Moscow lowering the “ice curtain?”
Two days to World Championships
On Monday, World championships will start in Moscow with men’s qualifying round. This competition may be the last one (for a while at least) when our coaches will train foreign skaters.
Every time figure skating Worlds come up, fans and newspapers alike discuss how many foreign stars owe their success to Russian specialists. Indeed, it’s hard to avoid the subject given the sheer number of such examples.
At one time or another, Tatiana Tarasova coached or at least conducted master classes for: Sasha Cohen, Shizuka Arakawa, Michelle Kwan, Jonny Weir, Brian Joubert, Mao Asada, ice dancers Isabelle Delobel/ Olivier Schoenfelder, Barbara Fusar-Poli/ Maurizio Margaglio and others. Nikolai Morozov preprared Arakawa and Daisuke Takahashi, Miki Ando and Nobinario Oda, as well as Floran Amodio. It’s impressive, isn’t it?
At the risk of boring the reader, I’ll continue the star list. Alexei Mishin has helped Stephane Lambiel, Carolina Kostner, Sarah Maier and Kevin Van Der Perren. Alexander Zhulin made the French team Natalie Pechalat/ Fabien Bourzat into European champions. Even the Vancouver Olympic champion Evan Lysacek has spent some time at the training camps with Victor Kudryavtsev, and later with Tarasova.
The undisputed best ice dancing coach last year were also “our” specialists – Igor Shpilband and Marina Zueva, whose students won both gold and silver and the Vancouver Games and then repeated the feat at Turin Worlds.
Throughout this time, the brains of Russian athletic leadership were nursing a reasonable idea – doing everything possible to return coaches back home. They succeeded with two – Zhulin and Morozov. Now, following the Moscow championships, it’s possible we’ll see the next step – the newly repatriated Russian specialists could be forbidden from working with foreign athletes.
What makes me say this? I’ll explain.
Just a few days before the 2011 Worlds, Morozov said in an interview that he has decided to temporarily suspend any work with foreign skaters. It’s feasible that the coaches came to this decision undependably for his own weighty reasons. But I don’t believe it; not least because a few days prior, I learned from a trusted source that Alexander Zhulin is almost ordered to stop working with the French ice dancers.
The leadership’s logic is simple: Sochi Olympics is around the corner, so everyone is needed to work exclusively with Russian skaters.
In this light, it’s hard not to think of good intentions and where a road paved by them often leads. Indeed, the consequences of such a move could prove disastrous.
Any practicing coach knows that while the stronger contender can win a tough sparring match, the weaker one always wins in the end. The fate for the strongest is to prepare the competition so that one day that competition could pass him by without so much as turning the head. I suspect this is the reason why the US for many years was happy to offer the ice to the best Russian coaches and their best students – it gave their athletes a chance to watch and learn. This has included Tamara Moskvina with Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, Tatiana Tarasova with Ilya Kilik and Alexei Yagudin, Oleg Vasiliev with Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, and Natalya Linichuk with her once large and international ice dancing group.
Elena Buyanova, who know coacahes the two time Russian champions, Grand Prix and junior World champion Adelina Sotnikova, once said that an important factor in her student’s impressive progress was the chance to share the ice with the Japanese skater Mao Asada. Indeed, for three years in a row, the reigning World champion came from Japan to work with Tarasova and trained at the CSKA rink alongside the little kids.
Look at any summer training camp for skaters, be it in Germany, Switzerland and the US, and you immediately see how international the group is. It is this kind of work that allows each one to reach their potential. Would it really hurt Alena Leonova to have a chance to not only compete against the former world champion Miki Ando, but also to observe how the Japanese skater approaches her work?
Were Russian skaters the undisputed leaders in all disciplines, such sparring would certainly be unnecessary. However, that is obviously not the case.
Talking about his work, Igor Shpilband once said that during his first few years in the US, he got an invaluable coaching experience by working with everybody, from little kids to senior citizens. Oleg Vasiliev said the same about his work with Fumie Suguri. That’s not surprising – the need to look for the key to the athlete with a completely different mentality forces the coach to constantly be on his toes and to perfect their skills. As a result, experience accumulates more quickly, shortening the road to success.
This is the road along which the coach will sooner or later be able to lead their perhaps Russian student.