Frank Carroll: "You can't worry about numbers, you have to skate"


October 21, 2011
By Reut Golinsky
Photo © Eva Maria Jangbro (EMJO), Lena Halonen, Reut Golinsky

Frank Carrol brought his two students, Mirai Nagasu (she won the competition) and Denis Ten (he finished 9th), to the Nebelhorn Trophy. We met at the bleachers after Denis finished his short program and talked about his students, colleagues, the toughest competition in the world and the new ice rink that opened in Palm Springs especially for him.

I heard you finally moved to the new ice rink, congratulations!
Yes, the ice rink in Palm Springs was opened about a week ago. This was something I've been working on for fifteen years. I've always had two homes, two places to go because of skating. I've lived in Palm Springs since the 1970ies, and I wanted to be there, but there was no ice rink. So I had another house in Los Angeles, or in Marina Del Rey, or in Lake Arrowhead, and I was just very tired of driving two hours back and forth on the weekends. I wanted to have only one house and one place. There was a man who wanted me to work for him and I said: "Yeah, I'll work for you but you build me an ice rink in Palm Springs". So he did. And so I'm there.

Are you the only coach there?
No, there are other coaches. There is Evelyn Kramer, and there is Larisa Ge, mother of Misha Ge. We don't have any other top coaches yet, but we're hoping some will want to come.

Is Rafael Arutunian still working with you?
He was working with me in Lake Arrowhead. I worked with him in the summer, he works with Mirai (Nagasu) and he is an excellent teacher, I like him very much. He and Nadia (Kanaeva), who teaches moves and steps, are both very fine teachers. Unfortunately he had to stay in Lake Arrowhead and was not ready to come down to Palm Springs.

So he won't work with your students anymore?
They will go there, I would like them to. I would like them to be exposed to other people. I'm not somebody who says: "My skaters have to stay just with me". I don't like that. And I feel that if they can gain experience with somebody else, then they should have that. I'm not afraid that they are going to take lessons from other people, because if they don't think I'm the greatest thing in the world they should go elsewhere anyway.

Was it your decision to bring your students to the Nebelhorn Trophy?
I wanted to; I wanted them to compete more this year. We've done some other competitions: Mirai has got a competition early and Denis just finished one in Ontario. I told them a long time ago, in April: "I'd like you guys to go to Nebelhorn. It's a good competition to get your butts going". And they were excited about it, they wanted to come. So here we are!

But it's also on the different continent, long flight, jet lag...
Yeah, it's hard. But you know, we will go to China for a competition. Mirai is going to compete at Skate Canada, we come back on Sunday, we have Monday off and we leave on Tuesday for China. So it's going to be hard, but it's going to be hard all our life and it's going to be hard for all the skaters. They all need to get off the airplane and skate. I think it's good experience.

A few questions about Denis: Are you happy with his short program today?
Yes, I think he did a good job. Am I totally ecstatic? No. I see the work that needs to be done and things that need to be better; little things like stepping into the back camel [spin] faster and not stepping out of the triple Axel, not getting all hung up on the triple Axel... Before the program you could see him going around and around, and I finally screamed at him: "Stop! Stop obsessing about it! When the time comes, get out and do it, but don't make it such a big thing in your head!"
He is a wonderful boy, and he is very, very talented. But he's just got to relax a little more, and be a fighter and a competitor instead of thinking "Oh, my God, what if I make a mistake?". That's ridiculous! Everybody makes mistakes. Get out there and go for it!

Denis told me that it was his decision to try such serious music and mature character. What do you think about it?
Well, I think he is a very artistic boy and he has the ability to do that kind of music. Otherwise it would be ridiculous, but I don't think he looks ridiculous doing it. When you watch him skate you think: "Wow, this boy is different from other boys". He skates differently, so his music should be different.

Have you defined any goals for him for this season?
I would love to see clean programs out of him. And then see what the results are. But as long as you make mistakes you're leaving it open, you can't go back and say: "Oh, I should have done...". And you can't say: "I should have had better marks" if you make mistakes. Have no recourse, no complains but do a perfect program and then we'll talk about it.

So it's not the placement, but the quality of the program?
Yes, to be satisfied yourself. That is what all the good coaches aim for - for the skaters to be satisfied with their effort and feel good about themselves. Not ever placement. I always tell my skaters: "Don't think of where you're going to come in, don't think of what placement it would be, it's a kiss of death and you can't do that, you can't worry about numbers, you have to skate."

Now let's move to Mirai. You mentioned in a recent interview that she was working on a triple Axel.
She even did it here in practice. But it's not ready yet; when she comes down she can't land it. She can stand up on it and it looks very nice, but the landing will be all the way around.

I wondered if she'd try it here, where she doesn't really have any competition and she can afford trying it.
But she does have competition here! She has a competition with herself. If she doesn't do well here it's not because of someone else, it's because of her. So she is here basically to see how well she can do for herself.

Do you have any strategy; any plan towards Nationals?
Well, at the US Nationals you don't have plans; it's probably the toughest competition in the world. In our country we have many, many good girls, so if you make the world team in our country, you're a very good skater. Maybe you don't do well at Worlds, but that's because of your own problems, but our Nationals is a real stinker, it's very hard. And it's the most nerve-racking competition of all, worst than the Olympic Games! Seriously. When you're defending a title - ask Evan Lysacek or ask Mirai, ask anyone who has been a champion – it's murder. Murder! It's an amazing pressure. Have you even been to our Nationals?

No. Actually I've never been to competitions in the States...
You should go to our Nationals sometime, get your press credentials. And you'll experience murder. It's really something else.

So do you have any psychological preparation for Mirai? Any advice?
My advice is not to think and worry so much. Her problem when she gets to the long program is that she starts thinking of this, this and this instead of skating. My plan is for her to be terribly ready and prepared to do the program, and then to go out and skate it and not think of a million things.

Tell me about Evan. I heard he was still very busy and not able to practice every day.
I haven't seen him for a long time. He's been doing a lot of appearances; he's been skating in Los Angeles because he has things to do there, so he has to live in LA. I talked to him on the phone recently and he wants to come to Palm Springs for 6-7 weeks shortly. But since he's injured I don't know, he had a bad fall and hurt himself. I plan to call him as soon as I get back and find out what the doctor said about it, whether he's going be able to skate in Skate America or not. (According to recent news Evan will not be competing in the 2011 ISU Grand Prix Series following some financial issues between him and the US federation - ed.)

Does he have programs ready?
Oh, yes, he's ready. He did a perfect long program for me in August. It had quad toe-triple toe, two triple Axels, wonderful combinations - perfect! He did it all the way through.

Who choreographed for him?
Lori Nichol. She is a very good friend.

Many of your students work with her.
Almost all of them. Mirai does, and Denis does.

Do you have any influence on the choreography in your student's programs?
I don't hesitate to say what I like or dislike, or when I think something isn't working. It's one thing to have a program choreographed, and then to realize that there is no time to do it that way and still do the element correctly, with the right number of turns in the spin. Then you have to step in. Lori is wonderful and superb in what she does, and a great, great help in my life, but she doesn't see the training on the daily basis and doesn't know the problems. So I try to fix it and then the kids go back to her. She looks and either sees the problem or deals with it, and she does it a little more sophisticated than I could have because she is able to fix it better than me. But she understands the problems and she listens, she is not someone who says: "I'm the great Lori Nichol, nobody can touch my work and nobody can tell me what to do". She is not like that as a person. She is very humble, creative and amazing. I think she is the best choreographer in the skating world!

So you don't have a choreographer at your rink?
No, not really. I mean, everybody choreographs, I used to choreograph my own programs. I choreographed for Linda Fratianne in the Olympic Games and I did it for years. But I don't spend my life listening to music and looking at dance tapes and studying movement. I put the choreography in the hands of somebody who does that. That's their profession, my profession is teaching skating.

I just thought an in-house choreographer might be convenient.
Maybe not an in-house choreographer as much as an in house "fluffer", as I call it; someone who is a ballet teacher, or who is a very beautiful skater, or who is an ice dancer. Somebody who does superb steps and has lovely ballet training that helps to enhance the movements. But that's not the same thing as a choreographer.

Well, I hope your ice centre will grow, and that you will have a bigger team of professionals working with you. Thank you for your time and good luck to all in your team. Enjoy being and working in Palm Springs!
I will. And I am already.


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