Ice Network

The Inside Edge: Mishin takes over World Arena

Colorado Springs skaters enjoy tutelage of legendary Russian coach
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Drew Meekins (left) and Tom Zakrajsek (second from left) joined Alexei Mishin (right) for dinner in Colorado Springs, where the legendary coach told stories of his skating beginnings. -Drew Meekins

Earlier this month, skaters in Colorado Springs had the opportunity to work with world-famous coach Alexei Mishin of Russia. Coach Tom Zakrajsek had invited Mishin to be a part of the Rising Stars mini-camp in June. Mishin wasn't available then, but he offered to come in May instead.

"I was thrilled to be able to spend lots of one-on-one time with him," Zakrajsek said. "He is the greatest figure skating coach in the world."

As the coach of three different Olympic champions (Alexei Urmanov, Alexei Yagudin and Evgeni Plushenko), as well as the current world champion Elizaveta Tuktamisheva, Mishin brought star power to the World Arena. He also brought several of his students: Lisa Nugumanova, Alexander Petrov, Andrei Lazukin, Peter Gumennik and Evgeniy Semenenko joined Tuktamisheva.

The regular skaters at the World Arena are used to training alongside great champions, and some of them are champions in their own right. Nevertheless, they were inspired by the visitors.

"Elizaveta Tuktamisheva worked so hard -- it was so inspiring," Chase Belmontes said. "Usually I wouldn't be fazed by having another elite athlete there, but she did so many triple axels in front of me, it was incredible. When all the Russians were on the session, everyone was jumping higher and working harder and adrenaline was really high. The entire rink was inspired."

Mirai Nagasu said she had never thought she would have the opportunity to work with Mishin.

"Mishin taught in a group environment, as opposed to the private one-on-one lessons that we are used to here in the U.S.," she said. "While he didn't radically change my technique, he provided a new perspective that helped me change the way I approach my technique. While I can't expose everything that I've learned, it'll suffice to say that it was an eye-opener and he left me a lot to work on."

Belmontes said that, although he was supposed to work with the Russian coach for one 20-minute lesson each day, Mishin would often give him 40 minutes or more.

"When we weren't in lessons, he would sometimes still watch me and give me corrections," Belmontes said. "It was absolutely incredible, and intense and horrifying -- all at the same time."

Known for his good sense of humor, Belmontes was joking about the "horrifying" part, but he mentioned that Mishin is humorous, too. 

"He would make these half jokes to me, and sometimes I didn't know whether he was serious or not," Belmontes said. "The first time he spoke to me, he said, 'Chase, are you smart or are you stupid?' And I said, 'I'm smart,' but having said that to him, I had to follow through."

The soft-spoken Mishin chooses his words carefully. He said, "If you're serious too much, you become boring."

"You had to take it with a grain of salt," Belmontes went on. "It was very different from American coaching; he was very hard core. But at the same time, you could tell he wanted to share all of his knowledge with you and he didn't hold back. He was truly invested in all of the people he worked with."

Mishin also took plenty of time to talk shop with Zakrajsek and others; Drew was able to join him for dinner and hear about how he learned to skate and when he started coaching. He told stories about when he was a child, hanging onto a rope behind a car on ice-covered roads, wearing blades strapped onto felt boots. He also shared insight into some of his first coaching experiences, when he was still a student. Mishin is a professor at the Lesgaft School of Sport Science and Physical Education, and Zakrajsek always refers to him as Professor Mishin.

"His techniques are legendary and copied by coaches and skaters all around the world," Zakrajsek said. "Not only did we talk shop about technique, but he also gave me advice about my coaching style to help me improve and continue to grow professionally. His skaters brought a high level of excellence and commitment and were great examples to many of my younger skaters. Their culture certainly knows about what it takes to be the best in the world."

While Mishin was in town, he participated in a trial run of the upcoming Freezer Aerial Challenge jump competition. Mishin was one of the judges, along with Kathy Casey, Dalilah Sappenfield and Janet Champion. Mishin's Russian students competed, along with Nagasu, Belmontes, Angela Wang, Liam Firus and Anastasia Kortjohn.

"Jumps are very important," Mishin deadpanned.

PSA

The Professional Skaters Association conference earlier this month in Minneapolis included the annual gala awards dinner and the revival of the U.S. Open professional competition.

At the dinner, hosted by Doug Mattis and Doug Ladret, Rafael Arutunian was given the Coach of the Year award. Arutunian coached Ashley Wagner to her third U.S. title in 2015, and also guided Adam Rippon to his second U.S. silver medal. Rohene Ward was named the Paul McGrath Choreographer of the Year for his work with Jason Brown and others.

"It brings me so much joy to see Rohene being recognized for his artistic talent," Brown's coach, Kori Ade, said. "I know that this is just the beginning of the choreographic legacy he will leave on the skating world."

Dance coaches Alexei Kiliakov, Elena Novak and Dmytri Ilin won Developmental Coaches of the Year. Their juvenile, novice and junior teams won gold medals at the 2015 U.S. Championships, and their students, Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter, won the silver medal at the 2015 World Junior Championships. Diane Miller won the Pieter Kollen Sport Science Award.

Other awards included the Betty Berens Award, for a coach who has overcome adversity, given to Jan Tremer. The F. Ritter Shumway Award, for dedication and significant contribution to the sport, went to Eddie Shipstad. The Joe Serafine Award, for volunteer work, went to Robbie Kaine. Photographer Mark Walentiny won for the Action Photo of the Year. The Sonja Henie Award and the Gustave Lussi Award, given to skaters who have brought recognition to the sport in a positive manner, were won by Sarah Kawahara and Jason Brown, respectively.

"This is what being a true champion is about," Ade said of Brown's award. "As exciting as it is to be the coach of a medal-winning athlete, I am most proud of being the coach of athletes who embody core values and who bring positive energy to our sport."

Peter Burrows was inducted posthumously to the PSA Hall of Fame.

At the U.S. Open competition the next day, the grand champions were Jodeyne Higgins and Sean Rice. Higgins and Rice, who are married, were the 1993 and '95 Canadian bronze medalists in pairs, as well as former Canadian fours champions. They skated a fast, fun number to "Dear Future Husband" by Meghan Trainor, and earned across-the-board 10s from the judges.

"We had a really great time and it was an honor and [a] real privilege to be a part of the revitalization of such a prestigious event," Higgins and Rice emailed later. "We watched it as youngsters growing up and feel very fortunate to think that years later we would have the chance to perform in it."

Higgins and Rice said they hope that the event will encourage people to get out onto the ice and participate. Their own child was in the audience as they performed.

"Having our little daughter, Signey, in the crowd watching us compete and then being awarded grand champion at the end of the evening was an incredible experience to remember and a definite highlight in our careers," they said.

The Creative Visionary Award was given to Ice Cold Combos, which comprises Adam Blake, Sarah Santee, Kyle Shropshire, Shannon Brakke, Taylor Blair and Kate Charbonneau. Ryan Jahnke won both the Skater's Skater Award for best technique and the Olivia Clark Foundation Luminary Award. Jonathan Cassar won the Groundbreaker Award, given to an up-and-coming star; he skated to "Crying" by KD Lang and Roy Orbison.

The event was judged by Frank Carroll, Sylvia Froescher, Michael Buckley, Tim Covington and Miss America 1977 Dorothy Benham.

Foxen

Former ice dancer Todd Gilles, who currently coaches in Monument and Denver, is a man of varied interests. We talked to him in 2013 about his interest in mountain climbing, which is ongoing. (He said he recently came third in a mountaineering race up Europe's highest peak, Mount Elbrus in Russia.)

For the past year, though, Gilles has been playing in a band called Foxen with two friends. He characterizes their sound as alternative pop-rock. The name derives from a silly joke by comic Brian Regan, in which a none-too-bright kid thinks "foxen" is the plural of fox, just as "oxen" is the plural of ox. Plus, "todd" means "fox" in Old English, and Gilles has always had a fondness for the animal.

Foxen's first, self-titled EP dropped Saturday. You can find it on iTunes, Spotify and at itsfoxen.bandcamp.com.

Gilles is the lead singer and guitarist, Eric Kruse is the drummer and Jenny Contreras plays bass.

"We've been playing shows for about a year now," Gilles said. "We had written a full set of songs -- five songs to start -- and we kept working on our recordings and got to the point where we were happy with how they sounded."

Gilles says his favorite song on the EP is "Fishbowl," for a reason that connects back to his competitive days.

"It's like a skating program," he said. "It doesn't really have a chorus that repeats; it has movements to it. The band stuff is helping me fill [a] performance void. The climbing is like my training void. It's hard to drop that adrenaline rush you can get with skating. It's the same ballpark."

Next up: June weddings!

Sarah and Drew
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