Peter Grutter: "To have such a pupil is like winning the lottery"


By Reut Golinsky
Photos © Silvia Ulenberg, Nadezhda Baranova, Reut Golinsky
Special thanks to Tatiana Geikhman for the help with the transcript.

Born in Bern, Peter Gr├╝tter represented Switzerland at international competitions in the 1950's and 60's. He ended his eligible career after participating in the 1964 Olympic Games in Innsbruck. He soon realized that his job in a bank wasn't fulfilling, so he became a figure skating coach the following year. After 10 years in Montana (Valais), he moved to Geneva in 1976 and has since worked with many skaters, teaching them what he learned from Jack Gerschwiler. He has been to every European Championships since 1981 with at least one of his students.

In 1995, a little boy came up to him and asked him to be his coach. From small national competitions to major international events, Mr. Gr├╝tter has traveled around the world with St├ęphane and has brought him to the heights we all know.
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After Stephane's practice for the long program, during Nebelhorn Trophy, Mr.Grutter found ten minutes to talk to me about his famous student and about the others, less famous as yet.

First of all I'm really glad to see you here and it's very exciting to see all the "team Lambiel" together again. My first question will be: were you really surprised when Stephane said that he wants to come back?
No, no, not surprised. I expected something like this because he did not stop the doping control, and he came to practice all the time. Officially he did it for the shows, but if you practice for shows, you do it differently, so I knew that one day [he'd be back]. He told me last year, when he came to Los Angeles (to 2009 Worlds Championship) to watch and I was there with Samuel, he said 'No, I'm not going to return', but the way he said it was not convincing. So I was not surprised when he called me. He thought I would be when he called. He said: "Do you sit down?" I said: "No, I'm standing, why?" He said: "Will you come with me to Oberstdorf?" I said: "Of course!"

Regarding the question about his training schedule in general, it was written in the press-release that he will train two days in Geneva with you and the rest of the week on his own in Lausanne. Is this going to be the case?
No, he is more in Geneva because we have better facilities than Lausanne. I went to Lausanne with him because our Geneva rink was closed for renovation so we trained every day in Lausanne, and now the rink is open so he will come more often [to Geneva].

But it was not announced that Peter Grutter is going to be Stephane's main coach or that he will train in Geneva.
The problem is I have a lot of other pupils, I cannot always go. And he does not need my presence every day, my correction; he can correct himself of course. Even when he was little he was very often alone because he did not live in Geneva, he was quite far away so┬ů He's an intelligent person and knows what to work on, sometimes he needs my presence, and this is it. But this collaboration has never stopped, even when he went to the United States. He always came back, we never had a split. We had one split before Worlds in Moscow for four months. I told him then: "If you need me, come back". In that period I needed a break too and he was very, very decided himself. So I said: "Try to make it alone, if you cannot do it, I will be back". But we never had fights. Sometimes we fight in the practice, of course, especially when he was at the age of 18-19, when they are in this change of personality. But now it's OK.

You're a very wise man, I think.
It's maybe age.

I don't know Stephane personally, but from what I read about him, I had an impression that he has a very complicated personality┬ů
He has a great personality and, you know, this is what makes champions. I think, there is no easy champion - this does not exist. So you have to admit, you have to make it work properly, because if you have fights all the time, you work against the victory. So I tried to listen, and sometimes he tried to listen too, so we had that equation.
We have sort of telepathy together. Sometimes I feel things and he says them out loud. He is like my son. When you are together for such a long time: he was eight when he came to me and now he is twenty four, this is a long period, with ups and downs of course. But it will never be a split, even if he goes to another coach - I would still be his biggest fan. Sometimes you're a father and your child wants to go, and he will come back. We should never hold someone back when they want to go, because they will come back.

I think this is very special situation you have. Maybe this is why it makes me feel so good to see you all together again, because in a way it's like a family reunion.
I know that many people like this team because of this. Of course he's happy with the three of us - me, Salome and Majda - we get along very well. We can discuss things, you know, and it makes him feel good. Because Switzerland is a small country, if you do not have a lot of people behind you, you're very alone out there. So every skater needs a team that helps, and sends out "waves".

And your team is good at it. I think he achieved all he's got thanks to you. Well, thanks to him too, of course┬ů
You know, he brings so much. If you have a pupil like him it's like if you win in a lottery. This is a dream of every teacher to have somebody like this, one day, who really can do what you try to bring out. I think it's great to have [such pupil].

What do you think is his state right now? He said that he is at 70% of his best form.
Maybe┬ů There are days which are perfect, there are other days┬ů But we started not a long time ago, because I was very busy in the summer, he was away with the shows then he had to have a break, a vacation, then new skates. It's only for the last two or three weeks we are working on a regular basis. So if he can build up now, with not too many breaks, then I think we will be ready┬ů

Ready in February?
Oh yes, even in January┬ů I think he has to be ready in January for Europeans. We take it step by step, we cannot overdo it now. It's not like younger children who have to learn many new things; he has to be able to maintain what he can do; and that's it.

Some more questions about your other pupils. Samuel Contesti, is he continuing to work with you?
Yes, of course. Samuel was asking me [to train him] in the end of the period of Stephane, and I asked Stephane if he minds if I worked with Samuel. He said: "No, no, it's OK, fine with me". I wanted to be sure. I did not want to work against [Stephane]┬ů Samuel has his wife who teaches him, she's a very good teacher too and they needed some advice. And Samuel is a very good person too, very hard worker, and I helped him, travelling back and forth between the two, and my own [pupils] at home, of course, I cannot drop anybody.

You were going to Italy as well?
It's not far from Geneva, it's one hour and forty minutes. Geneva is very close to France and Italy. So he lives right at the border. It's one hour and twenty minutes by motorway and I go there and sometimes he comes to Geneva. Next week we are flying to Japan with Stephane and Samuel (for Japan Open). They both compete in the same team ("Team Europe"). Then for the first time I will be in the situation when I have two at the boards [of the rink].*

It will be the trial before the Europeans.
I had this in our country sometimes, having two or three in the same category, but not at this level, so I will find out. I will know more about it. I take it a good count and I'll try to make it.

Your other pupils, Noemie Silberer┬ů
Noemie, at the moment is injured, she can't practice. She has a hip injury. She, for quite some time, has not been practicing, but just coming to the ice. I have Loran Alvarez who has a very difficult year at school, with maturit├ę exams, and this is hard for him. I have a very good little one, very much like Stephane when he was young.

Really? Because my next question was supposed to be whether Swiss skating has a future┬ů
We have many good ones, not me, I have only one little, [who is] really good, but the country has a lot of little hopes. I think in a few years we'll have good skaters again, especially in girls. At the top level not so much, Sara is a bit alone. But we have to wait; we have a few very good young people in the country, more in the Swiss German part.

And the last question: you were coaching under both systems. What do you think about the new one (COP)?
I like the old system more. The new system has brought interesting things but I think it's too extreme going into the details. And everything that is extreme for me is not good. I'm afraid the public interest will go away because they don't understand how it's made, the mark. I am still happier with the old system: I think judges were trying so hard and I don't think that so many results were wrong. Our Federation was obliged by Olympic Committee. So many times in revolutions, good things disappear: not everything which is good is new┬ů I would not go back to the old system as it was, but I would try to make this more towards the skaters, better for skaters; because we have a lot of nonsense that we have to do to get a lot of points. But of course new ideas happen, maybe programs at the beginning were more interesting but now they look very, very, many of them are totally similar.

But Stephane got all his best results under the new system.
Was Moscow new? Was it already new? But I feel his best performance was not at Worlds championship in Moscow, it was when he was fourth in Dortmund (Worlds 2004), and I think it was old system. And Washington qualification (Worlds 2003) was a very good program. And there were others and it was not his time.
I would try to find a combination. I am not happy about technical specialists though, not happy about all this┬ů There are changes in every championship: things are different, one season this way, another season this way, and this is one person who is a specialist. The reason you have nine judges for example is because you want to have different opinions, but you have only one opinion of technical specialist. I was happier with an old system.

Thank you and good luck to your team and to Stephane in this coming season.

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