Coaching careers in biathlon are like shooting wards: today you are on a horse, and tomorrow no one will remember the name. A year ago, two key athletes, Karim Khalili and Daniil Serokhvostov, left Yuri Kaminsky's group, and the coach seemed close to leaving biathlon altogether. And this season, just as suddenly, he found himself at the head of the men's team. When asked how painful that old story turned out to be, Kaminsky only grinned: "I'm not at the age to be offended by athletes for a long time."
- Last year you said that the suspension of Russian athletes from international competitions is a great opportunity for experiments. Have these experiments been implemented to any extent?
- Of course. In general, we have built a different preparation this season. We held a mountain gathering at the Seminsky Pass a month earlier, tried to build up our physical potential, and realize it in August. That is, the preparation for the season turned out to be more intensive. Previously, we realized this potential much later - in competitions.
- The Commonwealth Cup, which was held in Sochi in early September, was, it turns out, the first control section?
- Everything that was accumulated in the summer cannot be evaluated by competitions alone. As a rule, the first start is just a correction: something to correct, something to change.
- Generally speaking, did the start in Sochi upset, or pleased?
- Sochi in general often upsets me, to be honest. Too unpredictable altitude from the standpoint of acclimatization.
- Explain in simple words, for the layman: this is not the first time you bring athletes to Sochi. Same height. Are there really no ways to somehow adapt to it?
- There is only one way. Spend at least two weeks in the acclimatization stage. But even this is not a guarantee. In 2014 in Sochi, when I was still working with skiers, we adjusted, adjusted, counted the days. It's just that before the Games we were on this mountain only twice. Two and a half, to be exact. Once they came from the plains, tested and left a few days later. Then we conducted two more or less full-fledged training camps and, it seemed, more or less groped for the necessary algorithm. We fled on the 13th day, but, for example, Nikita Kryukov found himself in the "pit" on this very day.
- I know that the coaches of the older generation preferred to train their athletes in Tsaghkadzor and Bakuriani precisely because they studied those heights thoroughly and always knew what the "exhaust" would be.
- Absolutely. At that time, an experimental group of skiers worked under the leadership of Vladivlen Majuga, and even then, it seemed to me, everything related to mountain training was thoroughly worked out. It was believed that, starting from the 12th day of being in the middle mountains, the athlete should no longer experience any serious problems. Apparently, in Sochi, the proximity of the sea affects, the parameters that affect the level of adaptation of the organism often change. There are actually only three such parameters: temperature, humidity and partial pressure. And, of course, the selection of loads for such a difficult height should be carried out more carefully.
- You said that Anton Babikov is an absolutely amazing shooter, but psychology prevents him from realizing his potential in competitions. After the first sprint race in the Commonwealth Cup, I would say that Eduard Latypov has problems with psychology.
- Latypov had a lack of skill. Edik was not at the last training camp with the team - his wife was supposed to give birth at that time, and he was at home. There is no shooting range in Samara, respectively, I had to shoot only in a shooting range. And these are different things. In other words, the level of rifle readiness at Latypov today is at the level of May-June. It was possible, as they say, to slip through the class, but it did not work out.
- A year ago, when the athletes, whom you, in general, counted on, began to leave for other groups, did you not have the feeling that the people who seemed to support you simply stepped aside?
- Here I see another problem, which I would call the problem of our entire biathlon. It consists in... Well, let's just say, in search of a methodology, or something. Moreover, the methodology is not sought by the coaches who should be looking for it, but by the athletes themselves. They begin to decide whether what the coach offers suits them or not. From the point of view of the methods of functional training in our group, there were no problems, complaints from those who left concerned shooting work. I don't know if it will be better now. It is difficult to draw any far-reaching conclusions from the first starts.
As for my personal feelings about this, I am no longer at the age to be offended by athletes. On the one hand, they can be understood. On the other hand, I quite clearly assess my capabilities: what I can give to athletes and what I can't.
- Therefore, it seems to me, it should be a shame.
- Well, yes, it was. This was especially true of Serokhvostov. I really wanted to make this guy an athlete who would compete on equal terms with Johannes Boe. But after all, Karim Khalili also had a fairly good increase in speed in the Olympic season. I used to focus on figures and facts, and they said that both Serokhvostov and Khalili also added during their work in our group in the rifle unit. For example, Karim after the November-December period of the World Cup, which is nine personal races (!), was in a very high fifth place for him in terms of shooting performance. Here, rather, another question is important: what do athletes want? Unfortunately, often they are looking for comfort that I don't promise in a group. I don't know how, working in a comfortable state, to achieve high results.
- And what about Istomin's departure for independent swimming? It seemed to me that you had a complete understanding, which guaranteed Artem a fairly rapid professional coaching growth.
- Unfortunately, what you are talking about, in fact, is not understood by everyone. The management considered that Artem was ready to work independently as a senior coach. I thought that Istomin needed at least two more years of work. It is clear that the national team is not an institute, not a department, not some practical classes, where all methods of work, including pedagogical, are explained. Although I have it as a priority. I think it is very important that both specialists and athletes thoroughly understand their actions. As for Istomin, I probably influenced him methodologically. Perhaps he was interested in combining this experience with some of his views, which, in his opinion, are able to complement the existing system.
"As my dad used to say, the best is the enemy of the good.
- I also love this phrase very much. In fact, coaching is a continuous experiment. But, again, the ability to correctly evaluate it also comes over the years. From the standpoint of understanding the training process, a negative result sometimes gives coaches more than a positive one.
- Are you interested in watching the so-called Union of Three Biathletes - Babikov, Alexander Loginov and Alexander Povarnitsyn, who went to independent training? It seems to me that this is a very good experience in terms of the prospect of my own coaching.
- I also thought the same, by the way. If they want to work as mentors.
- And what are the hidden pitfalls in terms of your own performances, in your opinion?
— I actually always say that any average coach will work better than a good athlete.
- Some things are often seen from the outside in a completely different way. We, coaches, communicate a lot with athletes in order to understand the inner state of a person, his feelings. For me, for example, this is very important, because it reflects what I do not see with my eyes. What is good about the same Latypov: he knows how to accurately convey his feelings to the coach. When there is an interaction between a coach and an athlete, this allows you to more accurately conduct an express analysis, to delve into the subtleties. For example, to understand how muscle groups work, pairing them with each other. By adjusting some things, we can buy time.
Athletes, working independently, analyze their own work, perhaps even more. But the chances of making a qualified decision are still higher for the coach. At least because of more experience and knowledge. Yes, Dmitry Shukalovich helps the guys, but I myself managed to work "by correspondence" at one time, I know what it is, and I understand the nuances quite well. The same Latypov told me that it is difficult to train alone. He tried - he spent the whole of August on self-preparation.
On the other hand, the same Majuga liked to repeat: "There should not be many coaches." Unfortunately, I think that self-training is also associated with the search for inner comfort. And the search for results remains in the background.
- Probably, with age, the desire for comfort comes to the fore?
- Indeed, athletes get tired. Psychologists call this condition burnout for a reason. In addition, when coaches change, you have to adapt to everyone, find some kind of contact with everyone. We talked about this topic with Kryukov in the last years of our cooperation. It was already obvious to me that after the Olympics in Pyeongchang, I was finishing working in the national team, since the abolition of the sprint group was coming. And I suggested to Nikita: they say, if you want, change the coach.
- How did Alexei Petukhov, Anton Gafarov and Alexander Panzhinsky change at one time?
- Well, yes. Then almost all of them came back, by the way. Nikita, on the other hand, reacted very sensibly to my proposal. He asked: what's the point? Well, yes, you can find a new specialist to whom you will have to adapt, rebuild your usual work, some of your own views. But all this is unlikely to give the desired effect. Apparently, even then he understood something that others did not understand.
- You probably talked a lot with Nikita while he worked in China for two years, about the specifics of Chinese sports, the attitude of Chinese leaders to the process.
- After the Olympics in Beijing, by the way, I had an offer from the Chinese to come to them.
- Why didn't it work out?
- We didn't agree. At first, everything dragged on, and when we had almost completely completed the pre-season, I didn't want to quit my job in Russia. In addition, in China, the attitude of the management to the coach is rather odious.
- How did it manifest itself?
- There, the political leader can decide everything. How and where to prepare, when to conduct a control training. Nikita had an athlete in the sprint who, if he had not been disqualified, would have been in the final at the Olympics. And there, as you know, anything could happen. We were all very impressed then - Jiang Wang really entered the elite that season. He was second at the World Cup, he repeatedly made his way to the finals. Such a person would have been allowed to run, but instead he was removed from all starts, without waiting for the end of the season.
Do you seriously believe that Jiang Wang was capable of competing for an Olympic medal?
- If I had reached the semifinals, it would have been quite. Having taken 3rd-4th place there, he would have gone further, and in the final he could well fight for bronze. In terms of speed, this guy is good. He lacks experience and tactics.
— What tactics can there be in a modern sprint? If you come out, run.
"Don't tell me. The same Sergey Ustyugov has only now begun to understand what sprint tactics are. That is why he beats Bolshunov.
— What mistakes do you think are the most critical?
- Well, let's remember the same Kryukov. His best physical condition in his entire career was not in 2010 in Vancouver, where Nikita won his first Olympic gold medal, not in 2013, when he twice became the first at the World Championships in Val di Fiemme, and not even in 2014 in Sochi, when only the fall of an opponent under his feet prevented him from getting another gold medal. And in 2015. In almost all test parameters, Kryukov had record figures that season, and the result was fourth place at the World Championships in Falun at an individual distance. One mistake deprived Kryukov of the opportunity to fight for victory, and the second - a bronze medal.
- What were these mistakes?
— When I conduct sprint workshops, I always remember this start. On the eve of the final race, Nikita and I agreed that, as usual, I would take a key point on the track, and during the race I would suggest which track was better to stand in. Accordingly, before one of the turns, Kryukov, based on our tactics, stands on the far right track and goes up the hill along it. From the standpoint of tactics, this was the most optimal solution. But then, for some reason, Nikita jumped into the back of a nearby athlete. And in doing so, he let Peter Northug go ahead, following him. Of course, Northug immediately accelerated, on the next climb he came off even more, and the issue of the gold medal was resolved. And Nikita had to get out of last place.
Nikita went to the finish line fifth, with a gap from the fourth, caught up, bypassed him, caught up with the third. But he got into the track behind the Canadian Harvey, who was second, and it was necessary to rebuild in the next one. Well, then it was not possible to fully make the final leg: Nikita rested his ski on the boot of the Canadian in front and as a result was left without a medal.
There is an example of a different order, when Kryukov won the royal sprint in Stockholm in 2016. Before the finish line, a similar situation arose again. Stuck in - the fourth. Initially, the gap was huge, according to the concepts of a sprint. But it was on that snow cover that Kryukov was technically the only one who managed to build the race perfectly. As a result, in the course of the race, he saved energy, and at the finish line, as if past an empty barn, he drove past his rivals.
– If we talk about biathlon, which of the races, from your coaching point of view, gives more information for reflection, sprint, pursuit, or mass start?
— Of course, the sprint.
- Each race gives, of course, some information of its own, but in the sprint there is everything that is not in the mass start, or in the pursuit. From the standpoint of tactical decisions in pursuit, and especially in the mass start, there are more opportunities. A separate race is absolute speed. The tactics of passing the distance are also interesting in their own way. Because in races with a common start, we are often dictated by the conditions that arise along the way. Accordingly, we have to make a certain adjustment to this. In a sprint, you can build your own individual tactics, apply it, analyze after the fact how much it worked or did not work. It is no coincidence that we evaluate the level of an athlete by sprint.
— Were you at least somewhat interested in the work of Ole Einar Bjorndalen when, like Kryukov, he was preparing Chinese athletes for the 2022 Games?
- I have always been interested in his work. Because he is a professor in biathlon. At the age of 40, that is, being a very old man, by the standards of sports, to win a personal Olympic gold medal is a matter of great respect. Such people have a different way of thinking. By the way, we crossed paths with Ole Einar in China, lived in the same hotel. But, unfortunately, I do not know the language well enough to conduct a conversation fluently. Max Maksimov and I asked some questions through Dasha Domracheva, but this is incomplete information, of course.
I think that Bjorndalen lacked pedagogical experience and knowledge of Chinese specifics in coaching. In general, I am convinced that any average Soviet coach is able to work better in China than the most titled foreigner.
- Do you want to say that our specialists have a better understanding of what an authoritarian system is?
- Not only. The mentality as a whole is clear, more or less. Decision-making mechanisms.
- At one time I was told a heartbreaking story about a Chinese dance couple with whom Natalia Ilyinichna Dubova worked in America. I worked for a year, the athletes skated, reached the highest possible level. And after the vacation, the couple returned with another partner. Because high-ranking Chinese leaders considered this combination more promising.
- Well, I didn't finish it when we started talking about Kryukov. Before the Olympics, for example, he had a situation in his team when some boss came to the training camp to attend a control training. This is an uphill run, about three kilometers. And no one cares what the loads were before, whether this or that athlete needs to do such work, or even need to rest on this day, because the day before there was a developmental training. Everyone runs without exception. Jiang Wang had an Achilles injury before the Games, and he was the only one who could then, as they say, slope off the control start. But just before the Games, where his participation in the opening ceremony was planned, he was forced to train in Beijing for the last two weeks, where all participants in the ceremony were quarantined. It is clear that the training process has crumbled. Had this not happened, perhaps the Chinese would have been ready enough to go through the sprint without breaking the rules. There was a violation, of course. Although I am sure that any Norwegian would not be disqualified for such a jamb.
This is what I call barbarism, when any boss can break the fate of an athlete. Fortunately, we don't have that. That's what makes us different. As for the rest, it's the same centralized training. Although, in my opinion, the role of the coach in achieving results in China is not as great as in Russia. If the coach manages to create the proper motivation for the athletes, there is probably no better training system than ours.
- What motivation are you now creating for the same Latypov?
— 2026 year. Olympic Games in Milan.
- And yourself, in all honesty, do you believe in the reality of the performance of Russian athletes at these Games?
- Now there is talk that they are slowly starting to admit us somewhere. It is clear that no one can predict how the situation will develop further. But, in any case, there must be a goal. And hope... She dies last.