Figure skating - coaches
Oleg VASILIEV: "I'M WILLING TO TRAIN ANYONE BUT THE CHINESE PAIRS"
Olympic champion of Sarajevo in 1984 in pair skating Oleg Vasiliev, today the coach of Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, has always been distinguished by one quality: no matter his mood, he never refused to talk to the press. In Moscow, just a day before the final event of the Grand Prix series the Cup of Russia, having just arrivied at his hotel and hearing an interview request, Vasliev quickly agreed, "Just give me 40 minutes to settle some issues, and I'm all yours".
I understand that you may not want to talk about Tatiana Totmianina's fall from the lift at Skate America, but I can't not ask - why after such a recent and fairly serious trauma did you decide to bring your skaters first to Paris, and now to Moscow?
In Paris at Trophee Eric Bompard I was supposed to supervise another skater - Japanese Fumie Suguri. I planned to go to Russia with Tanya and Max anyone, so a stopover in France was perfect - it made acclamatisation that much easier. They trained for a week while the competition took place, and then came here. In my opinion, it's better than doing it in one shot.
Agreed, but why come at all? You didn't plant to actually compete in Moscow?
No. But we wanted to take part in exhibitions. While at it, we also wanted to show Tanya to Russian docotrs, to make sure that the US diagnosis was correct, that the recovery is going well, and that there are no side effects.
You don't trust American specialists?
I do. But I consider ours better.
Do you plan to consult the doctors in Moscow, or at home in Saint Petersburg?
I'll make sure to spend at least a day at home. Perhaps we'll also visit some doctors in Moscow.
Wasn't it too soon to take the ice after the trauma?
I would have had to happen sooner or later. And it's better to do it before a friendly audience.
Easier to skate that way?
Ice is the same throughout. Our decision to come to Moscow is rather our of respect to our audience. Exactly before they are our own.
What goals do you put before the skaters?
There is only one goal - to take the ice, to show that we are healthy, that we're preparing for the season, and that we'll compete.
I know that right after Totamianina's fall in Pittsburg a psychologist from Russia came to you in Chicago. Was it your idea?
Yes. If you saw Maxim Marinin during the first days after it happened, you'd understand you urgently he needed such a specialist. I called the Federation President Valentin Piseev in Moscow, and he did eveything to immidiately dispatch to the US a wonderful specialist - Elena Deryabina.
Did the doctor work with Tatiana as well?
Yes, though not as much as with Maxim. She doesn't remember much. She didn't see her fall. She doesn't want to see it. I, as her coach, agree.
MY SESSIONS ARE ALWAYS OPEN
You spent your whole athletic life in pair skating. Have you ever been in a similar situation?
I have dropped my partner - in pair skating it has happened almost to everyone. Sometimes the ice is uneven, sometimes the technique isn't perfect. With Lena Valova it was never serious enough to go to the hospital, but I've seen terrible accidents many times. For the male partner it's always a shock. He always feels guilty, even if he is not solely responsible for the fall.
Was it difficult to resume work with your pair?
We started training the same way we always do after a long break. Starting with the simple elements, with steps, with footwork. Though honestly, when they started trying the lifts, I'd freeze up deep down inside. I still feel that way, even though those elements are now back. I very much hope it doesn't get reflected on my face. I don't think the athletes should see how I feel. Even when I am hurt or in pain...
Did you ever consider that Tanya may not want to continue skating with Maxim?
No. One of the first things she said when she got back was, "We must skate at the Cup of Russia". I then knew that everything was OK.
According to what was written on the Internet, the fans went to the training sessions in Chicago in droves.
Not just the fans. TV people constantly visit our rink. Tanya has received several hundred post cards, and the club where we train created a page on its Internet site so that the fans could leave their good wishes.
I know that some figure skating coaches don't like letting strangers in on the training sessions.
I guess everyone works differently. Some coaches yell and curse at their students, and to avoid others hearing this just look for reasons to bar strangers. Since that doesn't happen at my rink, the doors are always open..
Did you get similar interest from Parisian audience?
I used to work in that city, and some connections remain. Therefore, I managed to secure time at the rink that few knew about. Though one time, when we had to train to Bersie, everyone who could came to see us - from beginning skaters to the ISU vice president. It was bit too much. Though quite understandable - I'd surely come see someone who for some reason stayed away from the ice for a while.
PLUSHENKO INCIDENT CREATED MANY PROBLEMS
Perhaps it would have been more prudent to wait a while before resuming competing? Perhaps skip Nationals. After all, Totmianina and Marinin are the World Champions...
Why? First of all, the nationals will take place at home, in Peter; secondly, it's normal to take part in a competitions as opposed to demanding some exemption.
I don't guarantee exact wording, but Alexei Mishin recently said that those who achieve success at the Olympic Games usually take it easy in the pre-Olympic season.
Let's look at it another way: how is the athlete's Olympic program different from his Worlds one? It's not. All that differs is the tension that invariable arrises arount athletes and coaches. With all that, the athletes have to do what they always do. We're used to preparing for each season the same way. If we start doing something different, it could tamper with preparation, make it less effective. For instance, I don't consider it OK to skip Grand Prix events. On the other hand, I don't think one must always win them. Sure, it sometimes happens. It's more important, though, to see what worksin the program and what doesn't. If one doesn't compete, it's hard to predict how the ptograms will be received in the future. Especially with the new judging system. That's why I support testing everything early in the season, and then twitching things a bit for the main competition.
Mishin's view is different. All I can say that the situation that arose this season with Evgeny Plushenko created a big problem. Not just for them, but for all skaters.
What do you mean?
I mean the distrust between the ISU and the elite skaters. Before, ISU looked the other way when skaters competed in shows to make money between events. Everyone understands that everyone needs money; our sport is fairly expensive. The Plushenko situation created a scandalous precedent: since Zhenya withdrew from the Japanese Grand Prix event NHK Trophy and went to a show instead, ISU considers itself cheated. It then circulated a letter, saying that one elite athlete can take part in a commercial show during the Grand Prix period.
Did your pair take part in shows?
Of courser. Sometimes it let them make some money, sometimes - to try out a new element. Of course, it will still be possible to find loop wholes. But the mere existence of this letter isn't good.
How did Fumie Suguri end up in your group?
Her former coach Mr. Sato had many athletes of different levels. As is done in Japan, he divided his time equally among all of them, working with each (including Fumie) for twenty minutes a day. She skated at the rink where there would be up to thirty athletes at a time. That's why Fumie started looking for an alternative. She had no problem with the coach himself.
She went to Chicago in mid-July. First, our ice is inexpensive. Second, that was when Lori Nichols was there, and Suguri has worked with that choreographer for the past nine years. I think her influence prompted Fumie to make this step. Though she didn't come train with me undtil mid-September.
If I recall, Nichols did the choreography for Totmianina and Marinin's free program?
Yes, Lori is an interesting personality. Along her main work, she also influences some coaching changes. If you recall Michelle Kwan leaving Frank Carroll, it took place right when Carroll and Lori had a fight. She's also had some influence on both of Timothy Goebel's coaching changes.
In short, if you look carefully, you see that all athletes working with Nichols ultimately change their coaches in ways that accomodate Lori. Obviously it's not advertised as such, since if it were proven it would effectively end her carreer.
Yet you talk about it so openly?
Why not? We get along, but as a coach I can't not be on guard with Nichols. All she does, she does in her own interest. Not in the athlete's interest. That applies to Suguri as well. If the Japanese girl cameto me in May, the chances that the work was successfull would have been much greater. In a way, though, Fumie became a victim - she changed coaches when there wasn't much time left for cooperation.
Is that the reason why Suguri's results this year leave much to be desired?
To a degree. Besides, Japanese mentality is very different. The Japanese are accustomed to filter all information through their understanding of the given question. For instance, if you say to a Japanese, "You have a nice blouse", he won't take it literally, but will start thinking why did you say that, what's behind it, will think of which store he bought the blouse at, how much he spent on it, etc. Only after a few days he'll thank you. In addition, there is a lot of respect toward older people that is an integral part of Japanese tradition.
Do I understand you correctly that Suguri filters anything you say, sometimes misunderstands you, but due to her respect for you as a coach sometimes doesn't ask to make sure what you really meant?
Exactly. It was like that for the first couple of months. After that, Fumie I guess understood that I am on her side, and the process of adaptation and exchange of information became more efficient. She never says "no". No matter what I tell her. I am sometimes floored by the questions such as "Which muscle do I have to work to do this element correctly?" She knows all the muscles, how they work, and what makes them move.
Fumie is now finishing up the Physical Education Institute, even though she already has a higher education degree. She is a very smart and disciplined youg lady. She tries to do everything so perfectly that she considers unacceptable any deviation from the perfection. Sometimes that creates problems, since you cant achieve absolute perfection on the ice - it's too slippery.
What does the Japanese Figure Skating Federation think of your work with Fumie?
On the one hand indifferently, on the other - negatively. According to the federation, Japanese athletes should work with Japanese coaches. That's why the Japanese federation is ennerved by Shizuka Arakawa's work with Tatiana Tarasova, and Yoshi Onda's with Audry Weisinger. It's possible that soon enough another Japanese skater, Miki Ando, will move to the US; then none of the top four Japanese skaters will be training at home.
When everything goes well, they tolerate the situation. However, once the results drop, it naturally leads to resentment. I think we will have a discussion about it in Moscow with the Japanese Figure Skating Federation president. I, too, am not satisfied with Suguri's skating as of now. After her performance in Paris, we spent four hours taking her free skate apart, and I hope we found the reason. We now have a month before the Japanese Nationals to work on it.
TOTMIANINA AND MARININ DON'T NEED INSIDER COMPETITION
Do people have a problem with you working with Suguri; she is a direct competitor to Russian ladies, so you are working against Russia.
I am first of all a proffessional. If a Japanese or a Chinese lady asks me for help, and she has the money - she'll be my guest. Though if a Chinese pair asked for help, I'd decline. I don't need such competition in my group.
So you reject the position of your coach Tamara Moskvina, who always tried to create competition within her group?
All athletes are different. In Moskvina's group, the competition among skaters of the same level did lead to them trying to outskate each other even in practice. But Tanya and Max can work quite well by themselves.
It's common forthe elite skaters to have a whole staff beyond the coach and the choreographer. Do you have such a staff?
We have our Russian choreographer Alexander Matveev, who often comes to Chicago, and regularly work with Tanya and Maxim when we're in Peter. We have an American agent Liz Desivo, who organizes different events for my athletes, as well as popularizes them in the US.
For example, in early December Tanya and Maxim went to California for a day to take part in a very popular TV talk show. I don't watch TV, so I asked some Americans if they've ever heard of it. I was stunned - it turned out it's one of the most popular shows in the country, and that both Michelle Kwan and Nancy Kerrigan wanted to be there but couldn't. So from among the skaters Tanya and Maxim will be the first.
Sorry to be cynicl, but if it weren't for Tanya's fall in Pittsburg...
Correct. As everyone knows, noone becomes famous for good deeds.
2004, interview by Elena Vaitsehovskaja