-Last season you started
working with Aliya Mustafina, who had always been considered a team player and
a tough competitor. But my impression is, after becoming Olympic champion in London,
she just never found a good enough reason to keep going. Has that changed?
- Yes, and very noticeably. I think it happened after Glasgow Championship.
It is my subjective opinion, but during that competition Aliya realized that
she still wants to be there for the team, to not only be willing to help but
also to be able to do that. In other words, she thoroughly evaluated her abilities.
- Is it easier to work
with her after that?
- Yes. I think we reached the
mutual understanding. As I already said elsewhere, if the coach sets
unreasonable goals for the athlete and pushes him too much, only considering
his own perspective on training, this will lead to struggle. In a situation like
this the athlete will first resist this regimen and then both sides will start
to complain. It is completely different from working when you are at ease, when
there is a psychological comfort there. Do you get what I’m trying to say?
- Not really.
- I’ll explain. The gymnast always feels when he is not able to
meet expectations of the coach.
- Is not able to or does
not want to?
- No one knows this for sure,
unless the they say it. Technically, if someone is always on time at the gym and does what he’s asked to, what can you blame him for? The lack of trust can be very hurtful. For a while the athlete might tolerate this, but
then he’ll just leave. I’m not talking about Mustafina now, just the issue
overall. But I’m glad that me and Aliya did not have to go through it.
-At Euros many people noticed
that Aliya considerably upgraded beam. Why did not she do the same with bar
- First, let’s define
- Well, up to London Olympics,
difficulty and execution of Aliya’s bars routine were unreachable for most of her
competitors. In Bern she was only third, while I personally thought her potential
on bars to be almost unlimited.
- We circled back to the
same statement: we, me and you, can think whatever we want, and wish for
anything. But in reality, the situation is different. When Aliya and I started
working together, it was decided that she will keep training bars with Evgeniy
Grebenkin, as she did, very successfully, for many years. Together we set the
goals for current season and did our best. We had a few ideas that could have
helped to increase
the difficulty, but it all came down to what she can physically handle.
-Are you talking about
the injuries piling up?
-Essentially, yes. There is
always something - back, knee or wrists. When we go to Germany to get
treatment, we go all together: me, Denis and Aliya. Going back to bars, I’m
absolutely sure that Mustafina can challenge on this apparatus. There are other
gymnasts with higher D-score, but if we are talking execution I do not know
anyone who can touch her. You must have noticed that even when she is doing the
hardest elements she makes it look easy.
Aliya got bronze on bars at
Euros because she made a mistake in the EF. She did not make any on beam. A lot
of the credit for this should go to Marina Nazarova who trains Mustafina on
-Why did you choose
-I do not know how to answer..
I did not second-guess this at all. For many years Marina
had been the coach who is on the podium with our girls during competitions.
Even when they are performing and do not see her, or only see her on the sidelines,
it is very important for them to know that she is there, to feel her support.
For the same reason Grebenking is always near Aliya when she does bars. It is not about trusting or not trusting
personal coach. The point is that your athlete should feel absolutely secure (comfortable) while performing.
-You did not raise FX
difficulty because of Mustafina’s health issues?
preparing for Euros we deliberately concentrated on bars and beam only. What
will we change in Aliya’s floor and how exactly will we do it - remains
- Will you go to the Russian
- At first we did not plan to:
Aliya does not have to go through team selection process, and mentally she is
very tough, there is no need to put that to the test. But then we decided that the Cup is a great opportunity to
do AA. After all, this discipline in gymnastics requires special attention.
- What do you think
about chances of our WAG team?
- I think they are pretty
good. And the number of teams that can challenge for medals is limited. American
and Chinese teams are traditionally very strong, but we are strong (not weak) as well. Overall the situation
is much like the one on the men’s side - there is nothing totally new, we are
quite familiar with all the competitors
-So you are saying, in
four years since London no new female gymnast emerged that can make you go
- No one like Simone Biles
or Mustafina for sure. Meanwhile in men’s gymnastics there are a lot of new
-Two-times Olympic champion Denis
Pankratov once said that he was sure - when he wins Olympic gold it will be
something unbelievable. And he was very disappointed when it was not. Besides,
it is virtually impossible to make motivate yourself to start over yet again
when you know that there will be nothing new for you on this path.
- That’s is more or less
true. This is why I have an immense respect for Mustafina. Because of the
constant need to push through the pain any other athlete in her situation would
have worn out long ago. This is not only about character, but also about
upbringing and the strength of spirit. So I was very happy when I realized that
Aliya has some fire in a belly and wants to fight for the team. It is harder to
do it just for yourself.