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Alexander Alexandrov in his own words 3: Rodionenko and the Russian team, 1980s to the present day

Part 1
Part 2
Andrei Rodionenko with the USSR women's team (Universiade) in 1985


I think this may be a good place to explain where the Rodionenkos come from, and the past history between us.

Some time ago, there was an extremely talented and legendary ice hockey player, Viacheslav Fetisov.  Some of you may know that Valentina Rodionenko’s daughter, Lada, is Fetisov’s wife. After finishing his career as an NHL player, he was asked to return to Russia by President Vladimir Putin, and was given the post of Minister of Sport in Russia.  Fetisov worked in this role for some time, but before the 2008 Olympic Games in Peking he was dismissed. However, he is still very close to the President and the ruling party in Russia.  As I mentioned before, Fetisov played an important role in the Rodionenkos’ return to Russia, and in supporting their continuing position of power there.

As you may know, the main coach in gymnastics for a long time was Leonid Arkayev. He was a somewhat difficult person to work with because he was very independent and made decisions on his own, and also it was a very difficult time in Russia: not enough money for sport, difficult political situation and so on.  During that time, the training facilities were in a very bad shape but nothing could be done about it, morale was bad, and when everything around is bad, the results are going to go down as well. Which is what started happening.

Obviously the lack of investment and other incentives in the sport of gymnastics had a snow ball effect all over the country. Gyms started to close, coaches started to leave because people were not getting paid, the gymnasts were quitting gymnastics, or those who stuck around had a very hard time training properly because the facilities were in a very bad shape and often gymnasts did not have proper equipment to train on. So after some time of this destruction in country and sport, Fetisov decided that Arkayev was not working as well as he had in the past, and dismissed him from his position in 2005.  He replaced him with his father-in-law, Andrei Rodionenko, as main coach.

It is useful at this point to remember some more history about Rodionenko.  Few may know or remember that many years ago Andrei Rodionenko was a Head Coach of senior women’s team, all while Arkayev was the Main Coach over both women’s and men’s teams. 

Leonid Arkayev: he invited Alexander Alexandrov to become WAG coach in 1988
In 1988-1989, Arkayev asked me to become Head Coach of the senior women’s team, therefore replacing Rodionenko.  I was quite surprised, since I worked with men at that time, but accepted the new challenge.  The main reason stated for replacing Andrei Rodionenko was that only a year before the Seoul Olympic Games (in 1987), the women’s team competed very poorly, losing at the European Championships, which were held at home in Moscow.  And to top it off, the team lost the World Championships that Fall in Rotterdam (which is ironic if you think about it).  The guys competed beautifully (including my personal pupil Bilozerchev), but the women lost as a team, as all around, and did poorly in individual events. 

So, to fix this bad situation somehow, Arkayev was working very hard, daily spending first half of the day at the women’s team workout, and afternoons at the men’s team workouts; just to try to raise the workability and morale of both teams.  Keep in mind that this is only a year before the Olympic Games.  At that point it was understood by everyone that no matter how the girls competed at Olympic Games, AR had not risen to the challenge of being Head Coach of the senior team, and he would be dismissed from his position.  I have read interviews where AR has stated that “he was replaced undeservingly” and that his team “won Olympic Games”, but let’s be honest, the last year before Olympic Games - it was Arkayev who was working with the women’s team, not Rodionenko.  Please understand that I speak about all of this as I saw it first hand in the gym.  

I feel that I acted as a gentleman when I replaced Andrei. I understood how difficult the transition would be for any coach, so I offered to lead a couple of training camps at Lake Krugloye together, (each training camp is roughly three weeks long), just to ease the transition and to help him leave with dignity.  I also always tried to support him when he was working at other gyms, and would visit his workouts and try to stay on cordial and friendly terms with him as much as my schedule allowed. After some time we started having problems, because several coaches who had worked with AR told me that AR had banned his gymnasts from the camps held at Lake Krugloye, to the point of using “disciplinary actions” towards those gymnasts who wanted to participate and to try out for a possibility of making a national team.  Needless to say we stopped seeing eye-to-eye.  I also want to point out that even though Valentina held a title of  “Head Coach” at that time, it was on paper and she had a purely administrative function.  Valentina has not actually coached a day in her life. Some time later they left for Australia.  They were one of the first coaches to leave Soviet Union to work overseas.

As I mentioned before, when the Rodionenkos decided to demote me, this was done illegally since my contract was not with them (they were under contract themselves). My contract was with the RGF and Ministry of Sport, and their signature was nowhere to be found on my “demotion”.  I was ready to leave right away because this whole situation was a slap in my face, but then again, my contract was until the end of December.  Plus, I was asked to hold on and be patient.  I also understood that my acting just as Mustafina’s personal coach would create plenty more trouble for Aliya (which ended up being true), I will touch on that more later.

In many interviews around the time of my demotion, VR kept on saying that this was a “separation of titles”, that there were no bad feelings and nothing personal.  I can honestly say that the lack of good relationship between us was a catalyst for my demotion and it was completely personal.

I would like to touch on that: in my contract, there were certain things that I had power to do as Head Coach, such as decide how many works outs to have per day and work-out length; whom to invite to any training sessions or camps, and so on. The Rodionenkos started to veto my decisions, and I feel this harmed the team and also undermined my position.  Exactly the same thing had happened to Oleg Ostapenko, who tried very hard to work under the Rodionenkos for two years, but had to resign as he simply could not take it any more.

Also, any newspaper or magazine article that had anything positive to say about me –the Rodionenkos gave very negative feedback and were in attack mode, trying to minimize anything I did in my life or work.  VR has definitely been the “mouthpiece”, but Andrei always let her.  He is a quiet one, but nevertheless a pretty rotten individual as I see it.

There is a gymnastics magazine in Russia, Gymnastika; it comes out roughly every three months.  In every issue, there are interviews about the Rodionenkos, their pictures and so on.  They make it look like the gymnasts have no personal coaches, no choreographers, no apparatus specialists who are working with them, just the Rodionenkos.  This is actually quite absurd, and before London, there was a booklet put out for PR purposes.  It had Andrei Kostin [President of the RGF and of sponsors VTB] on the cover, the two Rodionenkos, and the gymnasts.  No information whatsoever about the Head Coaches for either the women’s or men’s teams, no information about any other coaches.  It’s as if all of the gymnasts are coached by the Rodionenkos personally. However, when something goes wrong – the Head Coach is the guilty one. 

Another fact-when the women’s team won the World title in 2010, for the first time in many years, President Putin invited everyone to a private Gala. Obviously I am not in charge of making the list of attendees. So when the time came for all of us to head out to the Kremlin, one person (don’t want to name names) told me: “I was fighting for you”.  When I didn’t understand what he was referring to, he said that Valentina Rodionenko wanted to take me off the list.  Link to Part 4..


Guide to the interview

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

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