I found this nice interview with Navka, Kostomarov, and Zhulin. Note: I removed the first paragraph, since it contained Grand Prix Final spoilers, and I wanted to post this in the main thread. The translation from Russian is mine.
Tatiana NAVKA, Roman KOSTOMAROV, Alexander ZHULIN
THE HARDEST THING IS TO MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH
A four-year-old Tanya Navka was introduced to Figure Skating on TV. The little one couldn’t stop watching the legendary Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev winning yet another title. When the music stopped, she told her parents, “I, too, will skate. And I, too, will become a champion.”
At 18, she represented Russia with Samvel Gezalyan, one of the best dancers of the time. In a year, in 1994, they became 5th at Worlds, and it was clear that the team had a bright future. As all of Natalia Dubova’s pairs, Navka and Gezalyan had phenomenal stroking and the ambitions to match. In Russia’s ice dancing Dubova was certainly the leading coach at the time(Elena Chaikovskaya and Tatiana Tarasova were temporarily out of the sport). All of her athletes knew they would become champions sooner or later.
And then everything collapsed. Tanya fell madly in love.
The worst part was that she fell in love with the most unavailable man – Alexander Zhulin.
I realized I had no right to this love. Sasha and Maya were always my role models. I told myself that I cannot ruin other people’s relationships in any way, especially since Maya and Sasha were getting ready for the ever so important Olympics. At the same time, I felt an irresistible attraction between us. We all lived in America at the time, we often crossed paths at practices, and people around us soon realized that something was going on between Sasha and me. I wanted to leave America, to quit figure skating, just to avoid seeing Sasha. I understood that it couldn’t lead anywhere. Everything was mixed here – love, career, future work, the Olympics… Everything that it took the whole life to achieve. And all of that – just three months before the Games.
Obviously, this led to problems both with the coach and with the partner. People accused me of the worst sins, told me that Sasha could never by mine. But I just jumped right in. Finally, Dubova had to send Samvel and me back to Moscow. In 1995, we performed at Worlds for the last time. I then returned to Sasha in America, and started skating with a new partner – Nikolai Morozov.
Sasha coached us, also continuing to skate himself. To practice with Maya, he had to drive from Simsbury to Lake Placid, that’s four hours each way. A year later, Natalia Lininchuk offered me to skate in her group with Roman Kostomarov. We came 12th at Worlds in 99, but on the eve of the next season, Roma suddenly told me that he no longer wanted to skate with me, as he saw no future for us. Much later I found out that Lininchuk insisted on this phrasing. She couldn’t break us up herself, as I had a contract. Had Lininchuk thrown me out herself, she would have be liable for a large sum of money.
Until I came to America, I skated with Katya Davydova. In 1996, we won the Junior World title. I thought of senior competition as a whole different world. Obviously, I watched all championships, and liked how Tanya skated with Samvel. However, when I was offered to skate with Tanya, I was really shocked. She was then significantly larger than she is now, and I felt like a little child who is forced to skate with an older “aunty”. I only agreed because many people whose opinion I respect told me it was a good idea to go to America with Lininchuk and to skate with Tanya.
When we first started skating together, I felt awkward, not so much because of the age difference (it wasn’t really that big), as because of difference in experience. Then things improved, and I relaxed somewhat. The coach’s support helped a lot. Natalia Vladimirovna spent a lot of time with us, and was clearly pleased with the results. In 1999, we came in 12th at Worlds and 11th at Europeans; and then Lininchuk decided to brake us up and replace Tanya with Anna Semenovich.
I was very upset, in part because I don’t like change in general. At one time, it was very hard for me to leave Katya Davydova, and I was certain that I would never switch partners again. But Lininchuk insisted on getting her way…
I think Lininchuk just did not believe in Tanya. Perhaps Tanya lacked some toughness, competitiveness, or may be there were other reasons. I was very upset, as I saw good future for Tanya and Roman.
Then again, Kostomarov was very different back then. Sort of a hooligan and a working horse at the same time; he just did whatever the coach told him. Someone had to develop him, talked to him, explain certain things to him. Body and muscles are not enough in our sport. You need a head; you need an ability to think clearly and to look at a partner in a certain way, to present her properly.
Navka and Kostomarov, I think, are perfect partners. They really suit each other. Anything they try, such as skating a new compulsory dance from the description, they succeed immediately. It used to take me at least a month to get to such execution. Their movements are compatible; they have abandon in their movements. By the way, I suggested Roman try skating with Tanya back before she took up Morozov as partner. But he wouldn’t take the risk.
When they broke up after a year on ice, Tanya was terribly upset. The pregnancy saved her. Those nine months were the best in our life. We often went to New York, did a little coaching, and didn’t separate for a minute. But then, after Sashenka (translator’s note: Sashenka is a very soft form of Sasha, which is a short form of Alexander and Alexandra) was born, we were both at home in bed, and Tanya said, “If only Romka (translator’s note: Romka is a very familiar form of Roma, which is a short form of Roman) would call to apologize…” One day later, he called.
I can’t say I was very happy. After all, Tanya just gave birth, and was quite happy without any skating. As coaches, we started making decent money. Also, I was afraid that Tanya and Roman would start arguing and fighting as they did when they skated with Lininchuk. At the same time, I realized I had to give Tanya a chance to achieve her full potential. She really wanted to skate.
It didn’t work with Anya Semenovich and me from the start – we weren’t compatible on ice. In terms of style, technique, and the attitude toward work. Practicing together was hard. Anya knew she was stunningly beautiful and expressive, and didn’t think much of the actual skating. It was all emotions. I did my job mechanically, and kept reminiscing of how easily and wonderfully it used to be with Tanya. I thought of calling her, but couldn’t. In essence, I betrayed her…
When I finally got the nerve up to call, I felt relieved. It didn’t scare me that Tanya gained weight after labor, and lost her form. She didn’t really get fat, just became wider. It only took her a month to get back in shape.
The first two years were tough. The breaking up left a deep mark in my soul, and I suspect in hers as well. I constantly felt guilty. I had to keep it inside, not say anything. Lininchuk was much more lenient with the male skaters than she was with the girls. Male skaters could get away with a lot. If something wasn’t working, I could throw something at Tanya, even shove her on the ice. I totally did not know how to control myself. I guess I was also too young, had hot blood and all.
At first, I thought Zhulin was too tough. I often felt that no matter what, it was always me alone against the two of them. That Sasha will always pay more attention to his wife. Then I realized it wasn’t so. I realized on my own that the female partner is the highlight of the dancing team. The male partner has to work in a way to best present her to the public. This, I think, is the real mastery and strength.
When Sashenka was born, I constantly thought of quitting figure skating altogether. Least of all did I expect Roma to call and to say he wanted to get back! Immediately I said no. Then I asked him to give me a week to think. I was afraid of destroying the utopia that I had in my family and in my consciousness.
At the same time, I was drawn to the ice. So much so, that when Roma and I broke up, I tried skating with my husband. It took us ten minutes on the ice to realize that we shouldn’t mix family and work. It’s hard to skate as husband and wife. It’s very different when one of the spouses is the coach. Obviously, we have minor arguments and fights, but only on the rink, and only because of Roman. Partners always have their disagreements, and Sasha is always on Roman’s side.
When I finally decided to skate with Roma again, the first three months I was torn on the inside. It’s like two different people lived inside me. One said, “You are a champion, and you need to achieve more”, while the other kept saying, “You are crazy! Why do you need this?” Then, after yet another practice, Sasha said, “I guess this was a mistake. I can see it’s too hard on you”. I was so hurt that all of my doubts disappeared immediately. I set out to prove to my husband that I could do anything.
The guys worked a lot. However, since they were considered the second team of the country until this season, we had little to expect. For example, I was delighted at their skate at Worlds in Washington. I think Tanya and Roman were, if not the best, then among the best. But they only came in 4th.
May be it was for the best. They really dug in, and worked as never before. I tried making each practice different. I hate monotony, and try to make it fun for my students.
This team, I think, has something that no one else had. First of all – very clean skating. I see many strengths of the Bulgarian, American, and Ukrainian teams, but I think Tanya and Roman surpass them in style. Then there is personality. Sure, we argue during practices, sometimes we fight. Tanya and Roman can have disagreements, but it’s all normal.
On top of all that, Tanya has another unique advantage. For many skaters, the sport is their whole life. So, they feel that if they loose, their life will be over. Tanya, on the other hand, knows, that despite her career, her life will go on. She has her husband, her child, her house in America, her profession…
Despite everything, I am certain that Navka and Kostomarov is a pair that can become extraordinary. I don’t see anything they couldn’t do. I am especially happy for Roma. This season, I took a certain risk by highlighting him in both programs. I realized that only this way would he feel the extra responsibility. This, in turn, would help him shine with all sides of his multifaceted talent.
Sure, until recently Tanya’s authority weighted heavily on Roman. He thought I was critical of him just because Tanya is my wife. However, in the last year Roman seriously changed, he grew up and matured on the inside. So felt that I finally got it: Roma became a real leader in the team.
THE CHAMPION TRIO
Translator’s note: skipping here a whole paragraph of the author’s gushing
“The hardest thing is to make people laugh”, said Zhulin. “We chose this style specifically to be different from the rest. I am sure that Tanay and Roman could do a dramatic program with more ease and expression than any other pair in the world. So this was a risk, and experiment.
You could say we consciously did not play to the new rules. For example, Navka and Kostomarov do a circular footwork that is only graded as level one. In reality, it’s very hard in its positions, turns, and hands. I can tell – I used to skate. We didn’t change anything, though we realized that the judges will only look at and grade the feet – chaktaws, [terms translator is not familiar with]. Americans and the Canadians show those elements a lot. I like it, but I thought that two years before the Olympics is the time to experiment. Then it will be too late. Besides, we have very specific ideas for the pre-Olympic and Olympic season.”
Before the final performance of his athletes, Zhulin was surprisingly calm. When it came time for the warm up, he jokingly told his wife, “So, heroic mother, let’s go skate?”
When it was all over, and the happy trio returned to the hotel to celebrate, I couldn’t help asking the coach one more question:
Do you ever feel a little jealous that Tanya still skate, and you don’t?
I thought I might feel this way, that we might have problems once Tanya will be making more money than I. I didn’t want to become Batalov from the movie “Moscow doesn’t believe in tears”. In reality, though, I am more and more full of pride and joy. Not just for my wife, but also for Romka. I create their programs, I help them, I give them advice, but when the competitions start, I know well that I can’t do anything. They will do everything they have to. Such athletes are rare. They make the coach great
By Elena VAJXOVETSKAYA in Colorado Springs