ELIZABETH: I think I only want [inaudible]. I know that the whole gymternet is kind of buzzing with this information, the blogs and everything else and we’re all talking about Valentina and we’re all talking about Alexander and the conflict that has gone on. The real story that’s behind this is the decline of Russian women’s gymnastics.
[EXPRESS YOURSELF INTRO MUSIC]
JESSICA: This week, Elizabeth Booth of Rewriting Russian Gymnastics, joins us to discuss the state of Russian gymnastics and her groundbreaking interview with legendary coach Alexander Alexandrov.
ALLISON TAYLOR: Hey gymnasts. Elite Sportz Band is a cutting edge compression back warmer that can protect your most valued asset, your back. I’m Allison Taylor on behalf of Elite Sportz Band. Visit elitesportzband.com. We’ve got your back.
JESSICA: This is Episode 49 for September 17, 2013. I’m Jessica from Master’s Gymnastics.
BLYTHE: I’m Blythe from The Gymnastics Examiner
UNCLE TIM: And I’m Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
JESSICA: This is the number one gymnastics podcast in the world bringing you the most fascinating people on the gymternet. We’re devoting our entire episode today to our discussion with Elizabeth Booth from Rewriting Russian Gymnastics. We had so much fun talking to her. It was fascinating. But don’t worry, next week we will be back with our full thoughts as we prepare for Worlds on the Osijek Cup that happened last weekend, the US team selection, there’s even more news about Gabby’s movie coming out, and of course we will have our full Worlds preview next week. And we’re going to talk about Grande’s suggestion now that we go to four gymnasts total for a team. (sighs) I will reserve my thoughts for this for later. Anywho, so ok we’ll be back next week with a regular show with news and all of our thoughts on the world. In the meantime, enjoy our chat with Elizabeth.
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JESSICA: Elizabeth Booth is a lecturer at the University of Greenwich. She’s been doing her blog for about four years now. She was the gymnastics Olympic expert for The Guardian paper at the 2012 Olympics in London. One thing that is really important to say: she doesn’t speak Russian but she is a self-proclaimed Google translate ninja. But it’s also really important to know that she works with a certified translator, Lupita. Lupita was a translator for Gorbachev so she definitely knows what she’s doing and she says that Lupita keeps her on track with any of her translations or any questions that she has, kind of making sure that she really understands the news that she’s getting from Russia. What’s so interesting about what happened in this case is that it turns out that Alexandrov and his family have been following Elizabeth’s blog. Following it so much that they thought she would be so interested in allowing Alexandrov to kind of have his say and present information that fans would really like to hear. His daughter, Isa, reached out and contacted Elizabeth and asked if she would like to collaborate with her to interview Alexandrov, her father. So what happened is that he kind of wanted to get his side of the story out from what happened in Russia and deciding to leave. Elizabeth wrote the questions and then Isa interviewed him and then collaborated on that process. And it’s not just, if you haven’t read the interview yet, you must go to the site and read it. It’s a great read. It’s really interesting. Even Isa, his daughter, said that she found out information that she’d never heard, things that her dad had never talked about before. But what’s interesting about this interview and about this whole process, it’s not just that this interview is groundbreaking. But it’s also about the power of fans and really dedicated bloggers to give fans what they really want to hear, the detail, the nitty gritty, the stuff that even in an Olympic year, is glossed over. In a lot of ways, this interview is really unprecedented. We’re not so naïve to think that behind the scenes that there’s never a situation with traditional journalism where someone reaches out to a journalist and says hey I really want to get my side of the story out there. The journalist doesn’t reach out and say that. What we’re talking about this being unprecedented is a fan that starts a blog, gains the trust of someone who’s really embedded in the system and has so much incredible experience. So that’s really what we mean when we talk about unprecedented here and kind of the power of the gymternet. We start the interview talking about how unusual and kind of unprecedented this interview is that Alexandrov gave to her.
ELIZABETH: The communication has really been opened up to me by the gymternet. And many, many years ago, there would have been no way that fans would have been able to liaison and engage with that kind of information. We see that there’s an empowerment on the internet. I think it’s quite an historic moment really. You think back and you think of the communication of that part of the world and our part of the world. And yes I know that Alexander has been in America for a long time now, but for him to come to an English language blog to talk about his issues is really quite a turn of events and I wonder if we’re going to see any more of these things happening.
JESSICA: So we have some questions about that which we will get to at the end. For people who don’t know the full background of Alexandrov and his incredible coaching history, can you just give them his background a little, from the 80s and 90s and all that stuff?
ELIZABETH: Sure. Alexandrov is one of the iconic, legendary coaches of the Soviet Union who has continued to this day. And I suppose his age means that he spans both the Soviet age and the modern era of gymnastics. He first came to prominence in 1982 when his gymnast, Dmitri Bilozerchev won the European Junior Championship and Dmitri was just absolutely the greatest and someone you must know. You know Dmitri? Most people know….
ELIZABETH: He was a great junior in gymnastics. Alexandrov of course called him the Mozart of gymnastics because he was so young, he was a prodigy. He had a perfect pitch. He could do anything. So as Alexandrov as his coach, saw Dmitri through his career which lasted until the 1988 Olympics. I think common with Alexandrov’s latest gymnast, Mustafina, he nursed Bilozerchev through a long period of injury. He sort of became like a naughty boy. He had a dreadful car accident in 1985 just before the 1985 World Championships. This almost ended his career. His leg was broken in 44 places. It had to be operated on to save it and it was really quite phenomenal for him to make the comeback that he did in 1987. But I think that shows the determination and the character that is really a characteristic of anybody that Alexander tends to support as a top class gymnast. And of course Dmitri also had to suffer the disappointment of not being able to compete at the 1984 Olympics because of the Soviet boycott at the Los Angeles Games. And I think that was really formative in his development over the years of his career. He was an absolutely fantastic gymnast. I think as a reward for his work with Bilozerchev, he was offered the role of senior coach of the national Soviet team for the women in 1989. And again, I won’t sort of say things that I think people probably know, but during that quad, from 89-92, the Soviet Union produced some of the best gymnasts, in my opinion, the world has ever seen. For example, we saw Boginskaya flower, who you interviewed a few weeks ago. We saw Lysenko. We saw some of the best gymnastics that’s ever been produced. But of course in 1992, with the breakup of the Soviet Union the gymnastics infrastructure in Russia changed and Alexander moved to Houston. Now you can probably tell me better than I can who he coached in America. It seems to me that that was quite a quiet time in his career. I know that he coached Moceanu, who went on to win the Goodwill Games and competed at the 1996 Olympics. I know that he also trained Mohini Bhardwaj. That’s really the limit of my knowledge of what he did in the States. Would you have anything to add to that?
JESSICA: You know, I feel like he, and Blythe, correct me if I’m wrong, didn’t he coach, what is her name, she went to Brown’s and made the 88 team?
BLYTHE: Rhonda Faehn?
JESSICA: Not Rhonda Faehn?
ELIZABETH: It wouldn’t have been the 1988 team, 1996.
JESSICA: No not the 1988 team.
ELIZABETH: Or could it have been 2000.
JESSICA: I’m totally blanking now. I was thinking but that couldn’t have been the right era. I don’t know except that I think he coached at Brown’s for a long time and there would have been elites in there but I think Moceanu and Mohini were his most prominent.
ELIZABETH: So during that era he did coach some of the leading American gymnasts. But really the passion is in Russian gymnastics. He returned to Russia in 2009 at the invitation of Andrea Rodionenko to coach the women’s team, to go back. And of course, within the year, we saw the outcome of that, when he won the world team championship in 2010 and his gymnast Aliya Mustafina brilliantly took the gold medal all around at those World Championships and has gone on to be the leading gymnast in Russia for the last quad and so on. So that is a thumbnail sketch of Alexander’s career if that’s possible to do.
JESSICA: And one of the things we were confused about, and I think this may be the most confusing thing about how the Russian system works, between all the nepotism and government involvement and the different contracts and the personal coaches, what exactly is the job description, what is the position do the Rodionenkos hold?
ELIZABETH: Well I wish I knew. I think Alexander probably wishes he knew as well. Some observation of the way the coach roles work, it seems to be the Rodionenkos’ role to liaison with the funders, to set targets for the performance, to agree those with the funders and to ensure that resources are allocated to the various regions appropriately so that the gymnastics team then has the development potential. And they also oversee the work, or it seems to me that that’s what they do, they oversee the work of the men’s and women’s head coaches and specialists. Although I think there may be some dispute over that. It’s not like researching. Researching in Russia is not like researching in the UK. I know that if I want to know how the British gymnastics team is funded, how the British gymnastics team is organized, I can go online and it’s open government. And they’ll be organization charts and job descriptions. In Russia, I don’t think it quite works like that. I think it’s more evolutionary and based more in the past and the way that things worked in the past.
JESSICA: Makes sense. Ah yes, it’s a little more open but not that open. This is the part that we, except for your blog, and some of what Blythe has covered with this, can you tell our listeners exactly what happened after the Olympics? It seems like they had this incredible performance there. They really did very well there, except maybe finals. Yes they had some falls but in general as a team, they did much better than they have in the past. And then all of a sudden, they return home to Russia and then there’s this total blowup in the press.
ELIZABETH: There are two things to say for a start. First of all, they had a target of six medals to win, of which two were supposed to be gold. They only managed one gold. To you, to me, to anyone sensible, they performed fantastically. It’s arguable that they missed out on one gold that they planned on. Now the second thing that I wanted to say is that it wasn’t all of a sudden. The conflict between Alexandrov and the Rodionenkos or the way of working that the Rodionenkos have begun to impact on the team well before the Olympics. So if we read the interview with Alexandrov, he talks about the fact that as soon as Aliya Mustafina was successful, as soon as the team was successful, then Valentina began to attack him and to attack the gymnasts. And he takes us back. He says this is not just me that this has happened to. There are five head coaches in the last five years who have left under Rodionenkos’ time. That’s an amazing staff turnover isn’t it? Can you imagine if that was in your office and you lost all those managers? There’d be questions about it wouldn’t there? So it wasn’t all of a sudden. It was already there. The conflict was already there and the background was already there. Things started happening in the public eye as soon as they got back from the Olympics. So the Rodionenkos arranged this, and you’re quite right, this amazingly theatrical press conference. You can see the pictures. Alexandrov looking very grumpy and you’ve got Valentina and Andre sitting next to each other and looking very much sort of in charge of things. Basically, then we have a series of denouncements of Alexandrov. We have Ksenia Afanaseva’s coach Marina Nazarova speaking out and denouncing Alexandrov and we have Sergey Zelikson, who at the time was coaching Anastasia Grishina, talking out, speaking out against him. So it was all organized. It all seemed to be orchestrated against Alexandrov. Now Alexandrov said the Rodionenkos didn’t have the power to sack him. It wasn’t their job to hire and fire. But I would say it’s very indistinct who actually holds the power in Russian gymnastics because the Rodionenkos are very highly connected. Very highly connected indeed. We’ll talk about that a little bit later I think. Alexander said the Ministry of Sport would seem to give him a new contract. They gave him a new contract in January 2013. So the Ministry wanted to see him stay. But what was happening was that Valentina Rodionenko was attacking Aliya Mustafina in the press and Alexandrov feared for Mustafina. And in the end, that is what made him resign from Russian gymnastics and go and take on this fantastic new role in Brazil, which I’m certain that he’s going to attack that with equal passion and make some really big successes there.
UNCLE TIM: And while we’re on the topic of the media, in America at least, Aliya’s “diva” personality came up several times during our coverage of the Olympic Games and it also came up during the interview. And I was just curious if that ever came up in British television or in the British newspapers during the Olympics? Was that ever mentioned?
ELIZABETH: Not really no not that I’ve read anyway. I’ve heard people talking about her diva personality. I looked it up in the dictionary and what it means is woman with outstanding talent, which actually is completely right. Have you watched soccer matches? Have you watched ice hockey matches? Have you watched football matches? There are these huge men playing games and they spit and they cuss and they kick each other. Well nobody calls them divas do they?
JESSICA: Mhm exactly!
ELIZABETH: Why is it okay for men to behave like that in sport and then called some of the fiercest most hard-working athletes in the world? You know, they look at someone in a slightly funny way and they’re a diva like it’s negative. I’m sorry, it’s not fair is it?
UNCLE TIM: Why do you think the British weren’t necessarily interested in the diva storyline? Because it was something that was very big in America and caused a lot of opinions. I was just curious if there was a cultural difference there.
ELIZABETH: I don’t think there is a storyline really. I think it’s something….I don’t really know, to be honest with you. Why does Tim pump it up in his television commentating?
JESSICA: We will do it next time. We will be like so let’s get to the sexism. Let’s start with the diva.
ELIZABETH: That’s what it is. It’s sexism. You know, just because they’re pretty little girls means they should behave like fairies.
UNCLE TIM: I guess while we’re on the topic of this gender divide, I’m curious about the men’s program a little bit. Alexandrov alludes to some of the problems on the men’s side, but they kind of get quickly dismissed in the interview. I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit about those problems and why they didn’t become as big of an issue as Alexandrov issue and as the recent Grishina-gate issue. It just seems like the men’s problems are just kind of swept under the rug so to speak.
ELIZABETH: Well, I feel that when you’re talking about the men’s problems, you’re talking about the outspoken attacks by people like Goletzsokov who’ve basically been excluded from the team. But you know, I think why that’s not such a big problem as we’re seeing erupt in the women’s sport is because there were more competitors in the men’s sport and they really do have a much stronger team. I think the reason for this is that the men compete for far longer and so the turnover of gymnasts, and the number of gymnasts needed for the national team is not as great. Now of course, Alexandrov’s opinion of this is that Valentina Rodionenko knows nothing about men’s gymnastics and so she can’t get involved. So what that says about what women’s gymnastics is experiencing, I’m not going to really say but it seems to me that there are common problems across both the men’s and women’s teams with people say that there is favoritism and people saying that gymnasts are being excluded from the national team unfairly and there certainly does seem to be evidence to back that up. But really, the big problem with Russian gymnastics is coping with the problems of under resourcing that took place after the breakdown of the Soviet Union right through to the last few years when (inaudible) and the Russian Ministry of Sport realized the importance of sport to society and tourism and so on. So the money just wasn’t in the sport to allow the girls to come through and I think that’s fundamentally the reason why the men are doing better than the women. They just don’t have enough women on the women’s team to support the performance of the high performing individuals, if that makes sense.
UNCLE TIM: And I think we have to talk about what’s going on with Grishina right now. It comes up in the interview a little bit. It sounds like the Rodionenkos really put Grishina on the 2012 team and Alexandrov even said in the last part of the interview that Grishina was in good standing, at least he thought so. But then it seems like in the recent weeks, she fell out of favor. What do you make of all of this?
ELIZABETH: What do I make of all this? Ok. I think I should just say as a little writer first of all, there’s no fact in this. It’s basically bringing together several sources and trying to make sense of what’s happening. What I make of this is that Grishina is being choked. I may be mistaken. I hope I’m mistaken. I hope she’s confirmed to the National team. What Valentina Rodionenko has said is that she basically absented herself with for no reason from the Russia Cup, which was the main qualification for the World Championships. On the face of it, that would be an absolutely reasonable reason to exclude her from qualifications for Worlds. If that did happen then Valentina is right. But then subsequently to that, Grishina’s new coach Irina Razumovskaya said that Grishina had got herself signed off with a back injury by the doctor. So to that extent she followed the correct protocols for not competing in that competition. She has competed in other competitions this year. She did well at the Europeans. She did quite well at the Cottbus Cup. She did less well at the competition in Portugal. But she, yeah basically she has competed this year and she seems to have been doing quite well. Then a few days later Razumovskaya said that Grishina would like to train at Lake Krugloye and to show her readiness to compete to actually show because Rodionenko said her attitude was poor, that she wasn’t conscientious. And she wanted the opportunity to show that she was conscientious. And the trail gets dead there. So you don’t hear whether Grishina is involved in the latest camp or not. So we’ll have to see when they publish the members of the team whether Grishina is on there. I think if she isn’t, it’s a sad chance she’s been choked. But there’s always a fair amount of doubt. We have to have this [inaudible] of uncertainty. Because we’re dealing with secondary sources. We’re not seeing it first hand.
UNCLE TIM: And so one of my questions was regarding the Rodionenkos and Alexandrov. And among gymnastics experts, especially Russian experts, I get the impression that a lot of people think that Alexandrov is the good guy and the Rodionenkos are the bad guys. And that’s kind of a simplistic view of things. Just as an outsider’s view, that one person’s 100% and another person’s 100% bad. And I was just curious, what good has the Rodionenkos done, and what have been some of the critiques of Alexandrov’s coaching in the past? I remember 1992 and the whole Galieva incident, but have there been other ones?
ELIZABETH: In terms of the Rodionenkos, what good do they bring to gymnastics, they are- as I said before, they’re hugely, highly connected through their son in law Viacheslav Fetisov, who’s Russian Minister of Social Policy and is connected to Vladimir Putin. So in that sense they have direct connection to the seat of power, and it means that for example a few years ago when they submitted their plans for training for the 2012 Olympics in 2008, it was initially rejected by Mutko. And Fetisov was able to intervene and actually due to support the Rodionenkos in putting it down. We also have alongside that the issue that VTB Bank, whose president is Andrey Kostin and who is also president of the Russian Federation, is partly government owned. And so the money that comes to Russian gymnastics, which is immense, through VTB is partly an interest of the government. But I’m not saying that if the Rodionenkos then VTB would pull out. IT might not be [inaudible] as that. But who else has these strong connections with government and with Putin? Who could actually pull the strings if need be to support the development of Russian gymnastics? And that really is a very strong argument for the Rodionenkos. The second thing is that Andrei Rodionenko himself is a very erudite man. He is a very fine technical coach. Scientific coach. Now these strengths are maybe not visible to the public eye, but I’m sure they do come to play in the background. And my opinion is that maybe Valentina is too outspoken. As far as Alexandrov is concerned, well I would say he’s probably rather outspoken. And you know he’s ruthless. The issue with Galieva in the 1992 Olympics. Well he substituted with Gutsu who went on to win the title. It was his job to see that we got medals. And he did that. So you know, it’s hard to say again from the outside. I’m sure there is fault on both sides. But there is one thing that I’d really like to emphasize about this. We as fans see this argument between Rodionenko and Alexandrov. But if you look at both narratives, they actually corroborate each other. And the most important part of Alexandrov’s interview are part two where he talks about the power relatioships, he talks about the Ministry of Sport, he talks about about [inaudible], and part four where he talks about the work that he’s done to try to encourage participation in the sport. And retention of the coaches. And this is far more important than what is really a domestic battle between two coaches. The future of Russian gymnastics. How many times do you hear Rodionenko talking about measures that he’s bringing in to encourage participation? To encourage development. To encourage coach retention. We hear him talking about the problem, but he’s not publicizing his work to actually encourage the development of the sport. He himself will say the sport is strong through 2016. This is on the women’s side. What he won’t mention any comment after that point. And you know what we are seeing, gymnastics, women’s gymnastics in Russia, I think at a make it or break it point. Forgive the pun. I think they have to find a way of making the sport work. The massive funding that’s going in through VTB is to do with infrastructure development. It’s to do with building facilities and so on. Where is the ongoing operating cost base going to come from? If Russian gymnastics doesn’t assign itself some kind of participation model whereby it can generate it’s own funding, it’s going to be difficult. And if the coaches can’t be trained, they can’t and they can’t keep the coaches, then how can they go on?
JESSICA: I found that part fascinating where you talked about just all the nepotism and the connection between who’s connected to someone in government and the fact that the son in law was brought in by Putin himself. That level-
ELIZABETH: I don’t think he was brought in Jessica, but his vote was connected to him.
JESSICA: Yes. I feel like he said he was- after he was in the NHL and then after he retired he was asked by Putin to come.
ELIZABETH: Ah ok ok
JESSICA: Right? That’s what I remember. I may be wrong, I’ll have to look back.
ELIZABETH: You’re right. He was brought in by the Minister of Sport wasn’t he?
JESSICA: Yeah. Mhmm. Yeah. And then but let me clarify one thing you said because I think I missed this when I read the interview. So the VTB- Alexandrov talks about the VTB bank doing immense, I mean their funding is crucial. And you can see it. I mean if you look at the pictures from Round Lake and you look at the pictures now, I didn’t even recognize it. I was like that’s not the same place. The windows are the in the same place, but that’s not the same gym. I mean it looks amazing. It looks beautiful. And clearly it seems like it’s much safer than the days when we had, I can’t remember what her name is but we had the vault accident and the girl waited for an hour and a half for the ambulance to come.
JESSICA: Yes exactly. And those were like the darkest days when there was no funding and no medical staff there.
JESSICA: That was horrible. I can’t even imagine. So VTB president is also the bank president is also the sport president?
ELIZABETH: It would be highly irregular wouldn’t it? In the UK you wouldn’t get that happening. I don’t know about the US.
JESSICA: Oh on. Yeah that couldn’t happen.
ELIZABETH: But you know I haven’t got a degree in Russian business, so I guess it’s something to do with making sure that their investment is managed in the best possible way. So I don’t think there’s anything [inaudible] about that. I think it’s just the way things work in Russia.
ELIZABETH: It could be a good thing in fact.
JESSICA: Here you could have the president of the bank would also be on the board of directors of several sports foundations, but not a dual position like that.
ELIZABETH: Not actually no, I agree it would be the same here I think.
JESSICA: So one thing that I wanted to ask about which we kind of talked about in the very beginning is in the US it’s generally seen as- it’s poor manners, it’s- to go to the press for help when something’s going wrong. To go to the press is your last resort. To go to the press is when there’s absolutely no other remedy, you use the power of the press to expose some kind of problem and to, when all internal measures fail to serve justice, you go to the press to expose a problem. In and of course in doing that, in our culture, you risk no one ever trusting you to be part of the organization again because you’ve gone to the press and exposed what’s going on. To us, from the outside, and we talked about this on the last episode, it seems like this is the remedy of choice for all anyone in Russian gymnastics immediately go to the press about what’s happening. And from the interview that Alexandrov gives at least from his point of view and also talking about all the coaches that have gone through, five coaches, it seems like the internal measures don’t have a good checks and balance. And this would make sense why everyone goes to the press. Is this a cultural thing there? Is this because the internal remedies always fail? And my question really is for the gymnasts, does this ever work? I mean clearly it works for the people in power, it seems to be working. But for the gymnasts that go to the press, does anything ever change?
ELIZABETH: You know it’s really interesting question. And I wish I knew the answer [LAUGHS]. You know the Russian Ministry of Sports asked Alexandrov not to speak to the press. All that time we were seeing Valentina Rodionenko speaking to the press. And I think one of the things I talk about in the introduction to the interview is how she almost completely dominated the narrative in the Russian press for the last few months. If Alexandrov did give an interview, and he gave a really good one to Rostovskaya in September, then you know it was always direct and tends to be about the matters of training and so on. And so a matter of fact. Yeah I think it is a matter of last resort. I don’t know, have you read [inaudible] book From East to West?
ELIZABETH: Ok. In it there’s a section in there about denouncements. Basically in 1986 the junior national coach from the Soviet Union [inaudible] was denounced anonymously by several of the coaches for selected none other than Svetlana Boginskaya to the team. And the coaches said that this was the wrong selection. That Boginskaya was a very mediocre gymnast. And that money had exchanged hands between Boginskaya’s coach Miromanova and [inaudible] in order to ensure that she got the place on the team. I don’t know what happened, I don’t know what happened about that but obviously Boginskaya went on to win the junior European championships that year. She went to the World Championships in 1987, the Olympics 1988, and became World Champion in 1989. But that’s slightly beside the point. There is obviously a culture there of speaking to somebody else about your problems other than the person you have the problem with. I think it’s rather unfortunate. I don’t think it does work. I don’t think it works for anybody. And I think it’s probably about society and transition. I’m talking outside my comfort zone here. I’m not a Soviet Russian cultural specialist. But just from observations, this [inaudible] as you say, it seems to be what they do. And I think it’s highly ineffective. I think it’s a way of venting really. So I’m happy for [inaudible]
BLYTHE: One thing I was a little surprised to read in the Alexandrov interview was talk about Leonid Arkaev. And I know since 2000 he’s bounced around a little bit. And I was wondering if you could give us an update on where he is. It sounds like he’s back in Russia. And I mean the last that I read about him was that he was in South Korea. I think. Like four years ago.
ELIZABETH: As far as I understand it, Arkaev is working still in Russia. He returned to his hometown in Moldova I think, although I might be shooting myself in the foot by mentioning a place, where he fulfills three roles. He has three jobs. He can never have less than three jobs he says. So he’s head coach, managing director, and I don’t know what else. [LAUGHS] But he’s definitely still in Russia and he’s working every bit as hard.
BLYTHE: So to follow up on Arkaev a little bit, and you talked about or, Alexandrov talked about these five head coaches, very talented people, technicians, all of them
ELIZABETH: Oh yes
BLYTHE: Who they’ve sort of just gone through one after the other in the past few years. My question is, who’s left? If it doesn’t work out with Grebenkin. What, who are some of the other candidates they might turn to?
ELIZABETH: I suppose you see I would say the Razumovskys have the real long term experience of coaching. Again, I would really say you know you would have to ask the Rodionenkos that wouldn’t you? They’re the ones in the know. They’re the ones who want to bring people through. I think there are plenty actually. There are plenty of names. It’s just who is prepared to go back to Russia to work under those circumstances?
BLYTHE: Absolutely. And as a blogger, can you- maybe you already addressed this before I came on the call, but can you tell me exactly why you chose Russian gymnastics? It is fabulous. But what is it about the Russians that speaks to you personally as a blogger?
ELIZABETH: Ok. We go back a long ways, me and Russian gymnastics. The last 40 years. There was really no other subject I would write a blog on, let me just say that. I wholly admit that my blog is completely biased. All it talks about is Russian gymnastics. And that’s just my choice really. That’s what I’m interested in. Part of the purpose of the blog when I started it was to try to understand myself why Russian gymnastics. Why not Romanian gymnastics? Why not Ukrainian gymnastics? No it’s Russian gymnastics. So you know I just keep blogging, trying to find the holy grail. Trying to understand. And all I really do is ask more questions of myself and the puzzle just becomes more and more intriguing [LAUGHS]
JESSICA: There’s one other thing I want to ask you about and I’m not even sure what my question is. But it’s just very interesting that Alexandrov brought this up twice and it’s something we have talked about amongst ourselves on the show. He mentioned people being work horses. And the work horses being kind of turned into a work horse and if you’re a work horse then you get selected for the team. And one of the things I feel like Russia always did is they cultivated their gymnasts as individuals and highlighted their individual strengths.
JESSICA: Yeah and I know that there- I’ve heard that in the past there were rules like you had to make 10 beam routines, if you couldn’t make your 10 beam routines you just go home. But in some way to me it seemed like there was more leniency for the gymnasts that they knew even though they weren’t a work horse, they could hit when they needed to and they stood out and were unique and so could capture an audience and the judges the way they needed to to be a champion. And we’ve kind of talked about Aly Raisman and the Aly Raismans of the world being the new gymnasts who are going to fill the holes on the team because they can survive training camps. And they’re the ones who can live through it without getting injured. They’re not necessarily the best, but they’re going to make it through the whole process without breaking. And I was surprised that he brought this up. Do you see that change happening as it has I think on the American side? Is that something that you see more of the work horse who can throw an Amanar vault as opposed to the individual beauty that they used to put up on one event who really stood out?
ELIZABETH: I think can I just say I think the work happening in Russian gymnastics at the moment is something different. Because I think with the small number of gymnasts that they have on the team who are capable of competing at world level, it really puts a lot of pressure on all of the top gymnasts. And the chance of all of them being ready for competition at the same time is actually very small. You only have four main gymnasts on the team and I see that makes a little problem. They’re not really bringing through the junior gymnasts. So people apart from that really glorious summer 2010 when Alexandrov brought through Nabieva, Dementyeva, and Mustafina and they won the World Championships that year, they haven’t really been successful in bringing their juniors through. Do I see the Russians as going and throwing skills and forgoing the beauty? Well I think to an extent, that is already happening because the code encourages it. But look at Komova. Komova is an execution gymnast. She doesn’t have a lot of expression in her routines. She’s very technically adept. And that is a Russian thing the way that she’s trained. I don’t see that disappearing from the Russian sport. I think it’s in the blood. And I think to an extent one of the reasons they find it difficult hitting in competition is because they are going for that extra dimension.
JESSICA: One final question. I think all of us thought of this immediately when we were reading the interview, is when Alexandrov talks about the two people who have had heart attacks while working under the Rodionenkos, if he was referring, if you think he was referring to Elena Zamolodchikova.
ELIZABETH: No he was referring to two of the five coaches who’ve gone through in the last five years. So that would be one of them would be Gavrichenkov, and then I don’t know who the other one is. But there’s sort of name names, the five coaches who have gone in the last few years under the Rodionenkos, Viktor Gavrichenkov, Alexander Terekhov, Oleg Ostapenko, Evgeny Kharkov, and then Alexander Alexandrov.
JESSICA: Is there anything else you want to talk about that you want people to know about? Or anything else you want to highlight from the interview?
ELIZABETH: There is one thing that I’d really like to emphasize about this. We as fans see this as an argument between Rodionenko and Alexandrov. But if you look at both narratives they actually corroborate each other. And the most important parts of Alexandrov’s interview are part two where he talks about the power relationships. He talks about the Ministry of Sport. He talks about [inaudible]. And part 4 where he talks about the work that he’s done to try to encourage participation in the sport. And retention of the coaches. And this is far more important than what is really a domestic battle between two coaches, the future of Russian gymnastics.
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JESSICA: They are
UNCLE TIM: And we have, yeah, we have transcripts up of pretty much every show within one or two weeks after the show has aired.
JESSICA: Until next week when we bring you our full preview and all of our thoughts on the US selection camp and preview of Worlds, I’m Jessica from masters-gymnastics
BLYTHE: Blythe Lawrence from the Gymnastics Examiner
UNCLE TIM: And I’m Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
JESSICA: Thanks for listening, we’ll see you next week
ELIZABETH: I know, I know. There’s a hole in the ceiling where I was standing when I received the email from Isa, so I was quite shocked and surprised. I’m amazed to find out anybody reads my blog at all you know? It began really as me and my laptop and me and my laptop and my cat. Just practicing my writing. And it went on from there really. Yeah I was literally surprised to hear that the Alexandrov family were reading my blog. I know that fans enjoy reading any kind of source of information. It’s very difficult to find information on the Russian gymnasts. So I’m very flattered and absolutely delighted, it goes beyond that. Really delighted that the Alexandrov family is taking interest.