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Alexander Alexandrov in his own words 2: the Rodionenkos, Vitaly Mutko and Viacheslav Fetisov

Part 1

Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko at Europeans this spring


RRG:  What role does the Russian Minister of Sport, Vitaly Mutko (VM) play in deciding who will lead the Russian gymnastics teams?  Does he have any influence over the team’s management?  What was his viewpoint on your position?

AA:  I have met with VM several times; I must say we had good and honest man-to-man conversations and I respect him very much. I don’t believe that he expected for things to take the turn they did with my dismissal and uproar in press.  I think that the Rodionenkos didn’t expect that either, they probably thought that they could dismiss me as quietly as they had other coaches.  Because the reaction was unexpected, I think that VM found himself in a difficult situation.

Who is the Minister?  First of all, he must be a damned good politician.  Sport in general is like war, and every day you are under attack.  He is responsible for a lot daily, for all sport disciplines.  His later interview was a good political interview, very neutral, he stated that he is sorry that Alexander left, but cannot do anything because Rodionenko is a senior coach and he has to listen to people he appointed in this position. 


My only wish is for him to work on getting more and a much broader spectrum of information.  He has capacity to do so, he can appoint several people if need be to gather more information from different resources (this is for any sport).  That way he can make sure that the decisions made are adequate and are based on strong and broad information gathered from many sources, and not just one or two.  So many decisions made by Rodionenko were wrong! For example:

I was shocked to witness that such a wonderful gymnast as Dementyeva, who has done so much for the sport and her country, and took titles at MANY Championships and has such extensive experience was not allowed to stay through the Olympic Games try-outs.  After the first day she was told to pack and go home by VR. Dementyeva showed a very good result on the first day of try outs, placing well ahead of Grishina, but was asked to leave regardless.  I tried to fight this, but was over ruled by VR of course.  I strongly believe that this was a BIG mistake that cost us at Olympic Games.



I think that neither VM nor his people knew about this.  So my wish for him is to be better informed which will give him more strength, respect and validity as a good politician. I understand that he does not have enough time to be in the middle of every problem, but he does have resources and it would be helpful to him to delegate his helpers to gather better “intel”, so to speak.  That way he can make the correct decisions.


As far as having any influence over the management of the Russian gymnastics team, as of today the RGF is the main political body making the bulk of decisions in the sport of gymnastics.  That’s just how things are: they make a decision, and VM gives his final approval or disapproval.  His approvals (or not) are based on information he has, so that goes back to my previous statement and my wish for him to have better information … Also, perhaps because the Rodionenkos have such a close relative as Viacheslav Fetisov [see below], perhaps no one wants to get in the middle of the mess and it may seem easier to keep your hands clean so to speak.  Let it go as it goes, everyone will sleep better at night.

As far as VM’s viewpoint on my position within the team is concerned, all I can say is that after Olympic Games, he gave me several honourable gifts personally from him; such as a personal plaque with thanks signed by him, a beautiful watch engraved on the back with a personal message and, most importantly, a medal of very high calibre for my work and achievements.  I definitely feel that my country awarded me and showed me plenty of respect, and I am very grateful for this.  Plus I was awarded a rank of Honourable Coach of Russia.  I previously held a rank of Honourable Coach of USSR and RSFSR, but this was an incredibly meaningful award that I am very proud of.

So this is all very ironic to me: as far as honours and awards are concerned, I have plenty, but in reality - I am not needed.  Go figure …



RRG: What, if anything, does Viacheslav Fetisov have to do with Russian gymnastics, and how has he influenced its management over the past few years?

AA:  I know that he was instrumental in bringing Andrei Rodionenko back to Russia as Main Coach.  As far as Valentina is concerned - well, a mother-in-law is a mother-in-law, you know?   We are all trying to do whatever is in our power to help our families, so I would imagine this is the same for him.  I have absolutely no proof, but I believe that if it wasn’t for Fetisov, the Rodionenkos would be long gone from Russian gymnastics by now.  Again, this is just my opinion and not based on facts, rather observations.

My only wish is for him and for other people at the helm of gymnastics in Russia to think more about the fact that Andrei will be 74 and Valentina 80 years old by the Olympic Games in Rio. I don’t suffer from “ageism”, but I don’t think they can do much for the sport (they haven’t in the past).  This is their third term in their positions, and they are still looking for those guilty for the fact that there is no reserve in Russian gymnastics …
 
Russia needs to think about the future, who will replace the Rodionenkos?  There should be some grooming of competent younger and talented people, who will be able to take the lead of gymnastics in Russia.  I think the Rodionenkos holding everything in their hands can greatly damage Russian gymnastics in the future, they need to start to let go - so there IS a future.  However with their personalities - I don’t see this happening, but I will be happy if I am proven wrong.
Andrei and Valentina Rodionenko at their post-Olympics press conference
RRG:  As Head Coaches, what influence do Andrei and Valentina Rodionenko have on the selection and appointment of coaches?  Did they ‘take against’ you early on?  We have heard about your meetings with them being secretly recorded, about coaches making statements denouncing other coaches, about gymnasts making recriminations about training conditions … what, in your opinion, is behind all of this?  What influence do they have over the day to day training of the gymnasts? Any examples?  What do you consider motivates their behaviour?

AA: Well this will be a long answer with quite a few examples … Hope everyone has time to read this through (laughing).

I would like to start by stating that when you read the Rodionenkos’ interviews in Russian press, they make it sound as though gymnastics in Russia has got better and stronger exclusively thanks to them; that they were the ones who made all the difference.

VTB : a 'wonderful sponsor' for Russian gymnastics
Yet Russian gymnastics got stronger very largely due to having a wonderful sponsor, VTB Bank, whose officials spent very big money year after year to restore Lake Krugloye, to support all the staff and gymnasts financially, to purchase the latest and best equipment, to provide very nice living quarters for staff and gymnasts, to provide balanced and nutritious meals, and so many other things.  I am very grateful to VTB Bank for all the work they’ve done, and hope that their sponsorship and relationship with the RGF continues for many years.

When I first accepted the Head Coach position, I was told by many people working in Russian gymnastics that as soon as I started showing results, the Rodionenkos would start working on getting rid of me.  I don’t think this is largely jealousy, but rather fear and the fact that during them being at the helm of Russian artistic gymnastics, there was no one to replace them at their post - except possibly me.

I have never wanted to replace anyone or had ambitions to take their post. All I ever wanted was to work the right way and have a green-lit road ahead of me to do things how they should be done.  As long as I was provided with that as Head Coach, I was happy and content in my position.  However over time, when I would not agree with decisions the Rodionenkos would make and would voice my disagreements in staff meetings or interviews, the Rodionenkos thought that my disagreement was to defy them and to replace them.  That I had some kind of “hidden agenda”, which was never the case - just their sheer unprofessionalism and stupidity in making decisions.

After women’s team started showing good results, some journalists and other people started “raising me” with praise and making comments as far as me replacing the Rodionenkos which I think added more fear for them that I may be a serious threat.  I repeat, this was never my wish, but I am certain that this was the main reason for getting rid of me, first as a Head Coach, and then simply my presence in Russia …



I also find it very disturbing that in the past five years, five Head Coaches have been dismissed and quickly replaced. By the way, all of the Head Coaches were recommended in the first place by the Rodionenkos. First dismissed Head Coach was Victor Gavrichenko, (by the way, he was personal coach to Shushunova). At first they were working well together, but as soon as conflicts or disagreements started, he was quickly removed by the Rodionenkos. 

Next Head Coach was Alexander Kiryashev.  From what I heard, he was trying to work independently from the Rodionenkos in order to get the team ready for the Olympic Games in Beijing, but unfortunately there were no medals for the women's team (there were several reasons, but that's beside the point), and he was quickly dismissed.  His dismissal was done in the ugliest and most unprofessional way, and it was literally in front of me.  When I was invited to be the Head Coach, I came to my first day at work, and Rodionenko literally told him, "get out of here, your contract is about to expire".  I was a witness to this.  No thank you, nothing ... Kiryashev was a coach of high calibre; he had his personal gymnasts on the national team.  He had authority and a good knowledge of gymnastics.  Many coaches signed a letter addressed to "higher powers" asking for him to stay, but the Rodionenkos needed a new name in order to prove to the Ministry of Sport and RGF that they can fix the situation, and that supposedly all they had when they came to Russia was chaos and no gymnastics existed.  Basically they were trying to save their own behinds by getting rid of Kiryashev and bringing "Big Names" on board - myself and Oleg Ostapenko.

The third Head Coach dismissed was Oleg Ostapenko. Oleg is a brilliant coach; I wish that the world had more coaches like him!  Oleg is a very straightforward person, nor will he kiss someone's behind if the person is wrong and consistently does damage.  Needless to say that the Rodionenkos were trying to “choke him” from the very beginning.  So Oleg was able to stomach a couple of years and then told the Rodionenkos EXACTLY what he thought of them and left.  Interesting side note - before coming to Russia, when Oleg was working in Brazil and AR in Canada, Oleg’s girls always won and placed above Rodionenko’s - this is individually. Unfortunately Brazil didn’t have a good team then, but individually Oleg’s girls were always better. 

The fourth Head Coach dismissed was Evgeny Nikolko, Head Coach of the men’s team. Nikolko was also a personal coach to Alexei Nemov, so you can understand his level.  I don’t want to get into men’s gymnastics or say who is wrong and who is right. But this person is also of high knowledge of sport.

The fifth Head Coach dismissed was me …

So five Head Coaches in the past five years have been dismissed, but the unsinkable Rodionenkos are still here.  It is also very sad that two people working under the Rodionenkos had a heart attack and were hospitalized.  I definitely didn’t want to be another person suffering a heart attack.

It is absurd that senior coaches who were not able to show any results for the longest time are still at the helm of Russian Gymnastics. I don’t think this would be accepted in any other country in the world. As I previously stated, all these five Head Coaches were first recommended by the Rodionenkos, and then dismissed by them.  So my point is: if we are such bad coaches, then the Rodionenkos are a travesty! 



Quite honestly, I still haven’t quite figured out what Valentina does.  I actually asked her about a year and a half ago after her putting a veto on some instructions I gave  “What type of coach are you, and what do you do exactly?”  I don’t think she liked that very much.  Some time ago Valentina received the title of National Coach.  National Coach of any sport discipline should not work with National Teams on a daily basis. The National Coach works with different regions in the country and raises interest in sport, makes some facility decisions, and so on.  These are the official functions of a National Coach.  But Valentina is constantly at Lake Krugloye, and has been trying to be involved (since 2010) in the everyday training of the women’s national team.

Like I said before, I truly think that the men’s team is lucky because Valentina does not know anything about men’s gymnastics, so she keeps herself out of there most of the time.  However, I’m sure you have heard that several men’s national team gymnasts were very unhappy with Valentina and her decisions, and wrote letters to the press and Gymnastics Federation complaining about her ways.  Gymnasts like Anton Golotsuskov, Sergei Khorokhordin, a few others.  All of these complaints were all over the Russian press, but the official position was: meh, gymnasts are always complaining about something, let’s not pay attention and let it go”.

It is also largely known that Valentina has her “favourites” and favouritism is blooming in Russian gymnastics. The “favourites” are always coming to her room in the evenings, and gossip or say whatever else about what happened and what they saw, and so on.  They advise her in this or that situation, and because she isn’t competent in gymnastics, she listens to their advice (which is often self-profitable).  This has led to many really bad decisions, often based on personal problems or personal dislikes of these “favourites”.  Many people at Lake Krugloye and in gymnastics know about this, but everyone is afraid to say something.  Because talking against Valentina will not end up well.  We have a saying in Russia: “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”.

As far as Rodionenko taking “against me” early on is concerned, this is not so.  When I first returned to Russia to be the Head Coach, Valentina and I would talk very often and she seemed to listen and respect what I had to say.  I have never worked with her before, but we used to be on good terms when I was coaching Bilozerchev back in the 1980s.  In those days, we would sometimes visit each other’s homes and were friendly with each other.  When Dmitri Bilozerchev had some health issues, I would often talk with Andrei about his problems, so our relationship was good and open back then.

Part Three
Guide to the interview

Copyright (c) Alexander Alexandrov/RRG, 2013
No reproduction without permission in writing.  Please apply to rewriterussiagym@btinternet.com

 



 

 

Comments

  1. What a great interview! It's so wonderful to finally get AA's side of the story. Basically my only remaining questions have to do with Anna Dementyeva. I wonder - when and why did VR start hating Anna? Did her hate for Anna bleed into the rest of the team, i.e. did some of the gymnasts and/or coaches treat her worse because VR didn't like her? She was only included in the 2010 World team as alternate until the last minute and after seeing Anna Myzdrikova in podium training many fans couldn't believe Dementyeva wasn't on the team already. Was this because of VR? And what was the reason she was finally (justly) included in the main team and allowed to compete? Anyway...just my thoughts as I read the section on Dementyeva.

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