The (in)visible work of coaches

December 6, 2018
By Oxana Shkrebtienko (LMDJ)
Photos © Oxana Shkrebtienko (LMDJ)

The work of the coach is almost invisible to spectators who come to figure skating competitions. For the public, this is a show, a festival of sport and beauty. Only the coach knows exactly how much daily work, sweat and tears are behind the beauty we enjoy during the four minute performance; and for the coach this is the moment of truth, when nothing depends on the coach, that he or she gave all they could to their athlete, and now the coach stands at the side and watches the program as a spectator. What is easier - to skate yourself or to stand at the side? What emotions does a coach feel after their students' performances?
The trainers share their thoughts and feelings after their students' programs at Rostelecom Cup in Moscow.

Brian Orser

Brian Orser is a Canadian former competitive and professional figure skater. He is the 1984 and 1988 Olympic silver medalist, the 1987 World champion and eight-time (1981-88) Canadian national champion. Orser became the second man to land a triple Axel. After finishing his professional career in the Stars on Ice show he works as a coach in Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club. He has led both Yuna Kim (2010) and Yuzuru Hanyu (2014, 2018) to Olympic titles. He also coached Javier Fernández to Olympic bronze (2018) and the 2015 and 2016 World titles. His current students include: Jason Brown, Junhwan CHA, Gabrielle Daleman and Evgenia Medvedeva.
Two of Brian's students qualified for the GPF 2018: Junhwan CHA and Yuzuru Hanyu.

Brian, please tell us about Yuzuru Hanyu's condition.

He had a terrible fall on the morning practice, at the attempt of the quad loop. So, he had treatment all morning instead of the practice and it was a big question, whether Yuzu would skate or not. But he did, not for the first time! It was pretty dangerous, so I'm proud of him. We had to change the order of jumps, and we made a lot of changes.

Are you satisfied by the result?

Of course! This is the first time he has won two GP events. But now we need to see if Yuzu can recover till the final and to prepare for it (in the end, Yuzuru had to withdrawn from the GPF to recover from the injury. We wish him a speedy recovery! -ed.)

How is Evgenia Medvedeva? How is her life in Canada?

Her life is pretty good, she feels happy in Canada. As for me, everything is going as planned. She is training, training, training. She spends all the time at the rink to be ready for the future competitions. In general, I am very pleased with her programs, her appearance, her performance and patience. We understand that there was a big change in Evgenia's life this summer, and everyone around, including herself, should be patient. In my experience, it takes about 1.5 years and we worked only five months. Remember how I started working with Hanyu or Fernandez. In the first year their results were not the best. I am sure you will see the outcome of our work with Evgenia finally, she will be a superstar!

Alexey Mishin

Alexei Mishin is a Russian figure skating coach and former pair skater. With partner Tamara Moskvina, he was the 1969 World silver medalist, silver and bronze European medalist (1968, 1969) and the 1969 Soviet Union national champion. Mishin is based at Saint Petersburg's Yubileyny Sports Palace for most of the season but has annual summer training camps in various locations, such as Jaca (Spain), Tartu (Estonia), Courchevel (France) and Pinzolo (Italy). His current and former students include Olympic, World and European champions: Alexei Urmanov, Alexei Yagudin, Evgeni Plushenko, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Carolina Kostner, Sofia Samodurova. He is the author of several books on the biomechanics of figure skating. Mishin was 28 when he retired from competition and he said he was glad to start coaching when he was young.
Two of his students, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Sofia Samodurova, qualified for the Grand Prix Final in Vancouver.

Tell us about your plans for the near future.

I will return home, go to my country house (Dacha), will rest with my friends and then will begin to prepare for the GP final. We will prepare in the same way as for the other starts, nothing special. If I start doing it somehow in a special way, then I will make a mistake. We'll be just working on details, to find the most winning ones.

What are your goals in the GPF?

We always strive for the highest goals with my students.

Do your skaters have some reserve for this?

We will add complexity to the free program of Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. This is risky before important starts, but we will take this risk.

Is it possible to fight with Alina Zagitova and Rika Kihira for your students?

Zagitova and Kihira are very good skaters. But this is sport, we will fight and let the strongest one win.

Rafael Arutunian

Rafael Arutyunyan is an Armenian figure skating coach. From the age of seven he was engaged in figure skating, but has not won any important titles himself. He studied in Yerevan at the Armenian State Institute of Physical Culture. He coached in Armenia before moving to Russia and then the United States. Nowadays he works in Lakewood ICE in Lakewood, California. His former and current students include World and National Champions and medalists: Mao Asada, Jeffrey Buttle, Sasha Cohen, Michelle Kwan, Mariah Bell, Michal Brezina, Nathan Chen, Marin Honda, Eunsoo Lim, Romain Ponsart, Adam Rippon and Ashley Wagner.
Rafael has led two of his pupils to the GPF: Nathan Chen and Michal Brezina.

Rafael, please, tell us your impressions about Eunsoo's performance. All of us enjoyed her performance.

Well, I didn't particularly enjoy it. The fact is that she had her skates sharpened just before the competition. For me it was a shock. In Russia, even children know that skates should not be sharpened before the start, that at least 4-5 practices are needed for the blades to return to normal. In the first two practices she hardly skated, did not execute elements properly and not their correct places. The same way she also skated her short program. At the NHK Trophy she performed the SP much better, but there was a fall during warm-up before the FP, she was knocked down and fell right on her back, on the right side, there was a huge hematoma. So she performed the program in not the best way. And here we have another surprise, skates! To be honest, I didn't say anything to her then, only now I told her not to do it anymore. I could not even imagine that an athlete at such a high level could make so stupid a mistake. Normally, when athletes from other countries come to me, they do not know many things and they study them. For example, I have been coaching Nathan since he was 10 years old, and he would never have made such a mistake. With Eunsoo, three training sessions and a short program skating passed, and now, after the free program, the blades finally are back to normal. Therefore, I need two years with an athlete to teach him what to do, how to do it, how to warm up, how to train, what to do before and after competitions, and what between competitions. There are a lot of things, so it's all very complicated. We have a difficult sport - you work with your body, this body stands on a tiny spot, on the ice, and you have to jump!

When will we also enjoy Marin Honda?

Difficult question... If Eunsoo speaks good English and we have a mutual understanding with her, then it's not the same with Marin. You tell her what to do. She pretends to understand, nods, goes and does not do what she was told. And I do not know whether sometimes she does not understand, or simply does not want to. This is how we work, at times we have to endure, because we can't shout or curse... Well, we have such work, coaches. So I wait, probably she will learn English, probably will begin to listen to me. She is such a princess. It is difficult with her, I will try to change her so that she works differently. But it is interesting to me! I have Mexicans, skaters from many countries, I try to work with everyone.

Very soon ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final 2018 will start in Vancouver, Canada.
We wish all skaters smooth ice and good luck!

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