they marveled at him, and so did I. I always trusted him, and valued having someone like that next to me. I recently heard a show where a famous director said he didn’t consider family to be valuable. I was never of that opinion, and neither was Igor. Our family is the one area where we beat any other family coaching team.”
About 15 years ago, as Igor Borisovich and I chatted about figure skating, he said, “I spent several years sailing. There are times there where you can provoke your opponent into breaking the rules go get him disqualified. However, your opponent also knows that you can do this and tries to do the same to you. In a way, it’s a game. There is no intrigue, in-fighting, and dirt. Figure skating, on the other hand, even breaks strong men, not to mention the women…”
In that same conversation, Moskvin was also rather critical of judging, talking about his own understanding of pair skating, which is often at odds with the established rules. Now, also, once I got out a recorder, he said with doubt in his voice.
You think it’s necessary? I won’t say anything positive about figure skating, you know.
I don’t see any creating progress. Everyone is too confined by the new rules. Everything that the new rules don’t appreciate loses all value.
I look at certain things in pair skating, such as the distance between partners throughout the performance. The smaller it is, the more difficult and risky the skate is. That’s the most difficult thing of all. Now, though, it’s hardly even mentioned.
Which of the famous teams would you point to as perfect in this regard?
Larisa Selezneva/ Oleg Makarov and Ekaterina Gordeeva/ Sergei Grinkov. The former skated with me, the latter – with Stanislav Zhuk. We both concentrated on pair skating in those years, and our views were quite similar. Now, though, difficulty is deduced rather oddly in my opinion. Take the twist throw, for example. If the lady hugs her arms to her chest during the flight, it’s worth one thing. If she keeps her hands above her head, it’s slightly higher. At one seminar, I asked, what if the lady only has one hand above her head? What if she, say, picks her nose with the other one? That would be super difficult – to make it into one’s nose during a triple jump!
Not at all. Let me site another example. When I worked with Ksenia Ozerova and Alexander Enbert, I came up with an interesting move: athletes do a parallel spin, and as they exit it in different directions, they jump toward each other. For those who look at it from the judge’s table or from the audience, it’s breathtaking because it creates the illusion of the skaters about to fly into each other. When Alexei Mishin saw it at our practice, he was truly inspired.
It does sound interesting indeed.
It can have no affect on the marks, though! It doesn’t raise difficulty or anything else. Why then should the coach even try?
Yet you do try.
Yes. That’s how I’ve worked all my life. Take spinning – their core is about speed and being centered. Now, though, they came up with this thing about changing edges during the spin. Why? Is that the core of the element? Why don’t we ask the ballerinas then to do their fouettes on their heels? We don’t need that awkwardness, you see?
Besides, in my opinion rules are the law. It shouldn’t change at least during the four year Olympic cycle. You can’t fine-tune it every season. We, though, keep re-evaluating and increasing the difficulty. When Tamara brought me the new version of the rules and I read them, I got too many questions.
Is that why you stopped coaching?
Yet you continue to help your spouse with her pairs?
Not officially. I am now retired. I used to mainly offer my critique. Tamara herself knows there are things I know better than she does, and that I can teach it better.
When your spouse skated with Alexei Mishin under your tutelage, was it easy or hard to work with her?
Mishin was always my ally. Tamara always needs to lead. When she’d get carried away with her ideas, we’d need to explain that she only sees things from her position, as opposed to seeing the program as a cohesive whole. In those days, every element had to look right from all sides. You can’t always tell those things from the ice. So, when Tamara would get too wound up about something, Mishin would pat her shoulder and say, “Tamara, honey, even if Igor Borisovich will be talking complete nonsense, but we’ll do what he says in unison, it will be a hundred times more productive than waving your arms around, raising your voice, and trying to prove something. Let’s go work.”
Could you image back then that with time your spouse will become your competitor on the coaching field?
I never thought of us as competitors. Tamara always did pairs, whereas I mainly trained singles.
Yet there was that famous conflict between Oleg Makarov and your spouse’s student Oleg Vasiliev, leading to some serious fighting between you two, as I recall.
Perhaps no fighting exactly… When Tamara and I started discussing it at home, she rightly pointed out that she had no choice but to support her athlete. Moreover, Vasiliev declared that he’d go to court if Makarov wasn’t disqualified. The court wouldn’t look at who was at fault from the point of view of figure skating.
Who was at fault?
Vasiliev. According to our sport’s unwritten rules, those skating to their music have priority on the ice. My athletes were skating to their music when Makarov knocked over Lena Valova. Vasiliev swore at Oleg and hit his face. Oleg hit him as well, so hard that Vasiliev’s jaw got broken in two places.
Did you get the feeling that the incident destroyed much of your pair’s career?
No, they just had to skip the 1983 season.
You’ve got to agree, though, that without it your whole life might have turned out different.
May be, may be not. That’s life. One shouldn’t throw his fists around; one must keep a hold on himself, and then those things won’t happen, that’s all.
Where you ever jealous of Tamara’s coaching success?
No. She was always more well-versed than I. She knew languages, talked to our foreign colleagues, took part in various seminars, etc.
So, Tamara is more ambitious?
Of course. She uses all levers to get to the desired result. She appears on TV and on the pages of the glossy magazines more than any athlete does!
Did you ever wonder if it’s necessary?
If Tamara likes it and believes it helps – why not? Moreover, I also think it helps. Tamara does a great job. When she doesn’t know something, she either hides it really well, or invites professionals over to help her. Therefore, no one can even suspect there is something she might not know.
I’ve long ago noticed that Tamara Nikolayevna is very attentive to the opinions of others.
As long as it’s not mine. When we lived in America and went shopping, we’d always argue – I liked something, she’d like something else. One time, I played a psychological trick on her. I took her to a shoe store where I saw a pair that seemed to have been made for Tamara. I took the shoe in my hand, and started criticizing it however I could – I claimed the leather wasn’t good, and the heel, and the cut. In the end, that was the pair she bought.
Perhaps she may inwardly agree with my opinion when it comes to figure skating, but she’d never show it. She likes telling me, “You have too narrow a view”. At one point, for example, I was talking about having the skaters closer together on the parallel jumps. Tamara, though, countered that judges don’t lower the marks for having the partners far apart. Therefore, one shouldn’t waste time on it.
What, in your opinion, is your spouse’s biggest strength as a coach?
Organization. Tamara is a born manager. That’s how she’s always been.
LIVING UNDER A SAIL
Do you remember how Tamara first appeared in your group?
She came from Ivan Ivanovich Bogoyavlensky. There, she skated at a tiny rink where they had to pour the ice manually. We, on the other hand, had a large rink, and my group already included Yura Ovchinnikov, Igor Bobrin, and other singles. Later, we also got Alexei Mishin. Tamara, too, started as a single – she became the national champion four times, and even competed at the 1965 Europeans in Moscow. The problem, though, was that the leading ladies coach in those days was Tatiana Granatkina-Tolmacheva who worked that the Young Pioneer stadium in Moscow and led a group of girls all around the same age. Her husband Alexander Tolmachev, meanwhile, headed the figure skating federation. Not being from the Moscow school and being three or four years older than Tolmacheva’s girls, Tamara had no chance of remaining on the team. This led her to conclude there was no point in continuing a singles career. In 1965, she came in second with Mishin at Europeans, and a year later got the World silver as well.
How did you combine your own sailing interests with coaching?
It never got in the way. At the time, we didn’t have ice in the summer, so my athletes did rowing off season while I did sailing. I only skipped the 1949 and 1950 summers because that was when an artificial rink opened in Maria’s Grove, and I got a chance to go there with my kids. In 1951, I was back sailing. In my bathroom, I have a silver trophy we use for keeping toothbrushes; it says “To the winner of the Baltic sailing regatta of 1951”. I don’t even remember the competition.
I peaked in 1962. I made it to the Golden Cup – in essence, it’s a world championship for single yachts of my class. 150 yachts took part. They couldn’t all fit on the starting line; they were positioned in three rows, and if you were in second or third one, it was almost impossible to get ahead.
Originally, Valentin Mankin was supposed to take part. However, it didn’t pan out for him, even though his boat was delivered. I used that very boat, because mine didn’t get time to arrive from Germany, where I’d recently won the Baltic regatta. I had to ask some friends for a sail and a mast to make it fit me. The main issue was that Mankin’s yacht was designed for a heavier athlete. It makes a big difference in sailing.
After three races, I was third or fourth, but then I got to zeros. The first one was for breaking the mast, and the second race just didn’t work – I finished it in 30th place. In the end, I was 15th, but sailing considers the top 15 places to be “prize” placements. So I can consider myself a World prize-winner. I did sailing for years after that as well. There was no need to leave it.
So, you didn’t do it for results?
I was interested in other things. I was the first to make my mast not round but somewhat flattened. The round one bends easily, whereas the flattened one creates a structure for the sail. That’s how I modified it. It wasn’t until 10 years later that the famous yachtsman Jorg Bruder, having become a businessman, filled the world with his masts, created with that very principle.
I was also the first to come up with a new cut for sails. Everyone laughed then – Igor Borisovich is sailing under a bra! Sails were triangular, but I created darts on them along the bisectors. Now, all large yachts, such as those in American Cup, have sails made that very way.
You don’t have your own yacht?
I was never into owning things. Back when I competed, it was common to seek out yachtsmen and provide them with vessels. So, I got used to knowing that if the government needs my skills, it’ll provide the conditions. Therefore, there is still a disconnect in my mind between then and now. Back then, you drive along the Primorski highway along the Lachta, and everything was while with sails. Now, there’s nothing. Those who have their yachts just use it to store beer and pick up girls.
Ten years ago, when Tamara Nikolayevna went to the US with Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, you followed her and started training Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Markuntsov. Who Yuko already showing herself as an outstanding skater?
She was always a very serious girl. She was also very attentive. She never debated if the coach was right. It took her just two years with Markuntsov to win Junior Worlds. They also represented Japan at the senior level. Yuko came to Tamara and me with certain technical errors. For example, she long did the salchow incorrectly, pulling it out with sheer willpower.
It’s hard to fine-tune the technique for a skater who’s convinced that the element must be performed at any cost. It took a pretty longtime to correct those things. Moreover, the partners Yuko had after Markuntsov weren’t really worth much time investment. Though she did master the quad throw pretty well when she skated with the American Devin Patrick.
Do you help Kavaguti and Smirnov?
Yuko doesn’t forget me. I just got an SMS from her from the latest camp – “One more week. We will give a try make you happy”.
I know you were very helpful in getting Kavaguti acclimated to Russia.
Everyone tried to help. Tamara found the apartment that Yuko eventually bought, and helped her with schooling. I, too, understood she constantly needed someone nearby. For example, what was difficult for me in America? The strangeness of it all. There were accounts, credits, credit cards… My language was quite limited, as I never learned before, and needed to do it as I was going along. Tamara wrote down some major words for me – forward, back, left, right, some technical terms, prepositions – and I memorized them. Plus, I did get to practice. At first, we lived with a family in the US. Tamara was away a lot on competitions with Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze, so I just sat in my loft all alone. I just had the owners’ cat for company. He was red, mean, and had green eyes. Previously, he was the one controlling the loft, so he obviously wanted to show me who the boss really was. He made a show of ignoring me, he jumped and scratched, but eventually we did become friends.
That constant stress and the lack of the usual comforts suddenly turned into a big eye problem. One day, I went to a practice and suddenly noticed the cars behaving oddly – one was going towards me, while the other was coming at an angle. I closed one eye with my hand, and it returned to normal. I take the hand away, and all hell breaks loose again. It got back to normal eventually, but I had to give up driving – I just didn’t feel it as before.
Was that also why you stopped going onto the ice in skates?
No, that happened much earlier. When Tamara was carrying our older daughter, her legs swelled and she used my skates. Then someone stole them from her. I don’t know why, they were so old. Then the short skates came in, and my foot didn’t adjust. So I stopped. May be it’s for the best. When you don’t skate yourself, your view is more exact. Moreover, the coach in skates creates additional obstacles for those on the ice. The skaters always need to skate around him.
I thought that the coach on the ice is akin to a circus trainer with a whip.
That’s not necessary. The coach must be able to tell his athletes what’s required. That’s far more useful. I used to think a lot about why the great champions never make strong coaches – at least not in my sport.
Did you find an answer?
Sure. The greats feel that they are great. Instead of analysis or the laws of physics and biomechanics, they use their own feelings. They try to pass them on to their students, and honestly believe it will bring success. Instead, everything just needs to be done right.
A VIEW FROM THE SIDELINES
As Moskvina and I were driving from “Yubileiny” to the figure skating Academy after the interview, Tamara suddenly said:
Igor is a far better coach than I. I’m not just saying it, it’s true. He was the first to bring real choreography to pair skating. Back when I was skating singles, he invited Kirov theater’s choreographer Dmitry Kuznetsov to the rink. He also used the famous ballet dancer Baryshnikov for Yura Ovchinnikov – Misha would come to our Yubileiny rink to help with the programs. Most importantly, though, Igor did something that no one else has managed – he first prepared a whole pleiade of coaches at the Institute, and then made all of his former athletes into coaches. It wasn’t because we had nowhere else to go, but because Igor knew how to infuse his students with his enthusiasm and love for the job.
Thanks to him I realized that it wasn’t all about making others do what you think is best. You don’t make your husband close that last button on his shirt or put on a tie or make him wear a jacket instead of a sweater if you know it’ll get him into a bad mood. It only takes a second for relationship-breaking fights, whether it’s in one’s family or in one’s work. Sometimes, the damage can be permanent.
Do you value your husband’s opinion of your work?
When he worked with you, was he interested in the opinions of others?
I don’t think so. Igor was always very confident. For a long time, he was my guidepost. Once, though, just as I was starting to coach on my own, he saw some idea of mine and said, “Don’t do it”. I didn’t listen, thinking I knew better. Ten years later, I came to him and said, “Igor, do you remember you warned me against doing such-and-such? I was such as fool to have spent a decade to come to the conclusion that you were right!”