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by Alina Adams

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Saturday, February 19, 2005


Interview with Irina Rodnina (IR) by the correspondent of Russian language newspaper "Gazeta" Svetlana Lepeshkova (SL) printed on February 16, 2005

During Soviet times Irina Rodnina was a national treasure. Till now nobody else managed to reach such heights in figure skating: multiple European and World Champion, three times Olympic Champion. Two years ago she returned from America where she worked for the last 10 years. And all this time she was not especially inclined to open up.

SL- Irina, for many years people are talking about the "Irina Rodnina Ice Center.” When will it open at last? Recently, a new skating rink has been opened - at the Volgograd Prospect. When will it be your turn?

IR- Yes, in the Central district the new skating rink has opened. But I have nothing to do with it. On the contrary, everything as it seems to us is truly coming nearer to a full fiasco, because ROE (Russian Military export organization- GS) occupied that parcel of land that had been allocated to us and it does not have any intention to move from that land. I have even written a letter to the President. It was an unexpected windfall for the ROE - a free parcel of 3.5 hectares of the land and they state without any hesitation: " Yes, it is a gift, and we shall use this gift ". Legally they are the tenants for 25 years. But the rental agreement was made out only with one condition, that there will be a construction of the Ice Center plus office buildings for the ROE. But as soon as the rental agreement was signed, they told us that construction of the Ice Center does not interest them at all. As it was explained to me later, such things frequently happen with the private claims for land.

SL - And what is possible to do in such a case?
IR- The most important thing is that I have not heard a formal "NO" from anyone. Everyone says: " yes, yes, yes, we shall solve the problem now". And it goes on that way for three years. A lot has been said about the interests of the state, that the state policy is necessary for us, that we should have a national idea, but all these initiatives remain empty words. Now on the basis of my letter, the subject is being reviewed at a level of the Ministry of Defense and the Administrative office of the President.

SL- Currently you work in a society " Sports Russia." What are you doing there?
IR - It is a different kind of work - with paper, and with people. We are engaged in a revival of our mass competitions. By the way, there are many of them carried out in the country now, but all of them are unsystematic. We do not take away anybody's functions: functions of Olympic committee which forms Olympic teams, functions of federations which complete national teams. We have revived such competitions as a "White Rook" in chess, we carry out personal competitions in mini-soccer with English channel Jetix. These are competitions between schools for children of 12-14 years of age as it used to be in the past. We participate in carrying out of "the Gold Puck" competition. For the first time we took part in the "Cross-country of the nations" together with the Federal agency on physical education and sports. Now it will be carried out on a regular basis, every year, on the third Sunday of September. Together with the children's fund "Republic Sports" we participated in competitions of orphanages, boarding schools, together with Ministry of Justice prepared for competitions in children's colonies. That is not visible work, but it is necessary. It is not routine, not daily, but it needs to be carried out. It is interesting enough, though it has a lot of problems because we are a public organization, we are not funded by the state. For each event we are compelled to find sponsors. More recently, in December, a trip to Beslan has taken place. With it we were helped by the Federal agency on physical education and sports, and also "United Russia." To each school in this city we have transferred sports stock, and the uniforms at the cost of 1 million rubles. Each school was visited there by a known sportsmen, Olympic champions. The delegation also consisted of the heads of the Federal agency on physical education and sports, there were delegates from the State Duma ( Russian Parliament- GS) from sports, such as Alexander Karelin, Egor Titov, Sergey Makarov, Alexander Lebzjak, Vyacheslav Fetisov. That trip was very emotional. The feelings when you are personally in Beslan, are completely different from the ones that you have when you see it on TV. We have promised to the children, that our trips would become regular, that the Olympic champions and leading coaches would come to them and would carry out master-classes. All of us should bear the responsibility for children of Beslan, with our kind actions we should raise hopes in their crippled mentality.

SL- Irina, you have lead the most part of a life on ice - initially as a competitor and then as the coach. Would it be desirable for you to get again on the ice, to coach talented kids?

IR- No, no! Categorically not. It would not be desirable. To do the same thing over and over again during many years -it is very tiresome.

SL- But on the other hand, if you would take many of our figure skaters, almost everyone participates in ice shows and skates in them while they have the strengths. It turns out, that they do the same thing all of their life. If you were skating not during Soviet time, and now, today, would you too go to a show?
IR- At that time we were not allowed to participate in the American shows. There was a principle "talents were not for sale" in our country, they should rather rot silently at home. In the Soviet Union, there were professional ballets on ice. But the essence is that I was not interested. For me it was more interesting to participate in sports. In fact all people are different. Often people which acted in shows, did not achieve the big results in sports. For me it was interesting to compete. To that I have given a lion's share of strengths and emotions. And to go in a show - what for? When the ice theatres of Tarasova and Bobrina appeared, it was already a different time, and by that moment I had not been skating already for a long time.

SL- When you performed, you struggled all the time - for medals, for a first place, for the right to be the best. It is an enormous stress and pressure. But, I so understand, you could not live without it. And now, in today's life, do you still struggle?
IR- All of our life for all of us is a struggle. Nothing falls at us from above, except for snow and rain. And to create or to make something it is necessary to work hard. Why all of us say all the time "struggle, struggle"? It is everywhere . And I was convinced about it in America as well. Can you imagine that there people would go for years without a vacation? The vacations there are not paid. There everyone pays for medical insurance, while in our country we have the state medical insurance. And there it is not called a struggle for a life. It is simply a life. If you do not want to struggle, it means that you will sit in the street. You want to live better it means that you would put in more strength, time, knowledge and emotions. Somehow the sports are perceive exclusively as a struggle. Sports are a lot of work too, but only for a faster, more visible result. In general, one has to struggle for life everywhere. Only the forms of struggle and the principles are different, because the life is different everywhere.

SL- But let's return to figure skating. I recollect years 1970-1980, what a wonderful national team it was. If there was a figure skater - there was a star! Rodnina, Pahomova, Moiseyev - Minenkov, Bobrin, Ovchinnikov, etc. And why now there is no such a national team?
IR- The national team is not worse now. Not worse at all. But today the people have more interests and TV provides more information. Then only a little had been shown on TV, and for people figure skating was like a bright light in a window. There is an answer. Youth now has a lot of things to do, and not just to sit and watch TV. We had nothing, we had only three TV channels. We did not go anywhere, could not even travel. Now it is difficult to believe, but in fact then it was a unique beautiful show. First time on TV figure skating had been shown in 1964, the championship of Europe in Budapest. And the show began on a regular basis since 1966. And, certainly, figure skaters became national favorites.

SL- Do you think that a second such boom of figure skating will not be possible?
IR- I think it can, and will be, but I do not know. But in general, what is such a boom for? There was a Silver age in the literature. What for do we need the second one? There will be another. Each generation gives rise to something.

SL- Let's talk about today in figure skating. Recently in Turin the championship of Europe has come to the end. Did you go there?
IR- For me to go to the championships is impossible - other issues, other problems and interests. But for the first time in many years I at last have watched the entire championship on TV.

SL- And what are your thoughts and impressions from the championship? Were you surprised?
IR- First of all - Irina Slutskaja. In spite of the fact that she fell, she all the same is a hero. Her first place once again confirms that whatever happened to her was for a purpose. She has returned on ice twice, despite of problems and heavy traumas and illnesses. She is really a hero. In any business it is important to have the strong leader. She skated a tremendous short, and her compulsory programs - they were respectable. She does not have a feeling of correct distribution of the strength yet. Now about Pljushchenko. He skated the free program very good, collected, wonderfully. But for several seasons he failed the short program. In his case it is impossible to spend all strengths only on the free program. And this failure is more likely not of technical, but of psychological character. Tactical problems should be addressed by him and his coach first of all. As soon as he has a competitor - he at once surrenders. Yes, in the country he does not have competitors. But at the international level he does. Inside the country - he is a king. But the competition breaks him. So was both, at an Olympics, and in the last championship of Europe where he lost to the Frenchman. If one would look into the basis of Pluschenko - he is stronger than Frenchman Bryan Zhuber. But he had problems again in the short program. Although he performs the same elements well in a free program. That means that these are tactical and psychological issues.

SL- What do you think of the competition of dancing duets?
IR- What is of interest in competitions in general? Not all in sports, as well as in the life, is predetermined. The third place of the French pair was a surprise. Who would have thought that they would get more points than the leaders? Nobody expected, that they would find their place, will present a competition. This pair has shown a new sight of the program, the music. Their form, composition, skating was obviously a breath of fresh air. They have tremendous features of skate techniques. While looking at performances of the Ukrainians who took the "silver", and at other two of our pairs, it became boring - I begun to smell the past. As to the dance of champions - Navka and Kostomarov which skated to "Melancholy", I had my own opinion. I do not at all love a drama on ice, this kind of Tarasova's anguish. In fact, dances on ice - are still a sport and not a theatre. And sports have other functions. If one would like to speak about the theatre on ice, then sportsmen should have a unique technical training. When one reaches technical perfection, then it is possible to think about the emotional which is becoming more and more important with each passing year. If one would speak about the dance of our leaders, I think, that Kostomarov's technical abilities leave much to be desired, they are not compatible with a concept of a drama.

SL- Irina, you were competing in pair figure skating. And as it frequently happened during your time - all the pedestal in pair figure skating was occupied in Turin by ours. Were you glad to see this?
IR- It seems to me, that the championship of Europe has become the championship of Russia. The Germans, who during my time always presented the main competition, were very weak. The German pair skates together for only one year, they are no contenders to ours, though in Germany they work hard. But at the same time our pair - Julia Obertas - Sergey Slavnov - became the second, though they skated together for only two years. I think that the Germans will still become a competition to us.

SL- How does it seems to you, what is the secret of long-term domination of our school of pair figure skating?
IR - We always had better experts. Our school of pair figure skating has accumulated enormous experience. When our country was braking down, all of the leading experts, such as Tarasova, Moskvina, Linichuk and Karponosov, managed to keep their positions and to preserve our sportsmen, having taken them away with themselves to work in America. Here in Russia, to our horror, they could not coach them with good results. All our victories are the stimulus for other countries to struggle and to aspire to a victory too. I congratulate all on victories at the championship of Europe. But these victories should not calm us down, but on the contrary, should strain our efforts. The more we win, the more we irritate the others.

SL- The world championship in Moscow comes next March. What are your forecasts?
IR - First of all - the Chinese pairs can block our progress. It has been said that at home, the walls are helping, but as all three of our pairs are from Petersburg, I do not think, that they in Moscow will feel themselves at home. The men - Canadians, Americans will attack. Pljushchenko will have hard time. But I hope for the best - all we should do is to gather our strengths and win.

SL- Irina, what do you think of the new system of refereeing?
IR - All commentators at the competitions had been gnawing through pros and cons of the new system of refereeing. Personally I do not like the new system. It is too anonymous. Earlier, when each judge presented the marks - '5,9', '6,0', - all saw who gave which mark. And spectators felt that they were a part of the refereeing process, comparing their opinion with the opinion of the judges. There was participation and accountability. And now the spectator is just a spectator. The moments of unity with the hall, the sportsmen, the coaches and the judges are gone. The system was changed as to reduce the pressure on the judges. I do not understand, why. Now all complaints are made to a computer. At competitions in Moscow, for example, there was only 10 skating pairs- and 14 judges plus their assistants. It becomes ridiculous. It is very expensive to have that many judges- all of them live in luxury hotels. And what are the technical experts for? We can see by the skating of who is who.

SL- Irina, half of you life you lived by figure skating. What is your main area of interests today?
IR- Yes, I had sport. Then I worked also as the coach, but at that time I have already had two children. I had a circle of friends, I had a ton of other interests. My basic field of activity was the coach's work, as it would be for any person who is engaged in something. Today the main things are children, friends and that I still can be useful. And it would be desirable to live for myself, to travel.

SL- Where do you like to go? To which ends of the world?
IR- I cannot tell, that I saw all of the world. I know most of the world where I went on issues of figure skating. It is Europe, especially Central Europe, North America. For a long time I was torn between work and children while they were small. There were endless flights from Russia to America and back. I lived for almost ten years in America and I still frequently fly there - my daughter lives there. So I was torn between the house and work, between Moscow and America, and I had no time for rest and entertainments. Now people have an opportunity to travel. And you would not believe, but I only just began to take vacations. The southern countries are exotic for me and I love them, but no way that I would be able to live under the palm-trees. And at last I was able to go to Hawaii last year. I have not been there for exactly 9 years. And when I arrived there again I threw my body on the sand and in the sea. It was nice, I can not deny. But I can not tell you that I have any special plans to go anywhere to look at something, it is just not the case.

SL- How do you relax at home - with the book on a sofa, disconnected phone?
IR - I am very rarely at home.

SL- Your son Sasha recently married. Do the newlyweds live with you?
IR- No, they live separately, God forbid to live together. Certainly, if there is an opportunity, I think, children should live independently. Otherwise there will be a lot of problems which will cost us a lot. I think that it is better to rent the apartment for them, rather than to live together.

SL- You are pleased with your daughter-in-law?
IR- It does not matter if I am pleased, the main thing is that my son was pleased and happy. It is their life. My primary goal - to help them. If they will approach me with any request, certainly, I shall help them. But to interfere with their life is not my business.

SL- Did Sasha graduate? I
R- No, he is still a student at Stroganov Institute, he is in his 3rd year.

SL - How does he support his family? Earns additionally?
IR- These are his problems. But I help him, as he was late to find interest in his profession.

SL- Sasha is the child of sportsmen, and nevertheless he dropped out of hockey and has engaged in a generally unusual business - the art of pottery. How did it happen?
IR- He was engaged in hockey to fill up time and for the sake of his health, and he never dreamed to become a big sportsman. Then this hobby passed, another has come - pottery. Initially he did it only for himself. It began in America. At each American school there is an oven and a potter's wheel. By analogy in Russia we had the work classes. In America it is compulsory, but one has a choice. You can take drawing, ceramics, work with metal or with wood. He tried several, but ceramics was the most interesting to him and he became good at it. The following year he took this class more and more.

SL- Your daughter Alena is still in America. What is she doing?
IR- She studies at University of California at Santa Cruz. There is a different system there, not such as ours. First two years they receive the general basic knowledge, and than on the basis of it, you can choose a direction and study for a profession. But Alena is a 100-percent humanitarian. Her interests are in journalism, psychology and philosophy. Now she is taking a course in "Youth Policy ".

SL- Irina, are you a strict mom?
IR- No, I am not strict. But I would not characterize myself as a softy, either. When all of us lived in America, we all had our chores and it was strictly defined who in the house carries out what functions. If I have opportunity and time - I would do the work at home, if I did not have time, the children did everything. During some period I did not have an opportunity to be at all involved in the education of my children - I worked 10 hours a day. My problem was to fill a refrigerator, to buy and to maintain the car for Sasha and to pay my bills. So I did not have time to be strict or not strict.

SL- Do your children understand that their mom is a great figure skater? Or you for them are simply mom?
IR- I do not know, you should ask them. I think that they were missing having just a mom. I worked a lot, I and was forced to give too much time to the work, to other children, or to social works. It probably was their biggest dissatisfaction with me. Therefore, they would probably be more happy, if I was simply a mom.

SL- Does it happen that all of you together go somewhere - the cinema, theatre, or for visits?
IR- Certainly. Well, Sasha is already an adult. And when the children were smaller, we spent time together. Then with the passing years the friends began to appear, and they would like to spend more time with them, that was normal. As all of us in our youth, we would not like to go with our parents to some aunt's and eat their pies, we would rather escape to be with our friends.

SL- Irina, who are your friends?
IR- I have some friends. But I think that there should be not much of them. There are a lot of people with whom I have normal, good or fair relations, we can frequently sit down, talk and spend some time together. Oksana Pushkin is one of my closest girlfriends. She was with me for the last 10 years of my life, including America. Also, I have a girlfriend with whom we together gave birth to our sons. My Sasha is 25, and her Sasha is 25.

SL- Are you capable to be friends with men?
IR- It is possible to be friends with men, if there are general interests, friends and if it is possible to rely on them. I have a circle of people who I know that if I shall call, they will help me. We can go together somewhere to have a rest or I can involve them in some activities, or if they ask me about something. Here at such level - yes, I have friends. But not to cry on the man;s shoulder, it is unnatural for me. I do not need it.

SL- Irina, you were twice married. Now you are free. It seems that you cannot meet the man of your life. What kind of man should he be for you - what is your ideal of the man?
IR- What do we need an ideal for ? Why do we deceive ourselves? It is a collective image, meaning that it is made up of different people. Idols can exist. In sports, in music, in the literature. But the ideal man or woman - what do we need them for? If a person is pleasant, interesting to me, if a positive feeling appears between us- why would I search for an ideal?

SL- Irina, what would you like to get from your life today?
IR- Life follows certain cycles. It seems that when you get to the top you should sit there and hold on to this first place. I was told: "How come that you leave? You should help us to bring up champions." My response was: "Enough, as it was, I was your eyesore for the last 10 years. Why I should aspire all the time to be on the top? Allow me to live like a human being. I have already made my contributions. Now you should contribute at least one 100th of what I have already done". Such questions are frequently asked of the journalists as well. You are engaged in your work every day. But you are not getting Olympic medals! But is your life less interesting, than mine? And so it is in each line of work. Does one have to be on the top at all times? Does one have to always aspire to a champion's title? Let me enjoy my life, to be useful and in demand in something other, not necessarily in figure skating.

Translation by G. Sivorinovsky, PhD.

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