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“Sergey is capable of more.” Sorin on Ustyugov’s capabilities, Bolshunov’s toughness and Stepanova’s character

– This season, in which Russian athletes were isolated from the world, seemed lost to many at first, but watching the skiers, I would say that it opened up some new opportunities. Wouldn’t you agree?

– First of all, it opened up certain opportunities for us domestically. It’s clear that we had no choice, but just because of that we had to rearrange our own preparations in many ways. Both summer and snow. I had to adjust to the “slower” Russian snow, for example. I had to find places for medium-pressure training, and we still have big problems with it. Besides, we still have the task to motivate the athletes.

On the other hand, we got the opportunity to see more athletes. Earlier all the leaders were kind of falling out of the internal competition process, because in December they were already leaving for the World Cup. Now my whole group, which is ten people, is together from the beginning to the end of the season. Accordingly, there is a big difference – to lead for the season and prepare for the competition two or three leaders or the entire team.

– But you could afford to work after the Olympics with only a select few, rather than a large team?

– Ten people is really not much. Moreover, during the season there are inevitably some injuries, illnesses that do not allow all to work at the same high level. There are athletes who show themselves mainly in sprints, there are universal athletes.

– Like Jessica Diggins’ skate split?

– Yes. That said, you have to agree that Diggins looks pretty good in the sprints. And not just in skating, where she won team Olympic gold in 2018, but also in the classic. To go into pure specialization, choosing only sprint, only “horse” or only distance races, you can only at the end of his career, when you already have to reckon with the capabilities of the body.

– Is that why you do not try to train Gleb Retivykh as an all-rounder?

– When I started working with him, my primary goal was to improve my speed endurance. So that Gleb would be able to endure all four sprints without losing his maximal speed capabilities. Plus I kept sprint relays in mind. Now there’s an interesting trend. Both our Russian start “Champions’ Heights”, which took place in Malinovka, and partly the World Championships showed that in sprint relays not only all-rounders but even distance runners sometimes run better than pure sprinters.

– Is training a sprinter a difficult task?

– Not really clear for me, let’s just say. Perhaps, I just do not have that experience of working with pure sprinters, as Yuri Kaminsky had in his time.

– Kaminsky, by the way, still considers it a mistake to eliminate the sprint group within the Russian team. And he’s still offended at Elena Vyalbe for that.

– I cannot say anything about that. I know there is such a group in Finland, but at the moment Finnish sprinters are not showing anything outstanding, when it comes to medals of World Championships and Olympic Games. Of course, it is possible to throw such an effort into preparing an athlete for one race at the Olympics, but there is too much risk to miscalculate the tactics and leave a person with nothing at all. I have a pure sprinter Denis Filimonov in my group. He’s really good at skating sprints, he’s been on the podium several times during the season, but at the World Championships he did classic sprints. But I cannot develop Denis in terms of endurance, make him more universal at least in terms of style, despite the fact that I have been fighting with this problem for many years.

– Is Bolshunov the coolest all-round skier in the world?

– The question of who is better, Bolshunov or Johannes Klebo, is probably as pointless as trying to compare Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi in soccer. For me, Bolshunov is more universal. If we take, for example, four individual disciplines at the World Championships, we understand that Alexander will be preferable in three of them, and Klebo is stronger only in the sprint. But if we start talking about the World Cup, especially in its current format, with more sprint races and less distance races, the Norwegian will be preferable.

– And if we talk about women?

– I said at the beginning of this season that with the departure of Therese Johaug the place of the most versatile skier remains vacant. Now the season is actually over, but no one has been able to become the undisputed leader of women’s ski racing yet. Maybe in the next two years the situation will change and such a favorite will appear, but even if not, it will be more interesting to watch the race.

– It’s not uncommon in swimming for a year and a half before the Olympics to suddenly break through and emerge as a leader with completely new people. Why this almost never happens in skiing?

– Probably just the specifics of our sport is that the way to the top in ski racing is long and very difficult. Only a few people manage to get to the top at once, at the first attempt. Johaug, for example, won her first medal at the World Championships at the age of 19 and then failed at the next one. In 2010 she was also far from being a world ski leader, although she became an Olympic medalist in the relay. And for the next five years Teresa was only gaining momentum. Bolshunov had a very good start in his first season as a junior, but he really opened up when he was 26, even though he had been competing in the World Cup for five or six seasons before that. Maybe it’s even good to some extent that the success of an athlete does not come in a flash, but through a lot of hard work.

– Of all the performances of your athletes during the season, which was the most unexpected for you?

– Veronika Stepanova’s victory in the classic in Kirovo-Chepetsk, where she beat Natalia Nepryaeva. It is clear that in that race, first of all, it was Nepryaeva who let her get ahead, but I did not expect such a drastic surge from Stepanova. Although I expected that she would fight for the third place in Russia. Another question is that Stepanova’s classic move is still far from ideal.

– When I read what Veronika writes in social networks and columns, I get the feeling that she is constantly trying to teach someone how to live. Journalists, Norwegians, fans. You, as a coach, have not been touched by these lectures yet?

– Fortunately, no. In general, I can note that Stepanova has one very good quality which she absorbed as a child in Kamchatka: the authority of the coach with whom she works is unusually high for her. Nika and I understand each other perfectly when it comes to building the training process and all work aimed at achieving results. I’ve never noticed her trying to teach anyone inside the team.

-Theoretically, your wife Tatiana could also start actively developing social media, since she is temporarily unable to compete.

– Why would she? It’s really not a question of some hypothetical commercial gain, but of whether or not an athlete wants to show his life to the world. As for the widespread belief that popularity in social networks allows you to make money, I personally have certain doubts about it. I don’t see any correlation between media and money in our Russian skiing realities. There are quite a few athletes in skiing who have absolutely no media exposure, but they are nevertheless doing fine with their sponsors and their earnings. I know Tanya has a similar point of view.

– Isn’t Internet activity simply a way of getting attention that people lack in normal life?

– If we’re talking about Veronica, I don’t think she’s lacking attention. On the contrary. She’s not too fond of public events in general. She always prefers to stay at home if she can.

– From the words of your wife, I understand that, despite the pregnancy, she is still willing to train in the same mode. Do you have to stop?

– Naturally, we control the load. The first two months Tatyana worked with the group two times a day, then we switched to a one-and-a-half to two hours training, and now we work solely on the basis of health. Tanya herself determines how to build up the work.

-but if we talk about the technique of skiing in general, it will inevitably begin to break down from a large increase in weight.

– We are not talking about high speed, about high intensity, about the technique of competitive stroke. It is clear that to ride with a stomach is not so easy in principle, but certain things can be worked out on a quiet move. Many female athletes, even in a relaxed training condition, make a lot of mistakes: instead of focusing on their own movements, put on headphones, turn on music players and think about anything but technique.

– With such unique coaching experience, you could probably write a manual on working with pregnant female athletes.

– There are no general patterns: each pregnancy, even with the same athlete, may go differently. But I can give you some advice. The main thing, it seems to me, is that the person himself should determine the level of load: understand what he can do and what he cannot. No coach can write an optimal plan.

– Before the Olympics you repeatedly noted that Tatiana with her maximalism had to be stopped at trainings. That she is constantly trying to jump over her head, to go beyond her own abilities. Until what age is it allowed to go beyond without fear of consequences?

– It’s a tough question. For this purpose, probably, it is necessary to have a coach nearby. In general, there is a tendency in the world sport that in the “athlete-coach” link the athlete becomes the main one. In other words, a certain professional level implies that a person begins to understand his body very well and feel better the boundary beyond which it is better not to go. The higher the class of the athlete, the more clearly all this is outlined.

If we talk about age, it’s also a very individual question. Someone is able to reveal himself fully at age 20, and someone begins to show himself to the fullest extent only closer to 30.

– Tatiana is the second option?

– Her body is built in such a way that the opportunities really began to show themselves quite late. Working with her before the Beijing Games, I was internally convinced that in terms of work Tanya is just a Terminator. That no amount of work would be able to break her. But the subsequent events showed that we crossed a line that we should not have crossed in our trainings. Tanya did not get up, she had no consequences for her health, but we did not manage to reach the peak that I had planned.

– If the suspension from international competitions will last for the next season, you as a coach have an understanding where to go, what to do and how to motivate your charges?

– In the summer we are going to prepare for a return to the World Cup in any case. Respectively, we will hope to the bitter end that we will go there after all. We have a passing year in which there will be no World Cup, so we need to be ready to run the whole season at a high level, even if without a separate peak.

-Tatyana said that you are now actively looking for a babysitter to be able to take the kids with you to the training camp.

– We are actually quite serious about the next season in terms of at least until November to travel to all training camps and competitions with our family, but that organizationally it does not interfere with our work. That’s why we are now very carefully considering all issues, including financial ones. These are accommodation, meals, babysitting, and grandparents’ visits. At training camps, no matter where they are held, the children will have a minimal impact on the training process, but everyone will feel at home. Under this scheme it is not necessary to return home between training camps, we can just move from place to place.

– A serious project.

– In principle, it’s all realistic. I have already pretty well covered the organizational part, and we earned money at the Olympics, we can afford to rent comfortable accommodations.

-What do you want to see your athletes performing at the Russian Championship in Tyumen? In other words, do you have any goals for this start?

– Of course I have any goals, because not all my athletes showed the result I was expecting during the season. That’s why we are approaching the national championship with more than responsibility. But I will say honestly: it is not easy to run the Russian Championships in the end of March when you feel that it is the main start of the season. It is difficult to motivate the athletes to fight and to keep their concentration level.

– Has anything changed in terms of the timing of these competitions?

– No, it’s just that in the past all the strongest athletes focused on other competitions, not domestic ones. The national championship was a kind of reel for them: if you run well, well done! If you run badly, it’s OK too. Very few of the leaders were mentally prepared for this start. It’s not so easy when you were at your best in February.

Such a situation, by the way, was good for many athletes. Tanya became a national champion two years ago and won four gold medals, and it gave her more confidence. By the way she was training to the maximum for that start, she even stayed for the training camp in Italy after the World Championships.

– I understand that the question is worn to a thread, but still, I ask. I understand the motives of Sergei Ustyugov, who wanted to train individually. Likewise, I understand perfectly well what you were motivated not to keep the athlete in the group. But at least to a small extent this withdrawal was a click for your coach’s ego?

– It wasn’t that it was upsetting, it’s just that I know Sergey’s potential and his real abilities very well. They are above the results that he shows. Even at his current age – without three weeks at 31 – he’s really capable of much more. On the other hand, I also understand how difficult it was for Ustyugov to fit into the same training camps. So there was not much chance that Sergei would be able to work in the general group from the beginning.

– At least you tried.

– Yes. And now I`m not worried for the result. After all, Sergiy is not alone. He has Markus (Kramer. – RT), who writes training plans, there is a regional team, which organizes the training and competition life no worse than it is done in the national team, there is responsibility for their own result.

The way he prepared for the Championship Heights shows that he is very good at handling his tasks. I can’t say that Sergey’s results were outstanding, but they were good. Ustyugov ran in all six disciplines and he looked really good in the final 50 km distance. It was evident that he was in a serious mood. As well as at the Russian Championships. You saw for yourself what he did in the sprint classic on the starting day and how close he was to the gold in the skiathlon.

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