The sixth stage of the Russian Grand Prix ended in Perm last weekend.
The finalists have been determined, who will play the final in Sochi in March, and personally I am becoming more and more confident that the format of the competition offered to the skaters suspended from international competitions, and with them to the whole country, was not very successful.
Let me explain why I think so.
What did we want?
When the idea called “How to keep athletes who were deprived of the opportunity to compete on international ice” was just beginning to take shape, it sounded like a good idea: you need to come up with something so that the world, looking at it, will sadly think about what was lacking.
So, in fact, the Russian Grand Prix series was born, which in fact became just a copy of the “big” ISU Grand Prix in its structure.
Most of the individual tournaments with "seeded" leaders there turned out to be devoid of any intrigue and, as a result, boring.
It turned out to be not very possible to promote them from the point of view of a feasible forcing of interest, since the composition of the participants became public at the very last moment.
Plus, let's be honest, not too adequate ticket prices, as a result of which the competitions at the two main Grand Prix arenas - in Moscow Megasport and the Sochi Olympic Iceberg - strongly resembled the covid times with empty stands, when rare spectators were seated in a checkerboard pattern through two chairs.
I foresee a counter phrase: “What, it was better at the ISU Grand Prix, or what?”
The answer is: no better.
In some places, the competition without the participation of the strongest Russian athletes looked just as dull as in the Russian counterpart: a sharp decrease in competition did not benefit anyone.
It's just that the official tournament, due to the format and long-established rules, was initially driven into certain limits.
We were completely free in this regard - just think of it.
But, alas, it didn't work out.
Six starts instead of two: a lot, a little or just right?
Conversations with athletes and coaches during the alternation of the stages of the Russian Grand Prix made it clear: two starts for a top-level skater are extremely few.
Moreover, this is not enough for those who are just entering the adult level and are starting to gain combat fitness: you can really roll out a program with all the complex elements only in competitions.
With regard to the Grand Prix, the coaches were unanimous in their opinion: they say, it would be desirable to be able to start three times.
Even better, four.
Going through all six stages, that is, competing every week, is too much.
People who are forced to perform in such a regime objectively do not have time to recover, relax, fully plan training sessions, which, as you know, no one has canceled, and so on.
This raises the question: how often are skaters generally able to skate competitively during the season?
If you remember the old days, top athletes had a lot of starts: two Grand Prix stages plus a final, a national championship in December, followed by the European Championship and the World Championship.
That is, there are already six major starts from October to March, where, as a rule, a couple of smaller ones were added - pre-season challenges.
Those who did not pass the level of skill in the Grand Prix performed at the stages of the Russian Cup and other minor competitions.
In other words, there is nothing supernatural in such a number of performances.
Ekaterina Mironova and Evgeny Ustenko
© Alexander Wilf
A unique series - utopia or reality?
Once upon a time, Russian sports leaders loved to trump with the fact that our country is able to organize any tournament in a short time and hold it at the highest level.
And they did, by the way: suffice it to recall the World Figure Skating Championships in 2011, which was in jeopardy due to the earthquake in Japan and had every chance of not taking place if Russia had not picked it up.
The question arises: if the suspension of Russian athletes lasts for the next season, why not make a completely separate monthly series of starts from October to March for elite athletes (members of the Russian team and, in part, candidates for it)?
Call it, say, the "Golden Series" and treat it accordingly - as a unique competition in its format for the very best.
With the condition that all the strongest perform at each stage.
Ten singles and six or eight pairs and duets (variations are possible).
Then the championship of Russia should be held in this format, as one of the stages, just with more expanded participation.
And most importantly, then the spring final would be absolutely logical, which could be held in the first days of April or at the same time as the World Cup - in the last days of March.
Now the final is completely illogical: why, one wonders, does the Russian Grand Prix series end in November, and you have to wait more than three months for the most interesting part of it?
I would neither cancel the stages of the Russian Cup nor rename them into tournaments with beautiful names, as is done now.
Those skaters who are more comfortable competing more than once a month could apply for lower-rated competitions in parallel with the Golden Series (as they did in the old days between Grand Prix stages), plus this can create additional intrigue.
Why, for example, not to allow those who brightly proved themselves in the Russian Cup to participate: won, jumped something incredible, was remembered for a super program or something else?
I am sure that many people will want to get into such a format, even one-time.
The total number of participants is regulated in this scheme simply: you can unhook those who take the last places from the main grid.
In terms of performances, I would complicate the task for the skaters: I would order all participants to have in their arsenal not one, but two free programs.
A separate one could be saved just for the final.
This is not as difficult as it might seem at first glance.
All so-called exhibition events such as the jumping tournament, the First Channel Cup, the championship in show programs, our own figure skating Oscars, eating hot dogs or sponsored ice cream for speed, and so on, should be in this scheme at the very end of the season.
Or go in addition to the main starts in December - January, immediately after the Russian Championship.
But in no case do not replace them.
Sand in this regard is an unimportant replacement for oats.
At whose expense is the banquet?
Practice shows that when there is a beautiful idea that one is not ashamed to defend "at the top", the money for its implementation is always somehow found.
Moreover, this is not about how much and to whom to pay prize money for winning a small-town tournament without spectators and real competition, but about keeping one of the main sports for our country afloat.
The last part of the phrase is not a joke.
How quickly interest in this or that event can be reduced to zero was once well shown by the example of professional world championships, which for 25 years were held annually in Washington by two-time Olympic champion Dick Button, and with great commercial success.
In the early 2000s, Button, for a number of personal reasons, decided to sell the tournament to a business partner, SFX.
The new owners received an event that was extremely promoted in terms of popularity and advertising and ... let everything take its course, believing that the interest of the public and advertisers would not go anywhere.
But they miscalculated: two years later the tournament ceased to exist.
Will there be sponsors for the scheme that I propose?
It seems to me that yes.
Will it be of interest to television enough to broadcast the event not only on the website of Channel One, as is being done now?
It seems to me that yes.
Will it encourage journalists to go to all stages?
It seems to me that yes.
It's just that the format of communication with the press in this case makes sense to reconsider somewhat.
To do so, for example, as is customary at major international tournaments: to allocate time for additional communication on the final day before / after demonstration performances, and not create artificial restrictions and close all athletes with a bolt.
The demonstrations themselves should also be, of course.
At any serious tournament, this is the icing on the cake.
Why deprive yourself of dessert?
What will be the principle of scoring in this series is a purely technical question.
You can lead it in three fixed stages, or in the three best, or in all performances without exception - it doesn’t matter.
You can come up with and implement any scheme.
And then you can accrue any prize money to the top six (namely, the six, and not the three winners) - in this format they will look absolutely appropriate and deserved.
Karina Akopova and Nikita Rakhmanin
© Vladimir Astapkovich
Spectators and journalists: what to do with them?
It would be good for those who hold competitions to learn at the subconscious level: if you host this or that event, the hall should be full.
These are the basics of management.
How to achieve this?
As you wish.
Recoup expenses with advertising, earn on sales of all kinds of merchandise, get up on the porch, in the end (you can at the box office), and collect money there.
But do not console yourself with the thought that two tickets of 5 thousand each are no worse than 20 tickets of 500 each.
In conditions when sport (not only Russian) is about to give up its soul to God, it is necessary to lie down with bones, but to attract people to the stands.
And to do it in such a way that, having visited the ice palace once, a person would want to come again and bring family, friends and his favorite dentist to boot.
Another issue is that you need to work with the audience.
To make sure that there is a place to have a tasty snack and feed the children, to be puzzled by programs, postcards and organizing autograph sessions, perhaps to attract animators who would work in the lobby while the ice is pouring – there are many options here.
One can recall the already textbook example of the capital's hockey CSKA in the dashing and hungry 1990s, when the American managers of Pittsburgh were engaged in the promotion of the club, which was in sixth place in the national championship, if I'm not mistaken.
The hall in each match was packed to capacity, while a couple of kilometers from the army arena, with completely empty stands, the leader of the national championship, Dynamo, played.
Media is a separate item.
Personally, my experience suggests that journalists in general are not too pretentious.
All they need at a sporting event is a place to work in the press room and on the podium, fast internet, normal access to speakers, information, tea/coffee and a minimal selection of food.
The latter is optional: sandwiches, after all, you can bring with you.
Note that there is never too much information.
As a digression, I’ll recall the story of how once, having visited an NHL game, I asked the press officer of the Vancouver Canucks, where the six-time Stanley Cup winner and absolutely legendary for any Canadian Mark Messier, had just moved, to arrange an interview with the player for me.
The media officer asked me to wait a couple of minutes and took me out of his office a heavy pile of printed sheets: “Here are all Mark's statistics and all his interviews over the past few years.
If you still have any questions, let me know and I will arrange a meeting for you…” Back at the hotel, I counted the pages out of curiosity.
There were 137 of them.
It is clear that the “paper” times are long gone, but the press service of the federation should at least make sure that the most complete information about athletes or coaches can be found, relatively speaking, with a couple of clicks, and not endless surfing on the Internet.
What can such a format give athletes?
First of all, the opportunity to compete for real and be in shape in this regard, that is, to train the nervous system in conditions close to the maximum combat.
Such a skill in sports is always valuable, in demand, and the current situation should not necessarily become a reason to lose it.
I note that the ability to compete goes much faster than is commonly believed.
In this regard, it is enough to follow those who returned to sports after a long break: almost none of them managed to “enter the same water” without loss, they had to re-learn how to cope with their own nerves.
It is possible, by the way, that the problem will rise to its full height when Russian athletes again get the opportunity to compete in the international arena (and this can happen at any moment).
In complex coordination sports, such as figure skating, this is especially important, since it is already obvious that the refereeing of internal tournaments sometimes becomes completely inadequate.
As if the arbitrators set out to demonstrate the greatness of the Russian Grand Prix series in all ways available to them.
Bad news: it doesn't work that way.
Therefore, it makes sense now to try to foresee the consequences of isolation as much as possible in this sense too.
Won't athletes get tired of the constant and rather tough competition?
I think no.
The opportunity to compete with your main rivals at each start is excitement, courage and additional self-promotion.
It's fun and challenging at the same time.
And certainly leaves no room to suffer from a lack of real drive.