Morozov's coaching star is on the rise
Russian coach leads resurgence of Arakawa, Ando
|Nikolai Morozov celebrates with one of his students, Shizuka Arakawa, as she receives her free skate scores in Turin that won her the Olympic gold. (Getty Images)|
Flash bulbs popped, young women squealed, and programs were shoved in his face by those seeking autographs, but the man in the center of it all never batted an eyelash. That is how life is for coach Nikolai Morozov these days.
At the top of his profession at the relatively young age of 31 -- with a stable of students that includes 2006 Olympic champion Shizuka Arakawa, 2007 women's world champion Miki Ando and 2007 men's world runner-up Daisuke Takahashi -- Morozov is clearly a man in demand.
Born and raised in Moscow, Morozov was a singles skater until he was 18. He turned to ice dancing after that and went on to compete in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics and several world championships.
Along the way he learned the intricacies of the sport and how to teach it, and after some seasoning under famed Russian coach Tatiana Tarasova, struck out on his own where he has enjoyed fabulous success.
That he has done so well with Japanese skaters, in particular, is no surprise to him.
"They are very hard workers and dedicated at what they do. They have strong discipline, which is important in any sport," says Morozov.
When Morozov coached Arakawa to the gold medal at the Turin Games, he became an instant celebrity in Japan.
As the 2004 world champion glided past the panel of judges during her free program with her back-bending Ina Bauer maneuver on that glorious night, it was one of those moments that became etched in time and remembered in figure skating lore.
When I asked Arakawa about the timing of the move, at a Foreign Sportswriters Association of Japan meeting in Tokyo back in March, she said it was no coincidence.
"Whenever we make a program we take into account the angles the judges are looking from," Arakawa said. "It just so happened that my coach, Nikolai Morozov, asked me to do that movement from there."
Anyone who was in the arena that night, or the millions more around the world who were watching on TV, would likely agree that it was this dramatic tactic that made Arakawa the first Asian figure skater to win the Olympic gold.
Shortly after the Olympics, Morozov found a new client in Ando, who will be competing in this weekend's Grand Prix season-opening Skate America in Reading, Pa.
Ando, who became the first female to land a quadruple jump in competition, when she hit a quad Salchow at the 2002 Junior Grand Prix Final, was in very bad shape -- physically and mentally -- after she bombed in Turin, where she finished 17th under the heavy expectations of the Japanese public.
Many observers felt it might be the end of Ando's competitive career, even though she was only 18. But in stepped Morozov, and one year later Ando was the world champion in Tokyo, completing an amazing comeback in which she was seemingly transformed into a new skater.
"Her personality and the way she worked and practiced changed," Morozov said. "Lots of things changed. We focused a lot of energy on the aspects she needed to improve upon.
What is most interesting about both Arakawa and Ando is that both were considered "finished" by many in the skating community before they went to Morozov.
Arakawa was coming off an injury-plagued 2005 season, and admittedly had been struggling to find the motivation to carry on skating after winning the world title when she joined forces with Morozov. But she quickly regained her focus and triumphed on the sport's greatest stage.
Morozov, who exudes a quiet confidence when he speaks, clearly knows how to get the most out of his charges, but claims there is no magic formula for success.
"I treat all of my skaters as individuals, because they are all different."
Morozov, who is based in Hackensack, N.J., offers skaters the complete package when they come to him.
"I do everything -- coaching, choreography, music, costumes."
He is, indeed, a multi-talented figure who is quickly developing into a giant in the skating world. One gets the feeling that he has only scratched the surface of his own potential.