Romance and Mystery Novels

by Alina Adams

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Behind the scene of the Russian Show - "Stars on Ice"

Translation of an interview by a correspondent of Russian Language publication "Sovsport" Andrey Vandenko (AV) with the star of the show Alex Zhulin (AZ).

Every Saturday, Channel 1 of Russian TV presents the show - "Stars on Ice" which is a professional competition where Alex Zhulin and his partner Ingeborg Dankuaite are established favorites. Mr. Zhulin, currently the coach of Olympic champions Navka and Kostomarov, decided to revive his own sports past and is seriously competing in the show. Here is his story about the show from the inside.

AV - One of the competitors - Marat Basharov -- christened your show - "Hell on Ice." How do you feel in hell?

AZ - I am not such a big sinner as to get directly to hell. I am not in a hurry to get there and do not advise others to go there. I would not say that there is hell on our show. Marat is an artist, a creative person and he exaggerates a little, or was just joking. Of course the pressure on the participants is serious. We have to practice every night for 3 or 4 hours and we are constantly developing new programs. And besides the show each of us has their jobs. But on the other hand, no one forced us to do it. We signed our contracts and knew what we were getting into. To be honest, my wish now is just to get some sleep. By personality I am an owl - I like to sleep late and to get up when it is still dark outside. To get to the rink by 8 am is a torture for me. I am coaching several pairs, that is terrible - this is real hell. I am looking forward to the completion.

AV - Completion of what - the show or coaching?

AZ - Everything. I would like to do nothing and to have a lot of money.

AV - So far it did not happen?

AZ - Apparently not.

AV - A lot of work and not enough money?

AZ - Actually I have enough of both, but would like to have less of the former and more of the latter.

AV - How did you end up with the show?

AZ - Initially they invited Tanja (his wife Tatiana Navka) . We lived in the US and I was appalled that she would have to go to Russia for 4 months and I would stay behind. I did not like that arrangement and we started thinking of other options. The producers decided to get me involved in the project. They called me and asked me to join the show. I asked them in what capacity? They sad - "As a participant." I replied that I did not skate for 10 years. "So what" - I was told, "Some of the participants never skated before." Then I asked who would be my partner and was told that it would be Ingeborgy Dankunaite. I always liked her as an actress. I considered everything and agreed. As a result of this, Tanja and I decided to move back to Russia for a year or two and to see how things would go there.

AV - So it looks like the show provoked your return to Russia?

AZ - The gold medal in Turin was actually a stimuli for our return. Today we are needed in Russia and everyone treats us really well. It is stupid to sit in the USA where only a few people know about our Olympic victory. Americans love their own idols and they do not care about the foreigners.

AV - Where do you live in the States?

AZ - In New Jersey, not far from NYC. We just bought a house, moved in, and now this.

AV - Did you rent out your place?

AZ - Yes, but on not very favorite conditions. It is hard to find a tenant for a big house who would pay high rent. But we did not have a choice. I had to be in Moscow in August and the show started in September of 2006.

AV - The program is aired on Saturdays. When do you tape it?

AZ - A few days before - usually on Thursday. The process is stretched for about 5 hours with practices, dress rehearsals etc.

AV - Do you feel sports ardor again?

AZ - I was a little nervous at the first show. I did not skate for a long time and was skating with a new partner, but gradually everything settled, I got adjusted and everyone initially adjusted really well and had fun. But from the fifth or sixth show onward the situation began to change. All of us were World or Olympic Champions and we were not used to give in and to lose. On the surface, no one is serious about the show, but I can see deeper. Each one of us is vain and egotistical, and we all dream about first place. No matter where a real sportsperson is competing, he will give his all to the end. Even when I play table tennis with Arthur Dmitriev, I am getting upset if I am losing. Same thing with the show. Now I feel that the tiredness is adding up and we all would like to have a break and would be thankful to the producers.

AV - All but the spectators?

AZ - No one really needs that pressure.

AV- Does Ilja Averbuch develop all of the dances?

AZ - As a professional coach I help him sometimes. It is hard for him, especially when initially he had to work with 13 pairs.

AV - Do you help your wife who is dancing with Marat Basharov?

AZ - If she asks me.

AV - What about the competitiveness?

AZ - With her, why would I be concerned with it? She is my wife, and I would be happy if she wins.

AV - What about the prize money?

AZ - I am not sure how it works, but I know that the longer I stay in the competition, the bigger is the bonus, the more we will get in our family budget. In my case, my honorarium grows with each show. Tanja's pay would be the same, regardless when she leaves the show. In principle, she may leave the show today and the pay would stay the same. But she would not quit, she will fight.

AV - Who is your daughter rooting for?

AZ - She is torn apart between us two.

AV - Sport is inconceivable without intrigues behind the scenes, and television show must be the same?

AZ - Sometimes I think that this program was specially developed to break up families.

AV - How so?

AZ - You are always left alone with other people, your wife dances with another man, the practices are late at night, and so on, and so on.

AV - Well, Alex go on.

AZ - Of course if one is strong and confident, there is no reason to worry.

AV - Do you worry?

AZ - My romance with my wife is going for 13 years. Why should I worry?

AV - The number 13 is an unlucky number.

AZ - Well, Tanja was born on April the 13th. In casino I sometimes put my money on number 13 and often win.

AV - Do you go often to casinos?

AZ - I am just fooling around in casinos a couple of times a year.

AV - But by nature are you easily carried away?

AZ - When I was younger that was the case. But now I am older and the age makes a person more sober.

AV - How fast did you establish good relationship with Dankunaite?

AZ - Immediately. A good relation with a partner is important for success. Without that one can not make a single step. Ingeborga is a bright individual, very smart woman and behaves correspondingly. She does not have a cheap sense of honor and she is not a snob. She is always concerned if I had my dinner, or if I would like coffee. She has a strong character. It is rare that one meets such a professional partner and a friend. I am happy with my partner and I learn a lot form her.

AV - Could you make her a champion?

AZ - By her character and intelligence she could very well be a sportsperson. She was born to be a winner. Inner strength is very important in sports, and the rest could be learned.

AV - Who else at the show could have been good in sports career?

AZ - It is hard to say. The show is not a serious sport, but I like Marat Basharov and Katja Guseva.

AV - Many spectators of the "Stars on Ice" thought that Tatiana Tarasova was helping Alexey Yagudin to stay longer in the show.

AZ - It is easy to understand since he was her beloved pupil.

AV - And what about you?

AZ - I am not, since I never practiced with her. She is a great coach. Let's not discuss her. I know that I need to work hard to get high marks from the judges.

AV - Did you become more popular while participating in the show?

AZ - Television is a great thing. Now I fully realized it. I am being recognized on the streets. The attention is nice, but I am over 40 and do not react too well to the expressions of love. I have a strong head.

AV - Have you seen a similar show on "Russia" channel?

AZ - Yes , twice.

AV - And what do you think?

AZ - I like it. I love everybody.

AV - And what do you really think without PC?

AZ - I can not be objective. I think that our show is better. But let spectators decide. Both programs are developing. We are planning to develop new dances based on classical music with new costumes. I think that it will be great.

AV - Speaking of costumes. Do you rent them?

AZ - No, for each show we have new costumes made by special people.

AV - What do you do with the old ones?

AZ - We could buy them if we want.

AV - Do you want it?

AZ - Not really. I have enough costumes.

AV - Do you make good money?

AZ - I can not tell you the exact sum, but considering that Moscow is the most expensive city in the world, they could pay us more. But if I agreed to the contract, I have to live with what I have.

AV - But still you have to work and lose sleep.

AZ - There is never too much money. And also I am a coach, not a showman. When I was leaving the States I had a few potentials and now I have four pairs and a few singles that are looking for partners, that I coach here.

AV - Do you have good prospective skaters?

AZ - Of course I have a few nice juniors.

AV - No one knows how long it will take them to mature, but meanwhile Russia is missing in competitions and in the Grand Prix, and the stars are playing in the shows.

AZ - Those stars worked hard and paid their dues. Now let others sweat it out for the honor of their country. We have to grow new champions. It is not an easy task. The medals do not just fall in our laps from the sky.

AV - How long do you think it will take Russia to return to the leading positions on ice?

AZ - Even the people that we have now could really fight for high positions. It seems that every one is pushing the Russians around, everybody is sick and tired of Russians, but in a few years everything will be back to normal. We have great coaches and talented skaters. Maybe not at the next Olympics in Vancouver, but at the following games we will definitely get the medals. But I really doubt that we would be able to repeat the record of Turin. Such a harvest of medals is very rare.

AV - Do you think that Slutskaya and Pluschenco could come back?

AZ - It is possible but it is hard to believe. There should be a serious motive for this move. It is not just a philosophical but rather a psychological move. It is hard to force yourself to work very hard again. As for me, I would not let my wife to go back again. It is enough to have 4 Olympics behind. Especially considering how difficult it was for her in the last few years when a lot of people were trying to upstage her. Dancing is a very corrupt sport.

AV - This is a serious charge.

AZ - I call it as I see it. I will not name names, but believe me that there is a new generation of coaches that turned everything upside down, just to get to their goals. These people decided that all means are good to reach their goals, intrigues, bribes, connections with the people in high places. The most important skills are not being a good coach or a choreographer, but to be able to weave intrigues. I am an old hand in figure skating, but I do not remember it ever to be like that. This young generation will not be great. Honestly, I am sick and tired of that. I remember that at the European Championship after the compulsory program Roman and Tanja were placed in third place, they were practically pushed back. It was a very difficult period. We considered to leave the sport and not to go to the Olympics. I do not even know how were we able to withstand the pressure at that time. There is God after all. And than in Turin the compulsory program was won by an Italian couple. I would say that they were good skaters, but as a coach I could see that they were brought back from mothballs and were forced to compete as to bring Italy the gold medals. Who knows what would have happened if the Italians would not fall down in the original dance. Navka and Kostomarow won, but by a high price to their nervous systems.

AV - Did the sport become more dirty?

AZ - I would not like to make a summary judgment. I can talk only about ice dancing. All of the new rules that were designed to make the judging more objective have failed so far. It became worse. Before I could look in the eye of the arbiter and ask directly why the marks were so low? The judge could have answered if he wanted to. But now, it is all faceless. One could take money from a competitor and cut the marks of a dancer and no one would know who was doing it. We could not even complain on subjectivity because we are explained that computer selects judges. Also, the results of these competitions are very predictable, almost as if there were programmed in the computer. The situation is really bad in figure skating. Track and field sport is a different story. Everyone could see everything and there all results are measured - you ran the distance and the time is recorded regardless of who you are. Ice dances are subject to special interests and prejudges. I hope that my daughter will be a tennis player rather than a figure skater. Of course it will be her choice, I will not pressure her, but I would not want her to go through what her mother went through. I have to stick with it, I have no other profession, but my daughter may find her own way. Ice dances are beautiful, but it is a pity that some people are dirtying the beauty of the sport.

AV - That must be the reason that you are working in the show, rather than imitate the sport straggle.

AZ - One needs a psychological break, a change of scenery. We had enough.

AV - How long did you live in the States?

AZ - Long. 13 years.

AV - Is it hard to adapt back to Russia?

AZ - Our countries are very much similar. Especially in what is related to the business and work. In everyday life there are some advantages in Russia. I did not like the food in the States. I ate there only salads and fish and still was gaining weight. After I came here I was eating everything and lost 10 pounds. It was also difficult to get used to traffic jams and to the traffic police in Moscow and the climate is tiresome here. Everything else is fine. I remember and understand a lot.

It seems to me that Russia substantially moved toward the civilized world. Before the people there were very angry, and now they seem to be mellower. Although in the States they can smile to your face and put a knife in your back. The same principles that work everywhere in the world are working in Russia these days - if you want to achieve success, you have to work hard. In the Sates I made good money and had to work 10 hours a day. Here it is the same picture. It is the way it should be.

AV - If they would invite you to work in a new show a year from now, would you go?

AZ- I would review everything very carefully. I am not getting younger and have to consider my strengths. And the old traumas are bothering me sometimes. Let's not try to predict future. Let me finish this season. Show must go on every Saturday.


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