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Alexander Alexandrov in his own words 5: The London Olympics, and beyond

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Russia's gymnasts and coaches celebrate at the London Olympics, 2012.  Courtesy RGF/Elena Mikhailova
RRG: In your opinion, did the Russian WAG team fulfill its potential at the London 2012 Olympics?  Were there ways in which the team could have done better?  How was the team spirit - amongst the gymnasts and amongst the coaches?

AA:  I have a somewhat double feeling/opinion about this.  In my mind, I believe that we were capable of taking first place.  At qualifications we were losing to the US by 1.5 points.  When finals started, we were a bit behind, but gained some positions compared to the qualifications round.  Unfortuantely, we were not able to hold on and lost by a large margin.

Anastasia Grishina: 'scared' and poorly coached in 2012, but great potential for 2013
I don't want to point any fingers, but again our unstoppable Rodionenkos had worked for four years with the coach of Grishina and allowed him to train her by his own plan.  This is simply unheard of!  Grishina is a gymnast with talent, but without proper work outs, a proper regime, proper discipline, talent can only take you so far ... She was also quite scared of everything, and I think she just wasn't ready psychologically at the Olympic Games.  I am very happy that she has found a new and great pair of coaches, and I hope that she continues to improve because she does have lots of potential.

As for the spirit of National Team during Olympic Games, I can tell you one thing: the entire 2012 was extremely difficult.  This was largely due to the Rodionenkos disrupting the training process and changing things.  I saw no good reason for it, especially since we worked one way for three years and had been able to achieve good results.  Changes that the Rodionenkos were trying to make were completely unnecessary.  Of course there was also pressure due to multiple injuries of several gymnasts.  So I feel that even though we were prepared very well physically, sadly there were other issues that weakened the team and overall morale.

For example, some coaches that were Valentina's "favourites" started to squabble and back stab one another, trying to have their gymnast included on the final national team competing.  The overall discipline went downhill.  Even in 2011 when Mustafina was absent and we had a newcomer, Vika Komova, the overall discipline was much higher and we didn't have so many problems as in 2012 when the team actually got stronger with Aliya coming back.  When coaches and other staff back stab each other, you understand that nothing good comes out of it.  But, I feel that the physical preparedness we had been working on for three years was still evident at Olympic Games.  I don't think we competed to our full potential, but there were several reasons for this that I already discussed ...

RRG: And now - how are the gymnasts training?  Are they all together at Lake Krugloye?

AA: From what I was able to observe in 2013, everyone is training together which is a good thing, but the intensity and components of daily workouts have become much more relaxed.  Instead of the morning warm-up and conditioning session, now the gymnasts are taking a leisurely walk through the Lake Krugloye grounds.  Even Svetlana Boguinskaia found this completely absurd and was laughing about this in her recent interview.  This was one of the changes by the Rodionenkos.  If before you were absent from the training camp, you had to have a damned good reason, these days, gymnasts are allowed to miss camp or come a day or two later without any serious reason, or no reason at all sometimes ...

RRG: Who do you consider to be the leading gymnast on the team right now, and why?

AA:  Today this is very hard to say.  Even looking at the American girls, you simply don't know from the ones that compete today, who will be able to last and make it to next Olympic Games.  Several US gymnasts are now making money in business, or on TV shows.  This is normal and everyone who worked as hard as any elite gymnast should be given an opportuity to take care of their future monetarily.  The same situation is in Russia - some girls have taken to the political arena, some will perhaps do exhibitions or participate in TV shows, so there are so many factors in life that can change things for every gymnast.  It is always very hard to start a new year, and especially difficult to start a new Olympic cycle.  Even extremely talented girls like Mustafina or Komova may decide to go a different way.

As of today, I think Grishina is in a good place unless Rodionenkos will start to "choke her".  Unfortunately she wasn't able to show her full potential in the past four years, but today her situation is much more stable.  She has great new coaches, and as long as Rodionenkos will let her coaches train her the way they see fit and will not place her on their "unfavourable list", she can certainly show great results.  As for Mustafina and Komova - everything will depend on them and their willingness to train again, and how they will be treated.  Afanasyeva has been also training very well lately; she is in a good shape now.  So she still can show some great things if she stays healthy.

But the truth of the matter is, for this year the main "working horses" will still be those who competed at the London Olympic Games.   Where is the second group of strong hopefuls?  - ask the Rodionenkos ...

There is a good new girl Evgeniya Shelgunova.  Of course she needs a lot of work, but she does have good potential in my opinion.  However from what I know - the Rodionenkos don't really care for her and her coach much.  So here we go with the problem of being a "favourite" or not ...

Russia has a newcomer, Katya Baturina, who in my opinion is not the strongest or more talented that Shelgunova or others.  You should know that she is a personal pupil of Evgeny Grebyonkin (the new Head Coach).  But now, even though Grebyonkin trained her for years and continues to personally work with her, formally on paperher personal coach is now Grebyonkin's wife.  I find this very ironic compared to my dismissal as Head Coach for having a personal pupil ...

RRG: The Russians seem to be having trouble in particular with their vaulting ... do you agree ... what are the problems - and solutions?  Similarly, with the exception of Afanasyeva - and, perhaps, Komova - there seem to be few powerful tumblers on the Russian team - what do you think are the reasons for this, and what could be done to improve?

AA: I don't think the Russian girls have trouble with vaulting, especially if you look at the official results of the Olympic Games where we were weaker than US girls, but still showed lots of difficulty.  If you look at the other teams, we were stronger than the rest of the world and were topped by the American gymnasts only.  Don't forget that in 2010, Russian gymnasts Mustafina and Nabiyeva were the first ones to complete the Amanar vault.  To be able to vault the Amanar successfully, it's not enough just to have a good physical base.  For this vault, a gymnast must have a gift from God and a computer for a brain.  Good choreography and body lines can be taught, but you have to be born with Nature's Gift to vault two and a half twists successfully and consistently.  Unfortunately at this time we don't have the gymnasts with these two things combined.

As for powerful tumblers - again, in order to complete high difficulty of acrobatic skills, the gymnast must have a natural ability for it.  I see the level of the American girls.  Technically, they are not very strong, but they have the natural tumbling ability, the power, that's why they can tumble this way.  It just worked out in such a way that during the Olympic Games, the US had a good group of natural tumblers and Russia did not.  I think that today, Russia has good acrobatics specialists working with the team, Russia also has a few girls with natural tumbling ability, and I believe that the Russian girls will definitely get stronger in their tumbling and will raise their difficulty.

RRG: What are the reasons for the poor strength in depth on the Russian team at present?  Do things look any brighter as we approach Rio?

AA: First of all, I would sincerely like to wish the best of luck to the Russian team to begin taking first positions.  Most importantly of all - everything will depend on the Rodionenkos.  I have already discussed several times in this interview that MOST problems are due to the Rodionenkos; them playing "favourites" and making very poor decisions that are not educated.  Today they are the Bosses, so let them try ...

RRG: Much has been said about Aliya Mustafina's temperament and behaviour in training.  What would you like to say about this?  Is she really so poorly disciplined?  How does she feel about the changes in her coaching arrangements?  You must have very mixed feelings about leaving Moscow and Aliya?  ... How is the relationship between Mustafina and the Rodionenkos?  Will Aliya continue in the sport?  What are her goals?

Aliya Mustafina: 'Geniuses are never meek', says Alexander
AA: Gymnasts of such a high level as Aliya are never simple and easy.  Nor should they be in my opinion.  People that have any kind of "genius" are never meek, no matter what they do in life.  They all have a very strong character; and these gymnasts reach the highest level of achievement largely due to their character, their stubbornness, their inner worrier if you will.  Isn't it pure will and an extremely strong character to be able to come back and WIN after such serious injury she had?  There are very few athletes in the world who were able to come back after such injury back into sport; I'm not even talking about winning ... Aliya is not the first, nor the most difficult personality I have worked with.  Only God knows how many years of my life it cost me to work with such gymnasts as Boguinskaia or Bilozerchev (laughing).

I found Aliya pretty much by an accidental chain of events.  When I first came to Russia to work as Head Coach, I was visiting many gyms, looking for talented gymnasts that we could add to National Team.  My old sport club is CSKA (Central Sports Club of Army) in Moscow; this is one of the oldest and best known sports clubs in Russia which raised many wonderful gymnasts and coaches.  I had an old friend who was still working in CSKA, she called me one day and told me, "Sasha, when you are here next time, take a look at one girl who is currently training here, her name is Aliya Mustafina.  She does not have a coach, but she is very talented, maybe you can come by and take a look to see if you want to take her?"

I came by and watched Aliya train; what I saw impressed me enough to give her serious thought.  She was pretty rough at that time, out of shape and definitely needed a lot of work, but when you see a true natural talent, you just know.  So I asked my friend whom can I speak with to possibly bring her to train at Lake Krugloye.  Since she didn't have a coach (her coach had left her and gone to work in the US), her father was a point of contact.  When I spoke to him, he said, "Alexander Sergeevich, just take her before she quits.  I have to tell you up front though, go to the nearest drug store and buy a year's supply of heart pills, because you will need them!".  So this should tell you a little bit about Aliya (laughing).

I would like to point out that when Aliya came to Lake Krugloye, I did not plan to coach her myself and asked every coach there was if they would take her, sometimes several times.  No one wanted her; some didn't want an extra gymnast to coach because to coach two or three gymnasts at that level is a huge amount of work.  Some heard rumours about her allegedly difficult personality.  So if I didn't coach her myself, she would have had no one and would simply have quit the sport.

When I started working with Aliya, I was doing so for free.  No one raised my salary, nor have I ever demanded it.  It was in my contract to receive monetary bonuses based on results of National Team which is a standard for a Head Coach position.  Any wins Aliya had before the London Olympics were not compensated, nor did I ever demand any kind of compensation for my personal pupil.  The only monetary bonus I received for Aliya was after her wins at the Olympic Games, but even that bonus was divided between all of the specialists who worked with her.

A funny side note - Aliya’s ex-coach [Dina Kamalova], who literally left her, actually called me after Aliya started winning and demanded from me some kind of payment for “her gymnast”.  I was completely shocked by this request and tried explaining to her that not only had I never received any bonuses, I also was not in charge of cutting a cheque. So I suggested that she should call VR for any further discussions.  Only God knows what those two talked about, but some time later, Aliya’s ex-coach stated in an interview that she didn’t receive any bonuses for Aliya and that it was my fault. I wonder where the roots go for this accusation.

I was the Head Coach and had to work with the entire team and also perform so many other functions that are required.  For over three years my schedule was very difficult. Our training camps at Lake Krugloye last three weeks, with one week in between for rest. During the off time, most of the girls and coaches would leave to go home.  Aliya would often stay at Lake Krugloye, so I would stay with her to make sure she was OK.  When she went home (Moscow), I would have her train at CSKA club a couple of days, two work outs a day.  I was there with her during my “time off” because my first goal was to bring her up to the level needed, and to help the team, to strengthen the team with her as a gymnast.

As for the Rodionenkos, before Aliya started to show good results they were quiet, it wasn’t a problem for me to have a personal pupil.  But as soon as she started winning serious meets, the Rodionenkos got very nervous and scared because my position started to strengthen. So they very quickly started to pour dirt on me and Aliya, and spread rumours about her “diva” personality.

I would like to ask a simple question: from January 1st 2013 until today, have you heard the Rodionenkos say anything nasty about Aliya in interviews?  I think not.  However, while I was her coach, according to Valentina she was the most difficult and undisciplined gymnast who terrorized the entire team.  Did she change her personality all of a sudden?  This is so absurd and transparent …  Why is it that during her injury and her trying to come back, when Aliya needed support the most, the Rodionenkos spoke of her with disrespect and she was not wanted?  They should have extended a hand to her.

I simply cannot say anything bad about Aliya!  Is she a true talent?  Absolutely!  Was she sometimes difficult to work with?  Sure!  Even in the unlikely situation that Aliya said something hurtful about me tomorrow, I would always say, she is an Individual with a capital I.  I remember when Aliya came up to me at the Olympic Games after team finals.  Someone had told her about the article where Valentina was pouring dirt on her and stated that Aliya had absolutely no chance of taking any medals and that she is finished as a gymnast...  I remember how wounded she was, and how she quietly told me:  “I just heard what Valentina said about me”.  At that time I told her: “Screw Valentina, you know what you can do, so get on there and prove it!”   I believe that Aliya’s incredibly strong personality tremendously helped her to win the four medals during the Olympic Games, the highest count of all participants!  That was Aliya’s answer to Valentina …

There were some journalists who came up to me about Valentina’s interview and asked me to comment.  I stated very calmly that I think she should apologize to Aliya.  Not only should Valentina have apologized, but she should also kiss Aliya’s feet and thank her lucky stars that Aliya won four medals!  I am confident that if it weren’t for Aliya’s wins - Valentina would be dismissed from her position.  

As for my relationship with Aliya - when I came to my decision to leave, we had a very long and good conversation. We both were emotional, it wasn’t easy, but she understood why I had to leave. We hugged and kissed each other. Of course this was an extremely difficult day and a very hard goodbye to say …  But I check on her every now and then.  No matter what happens in the future, she can always count on me and any kind of help I can give her.  I always try to stay in touch with gymnasts I worked with, they all know they can count on me in any situation and many of them today are my good friends.  I will always be there for Aliya, as a coach, as a friend or as a mentor, always.

As regards Aliya’s relationship with the Rodionenkos - this is a rhetorical question. Everyone understands that a good relationship with your higher ups has value.  So I will repeat again, my MAIN reason for leaving Russia was the clear understanding that the longer I was there coaching Aliya, the worse it would be for Aliya … I told her that several times, and she saw that I was right. The Rodionenkos would not give her any support at all and she would become an enemy along with me …

RRG: Who will look after her from now on?

AA: I can’t answer that because I don’t know.  I guess we will all see.  I very much hope that her new coach will have the knowledge, patience and will be a good psychologist.  With personalities like Aliya’s, you have to be a very good psychologist because people like her need a very special approach.  The new coach will have to gain her trust.  Without her trust, a productive coach/gymnast relationship is not possible.

Alexander, during his first days in Rio (c) Alexander Alexandrov
RRG: Why did you choose to go to Brazil?

AA: Brazil has good potential in their junior girls.  I was very interested to be able to work with them and to share my knowledge with Brazilian specialists.  It is always a joy to work in the country that trusts you.  Brazil put their trust in me, so I would like to repay with the same coin.

RRG: What will be your first task?

AA: I would imagine my first task will be to meet the coaches and gymnasts, to evaluate junior girls with good potential. To observe their system and schedule of training and to better it as much as I can.

RRG: What do you hope to achieve there?

AA: All I can say that my hopes are the same as any other professional coach.

RRG: Do you know yet if you will travel with the team to Antwerp?

AA: As of today, my plan is to certainly go to Antwerp.  Even though I haven’t worked long enough with the current team yet, I definitely plan to go to see how the gymnasts compete, and of course to provide any kind of support and help to the Brazilian National Team

RRG: Will you be working closely with Oleg Ostapenko?

AA: I think us working together will be one of the most important factors and will benefit Brazilian gymnastics.  We worked together for so many years, and worked very well.  Oleg has plenty of experience working in Brazil and he understands the way things work there, so he will be a big help.  I trust him, understand him and respect him.

We both have done enough in our work; we both have achieved a lot of satisfaction in our coaching careers.  Neither Oleg nor I have ambitions to “prove ourselves”, we both have done that already.  So we both want to show results, not for me nor for him personally, but for Brazil as a country.  We both want to pass our knowledge to local coaches and to help them learn, so Brazilian coaches can lead their gymnasts and win in the future.

RRG: What do you envisage will be the challenges/rewards of the work? How long will you stay?

AA: I think for me, the main reward will be to help as much as I can. To help the  Brazilian coaches to form the team.  As of today, my contract with Brazilian Olympic Committee is until Olympic Games in Rio, so I plan to stay at least until then.

What was unique about working in Russian gymnastics that you will miss?

AA:  First of all, I was born in Moscow, Russia, so this is still my home.  I learned gymnastics in Russia and I was able to achieve high results in Russia.  So when I was given a chance to work in Russia again after a long break - I was able to make some noise again (laughing).

RRG: Will you be able to stay in touch with Aliya Mustafina?

AA: I’m sure of it

RRG: Is there any chance that one day you will return to coach the Russian team again?

AA: Call Mutko and ask him (laughing).

Alexander and his daughter, Isa, in Rio (c) Alexander Alexandrov
I always believed that in life or in work you will not always see eye to eye with people, have misunderstandings, conflicts, and so on. However, as a human being you should try to still have a decent relationship despite any arguments or problems, and not to spread rumours or stab anyone in the back. You may never be the best of friends, but simple human regard and respect must be there, because this is what makes you a person.

I can honestly say that I will never work with the Rodionenkos again, nor do I want to ever speak with them.  People like Rodionenko have no honour, no respect for anyone and absolutely no regard to others around them.  So as long as the Rodionenkos are at the helm of Russian Gymnastics, I have no wish to work there.

Only God knows what all of our futures hold, so if I am ever to work in Russia again, this will be.


Alexander Alexandrov 30th June 2013

Guide to the interview






This interview copyright (c) Alexander Alexandrov, RRG 2013
No publication without express permission in writing.  Please apply to rewriterussiagym@btinternet.com
 


 

Comments

  1. WOW! Absolutely fantastic interview, thank you so much for sharing it with us! Amazing, great insight into certain poisonous individuals and even things like Kamalova's request..shameless. So so delighted with this interview!

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  2. Thank you so much for this AMAZING interview. I really hope that Alexandrov will have a great time in Brazil, where people actually seems to appriciate all his hard work and his knowledge. It worried me to hear that the training is much more relaxed for the russian gymnasts now though... Really hope that Aliya can preform at Worlds. She seems to be a little out of breath at the moment...But yet again what an amazing interview!

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  3. This is an incredible interview. Thanks soooo much! I really really appreciate this. I'm so happy to hear what Alexander had to say. He had been so quiet about all this mess for so long and i was wondering when he was going to tell his side of the story. As with Alexander, I just hope that Aliya won't injure herself in a serious way too soon.

    Thanks again! This is amazing stuff!

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  4. What a great interview, by far the juiciest I've ever read. Thanks Elizabeth and Isa for your efforts and Alexandrov for staying true to his beliefs despite everything. What a fighter (like coach, like pupil).
    Of course it's sad to read the soap opera currently taking place at Round Lake, because it's such a waste of talent, and it's so unfair for the girls to have their dreams and goals being played with. I mean, it's all they have, from a sentimental/passion point of view, but also from a career pov. I can't imagine how frustrating it can be, and it makes me appreciate even more what Aliya's been through to be still on top, and the fight of her coach to protect her for as long as possible.
    Also, this has nothing to do with the situation itself, but as someone who has just recently seen the real world and get kicked in the face by the amount of selfishness, power games and -sometimes- plain evil there is, I still get frustrated all the time. And it was nice to read that it'll always happen, but if we stay strong and true to ourselves, on time we'll be in peace despite all.

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  5. Thanks to all who made this interview possible! It was very interesting reading. For all who are familiar with the how business is done in Russia, this interview will not be somewhat unusual.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks cpt. Hook. Any hope then that things might improve in gymnastics?

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    2. Unfortunately I don't see any signs of the changes in near future. After capitalizing on Alexandrov's success and following Euros and Universiada, Rodionenkos in pretty safe place now. Until they screw up drastically nothing will change.
      I don't think that Rod-s are the biggest problem of the Russian gymnasts. As much as I like Nabieva, she is a solid team player but I'm not expecting her to win any individual medals at worlds. The fact that Nabieva dominated Russian Cup sais that competition field was not strong enough. The Russian gymnastics holds up on a shoulders of strong individuals and there are very few of them.
      In case of comparing Russian economy with a building, it would not be a pretty but solid looking building from a distance. If you come close enough you'll see that this building infested with termites. If such economy will took a good punch there will be a big hole in it. VTB is doing voluntary-compulsory financial help and in case of cutting losses, sport financing will be one of the first to cut off. Even now when VTB is financing reconstruction of the few old gyms it's not enough to say that future of the Russian gymnastics is bright.
      Rod-s are just icing on the cake, I'd say.

      Delete
    3. Ugh it's just sooo depressing! Even if the Rod's are just the icing on the cake I do believe that by changing them there will be more hope as they seem not to care about loosing one or two great gymnasts along with their coaches if that is what it takes to keep themselves in power. I just hope for them to get too old to continue soon..because the option of a really big disaster to happen just makes me too sad :(

      I'm forever grateful for this interview to our Queen Elizabeth, to Alexandov's daughter Isa and to the man himself for finally letting us fans see a bit of what goes one behind the curtain - i just wish it was a prettier sight!

      Delete

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