Ice Network

Tutberidze trying to lead her skaters to the light

Coach of four qualifiers in Barcelona stresses importance of hard work
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Eteri Tutberidze said she let Julia Lipnitskaia decide which music she would use for her free skate this season. -Getty Images

Eteri Tutberidze may be the busiest coach in Barcelona, Spain. The school she leads in Moscow, Sdusshor 37, qualified no fewer than four skaters for the Grand Prix Final and Junior Grand Prix Final: junior ladies Evgenia Medvedeva and Serafima Sakhanovich, both of whom won their two Junior Grand Prix assignments this fall; Sergei Voronov, the 27-year-old 2014 European silver medalist; and Julia Lipnitskaia, the 2014 European gold and world silver medalist. Tutberidze graciously agreed to answer icenetwork's questions about her pupils, the way she coaches and the rise of the Russian ladies on the international scene.

Icenetwork: Last year, Julia skated to Schindler's List. This year, you picked Romeo and Juliet. It seems that you like rather lyrical programs. How do you choose your pupils' themes?

Tutberidze: Actually, I don't. I had an absolutely different program in mind for Julia this year. This program is her choice. I was thinking more of a program around love, and the way love will save the world. When I proposed it to her, she said that she did not feel ready for it yet. Julia felt like resting a bit this season -- not technically, of course, but in the way she would have to express herself. Last season was a tough season. For this year, she wanted something lyrical, rather than something you need to go through [in] your mind over and over.

Icenetwork: And you agreed to go with her choice, then?

Tutberidze: Of course. I am following her. I try to always let her decide what she wants. I don't want to do it in any other way, actually, even with young kids. They have to decide. They have to choose what we are going to do and how we are going to do it. You are right [that] my job as a coach is to follow them. I try to explain to them and make sure that they always have a choice. You can't just push them. If you did, it would work once or maybe twice, but it would never work more than that. You would lose the person herself, [and] she would not be with you anymore.

Icenetwork: Did it work the same way with Evgenia [Medvedeva] and Serafima [Sakhanovich]?

Tutberidze: No. Everybody is different, so it will be different with everybody. For Xenia (Evgenia) and Sima (Serafima), I chose both their short and free programs myself. I proposed to them what I thought was best to them at this time of their development, as I do with each one of my pupils. I gave each one the choice. Both accepted it this year. I always tell each one of my students, "If you hear a music you like, please bring it to me." This helps me understand them better as well. Sometimes I will tell them to try new stuff, like in an exhibition. They risk nothing in an exhibition, so it's a good time for experiencing things. They can explore something new, and explore themselves at the same time. For instance, Julia is trying to dance this year. So I told her to try it in an exhibition, and that's what she is doing.

Icenetwork: Evgenia, Serafima and Julia are so different!

Tutberidze: It all depends on the person. Some girls will pretend that they are adults, even at an early age. Some will not. This is like a game, you know! You can tell who pretends and who does not only by listening to the music she is skating to. Xenia is 15 and is still a child. Julia never pretends to be an adult. Why should you pretend that you are an adult anyway? In five years, you will be one forever. You are going to stay an adult all the rest of your life. You should be what you are.

Icenetwork: When you work with young ladies like the three you are coaching here, how do you plan for the growth and the transformation of their body that will occur?

Tutberidze: I'm trying to teach jumps the way they will keep them after their body changes. That's the whole purpose of technique: It should work even after puberty, even though their body will gain weight here and there. Technique will vary from one skater to the next. Some have long legs, others skate with speed, others jump high. Julia, for instance, does not have high jumps. So I try to adapt technique to each one of my students. When their body changes, we will see what happens. But take Carolina Kostner, for instance. Her body changed, too, and she had some very difficult years. Do you remember how she was popping her triples? But she had the technique. Then she managed to come back and win…

Icenetwork: How are you able to raise so many young girls to a world standard?

Tutberidze: I work! That's the only thing I am able to do: Work. (She laughs.) You just have to work and see where it leads you. It may work, but it might not work as well. Also, we try to plan everything. Plan for the Final, plan for junior worlds, plan for everything. Also, I think that if you really believe that things are going to happen, if you really do everything you can, then things will work out. Success will be inevitable.

Icenetwork: You have so many pupils!

Tutberidze: No, I don't have enough girls! At least, not enough to be satisfied. (She laughs.) For next year, I hope I will be able to bring more. I have really good ones at home, too!

Also, I talk with them a lot. I try to understand what's happening within them. I also tell them what we're working for. I try to show them where they are going to get [to]. I try to explain to them how big skating, at the highest level, can bring them lots of joy and happiness for themselves. They need to understand why we are working, why we are sweating. When I was a skater myself, nobody showed me where to go, and I missed it. As a coach, you need to lead them to the light. Sometimes we get tired and we need to refer to where we want to go.

Finally, I try to teach them respect. Respect in every dimension. Respect for the skater next to you. If he or she is skating next to you, it means that he or she has worked just as hard as you did.

Icenetwork: How do you explain how successful Russia is with ladies now, after so many decades without any at the top?

Tutberidze: Oh, there are going to be even more in the next years! You just have to work. Also, skating is a bit like Russian hills. Everything goes up and down. At the moment, Russia has the boys down. It will happen, just like America's turn will come back. For now, it's downhill, but for so many years American skating was just unbeatable. You need to give time. I guess it's our time to be uphill now.

Icenetwork: How come your English is so good?

Tutberidze: I lived in the U.S. for six years. I skated with the Ice Capades for three years, and then I started coaching in the U.S. Can you believe it? I started in Oklahoma City! Then I went to Cincinnati, Los Angeles and San Antonio. I really loved it out there. But after a while, I was missing my family, so I decided to go back to Moscow.

I come from a big family, and so that was very important to me. But I have a lot of friends in the U.S., and I miss them a lot. It's almost like another family. Also, my daughter (now 12) was born in the U.S., in Las Vegas.

Icenetwork: You seem to be quite competitive yourself as a coach.

Tutberidze: I am a fifth child, and the last one of my family. I suppose I always had to prove my place in my family! (She laughs.) Also, I have 50 percent Georgian blood, 25 percent Russian and 25 percent Armenian. That's a lot of different blood. You could call that cocktail a "Bloody Eteri," just like there is a "Bloody Mary" -- with lots of spices in it!