— For many years, the Perm school of pair skating, headed by Valery and Valentina Tyukov, was considered the main supplier of high-quality skaters to St. Petersburg and Moscow. Some were taken as a duo, others “for spare parts.” In case one of the high-quality couples suddenly breaks up, and you urgently need to find a replacement. What was taught there as in no other place?

— When I myself was an athlete and started skating with the Tyukovs, all training work was focused exclusively on technique. Valery Nikolaevich explained all the movements to us in such detail that even the most complex elements became absolutely understandable. It wasn't difficult to make them. But there were not enough other resources: interesting programs, directors who could create images and choreography. We didn't pay too much attention to it at all. The main emphasis in the classes was on the elements.

— Do you want to say that this was a completely conscious position - skate clean, and a high place is guaranteed?

- Exactly. It took me a while to realize what a big illusion this was. In practice, everything turned out differently: no matter how cleanly the Perm pairs skated, the St. Petersburg pairs always turned out to be higher. This happened when I, Sergei Slavnov, Pavel Lebedev, Maxim Trankov, Egor Golovkin performed - that is, athletes of my generation who grew up as figure skaters before my eyes. We constantly had questions: how is this possible? We do everything cleanly, but we lose to Muscovites or St. Petersburg even when they find themselves without this or that element. Understanding why this happens came later, when I started working as a coach.

— At the risk of offending you, but the difference between the capital and Perm duets was visible to the naked eye from the outside. Did the feeling of being looked at as provincials bother you?

- To some extent, yes. They talked about this openly, it was impossible not to pay attention.

— How did the Tyukovs feel about the fact that almost all of their athletes, having reached a certain level, leave Perm to work with other specialists?

“I think they are used to it.” But it was still a shame when athletes in whom you invested your soul left you. Even now, Valentina Fedorovna sometimes says that she raised a huge number of skaters who have traveled all over the world and are still grateful to her and Valery Nikolaevich for the foundation that was once laid. Therefore, the emphasis in the work was on completely different things. But this endless stream of athletes has always been in Perm.

Every year, good-level couples rolled off this assembly line and won everything in the juniors. Although the school did not have special conditions. Moreover, our group with Yegor Zakroev now has people like us in Perm. There was one ice at the Orlyonok sports palace, two training sessions, each of which lasted a little over an hour. Moreover, 12-15 duets were skating on the site at the same time, including very small ones. They needed to somehow fit in between the adults and not disturb anyone. If some couples left, new ones immediately took their place. This is how things went on for years - generation after generation.

— Did hazing exist with so many wards of different ages?

- I didn’t find anything like that. Quite the contrary. The elders taught us everything they knew themselves. We followed them and thanks to this we progressed quickly. But there were, of course, unwritten rules.

- For example…

— The “little” duo should not have gone on the ice later than the adults and tried to overtake those who were older. That is, you seem to be able to do it, you have enough speed, strength, and passion, but your inner voice tells you: it’s better not to try. In general, there was always a very strong atmosphere within the team. Everyone stood up for each other, cheered and supported each other.

— At the last Russian championship, you brought three adult couples to the start line. The same number competed at the national junior championship. You even said that you could field twice as many athletes. At the same time, your duets are completely different from each other. How is this achieved?

— Here we need to say thank you to our permanent director Sergei Plishkin. We are collaborating with him for the second season. Initially, the request to him sounded like this: we have a lot of couples who have to fight with each other, and it would be nice if they were all different.

— Aren’t you afraid that after some time the same “hand” will be traced in the productions, as often happens when one specialist is involved in creating programs from year to year?

— We don’t have so many athletes that the director would be forced to work non-stop. In addition, Sergei himself constantly reminds: if you suddenly see that I am doing the same thing, even when it comes to some kind of gestures, speak directly. We are always present at the production with the entire coaching staff, and everyone has the right to express their opinions.

— Which skater has a higher priority in terms of choosing programs?

— There is no such rating within the group.

— Who was involved in productions before Plishkin appeared?

— My very first experience was with Olga Volozhinskaya. When I saw how she created programs, it was a revelation.

— In such situations, you probably realize: do dancers’ brains work completely differently?

- Exactly. I was perplexed: where does a person come from so many completely unexpected ideas? Then there was Nikolai Morozov, whom I consider an absolutely outstanding director. I learned a lot from him. And all these specialists, including Plishkin, are different. It was important for Nikolai to adapt as much as possible to the athlete. He made the program in such a way that it would be, first of all, convenient. Sergei, on the contrary, likes to “bend” skaters to his vision. This creates certain problems at first, but after some time people begin to cope with the task.

— Pyotr Chernyshev did the same thing in his time. He sought to set the athletes as difficult a task as possible and, as it were, force them to grow in choreographic terms.

— We also worked with Petya when Masha Vygalova and Egor Zakroev skated with us. He gave them a short one, which the guys performed quite successfully with all season.

In general, I came up with the very first programs for Vygalova and Zakroev myself. Somehow I choreographed both the short and the free. I brought Masha and Egor to the competition and realized that these are classic Perm programs. With excellent quality elements and a complete absence of everything else. Even with those performances, the guys managed to show good results and made it into the national team. But just then I had a conversation with our sports leadership. I explained my vision of a process in which each specialist could do his own thing. There must be a jumping coach, a permanent choreographer, preferably on skates, a director who would have a vision of everything that happens on the ice.

They heard me and thanks to this they managed to assemble the team in its current form. In addition to me, Zakroev works with adult skaters. Tatyana Tudvaseva is closely involved with juniors, as is Alexander Popov. There are two full-time choreographers - Ivan Malafeev and Ksenia Vaskina, Alexey Okulov is responsible for physical training. They even have their own massage therapist, Dmitry Draznilov. 

— For such conditions, one can take off one’s hat to the sports leadership of your region.

“I am truly still immensely grateful to all of them.” First of all, to the governor of the Perm region Dmitry Makhonin, the heads of the Perm figure skating federation Dmitry Shuboderov and Dmitry Boyarshinov, Tatyana Chesnokova and Mikhail Amirov, representing the Ministry of Sports and the Central SP of the Perm region, the head of our school “Start” Olga Mikhaleva.

They believed me, allowed me not only to gather a team, but allocated the necessary and virtually unlimited amount of ice, created absolutely amazing conditions in which we have been working for the last five or six years. If not for this, we would not have achieved any of the current results in principle.

— Do your athletes not practice tackles?

- If, with our current employment, we also do tackles, we definitely won’t be enough for long. Work starts early in the morning and ends late in the evening. We have four ices a day, and even though we try to distribute the time, training with adults and juniors, in the end you really stop thinking.

Plus, our skaters always have the opportunity to collaborate with other specialists: Plishkin, Katya Rubleva, Maxim Bolotin come. They practice gliding with the kids. We traditionally hold summer training camps in Novogorsk with the group of Eteri Tutberidze.

— How do you manage not to have favorites when working with so many couples?

— There are really a lot of athletes, so I’m more focused on constantly finding an approach to everyone. I am often asked what exactly I tell my students at the moment when I am standing at the boards, and they are already on the ice. To be honest, sometimes I can’t even remember. I always focus on the athlete’s state when he approaches me.

— Valentin Nikolaev, who once trained Lillehammer Olympic champion Oksana Baiul, recalled how at the 1993 European Championships he swore at his ward, since it was at the moment of entering the court that she declared that she did not want to skate. Tatyana Tarasova poured cold water on Evgeniy Platov, and even slapped someone on the back of the head to bring them to their senses.

“It’s impossible to express yourself now—there are microphones everywhere.” I myself got burned by this at the Russian Championships, where Kira Domozhirova and Ilya Vegera performed unsuccessfully in the short program. I managed without swearing, but the reaction to the rental was emotional. Friends and fans immediately started writing to me: they say, you should be more careful there... In fact, I always tell all my athletes: I don’t spend as much time as I do with them, even with my own children.

— When you joined Tutberidze’s headquarters before the Games in Beijing, it was completely clear to me what specialists who did not have such extensive experience working with couples wanted from you. What do you get from this cooperation?

- It was very interesting to me. Before that, I briefly collaborated with Tamara Moskvina in St. Petersburg, when Nastya Poluyanova with Dmitry Sopot and Maxim Selkin skated with her. At first he simply came for a certain period of time, then we held a joint summer training camp. Watching on a daily basis how people work, bringing their students not just to the Olympic Games, but to gold medals, you gain invaluable experience. During that period, I really learned a lot from Tamara Nikolaevna.

In general, I am always ready to gain new knowledge. Therefore, when Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov came to Eteri Georgievna and they offered me to collaborate with them, I agreed immediately. I constantly came to Khrustalny, then to Novogorsk during training camps, and watched how the work of the whole team was organized. Much was new. When I just started my coaching career, I was confident that I would be able to achieve any result on my own. After working for five years, I realized that I couldn’t do anything alone.

— I agree, but there is a difference - to gather a team around yourself, having the opportunity to independently select the necessary specialists, or to become part of someone else’s. You seem to me to be quite an ambitious person. That’s probably why they returned from Moscow to Perm when the Tarasova/Morozov project was completed?

— This profession is really interesting to me primarily from the point of view of the result. I remember when my athletes first got into the final group, I was somewhat hurt by Moskvina’s words: they say, it’s unusual to see me at the side in a strong warm-up. This became a great incentive not only to achieve something, but to prove that success is not accidental. Before the Games in Beijing, I understood that Tamara Nikolaevna had two strong pairs, and we had Tarasova and Morozov, who at that time were the best skaters in the world. Accordingly, the task was for Vova and Zhenya to get rid of their weak points. And I was very proud that our team managed to achieve this. In general, to be honest, I was shocked by how, with quite a large number of various specialists, none of us felt out of place - everyone was doing their own thing. I think this was the best coaching team at the Olympics.

— I know that before the Spartakiad of the strongest, Alexandra Boykova and Dmitry Kozlovsky came to you in Perm.

— Initially, when Sasha and Dima moved to Eteri Georgievna in May 2023, we had an agreement: we hold summer training camps together, and when the season starts, the guys will come to us in Perm once a month. Or we go to them, if there is such an opportunity.

Exactly the same existed with Tarasova and Morozov. Simply due to the fact that everything was happening during the Olympic season, I myself found the opportunity to get out to Moscow more often. Now it has become much more difficult, since we ourselves have a lot of couples that we would not like to leave unattended. Therefore, Boykova and Kozlovsky periodically fly to us themselves - in order to have the opportunity to correct something, to ride with other adult duets. This is always a great event for our athletes and at the same time a good incentive for their own development.

— And if you had a desire to stay in Moscow after the Olympic Games, could you do so?

- Yes.

— I heard from one of your colleagues not so long ago: performing the same quadruple throws in pair skating is easier than quadruple jumps, since the partner provides the girl with an additional height of reach. Why is it different in reality?

— If a single skater controls his every movement, then a pair is two people. Accordingly, the risk of error doubles. Plus the restrictions that the current rules impose on skaters. It turns out that at the moment it’s completely pointless to perform quadruple twists and throws. We tried it and were convinced of this once again.

— Do you want to say that Yulia Artemyeva and Alexey Bryukhanov, who showed a quadruple twist at the national championship and in the jumping tournament this season, abandoned this idea?

— It would be more accurate to say that our coaching staff refused. We lost a lot of time working on this element. Entering triple jumps immediately after a quadruple twist is an incomparably more difficult task than going into a jump after a triple twist. And physically, athletes have to invest themselves in a completely different way.

- But your charges overcame all this?

“Unfortunately, at the jumping tournament in Moscow our efforts in this direction were not appreciated at all.” The same quadruple twist was performed well by the junior pair Vlada Selivanova and Viktor Potapov, but the guys received only six points for the element. So we decided: until the International Skating Union (ISU) reconsiders its attitude towards difficulty, the quads and I will wait.

— What then do you see as a reserve for complication?

— Now these are definitely jumping elements. But here, too, not everything is so simple. Figure skating is pure mathematics. If you are going to insert a triple loop or lutz into the program, you must understand: these jumps need to be performed at least at “+2” in order to get the same number of points for them as, say, Anastasia Mishina and Alexander Gallyamov earn by performing a triple salchow at “+4” " It is clear that not all skaters are able to do it at “+4”, but nevertheless.

— Which of the paired elements is, from your point of view, the most problematic in order to receive maximum points for it?

- Probably a twist. The rules prescribe five traits that allow you to get the fourth level of difficulty for it. Of our adult duets, only Elizaveta Osokina and Artyom Gritsaenko have succeeded in this so far. Even at the Russian Championship, only four couples earned the fourth level for twisting. This is easier to achieve with lifts, todes and rotations.

— At one time, the outstanding coach in artistic gymnastics Boris Pilkin came up with proprietary ligaments for Svetlana Khorkina, which made it possible to turn the obvious disadvantages in the form of tall height and long legs into equally obvious advantages. What difficulties does working on the ice with such an unconventional figure skater as Osokina create for a mentor?

— When Lisa and Artyom first started training with us, we immediately ran into the problem of support. The point was not that Artyom found it difficult to lift his partner. We could not find a position for Lisa in the air in which any inaccurate movement did not threaten her with loss of balance and fall. They even laughed: they say it will be an outstanding achievement if the guys manage to get fourth levels for at least two out of three supports. Artyom was wildly angry when he heard such conversations, but to us it really seemed like an incredibly difficult task.

- And how did you manage to deal with it?

— Fortunately, Zakroev and I are still in the physical shape that allows us to work in paired elements for a partner. Therefore, at first they performed the lifts themselves, then took them apart into the smallest components, explaining to the skaters exactly how they should approach this element and where to place their hands. Of course, it’s a big plus when mentors are constantly on skates. This makes the task much easier. The athlete feels that you are nearby, and any mistake can be prevented.

Both choreographers also regularly appear on the stage, as does Tudvaseva, who joined our team not so long ago and is already working along with the rest. Coaching from the ice is much easier and more functional than from behind the boards. Although for a specialist it is more difficult. It’s not easy to sustain seven hours of active work there. By the end of the day, you literally can’t feel your legs.

— Giving out nominations for the current season, the ISU presented the Special Achievement Award to Canadian Dianna Stellato-Dudek, who at the age of 40 won two Grand Prix events and the Four Continents Championships, and also won bronze in the Grand Prix Final. Does this mean that before our eyes a tendency is emerging to continue a career while the athlete’s legs are worn out?

— You and I can see what the level was at the continental championship or at the same Four Continents Championship, where in the category of sports pairs no one came out of 200 points. Those same Canadians are a couple who wouldn’t even get into the top eight at the Russian Championships. Moreover, at her age, Dianna skates better than her younger partner and looks much more ambitious. You should have seen how she looked at Maxime Deschamps when he screwed up one of the elements at a tournament in Shanghai.

— Is it really necessary to try to set longevity records in figure skating? I saw how Lyudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov skated at the opening of the European Championships in 1995, but I am far from thinking that that performance was a significant contribution to world pair skating.

— They really did it very well, but you have to understand that figure skating is constantly evolving. It is simply unrealistic to perform this element to the fourth level of difficulty using the technique in which it was demonstrated 40 years ago.

— What is the worst situation that can happen on the ice?

- These are falls. They can be very unsuccessful in pair skating. Misha Nazarychev, who used to ride with Artemyeva, once fell very badly - he had to be hospitalized. Katya Chikmareva fell with a twist, from a great height.

— I also heard from Stanislav Zhuk that a partner is always obliged to save his partner, even if he risks getting hurt himself.

- Absolutely right. Valery Nikolaevich taught us the same thing. Both me and Yegor. That's why we always tell our guys: you must do everything to prevent the girl from falling. But even if this suddenly happened, it should land on you, and not on the ice.