Russian sports news publication Sport Express published an interview with figure skating coach at CSKA, Sergei Davydov, in which he shared his thoughts about internal competitions within a practice group, athletes choosing training conditions they prefer, and hard work being the key to success above all else.
This season, Davydov’s skaters have already been a strong challenge to Eteri Tutberidze’s students, who have been dominant in international competitions for a better part of the last decade, and Evgeny Plushenko’s new academy. In the senior ladies’ category, Anna Frolova – who won a bronze medal at the Youth Olympics last season – finished in second place at the first stage of the Cup of Russia series, just losing out to reigning Russian National champion Anna Shcherbakova, and in fourth place at the second stage of the series, only behind the skaters from Angels of Plushenko and Khrustalny.
In the junior ladies’ category, the 41-year-old Davydov trains two very promising athletes – Sofia Samodelkina and Elizaveta Berestovskaya. The latter landed two quads at the second stage of the Russian Cup series this past weekend to win a gold medal, beating off the opposition from Plushenko’s school and from Sambo-70.
Sergei Davydov’s interview with Sport Express; translated to English:
Sport Express (SE): Sergei, you can be congratulated on the victory. Are you satisfied with Liza Berestovskaya’s performance?
Davydov: With quads it is difficult to perform a full program but I am glad that she did it, even though there were some mistakes. In training, before the start, she landed two quads. They also worked out in the program, but some other things did not work out.
SE: You’ve probably heard skepticism about her quadruple, they say it is sometimes under-rotated and is reduced to a triple…
Davydov: This is a delicate matter! If you watch the current available video replays, which show jumps very well from different angles, then you can find issues with almost any landing. Most are at least q (note – quarter under-rotated), there are not many clear and rigid ones. This is a question for the judges, as they see it.
SE: Are you leaving the Kalinka program for this season?
Davydov: At the stage in Moscow, she skated Kalinka, but we will go through two stages and then think about changing it. The main task is to qualify for the Championship. She, of course, grew out of this program. We started to change it, we even found the music and began working on it, but then we thought about the upcoming competitions. There is no time to put together the whole program. We decided to change only the short. And if everything goes well with the results, in the middle of the year we will put together the free. She will have a decent break before the Championship.
SE: So Kalinka is still a little childish?
Davydov: I agree, it is essentially childish, but it depends on how you skate. If the performance is good and strong, then that feeling will go away. Polyushko-polye is also a folk song, they play it, and nothing.
SE: Why weren’t you with Anna Frolova during the weekend? Tatiana Tarasova said, in the broadcast: “Maybe he got sick?”
Davydov: We just have a distribution system, we select which of the coaches and athletes are more comfortable with whom. Technical question. Anya is more comfortable with Sasha (note – Aleksandra Kravtsova), she just feels more comfortable with her. So we decided and you saw the result. This does not mean that I did not want to go somewhere.
SE: Anna is now the formal leader of the Cup of Russia. Do you need to strengthen the content for the Championship?
Davydov: We are now learning a quadruple. While preparing for two stages, the quad was put aside. It was necessary to skate clean programs. And now she has completed the task, and we will work on the quad.
SE: You have two rising stars in the juniors, Samodelkina and Berestovskaya. Frolova is progressing. Are you already dealing with internal competition, which is much talked about in other schools?
Davydov: We are always in favor of it, so to speak. This is the engine of development, it just needs to be healthy. Girls are obliged to fight each other on the ice, but not off of it. We always try to convey this. For now, I’ll spit over my shoulder, we’re all peaceful. Of course, they look at each other. Someone did more quads, the other says: “I still want to.” And this is good.
SE: It was discussed on social media that you did not go to the training camp in Sochi during the summer and stayed with Sofia Samodelkina. Favoritism?
Davydov: I didn’t stay with Sofia. I just had some family problems and was late. We even bought tickets and were supposed to arrive in a week, but we were told that this was a violation of the quarantine – either everyone enters at once, or sit for two weeks. Not a chance, there was no choice. Sofia could not go for family reasons too. We agreed to work out with her for a week, leave her to work with Elena Germanovna Buianova, and go to “Sirius,” but it turned out like this.
SE: Do you position yourself as a tough coach or liberal?
Davydov: For some reason they tell me a lot that I am a tough coach. But I, of course, do not consider myself as such. Strict – yes. Without rigor in today’s sport, especially in figure skating, you won’t get anywhere. Athletes must clearly fulfill all conditions and tasks, which are achieved only through rigor. This is an adequate position of the coach; they simply demand a result from the athlete. We never have cursing in training, not a once, no one calls names, no insulting jokes. It is obvious that the tone sometimes rises, but within the bounds of decency.
SE: If you see chocolate in the hands of a skater, what will you do?
Davydov: It depends on which skater. And it depends on what kind of chocolate. There is black, bitter chocolate, which is healthy, but not tasty. The same Liza can eat a piece. They have a day off during which they are free to do whatever they want. The main thing is that everything in normal proportions does not harm the work.
SE: Does the diet exist for everyone?
Davydov: Yes. Anyone who is thin should still eat right. He or she must choose the right diet, which is different for everyone, but is right for them to exercise. It is very important.
SE: How many hours per week are you at the rink?
Davydov: Six days, about eight to nine hours, sometimes more. During the Cup of Russia, I first went to practice at Megasport, then to CSKA, then to the competitions themselves, then back to the rink. Fortunately, they are close.
SE: Now they talk a lot about PR. Eteri Tutberidze presented her new agent on Monday, Evgeny Plushenko is obviously promoting his academy by all means. Are you for PR or a coach – is it exclusively a sport?
Davydov: Of course, at the present time you need to think about promotion.
SE: You had a story about Maxim Belyavsky’s quintuple, which came out.
Davydov: But we did not advertise on it in any way, it was just a coincidence. There was no purpose to inflate something unimaginable, especially jumping with support – this is a delicate moment, there was still a safety net. And we never counted on such an exhaust. Reporters called every day. At some point I said: “Maxim, finish.” You don’t need this PR to overflow
SE: Are Instagram posts with jokes not your style?
Davydov: In general, we never tease anyone and do not argue with anyone, we do our job. We only post out work, and do not talk about someone else’s activities. We have no purpose to say that everything that is bad is other’s, and that everything that is good is ours. Initially, we chose this position, and I do not see another. Discuss your own business. For everything else, there are judges who will say who is bad.
SE: How do you like the judging in Moscow? Let’s follow your logic – could Frolova have earned more?
Davydov: If she skated better. Anya made her mistakes, she knows about them. In the short program, there was a wrong edge when arriving to one of the jumps. The consequences of anxiety. If you have experience, you will begin to find landmarks on the sides, and everything will be fine. There are a lot of little things that make up the assessment later. We talk about this a lot. She performs the basic level, stands on jumps, but everything else needs to be done now inside and out, for big pluses. We explain this often.
SE: Are there “mushrooms” (note – undeserved scores) in Russian figure skating?
Davydov: I don’t think there are any “mushrooms.” But there is a rating policy, some skaters have earned a certain rating, reputation, but they did it with their own labor. Therefore, they get a little more than the others, performing the element in about the same way.
SE: Have you ever heard a whistle to judges at a competition?
Davydov: I didn’t really hear it here either… True, I only watched the broadcast. But there was still no whistle in the sense that there is in football or hockey. So I cannot comment.
SE: Until recently, you were almost the only competitor to Tutberidze in quads. Then Elizaveta Tuktamysheva did it, but now another school has appeared, which is clearly competitive. Wouldn’t it be difficult for CSKA to survive in conditions when the financial and infrastructure capabilities of the opponents are stronger?
Davydov: You know, this is closely related to the topic of children’s transitions. You can’t be cute. If a person wants to go to a place where there is more finance, as Trusova and Kostornaia did, they will go and you cannot hold them back. I’ll admit that I don’t know the whole background, but it looks like they were offered more favorable terms. In this case, everything is inside the athlete; they didn’t like something – they turn around and leave. There is nothing we can do.
SE: Were you called?
Davydov: No. (Smiles.) Everything suits me in my current school, it has everything I need. Nothing else is interesting.
SE: But your students were definitely called. And not just by one school, as far as I know.
Davydov: Were called. But… We’re holding on for now. And we will hold on, I think.
SE: Morally and strong-willed?
Davydov: Why strong-willed? You just have to come and do the work. If a person is interested, wants to achieve something, he does not think about anything else. Where do these thoughts come from? When problems start. We also talk a lot about this. Yes, it can be hard. But you have to endure, and it is easier to endure together.
SE: Were there cases when a person came and said: “That’s it, I’m leaving?” and you talked them out of it?
Davydov: Yes. Anya Tarusina left figure skating last year, however, not to someone else. She came and said: “I can’t take it anymore.” We said that we must go through this difficult time, everyone has it, and everything will fall into place. She hesitated for two weeks, left, came, then said – that’s it. I remember, they wrote a lot in the press, they say they did not hold back. What can we do? Should we keep her by force? The person made a decision.
SE: Well, yes, there is life outside of figure skating. Do we overestimate his role at all? Sometimes it seems that children are kept in it artificially.
Davydov: I don’t know, we have a small group of skaters born in 2013-2014. I look at them – most children want to skate themselves. They go with such a desire! I see that the parents are almost not involved in the process. Parents are not allowed to go to our skating rinks. They bring their kids to the door – that’s it, the person continues to live their life. And here their individual qualities are manifested, not the desire of their parents, when they are brought in by the hand, put the skates on, pat on the head after training, given a sandwich. No, here they are on their own. They are already tying the skates themselves. And what is it – you know how to tie sneakers, but not skates? If you tie it loose four times, it will work out on the fifth.
SE: I have read on the internet that you, allegedly, do not really recognize psychologists. True?
Davydov: No. I recognize psychologists. They can correct some nuances, they need to be trusted. But I am against the globalization of their role. If a person is nervous at a performance, it is very difficult to overcome. I had acquaintances – training champions, worked with three psychologists, then left – and everything was useless. It can’t be so that you go to a psychologist and they teach you how to perform.
SE: Probably a wildly familiar question, but maybe something has changed. What is the key to the success of quads?
Davydov: Everything is standard – the number of performances, preparatory exercises. But it is not enough to learn it, the main thing is that it requires constant support. The musculoskeletal system works at such a limit that it is necessary to constantly keep it on weight. This is more important than just being able to jump. Many people know how to now. It leaves – and again you have to start all over again.
SE: Until now, student of the coach who taught quads, Eteri Tutberidze, have retired early. Would you be offended if your students graduate at 17?
Davydov: Understand, this is inevitable, and not a question of Tutberidze or someone else. If we talk about girls, they start to grow up, get heavy, and become slow. And what is a quadruple? It is maximum speed and lightness. A little heavier – everything goes away. Then you lose. It’s very hard to fail. You can count the people who skate in 10th-12th places being champions on your fingers. Tuktamysheva, Leonova come to mind
SE: But Elizaveta has endured, now she is again in the fight for the national team.
Davydov: Honor and praise to her. I only admire such athletes who can tolerate the flow of a known substance. Not everyone is ready for this, but you become unnecessary because young people come and beat you. To the same Anya, we tried to explain that no one throws her out because now something is not working out.
SE: That is, you admit that the same Samodelkina has four years left in sports?
Davydov: They all have the same problems, a little recovered – it becomes difficult. We sit down and talk. And there will be problems, it is not always good. For some, performances depend on the season. So everything is aimed at showing that the main thing in sports is patience. In general, we talk a lot, but we try not to overload the brain. (Laughs.) Those who are older, probably, can already give some weakness sometimes. But all the same, everyone must do a certain amount of work. This is our rule.
SE: The main event of the last stage of the Cup of Russia was the confrontation between Trusova and Valieva. It seemed that Kamila was affected by the pressure of adult competitions, to which she was not used.
Davydov: I just think that Kamila began to grow up and take shape. Yes, 14 years old, but all children grow differently. This is not a matter of psychology, Kamila is a tough athlete. In general, all the girls were great, they do complex elements after such a break. We forget about it, many say – yes, it was already long ago. But it is still reflected. Then you have to catch up on such a break, as long as it lasted.
SE: The three – Trusova, Valieva, Usacheva – all mean business?
Davydov: For me, it’s more of a duo in the case. We say that these girls went to quads, triple axels, and did a different program globally. And the difference is minimal. In my understanding, there were two people of about the same level, and Daria is a fine fellow, she skated great, there are no questions. But this is without ultra-si.
SE: For you, it turns out, technology is primary?
Davydov: In today’s figure skating, everything is important, from quadruples to step sequences. If you begin to lack at least something, you will lose victories.