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Alexander Alexandrov in his own words 4: the Rodionenkos since 2011

Part 1
Part 3

Valentina Rodionenko: 'she likes flattery very much ... she completely destroys her enemies'

To go back to question in hand - Valentina was the main initiator of inviting me to come and coach in Russia.  Like I stated before, the Rodionenkos were in deep you know what after the previous (2008) Olympic Games.  They needed to invite “big names” to coach and to do all the work.  The Rodionenkos needed to prove to the Ministry of Sport and the RGF that they could “fix” the problem.  So when I first started, at our coach meetings Valentina would point me out and say to the rest, “Alexander is the Head Coach who was instrumental in our team winning the Olympic Games” (referring to Barcelona).  So in the beginning Valentina would put me on a pedestal because she needed that.  But after a while, any coach who does not repeat what she says and kiss her behind becomes an enemy.  Valentina is used to being the boss, and likes flattery very much. She completely destroys her enemies.

I started to become an enemy when I started disagreeing with her.  The main reason for my argument was the fact that as a Head Coach, I was able to make independent decisions and had certain power over say, for example, which specialists to invite to work with the team, the structure of daily workouts, the order of gymnasts competing, which competitions the team should participate in and so on.  All of these clauses were written in my contract and were also common sense and something expected from a Head Coach of any sport. When Valentina started overstepping her boundaries and getting involved in my training process and putting a veto on my decisions -obviously I didn’t like it and was not going to be quiet about it.

There were a number of events that gradually worsened my relationship with the Rodionenkos.  The first BIG red flag happened about three weeks before the World Championships in Rotterdam. We were already in Holland, in a town called Waalwijk, for a small meet that was a good way to check the preparedness of our team before World Championships.  Some coaches didn’t like it for whatever personal reasons, and started telling Valentina all kinds of s**t.  This was one of the evenings of “favourites” visiting her.  I happened to walk down the hall by her room, and heard Valentina scream, “I will not allow Alexandrov to become the second Arkayev!”  She feared the fact that I was the one to find these competitions and the fact that I had made an independent decision as Head Coach, without her.

Code of Points Clash 

Another thing happened that proved to be a point of argument between me and Rodionenko: some time in 2010, I came to the realization that we should create our own “inside” rules besides the FIG rules, just for ourselves at home.  Sometimes some older gymnasts don’t want to do the difficulty required by FIG Code of Points, so it was my idea to create our own Code of Points just for coaches, in order to raise the overall difficulty of any given programme.

This was not just “my decision”, this was a project discussed with other coaches and also accepted by the RGF.  So after it was accepted, the coaches started working by our “inside Code of Points”.  At all Russian Championships, judges started to show two scores: one for the International Code of Points, and one for the Russian Code of Points.  Those gymnasts who started showing more difficulty were supported and awarded by the RGF.  This helped tremendously to raise interest not only for gymnasts but also for the coaches - everyone wants to be rewarded.  I think this was a very successful programme for our gymnasts, and at that time AR also was in full agreement with it.

However, in 2010 during the Russia Cup in Chelyabinsk (about a month before Worlds) there was a problem.  On the first day the gymnasts competed by two Codes of Points, but on the second AR came up to me and said “let’s not use our inside code of points any more”.  I told him he was crazy, he should have raised this question half a year earlier.  You don’t do this in the middle of competition; plus competing by the Russian Code of Points and being awarded had become something to strive for and to be very proud of.  Gymnasts and coaches were working very hard to achieve this status.  I was at a total loss, so I asked him why.  He said, “well, let’s just go by the International Code of Points so we can better see who can make it to the National Team”.  I told him “I think everything is already pretty clear, plus we don’t have that many gymnasts and you can already see who can make it and who cannot”. (Note: at that time the Russian Code of Points had much higher difficulty than FIG Code).

Imagine that you were watching a soccer match, and all of a sudden in the middle of the game - surprise!  The rules have changed!  Going by our code of points - Aliya was two full points ahead, and by the International Code, she may have been 1.5 points ahead, a huge difference in gymnastics, and what a wonderful reserve to have! Plus a few other gymnasts were well ahead also, so to me - it was as clear as day which gymnasts would make it to the national team.  That was so absurd to me and got me so angry that I expressed myself in a few choice words.

2011 World Championships

On another occasion, during the 2011 World Championships, the Rodionenkos' behaviour reached even greater heights of stupidity ... Aliya was recovering after her injury and was absent. The team was weakened somewhat, but we had newcomer Vika Komova and a couple of other pretty good girls, so there were definitely high hopes for Russia.  After the first day, the Russian Team had placed second in the qualifications round.  In my opinion this was an honourable and good position to have at this stage of  the competition, but the Rodionenkos decided to have a meeting, during which they poured dirt all over me and the other coaches, and were lecturing us about gymnastics in Russia as a whole - which had no place and made no sense at this meeting.  We were all told that we didn’t work well enough and so on.  This is just qualifications mind you, so instead of supporting the coaching staff, they chose to blame and point fingers.  Needless to say, all of the coaches felt terrible after this meeting.  The overall morale was definitely down, and the coaches didn’t seem to care any more. 

A couple of days later I found out that Elena Vaitsekhovskaya (well-known sports journalist in Russia, and an Olympian herself) had had a pretty serious verbal fight with VR.  I have known Elena for a very long time and also knew her father who was a legendary coach (in a different sport).  She came up to me and asked, referring to VR, “who is that stupid woman? Have you heard about the thing that happened a few days ago?”   I hadn’t, so she filled me in.

Apparently, Elena had recently published an article, where at the very end she mentioned that Dominique Moceanu (who was my pupil in US), happened to be at the same meet with Elena and asked Elena where she could find me.  All Dominique wanted to do was to thank me for helping to coach her and to give me a signed copy of the book she recently wrote.  Valentina had apparently read this article and started screaming at Elena, “what kind of rubbish did you write?”  Elena was really shocked by this attack and asked Valentina to please explain what angered her so much. Valentina started to raise her voice at Elena, screaming “Why do you put Alexandrov on a pedestal?  Have you actually seen him training Dominique?  What has he actually done for the sport?  He is nobody and you should not talk about him or write about him or praise him!”  Elena told her off, which made Valentina even madder, so this incident became public and quite a few people witnessed it.
Andrei Rodionenko admits he is unable to control his ambitious wife

When Elena told me about this, you can understand my reaction.  Later that day Valentina happened to walk by me, and told me that we should have another meeting.  This really angered me, so I replied that there should be no more meetings.  After all, this is a World Championships and not a Senate session.  Coaches and gymnasts have been working extremely hard and need their rest at the end of the day.  Then Valentina opened her mouth and started yelling at me that I am nobody, what have I done for the sport, and so on.  This argument got very heated and ugly, as I was not about to take the insults and back off.  I told her EXACTLY what I think about her, her “competence” and her “achievements “.  Andrei was present but didn’t even try to shut up his wife at that moment.  Andrei later came to my room to make amends and apologize for Valentina.  I asked him why he let her talk to people this way and why he didn’t stop her? To which Andrei very quietly replied “I can’t …”   Needless to say, neither Valentina nor Andrei ever forgot the fact that I stood up to them and spoke my mind …

These were not the only occasions that the Rodionenkos behaved unfortunately, or suggested actions that would have been unhelpful to the team.  You will remember that when the tragic explosion happened in Japan, the World Championships were scheduled to take place in Tokyo only a few months after. Obviously, everyone attending Worlds was worried about the radiation level and possible health danger.  Representatives from Japan made a point of coming to all major countries participating, including Russia, to reassure us that there was no health risk.  So all of the countries accepted and decided to go and compete.  Andrei had the bright idea of boycotting the Worlds; according to him his main concern was our children’s health.

A noble thought at first, but since the air quality in the area was deemed non-dangerous, the rest of the teams had decided to show sportsmanship and support for Japan.  So I started to question Andrei’s motives, and after some time Andrei made a suggestion to “half-boycott”.  According to him, we should go and compete at qualifying ONLY, and then go home!  Because Worlds Championships was the meet where the selections for the Olympic Games were made, his thinking was, ”let’s go show our face, and qualify so no one can say we weren’t there, and then just go home.  No one will ask us for medals because we decided to leave due to health risks”.

I was quite shocked to hear this coming out of our Main Coach’s mouth!  I could maybe understand his reasoning if half of the other teams were doing this, but if we did this - Russia would be the ONLY country who would spit in the face of Japan.  I think this would show an unbelievable disrespect to Japan and to the rest of the teams participating.  Bottom line - Andrei is afraid of everything and often is looking for a way out that is not honourable or right …

The sheer stupidity and unprofessionalism of VR was really seen once again in an interview she gave right after the European Championships this year (2013), where she stated that “Mustafina has performed the exact same program as at the Olympic Games”.  Any person who knows gymnastics will find this statement not only untrue but just laughable, as Aliya performed a watered down version of her programme from the OG. This is how much VR knows about gymnastics, and this is far from the first time where she has “demonstrated her knowledge of the sport”.

It is my opinion that the sooner Rodionenkos go from Russian gymnastics, the sooner Russian gymnastics will be able to breathe …

Master of Sport Morass

So, you have read here just a few small incidents, the kind of things that were happening all the time, and that undermined the smooth running of the team and its morale, and that made it incredibly difficult for me to exercise the full powers of my job.  I had already made my decision to leave a few days before the last Gymnastics Presidium held at the end of May.  I asked to be included in the participant list for the Presidium, and even then there were conflicts.  The main issue being voted on was setting new normative standards by which to award a title of “Master of Sport” to gymnasts. Let me explain the importance of this title so that everyone can understand the way things work in Russian gymnastics.

Currently Russian gymnastics has a problem with a lack of high-level gymnasts.  We have a very desirable and honourable title for gymnasts in Russia called “Master of Sport”.  Historically, to receive a Master of Sport from the Government, the gymnast had to pass very highly set criteria.  The coaches are dependent on their gymnasts showing high results, because if they have trained a Master of Sport gymnast, it looks great on any coach’s resume and allows a coach to be employed much more easily and for longer term.  Plus there are some monetary awards given to coaches who have trained a Master of Sport gymnast. 

Those gymnasts awarded a Master of Sport, have a green light to be accepted into good college or University.  So, after finishing college, those wanting to stay in gymnastics can return to the gym and coach and make a difference for the future generation.  Those who cannot achieve a normative programme to be awarded a Master of Sport end up not being needed or wanted in Russian gymnastics.  So they leave the sport completely, taking other career paths to provide for themselves and their families.  So the current system itself has huge problems and holes as far as retaining professional gymnasts and future coaching reserve. On the other hand, adjusting the normative programme to make the Master of Sport award accessible to more gymnasts would mean that more people stay in the sport, adding to the ranks of coaches who could begin to bring up the next generation of talent, and so on.

Even during the Soviet times, there were cases when the Master of Sport was awarded to some gymnasts even if they didn’t qualify, simply to retain professional gymnasts in the sport and to provide some type of “tomorrow” for future coaching staff across the country.  The Rodionenkos have no concept of reality; they never had to start from scratch.  So Andrei decided to argue against changing the standards, saying that it was not necessary.  All those present at the Presidium looked at him like he was crazy, and started to argue back that AR had no idea what he was talking about and had no concept of reality of current situation.   The main point (which I have been arguing for years), is that the standards for awarding Master of Sport for those gymnasts on  the National Team and for those who are training somewhere in Kazan, for example, simply CANNOT be the same.  The level of difficulty cannot be compared between National Team and independent gym.  The system should be somewhat similar to the USA programme.  Let young people take gymnastics, and create different levels as in the US.  Those who show high level of talent, should be able to go on, those who compete at levels 9 and 10 (similar to US) should be proud of their achievements and still given the opportunity to have a future in the sport.  There are many talented coaches around the world who were not elite gymnasts.

I was shocked to hear Andrei Rodionenko arguing against changing the rules and broadening the Master of Sport programme.  He worked in Canada and Australia, where those teams may have one or two good high-level gymnasts, but place tenth or twelfth as a team.  So what are those gymnasts to do?  If they are not able to receive a college scholarship, no other award for their years in sport, years of hard work, pain and injuries, why would they stay?  Why would they want to become coaches?  
So after three hours of arguing back and forth, the Gymnastics Presidium officials decided to change the standards for awarding Master of Sport - thank God for that. But the fact that the Rodionenkos don’t understand the importance of retention really shows their lack of understanding of the current problems in the sport.

When it was my time to speak, I took the stage to say my final words.  I introduced myself as former Head Coach of the women’s national team (laughing) and said the following: “I wanted to express my gratitude for trusting me to coach and to lead the national team.  But as far as how well I worked - this decision is up to you.  I am in full disagreement with the decision that was made back in September of 2012 to release me as Head Coach.  The main accusation against me was that I paid too much attention to Mustafina and not enough to the rest of the team.  Things don’t add up if you ask me; the national team became World Champions for the first time in 19 years, so there seems to be a disconnect between accusations and reality.  Emotions are one thing, but the results are a simple fact.  Secondly, 13 gymnasts during my time as Head Coach became champions at Worlds, Europeans, Olympics and so on.  That’s 13 DIFFERENT gymnasts in the last four years.  Seeing the results, how can the Rodionenkos’ accusations be correct?  You all are professional people here, and must understand what is a lie and what is a fact. 

Furthermore, in the last five years, five Head Coaches were removed by the Rodionenkos. I would like to ask a simple question to this Presidium and to the Rodionenkos: how did it happen that such a talented gymnast as Grishina was fully under the coaching regime and programme of the Rodionenkos and her coach Zelikson?  The Rodionenkos were screaming all over their interviews that Grishina would tear everyone apart and that she is the best hope Russia has at the Olympic Games.  But the fact of the matter is that she did not just compete poorly, unfortunately she enlarged the gap between Russia and US teams. The gymnast is not to blame, she was told what to do by her coach and her seniors, so blame those who were preparing her, the lack of proper preparation and reasons for it. And still, for some reason, the Rodionenkos are not to answer for this?  So I would like to ask all of you - when will the Rodionenkos will be held responsible for ANYTHING AT ALL?

This is all I have to say, thank you for your time”

After my short speech, the silence in the auditorium could be cut with a knife … Then Leonid Arkayev stood up and said, “I know that it is not a desire of Alexander Sergeevich to leave Russia. But unfortunately he was pushed to make this sad decision.  But I think that all of us absolutely MUST say a huge thank you for his work and his patience for the past four years” …

The entire auditorium stood up and started clapping.  The ovation was loud and long, it gave me a great satisfaction and brought tears to my eyes …I called a friend of mine inside the Russian Gymnastics Federation that evening who had been present at the Presidium.  I said “congratulations, today was the first time I saw people openly disagreeing with the Rodionenkos, this is a healthy start”.  To which this person replied, “Alexander, did you know that after the Presidium, the Rodionenkos accused me of “prepping those in attendance against them” and also accused me of “not following the regular programme of the Presidium”.  We laughed a bit together and wished each other luck 

[Isa writes : Let me try to explain what the Gymnastics Presidium is the best I can. Mainly, this is somewhat similar to a Senate Session, where all gymnastics officials and coaches are present. Typically there are several questions up for discussion, and at the end voting takes place. This is where we receive new information; new goals to work towards, and where we discuss the results of any important recent competitions National Team participated in. I could not tell you how often it happens for sure, but I believe it is every quarter or so. Hope this makes sense :-)]

Copyright (c) Alexander Alexandrov/RRG 2013.  No reproduction without express permission in writing; please apply to 



  1. Why is the bottom in wingdings?

    1. Hi Robbie - are the wingdings still there?
      They aren't visible in Firefox - but I have had feedback that the formatting at the bottom of this post is eccentric.
      I'm sorry - for some reason it was a nightmare to get the formatting on this part of the interview correct - I had to go back and type in all of the text again from scratch - don't know what it can be.
      Let me know of any problems

  2. P.S. Thank you so much for this interview!

  3. does somebody have a list about honoured gymnast?


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