Nina Mozer: “Competition stimulates development and progress”
Nina Mozer is head coach of Olympic Champions Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov and Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov. Within four years she has risen to one of the top pair skating coaches in the world.
Q: Within four years you built one of the best if not the best pair skating schools in the world. How did you do that?
A: An interesting question, of course. ‚We built and built and finally we finished building‘, said the hero of a cartoon. Actually in the beginning nobody set this as a goal. Just a team of experts came together, people who think the same way and who wanted one thing – to help Tatiana and Maxim to reach a result. All of us, coaches, athletes, choreographers, doctors and masseurs knew how to do their job well and with quality. And each of us did in these four years what was needed and gave a 100 percent. All of this led to the result that we strived for. Even though in the four years before Sochi, the results of the performances of our skaters at the Olympic Games 2010 in Vancouver did not allow for optimistic predictions. If you remember, at that time everything was rather gloomy and not interesting.
Q: Why did the situation change with the appearance of Volosozhar/Trankov?
A: Because Tania and Maxim were obsessed with the wish to achieve the highest results, to fulfill their potential and to prove to everyone who was with them before that the athletes have the right for their own way of figure skating. They wanted to show good results right away and in the end, this is what happened. I started to write down all their results starting with our first year we worked together, although I’ve never done that before. After the Olympic Games I read on my list that in their 28 competitions Volosozhar/Trankov only four times were silver medalists, but they won gold in all other competitions. Obviously everything was done just because of one (competition), the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, where Tania and Maxim skated brilliantly. I am very glad that everything worked out, because a lot of things happened in these four years. Good things and problematic things. But step by step we tried to overcome the difficulties.
Q: You have a rather young team of coaches.
A: In fact, the team consisted mainly of young experts who did not have much experience. But it is not right to say that this team was formed out of non-achievers. No. These were people who understood, who knew details and nuances of figure skating, but who didn’t have big victories in their careers. And all these unspent emotions, energy and hunger for results led to our method of search and trials. We formulated a system, discovered a certain mechanism that worked when it was needed – at the major competitions.
Q: Weren’t you afraid that in your team as you noted nobody had experienced a major victory in their career?
A: Not at all. Each of us knew and understood that everything that happens with us and around us is not by accident but maybe fate. I think that the career of Tania and Maxim came together very logically. At the very beginning they went through tests in order to win and to feel as a unity. It is very important that partners find each other. People are looking for their second half in life and in sports alike. And this was just the case when Volosozhar/Trankov regardless of their different temperaments complemented each other and came together like pieces of a puzzle. On the other hand not just the athletes didn’t have major victories before, but also the experts. Basically as I said, these were young coaches who had a certain knowledge, someone was a World Junior Champion or medalist, but didn’t reach the top in the sport as they had strived for and where they should lead Tania and Max. But everybody was pushed and driven forward by their inner ambitions. All understood perfectly that this is a chance to prove and to realize themselves and to achieve as a coach what they for different reasons did not achieve as athletes. Now I can admit honestly that we really wanted to achieve a result. Like crazy. All these four years we lived through the sport. We lived through the result. We waited for the major competition. Every day. This was passed on to everybody, including those couples who came later to us.
Q: One year before Sochi two new pairs joined your team – Vera Bazarova/Juri Larionov and Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov. Why did it work out for one but not for the other?
A: As I said, a lot depends on the desire of the athletes themselves. Ksiusha and Fedia quickly were infected by the general state of mind. With Vera it was more difficult. A key role played not so much the missing desire on her part as her position in life that is, in my opinion, difficult to combine with the highest achievements in sport. Probably three months after we started working together I realized that we do not harmonize in many things. Vera lives in the past, is trying to take the good things from the past and hold on to them, not understanding that in sports, and not just in sports, you cannot live in the past. When you joined a team of innovators, a team of people who want to do something modern and new then you have to switch to it immediately and to want the innovation. Otherwise it is not worth trying and going for the experiment. I feel that this is the main reason that our ways parted. After talking to Vera in Japan at the World Championships I didn’t give a single interview about this topic. The only comment that showed up in the press was under my name but did not come from me.
Q: Did really somebody invent a comment and attribute to your name?
A: Yes, lately I encountered this more often. I even stopped reading „my“ interviews. Although it is upsetting that the readers and fans get a certain opinion of a person, especially when the author speaks out on some things. I am always treating my students well. When parting with Vera, I wished her success in her future career. Please understand me correctly, I am not offended by our separation, because we chose a different path. Vera chose her way not now, but it is her decision. I am happy that Juri Larionov handled this difficult situation well. He didn’t say anything anywhere. Although as it turned out later, Vera skated already one week later with a new partner under Oleg Vasiliev, with whom she discussed everything right after the Olympic Games, selling Juri a bill of goods. But this is not important anymore. Most importantly, Juri is happy that he is skating with a new partner and they are understanding each other quickly. Yes, Juri and Natasha (Zabijako) have to wait their turn. I don’t think that will be an obstacle for them. In the coming season they will start competing at national competitions in Russia, they will gel as a team and this will be a good start.
Q: Pair skating in Russia is very competitive now. Maybe Zabijako/Larionov could have skated for Estonia?
A: Why? You have to skate in a strong country, especially when you are a strong skater. Russia is worthy to have strong skaters. I don’t have to explain that in a country where one or another sport is well developed, competition is strong. Fighters grow under the condition of a strong competition.
If you are assigned easily to competitions, if you don’t have the possibility to train with strong competitors and if there is no competition for a spot on the team, this will lead to a lower level and lower results. No, I’ll never advice strong skaters to leave a strong country in order to compete under another flag. On the contrary, the strong athletes should come to us.
Q: Natalia and Juri have at least to wait for a year before they can compete internationally. Is it worth the wait?
A: Yes. Natasha is a strong skater. Ania Kondrashova, her former coach, showed her to me even back in 2011 at the World Championships in Moscow. But at this time our collaboration didn’t happen, because her parents did not want her to leave Estonia for Moscow. When not long ago, in Japan (at the World Championships), Natasha came to see me in my hotel room before the banquet, I asked her about this right away. She answered that she is now of age and agrees to move to Russia. Many people asked me – can’t we find enough partners (in Russia)? Alas, to choose a partner in pair skating is a very difficult moment as each coach can confirm. Zabijako is not just an amazing partner. She is also an amazing person. She is well educated, intelligent, honest. She is hard-working. When our warm up is scheduled for 11 am, then she will come at 10. The director of our school once couldn’t hold back and asked – ‘why do you come so early?’ Natasha’s answer was surprising: ‘I am preparing for the practice’. This sentence tells professional people a lot, about the motivation, the drive to achieve a result even in training. Natalia has a miraculous trait: in any situation to save an element that for different reasons is not yet working so well. But the skater will try, will do it anyway.
Q: Now you also have another new team, Vasilisa Davankova/Alexander Enbert. What goals do you set for them?
A: If everything goes as I plan, then the kids can already this year fight for spot on the national team. Vasilisa and Sascha are a beautiful pair. But in addition to their looks they have something that you can call ‘they found each other’. On one of these days while I was discussing some things with Vasilisa’s mother and the choreographer who had joined our group together with her, the kids knocked on the door and said ‘we have arranged everything. We want to skate together’. So the idea came from them! Vasilisa and Sascha look great as a pair. And although they have been skating together for just a few days as she came back from a vacation recently and caught a cold, you already can see some things. Looking at all my students I thank God that on my path as a coach I met so original and interesting people – beautiful, emotional but composed inside, with character. The girls are tall and beautiful in each sense, they can go on the podium right away. These looks are paired with work ethics, desire, fire. What else can a coach dream of? It was always interesting for me to come to the ice rink. Now especially, although the number of students is growing. Everything started with one pair. Then two, three, five…
Q: How many pairs do you have now in your group, including juniors and beginners?
A: More than 20 pairs. In the new season we’ll train also at another rink, because there is not enough room for all in one rink. This is a rink within five minutes walking distance from our rink. There is no figure skating yet. We’ll start there in August.
Q: Is it a plus to have such a large group with internal competition?
A: Of course. Competition is always a serious motivation. Namely competition stimulates development and progress. It is another story that different athletes have not the same attitude towards that. When one year ago Ksenia and Fedia came, one of the first things I heard from them was ‘it is not good that we skate with little ones, there are no equal pairs around us’. Stolbova and Klimov were missing strong competitors in practice. Vera and Juri, on the contrary, were used to prepare alone. In this sense they were spoiled by the attention and maybe, subconsciously, demanded the same from their coaches, although they never voiced it. But Juri quickly adapted to the situation. He went out to practice with the others to show himself, but for Vera the presence of other couples on the ice led to ataxy. She had to overcome herself every day. Even though she grew used to it with time, it still didn’t pass without a trace. In practice she could land almost everything, but in competition not always. Now in our group we have five senior teams. This means that in the coming four years I’ll live at the ice rink again. Strange enough, but inside myself I am fighting with that and I am telling myself that I am tired, but in fact I am doing just the opposite. But I like the changes, I like to train the athletes, to observe the young ones that are sitting in the corner and are watching wide-eyed how the big ones are skating.
I never thought about founding my own school. This is an addition to the first question. I remember that I went to see a well known freestyle coach in Turin and he told me: ‘I read that you wrote a book on how to create a school. Maybe you will give it to me with your autograph’. Weird, but the people are convinced that I did everything consciously to organize my school. But I repeat, it is not like that. Yes, I knew, what to do that certain athletes achieve a result. Yes, I was able to work out a strategy for everyone, where to compete, how to prepare, in which place… While working in figure skating I developed the idea that this is a precise mechanism, as in exact science. But I did not thing about my own school.
Q: Didn’t you think about writing down your ideas?
A: I am starting to write a thesis for the third time. And, as it looks like, I’m going to change the subject again. Life doesn’t stand still, but there is not enough time to collect everything, to focus and to lay it out because of the daily buzz. I didn’t finish the first thesis, because one of my teachers who helped me unfortunately is already in another world. And without him I was like without hands. I was lacking the moral support, the thoughts, the intercourse. Later they almost succeeded to talk me into switching to psychology. And now I start to look into another topic – preparation for competition. So everything is still thoughts.
Q: Do you get carried away easily?
A: In a certain sense. But I am not someone who gets carried away, starts working on something but does not finish it. I just won’t start if I don’t figure it out in advance and don’t understand that I can do it. I will measure a hundred times before cutting off.
Q: At first Tania and Maxim said they might not compete this season or only go to Worlds, but recently they changed their decision. What advice gave you them as a coach?
A: The situation is not very clear now, because at the beginning of the new Olympic cycle the rules are changing. If the free skating is cut down to four minutes, music with lyrics is allowed, an element is taken out, then this is important. Therefore I am for trying everything according to the new scheme, to make these changes clear and then, with exact ideas, take a break in order to come back one year before the next Olympic Games. From the outside all this might not seem to be so essential. They just took out an element. But actually for the athletes the order of the elements is very important. Everybody has his own. The first two years we played around with Tania and Maxim, we looked for our distribution of elements, the right and comfortable order in the program. In the third year we went for an experiment, that, as you might recall, did not lead to a result. Back then we discussed a lot with Maxim. He was against it. I persuaded the guys to try to do the elements in a different order. Eventually we returned to the accustomed scheme and this was justified, because it worked.
Q: But what if the decisions that the congress will take will become valid only next year?
A: Because of the coming ISU congress we moved building our programs. Usually we do this in May and go on vacation in June. Now it is the opposite. The guys went on vacation in May and at the beginning of June we’ll fly to training camp in the USA to work on our programs. First we’ll work on the short programs and then on the long programs. By June 15 we will know which decisions the congress will take. We’ll wait. I don’t see another way. And if these changes become valid only in one year, what can we do? This is reality. In figure skating always something is changing, you have to get used to that. To say the truth, it doesn’t always work. For example, now Tania and Maxim are in an akward situation. The two-time Olympic Champions, first in the ranking, the pair that is leading with a big gap in points (in the world standings) is for some reason deprived of the right to choose their Grand Prix events and have to go wherever they are sent. This arrangement is not quite clear to me and seems not correct, because before the leaders always had the possibility to choose.
Q: So Tania and Maxim plan to compete in the Grand Prix?
A: I don’t know yet. Possibly, they will do Worlds but sit out Europeans but maybe not. Now we have to understand what we want. There are a lot of questions to which we don’t have an answer yet. This is weird for me, because at the end of May usually already know exactly our complete plan of action.
Q: How is Maxim’s shoulder injury now?
A: Better. In June we’ll see our expert Jorge, who helped us out in the most difficult situations. I hope that we can deal with this problem.
Q: Tania and Maxim have won everything you can win in the sport. How are you now motivating your athletes?
A: It happened that the guys have motivated me. When I first heard from them that they want to continue their career after Sochi I thought, they are joking. But it was not a joke. After Worlds in Japan they clearly said, ‘yes’. You are asking what motivates them? They just aren’t done yet. At the one hand we somehow are tired, but on the other hand, there were so many good things, there was so much love. Everybody loves this pair, at least the people who are working with Taniuscha and Maxim. I think that they didn’t feel anything like that before. They didn’t know and they didn’t believe that within the group there could be such honest and warm feelings. Of course, there were also difficult times when everybody was exhausted and we just wanted the Olympic Games to be over quickly. But everything ended, the emotions calmed down, the bad things went away and as it turns out there is not enough positive adrenaline. And you should not forget that success is always motivating. I for example really like it when the Russian anthem is played and our flag is raised. I am always saying that our anthem is my favorite music.
Q: Now there are two strong teams in your group – Volosozhar/Trankov and Stolbova/Klimov. How will the competition between them affect the dynamics of the group?
A: Time will tell. I am not Nostradamus. As a coach, I wish all my students success. I won’t deny it, it is nice when three Russian pairs step on to the podium as they did at the European Championships in Budapest. In such a situation the most difficult thing for a coach is to divide the emotions between the athletes. A coach is not an actor and a competition is not a theatre. When all your students go out on to the ice one after the other then it is hard to switch from one to the next, because everything can happen – next to you is joy or sadness. Without doubt, this kind of tension takes the guts out and it is not easy to deal with this intensity. From outside it might look like everything is working well, but it is not an easy job. Actually only professionals know how hard this work is. It requires the total commitment of physical and moral strength.
Q: In August, there will be elections in the Russian Figure Skating Federation. There are rumours that you are interested in becoming Federation president.
A: I’ve heard that as well! But no, for sure this is not what I want. This is not the right level as said the hero in “Cinderella”. True, I heard recently that even more serious posts have been predicted for me. But everybody who knows me well knows how funny that is. No, that is not my thing. The president’s seat can rest for four years without me. Maybe I am not right, but for the moment I can openly say that the post of the President of the Russian Figure Skating Federation does not attract me. You need to like your work, it should bring you satisfaction, pleasure, because in our modern life we are spending most of our time on the job. I like to coach. I want to write my thesis in order to explain to young coaches that want to become independent what I know and what I found out. Many young coaches take my notes, my plans and try to work with them, but mechanically and without understanding and feeling some things. Not many are able to transfer the theory into praxis, probably only someone like Vladislav Zhovnirski, who has been with me for a long time, first as an athlete, now as a coach. I’ve explained it a thousand times, it is not just an intuition, but a logic that you have to capture and to understand. It is a certain mechanism. And if this mechanism fails, doesn’t work, there won’t be a product. These are very interesting things that are interesting for me myself.
Q: The home Olympic Games are over. What will happen to the financial support for your athletes?
A: I think that there won’t be any problems with the financial support of our leading athletes, because the President of Russia not just loves sport, he has sport in his blood. The leader of the state is a person with an amazing energy, a strong and powerful leader. With someone like him you start to believe that things in our country can be of quality and good. Therefore I believe that the result that our figure skaters showed in Sochi will allow us to count on financial support for our preparations as before. I understand myself that in the next season we’ll have to cut down on the number of trips, because it is not an Olympic year. I have planned only two training camps during the summer. The rest of the time we’ll be in Moscow. In September, before Skate America, we’ll go to the USA, because have to see again our doctor Jorge. Another thing is that our group has grown. And when with a small collective we have our doctor, our masseur and choreographer then for our pairs that will train in two ice rinks, we’ll need at least the double number of experts. Earlier, I was everything myself – choreographer, music composer, coach, off-ice coach… I even have elaborations left for off-ice training, for eight different directions. Until now I cannot put these notes together, although a lot of it has been tested in practice. But then I understood that everybody should take care of his own thing.
So, to come back to our topic, who is spending how much, the talks that Mozer has coffers of money and that our group is in terms of financial support ahead everyone else on this planet, don’t have any foundation. In this past season our group stood in third or fourth place concerning finances, because I never will ask for more than I need for the preparation. This was never the case and never will be.
Q: Thank you very much!
Tatjana Flade and Olga Ermolina