— The ski season is actually over and it's time to ask: to what extent did you manage to realize what was planned?
" From the very beginning, we were clearly guided by the fact that we would run exclusively inside Russia. Now we can state that the calendar was perfectly organized, in terms of the number of races we did not lose to the World Cup. At the same time, the level of competition for men remained very high.
- Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for girls. Not so long ago, you yourself admitted that Natalia Nepryaeva frankly lacks a tough rivalry, and motivation suffers from this.
- In fact, Sasha Bolshunov lacked competition. He has not exhausted in this regard the reserves for improving his own efficiency. Figuratively speaking, he has a joker up his sleeve that he has never used before. I won't elaborate on it, but we have a lot to add.
— Do you plan to remove the joker from your sleeve at the 2026 Olympics?
- Before returning to the Stages of the World Cup, we will definitely not pull him out.
Do you think Johannes Klebo has a secret weapon of this kind?
- Each athlete, especially at the final stage of training, has certain nuances of an individual nature that are peculiar only to him. Someone is going uphill. Someone doesn't go uphill. Someone feels good when they do more strength work. Someone, on the contrary, prefers to approach the start with ease, with freshness.
It is impossible, for example, to say about the same Nepryaeva that she reaches the limit of her capabilities only at the expense of starts. But, in the end, the lack of the usual competitive speeds plays a negative role for her. The general functional state decreases because of this, and the speeds at which Natasha competes gradually become for her not only limiting, but somehow more familiar. And that's not good.
— At one time, working with Nepryaeva was in some way an experiment for you. Now there are already four girls in your group, that is, specific experience has been accumulated. Is a woman in cross-country skiing a predictable athlete in every way, or, pardon the comparison, a monkey with a grenade?
Girls are certainly different, but at some points it's easier to work with them. They, as a rule, perceive the tasks that the coach gives, almost without questioning the proposed work. It's more difficult with the guys in this regard. They definitely need an understanding of what exactly they are doing, what specific work is needed for. Accordingly, we have to explain all this, to convince them.
- Now you are deservedly considered one of the best coaches in the world. But if Bolshunov had come to you at a time when you were just starting your coaching career, would he have grown into the outstanding driver we know now?
- It's hard to say. Alexander's natural talent is, of course, a great dominant. Plus, Sasha was very good at all the training work that I offered him from the very beginning. Now we are building the work in such a way that Alexander, in the end, himself determines the maximum load that he is able to perform. Although the same Alexander Legkov was so eager to train when he skated with me that he was working all the time.
Well, where did you look as a coach?
- I explained, swore, waved my hands in training: they say, stop. But in response I heard: "Yuri Viktorovich, everything is fine." And then - gas to the floor, and how much strength will be enough. Bolshunov is different in this regard. He knows how to listen to his body and get the most out of the work that he does here and now. Sasha has quite distant views on the prospect of his sports age.
- Actually, Legkov always seemed more thoughtful to me. Bolshunov, on the other hand, purely outwardly gave the impression of a large Russian bear, which was put on skis, and he went to tear everyone apart.
- For a very long time, Alexander tried to maintain this image on the track. In fact, it's absolutely not. Sasha is a deeply thoughtful athlete, prone to serious analysis. Now it is becoming more open, if not all, then many people notice this. And I, as a coach, see that Bolshunov has very deep and interesting thoughts on training. He offers a lot, strives to get the maximum effect from the work.
- When there is an athlete of this level in the group, how dependent does the coach become on it? And can we say that you write general training plans primarily for Bolshunov?
— Almost all of my athletes are distance runners. That is, they are initially given the same tasks as Sasha. Another thing is that there is such a thing as individual load tolerance. In this regard, every athlete works as well as he can. I do not think that it would be more correct to draw up a separate plan for Denis Spitsov, or, say, for Alexei Chervotkin.
The same work of an aerobic nature, aimed at power endurance, is necessary for absolutely everyone. Therefore, the task for training is set before everyone the same. Further, everyone is already focused on their own well-being and condition. For example, there were times when we started an interval workout and finished it without even a third of the planned work. Because I saw that athletes cannot reach the indicators that are necessary, and, therefore, training loses its meaning. It will not give a developmental effect.
- Against the background of the whole group, Alexander Terentyev is a pronounced sprinter. Do you have to reckon with that?
- Sure. He and I tried to work a lot on the remote part, but after such work, Sasha is very difficult to recover. Therefore, it was decided that from next year the work plan will be written for Terentyev separately. Maybe not for all workouts, but for key ones for sure. In her form, Sasha has every chance to become a bright leader, and it will definitely be better than remaining average in the sprint and average at the distances.
- 11 athletes of such a high level in one group - not a lot?
- It's hard enough. With leaders, it's a little easier: you give them a task, and then you just control who and how they cope with it. Working with young people, a lot of attention has to be paid to technical work. Few people like her, but I always give the example of ballerinas who stand at the machine every day.
- But in ballet, there are not a dozen potential world champions at the loom.
- Still, constant work on the technique is necessary. Let it not be daily, but it should be quite frequent. It's like a tuning fork that makes you remember the right movements. Still, during the races, the technique is slightly broken.
- Throughout the season, I hear that in Russia, if you compare with the World Cups, it is completely different snow. Much slower. Doesn't it break the technique? Does not force to make adjustments, as if creating a model that will not be in demand in Europe?
- Indeed, our snow is completely different, natural snow. When you have to compete in the cold, the snow becomes even slower, it requires slow movements. There is a kind of adaptation of the entire muscular system to specific power movements and a certain rate of muscle contraction.
- So, like it or not, you develop a slower stroke model?
- Well, that's what my previous question was about. Will the slow model not create difficulties for Russian skiers in returning to the international arena?
In a way, this has always been a problem for us. Russian skiers competed at home, then went to Europe, and at first they could not keep up with the speed of movement. In Europe, most athletes train on faster artificial snow, respectively, their muscles are initially adapted to faster movements, faster repulsion, to greater power.
Our guys need some time to rebuild and get used to, that is, to participate in a certain number of starts, to conduct a certain number of high-speed trainings before going to the main competitions. Fortunately, this is all replaceable.
— How many athletes allows, in your opinion, to build work in the group so that the effectiveness of coaching efforts does not decrease?
- I think six or eight people is ideal. Unattainable, unfortunately.
- Is such a powerful leader as Bolshunov a motivating factor for everyone else, or an overwhelming one?
- Certainly motivating.
It seems to me that it is difficult to remain motivated when you realize that a person is training side by side with you, whom you are objectively not able to bypass.
- Well, that's what everybody is aiming for. At least, after the "Championship Heights", Chervotkin was very much lamented, who twice, at a 50-kilometer distance and in a skating "cutting", a little bit did not have enough to finish first.
- Let's look at the situation from a different angle: you, as a coach, probably know better than anyone the real capabilities of your athletes. At the same time, you can't tell someone: don't sweat it, you still can't overtake Bolshunov. How often do you have to hide your own thoughts on this matter from the wards?
- Well, it actually happens all the time. On the other hand, when people go to the starts, they are all rivals, everyone wants to show their maximum result. And giving priority to someone in advance on my part would be fundamentally wrong. Not to mention, everyone has their weaknesses, which everyone is well aware of.
- What are Bolshunov's weaknesses?
- As for Sasha, I would prefer the wording "not too strong". These are the points of growth that we are working on and will continue to work on.
- Are you talking about sprint qualities?
- Including. Over the past two years, they have fallen slightly for Alexander, but this is largely due to the fact that the training work has changed. I hope that in the future we will seriously adjust everything.
- Do I understand correctly that the more you make a bias towards the distance, the more the sprint suffers, and vice versa?
- Sure. This is physiology, the law of communicating vessels. If it has arrived somewhere, it means that it has disappeared from somewhere. A sprint is a quickness, an explosion. That is, the maximum power. Competitive endurance is a smooth work of a long nature. If you look at all the cyclical sports, these are two opposite qualities that today no one has been able to combine.
But you're trying?
- Trying to find a balance. A few years ago, we succeeded.
- I was very surprised that following the results of the Olympic Games in Beijing, the winner of the National Sports Award in the category "coach" was not you, but Elena Vyalbe. And then I received information that there is an unspoken order from above: not to celebrate with such awards people in whose lives certain doping stories have happened.
- I have already told you: everything that happened in our group in 2009 was based on one hundred percent deception.
- But you have become extreme. So that story still breaks life?
- Well, they try to remember sometimes. The most interesting thing is that no one, not a single person from those who continue to talk about the topic behind their backs, has not come up, and has not said anything in my eyes.
My principled attitude to doping has always been unequivocal – I strongly oppose it. Likewise, I'm always against any therapeutic permission. In my understanding, this is an attempt to stand on the same level with those who do not play by the rules.
"But you can look at the situation from the other side. If WADA, through therapeutic exceptions, allows athletes to use banned drugs, why not introduce such a practice into use in our country? Do you accept this option?
- Never had such thoughts. It's not even that in the FMBA there is an iron rule to allow only healthy athletes to compete. It's just that I think it's immoral. That's the first thing. And secondly, it's a hoax. In Norway, unfortunately, they go for it. And the FIS (International Ski Federation – RT) takes everything for granted without proper verification.
- Because the organization is headed by a Scandinavian?
- Including. Plus, sponsors, there are a lot of Norwegian sponsors in ski sports. As they say, business, and nothing personal.
- Back in Soviet times, I heard that if anabolic steroids were banned in the barbell, the level of results would drop so that no one would come to look at it. Therefore, the question arises here whether we want, as spectators, to see exorbitant records, or that everything is clean, honest and beautiful. And surely there will be those who will support the first point of view.
- Viktor Maksimovich Tkachenko, who is very respected in the ski world, said in such cases: guys, have you tried to train? The easiest way is to use prohibited drugs.
- And do these drugs affect the result as much as they say? After all, if a first-class person is given a bucket of doping, as fast as Bolshunov, he still will not run.
- If this did not work at all, doping would not come across so many track and field athletes, swimmers and other representatives of sports where strength is the main dominant. In cross-country skiing, most therapeutic exceptions concern drugs that affect the transport functions of oxygen. This significantly increases the endurance of athletes, the speed of recovery. With such a level of competition as the current one, even a slight use of such drugs gives a huge advantage.
Everybody trains a lot now. The Internet in this regard gives a huge scope for knowledge. There are various methodological developments, which in themselves are no longer a secret to anyone. The secret is how the athlete digests these loads, how quickly he is able to reach the peak of his form. Look at what happens in mass starts, where everything is decided in the last meters, or even centimeters of the distance. It's a huge competition. And those people who can legally use some additional pharmaceutical support will always have a certain advantage.
Have you ever thought about how this could all end? Should the fight against doping be transformed into some kind of common sense?
-For this, first of all, it is necessary that the World Anti-Doping Agency ceases to be dependent.
- I'm afraid it's a utopia. The agency can't feed itself, can it?
" That's why all these therapeutic permissions appear, the information about which is carefully hidden.
- Is there an athlete whose information you would most like to see?
- We already said at the beginning of the conversation that it is impossible, without losing sprint qualities, to greatly increase aerobic endurance. And then it seems that you can. At least in the Norwegian team there is an athlete who, in this regard, is surprising: without losing these very qualities, he adds decently at the distance.
- Do you mean Johannes Klebo?
- Yes. Watching other Norwegian athletes, for example, the same Erik Valnes, I understand that no one canceled the laws of physiology: Eric was a great sprinter, but he focused on distance racing and sharply lost his sprint qualities. But when I look at Klebo, knowing how he trained, how much he was sick afterwards, and I see what he shows at long distances, I have very serious doubts that in terms of physiology it is possible. On the one hand, this to some extent confirms my assumptions that therapeutic solutions strongly affect the functional abilities of a person and, accordingly, his result, on the other hand, it is pleasant to realize that Russian skiers, without having a single therapeutic exception, make themselves reckon with.