TALKING TO Elena Vaitsekhovskaya
Tatiana VOLOSOZAR and Maxim TRANKOV
IT TOOK US FIVE YEARS TO COME TOGETHER
Winning silver pair skating medals after skating together for only a year made Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov the heroes of Moscow World championships. They came to the interview with royal precisions, exactly on the dot.
We only had half an hour, so I had to give up on my original idea of talking to each of the partners separately.
OF LOST OPPORTUNITIES
Tatiana, you’re often compared to the two time World champion Aliona Savchenko. You’re both from Ukraine, you’ve both skated with Stanislav Morozov, you’ve both first trained with Galina Khuhar and then with Ingo Steuer. Now you most represent foreign countries. Could you recall what you thought when Savchenko left to skate for Germany?
I couldn’t. At the time, I skated in Dnepropetrovsk with Petya Kharchenko, and, honestly, all we thought about was finding a way to move to Kiev. There were at least some basic training conditions there. Overall, though, things were so difficult in Ukraine, everyone was just happy for Aliona and her good results.
Maxim, is it true that you had a chance to skate with Tanya five years ago, back in 2006?
Ludmila and Nikolai Velikovs, who trained me and Maria Mukhortova, really wanted me to partner up with Volosozhar. It so happened, though, that following the Calgary Worlds, Masha and I left the Velikovs for Tamara Moskvina. Soon thereafter our pair temporarily broke up. Moskvina asked me to consider whom I’d like to skate with and suggested I stop later to discuss it. We met and talked, as I recall, in Tamara Nikolayevna’s car, where I said I’d like to skate with Volosozhar. At the time, though, everyone thought Tanya would never leave Stas Morozov given their personal relationship.
Later on, it turned out no one ever discussed this with Tatiana. Last year, when we started training together, I asked Morozov directly how he’d have reacted to such a turn of events five years ago. Stas said that if he saw a partner who could bring Tanya better results than he could, he’d have let her go.
Tanya, would you have agreed to such proposal back in 2006?
I would have certainly considered it. Of course, Russia had plenty of strong teams at the time – Masha Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov, Yulya Obertas and Sergei Slavnov…
OF SLOTH AND STRATEGY
Why did you and your partner decide to train with Moskvina?
It was Tamara Nikolayevna’s idea. She came up to us at Calgary Worlds and suggested the move. Moskvina is an excellent strategist. She’s always invested in having her athletes be on top.
Why then was your work together so short lived?
Moskvina fired us. It happened a few days after she took on Yuko and Sasha.
Did she have good cause?
Obviously. Honestly, if I were her, I’d have done much earlier. Then again, I probably wouldn’t have taken such athletes on in the first place.
Athletes such as yourself or such as your former partner?
We were equally temperamental. That wasn’t the reason I didn’t want to skate with Mukhortova. The problem lay in Masha’s not-so-great enthusiasm for work. It’s not a criticism. That’s just how she is.
You’re not lazy yourself?
I’d put it differently – I know what “must” is. For example, I’m not lazy enough to get up and close a window if it’s cold. Many people would rather wrap themselves in blankets than get up. I’m not a workaholic, I don’t go crazy, I won’t train all day on my own initiative, but if Tanya or one of the coaches says we need to repeat this or that element, I’ll go and do it without argument as many times as is needed.
OF PARENTS AND HORSES
You had a tough upbringing?
Yes. My dad mainly managed it. Though at 15 I became independent and moved to Peter.
In Perm, dad always accompanied me to all practices and would give me hell on the way home if he saw something he didn’t like. I hated going home from the rink with him. It especially annoyed me when my father would teach me about figure skating based on the equestrian examples – that’s the sport he practiced for many years.
Do you feel comfortable on a horse?
Yes, from early childhood.
It’s surprising that your father pinned all of his hopes on you as opposed to our older brothers. Or did Leonid just not do sports?
He did cross country skiing, but not for long. Father saw his future in equestrian sport, given that my brother as they say grew up in the stables. But he was never really drawn to sport. He was much more interested in rock music and other non-formal directions.
Did your relatives come to the Moscow world championships?
Tatiana: My mom and sister did. Mom, by the way, came to Moscow in 2005 when Stas and I represented Ukraine in our first Worlds. My sister saw me skate live for the first time.
Maxim: I didn’t allow mine to come. I don’t like them the audience. Not once did I skate well in their presence. One time, my parents came to Russian nationals in Kazan where Mukhortova and I won the short program over Kavaguti and Smirnov. In the free, I didn’t land a single jump.
OF SURVIVAL AND PARTNERS
For Evgeni Plushenko, a recurrent theme is a poor and hungry beginning of his Peter life. Maxim, how was it for you?
I think Sasha Smirnov and I can talk about the Peter survival school better than most. We know what’s it like to be homeless and to spend the night in the rink stands or the coaching room. Obviously, we’d tell our parents that we were living at the dorms and all was fine; I think if my mom knew the truth, she’d have dragged me back immediately.
Why did you go then?
I wanted my freedom. For the first three years, I hardly trained. I had a friend in Peter that periodically fed me and provided shelter if I had no other options. Smirnov’s parents would sometimes visit him, as Tver isn’t that far from Peter; they’d bring jars of home pickles and stuff. At the rink, we knew all the bar girls and waitresses, and they often let us take leftovers from the kitchen.
During night mass skating, Sasha and I made some pennies working in the wardrobe; also, the bar would leave us the empty bottles. At the end of the week, we’d have a whole hockey bag worth of bottles; on Sunday, we’d bring them in and buy ourselves noodles “Doshirak”. This “Doshirak” sustained us for two years.
When did you get serious about figure skating?
At 18, when I broke up with my partner Irina Ulanova. She had a growth spurt and it became evident she won’t be jumping again. Rashid Kadyrkaev, a former student of my Perm coaches, offered me to come to America – he said there was a girl there who’d be a good match for me. I agreed, since such move would solve many problems, the most important one being the looming draft. My parents were also all for it – they said I’d have better options in America, even if I chose to quit figure skating.
Correspondingly, I went to the consulate for my visa, but was rejected. I couldn’t re-apply for six moths, and as I stepped onto the street after the consulate, I suddenly realized I was really happy about the rejection. Deep down, I didn’t want to leave Peter.
I started skating with Natalya Shestakova, training with Nikolai Velikov, though my Perm coach Valery Tukov was against it – he and Velikov had some bad blood between them going way back. Velikovs then told me that had I come to them a couple of months earlier, they’d partner me with Yulia Obertas. A year later, they paired me with Mukhortova.
OF MONEY AND GERMANY
Tanya, I bet your early career wasn’t easy either?
My childhood was quite simple. Mom would bring me to the rink; dad was always at work, since he is a military guy. I was a home child. When I got the chance to move from Dnepropetrovsk to Kiev, mom went with me. Of course, our life was rather poor, but that was the norm in Ukraine them.
So, figure skating was also a career that could someday bring you the income?
No, I just liked skating and winning. As to money, that was never a primary consideration in my family. My parents explained to me early on that there are far more important things in life.
Just before the World championships, I read an interview with your former coach Galina Khuhar. I got the impression that she always tried sending her students where they’d have better conditions. She first initiated Aliona Savchenko’s move to Germany, and then did the same for you and Stanislav.
Our move to Germany was more complicated than Aliona’s. We had everything arranged with Ingo Steuer, but our move got delayed because we did not understand how we’d make our living. Finally, the Ukrainian federation agreed to pay for our accommodations and a give us stipends that could sustain us. We spent two years in Germany. Skating alongside such a strong team as Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy became by then was a great boon to us. I always realized that Steuer would never pay as much attention to the Ukrainian team as he did to the German one. Nonetheless, it was with this coach that we first medaled at a Grand Prix event.
Do you get offended by constant comparisons to Savchenko?
I used to bother me, but I’ve learned to ignore it.
Maxim: It all started after Aliona and Tanya came onto the ice together with their partners at one of the Art on Ice Shows sporting identical dresses and hairdos. Those pictures were viral on the net and started those talks about their incredible likeness. In reality, Tanya and Aliona are very different.
OF PROGRAMS AND FIGHTS
How carefully do you follow what other pairs do on ice?
Maxim: We try to watch as much as possible. We always discuss what we see.
Which of your rivals do you see as the biggest potential competition?
Tatiana: I like the Japanese pair; Americans have improved a lot.
Maxim: I always say – you can lose to anyone. The second you relax, someone will yank the crown from your head. This is what happened to Aliona and Robin last season, when they lost the French Grand Prix event to Mukhortova and me, and then post the Final to the two Chinese teams. Had that not happened, I think Aliona and Robin would have been judged differently at the Vancouver Olympics.
I already asked you this during the competition, but I’ll repeat the question – how did your dreams at the start of the season correspond with reality?
Tatiana: There were no surprises, I’d say. We discussed with our coaches ahead of time which exact elements we’d be doing; all we had to do was decide which order to put them at into the program. Then, just practice calmly.
Maxim: Also, we decided from the start that we have four years to do it. That’s why I said right away that we shouldn’t rush it and jump above our heads. We chose not to over-complicate our program. We didn’t do a triple-triple combo even though we did it at practice. We didn’t move the triple throw lift to the second half of the program, though we could have done that. Our goal for this season was in skating as clean as possible, with an emphasis on choreography.
Obviously, we have different ideas for the next season, but we’ll only include in the program the elements that are more difficult than what we’re doing now, if we’ll be performing them well at the practices at least eight times out of ten. Otherwise, it’s just not worth it.
Also, don’t just want to skate and jump; we want the audience to react to Tanya and me with strong emotion. In the last year I’ve been a keener observer than before, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there aren’t that many pairs like that.
By the way, this is why I immediately liked our free program to “Rome and Juliette”. This classical ballet that Nikolai Morozov suggested to us is rather difficult emotionally. For out professional growth, though, it was a perfect choice.
Have you had fights in the year you’ve trained together?
Tatiana: More than one. We’ve had misunderstandings and bad moods. As to the more serious ones – that just happened once. We didn’t talk to each other for half a day.
In this sense, we had two difficult periods – when we first started skating together and things didn’t work for quite a while, and now, before Worlds. Too much has piled up – the fatigue from the season on top of having to wait for so long. We’ve only relaxed a bit one we started training at Khodynka. New surroundings and new ice were a welcome distraction.
OF IDEALS AND GENIUSES
Is Nikolai Morozov going to again choreograph your next year’s programs?
Maxim: Yes. By the way, Kolya is more than a choreographer. For example, he taught me anew how to do basic stroking. This is the first move one learns in figure skating!
In Nikolai’s opinion, what were you doing wrong?
I was doing it in a “Russian” manner.
Russian school is very academic – the body is always tense. It can make the simpler movements look more beautiful, but when you’re doing a complicated program, it starts to look heavy and unnatural. You also tire more quickly.
It really is so. I remember times when it took me great efforts just to raise my arm at bow time. I won’t even talk about having to show any kind of joy. Morozov, on the other hand, teaches how to skate in a relaxed manner, allowing muscles to relax during skating.
Honestly, I long thought that Nikolai built his reputation solely on his work with Alexei Yagudin. I thought there was more PR than coaching skill there. Now, though, I see that Kolya is a genius. He always finds something surprising. If you’re Amodio and can’t fight for World medals – go and enthuse the audience with surprising music. If you’re Fernandez and the judges don’t give you high marks considering you a weak skater – go and do two different quads, making everyone shut up and think about how a Spanish “weakling” can do something that’s eluding Russian, Japanese and American skaters.
By the way, Nikolai never holds on to completed work if he feels it wasn’t done right. When Tanya and I first came to him, we weren’t really a team and didn’t really understand what to do. Morozov worked with us at Novogorsk during the nights. He’d show Tanya her part skating as her partner, then showed me my part, and then put us together – and we wouldn’t be able to repeat anything. That went on for quite some time; when we finally did it right and even squealed with delight over it, Kolya hummed and said it’s not right and the whole piece needed to be redone.
At the same time, Nikolai never gets angry and never loses his temper. If I were him, I’d long ago killed such a student. Or at least yelled at him.
Tatiana: I once read a Morozov interview that I liked a lot. He talked about how in each of his students he always finds something he can learn himself.
Tanya, what do you think a perfect partner should be like?
He should be like Maxim. It’s hard to put into words, but I now feel completely comfortable on ice. I guess there is a reason it took us so many years to get here.