Robin Szolkowy: "I still wouldn't say yet that I passed my coaching exam!"
He switched from skater to coach four years ago and he immediately started to collect medals in his new role again. Multiple world and European champion Robin Szolkowy shared his thoughts about the increasing number of pairs at major competitions and rule changes and also about an "unusual but normal" situation that occurred at the Olympics.
Not a long time ago you were also competing so you remember how a competitor feels in certain situations. Do you think that it's an advantage for you?
Sometimes I get to the point when I feel that it is not easy. I look left or right, to other colleagues, who've been coaching for twenty or thirty years, they have been going through ups and downs and they find an answer for almost every situation. A good answer, or at least something that looks a good answer. They are really leading the kids. I've had four seasons as a coach, I'm young. In the coaching world I'm the kid. I have to learn so many little things. Of course, I can teach a twist, it's not a big deal. But how you go into the twist, what you do after the twist, how to push, how to behave at a competition, these are also details that are important and that create a real sportsperson. This is a big step. It's not easy but I think what I've been going through – losing competitions, winning competitions, press conferences and so on – helps me a lot.
You immediately started your coaching career with a European medal thanks to Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov; they were 3rd in 2015 in Stockholm.
Yes, but I still wouldn't say yet that I passed my coaching exam. I still have to learn. Maybe next year or in two years I will be more confident. I think coaching is fun, I love to be on ice with the kids. Competitions, to be honest, are a little bit too long for me, but I love the real working part.
Olympics must have been very interesting for you, being there as a coach of a pair that is the main competition for a pair in which your former partner is skating.
I think it was only so interesting for everybody else because we ended up being in the last group together. For me it was nothing special. In the last two years I'm okay with this situation. Year by year it was easier for me to be in the coaching zone. I met Aljona a few times before and it was okay. My life was going on even besides the skating part, I didn't have any negative effects after splitting with Aljona. Of course for everybody else it was super interesting, but for us, maybe it wasn't a usual situation, but a normal one.
Was it hard to motivate Evgenia and Vladimir after the Olympics, where they missed the medal spot even though they were second after the short program?
It took 3-4 days or maybe one week to get over it, but after that they were hungry for success, they wanted to skate better. After the Olympics they skated last in the free program at Worlds, too and there they managed to do their best. It is good for them just to overcome that Olympic thing.
Is it hard for them to skate last?
I think nobody wants to skate last in the last group, without knowing that the order is clear. I mean sometimes it happens that you know you are the best and if you don't make five mistakes in the free skate, you will win. But in the other cases the competition is tight, so everybody wants to skate and have a good performance, but nobody wants to be last. It always depends on the teams that skated before you and how they skated. You see that the main contenders made two mistakes and you have a chance – is it good to skate last in such a case? I don't know. Does it affect you? Maybe. For me it's good because when you see that little number you know that that's it. But for the skaters it's hard.
Some skaters don't want to follow how the others skated. What about Evgenia and Vladimir?
They are not paying attention, Evgenia is even holding her ears when they announce the score of the previous pair. But I think you can't really cover yourself and not get any information. That is not possible. Especially for the team that is skating right before you: you are at the rink when they skate their last seconds, you see their reaction and hear the applause. So you still get at least 10-20 per cent information, if it was good or not. But even if you hear the score, it doesn't mean anything, because while you are skating you don't know how much you have, you can't say after ten elements: "Okay, we've done enough now, it will be enough."
In PyeongChang were Evgenia and Vladimir aware of how good Aljona and Bruno skated?
I think they heard the crowd, maybe they heard something backstage. When people come back to dressing room, they are talking. There was also a little TV in the room where they had to wait before taking the ice, so when you turn around, you see something, hear something… But I think Evgenia and Vladimir just wanted to skate clean, the best they could and fight for the medal. I think it was a little bit too much. Especially for Evgenia, she said that in the short program when the music started she was ready, but in the free it was the opposite: the music started and she was shaky.
What do you think about the new rules in pairs skating, that the free program will be shorter?
I don't think you have to skate four and a half minutes to show how good you are, but I think it would be interesting to have more room for choreography. The really good teams always find the way to tell the story, even if they are going into an element, or even during an element. But for younger teams, teams in the middle part of the results list it is really hard. Sometimes it's getting a little bit boring. That's the same with the levels: almost everybody is doing the same lift in the short program, and we see the same lifts all the time even in the free skating. And that's the same with the combination spins… So we can make a decision: let's forget the "art" part of figure skating, let's just do the elements. Everybody does a twist and who is the best, gets ten points. Then they do a jump, and so on, and we get a winner at the end. And then you just skate a choreo or a show program. It's always going up and down [whether the artistic or the athletic side of the sport is more emphasized], but now I would say pair skating is losing.
What do you think about the increasing numbers of pair teams? A couple of years ago there were not enough teams to fill up the free skating spots but at the Worlds in Milan there were 28 pairs in the short program.
It's definitely good. I like it. In the past you would go to Europeans and Worlds and you saw also some pairs that couldn't skate. You were watching them and thinking: "Please don't do any lifts again! Please, stop, stop!" But now all of them are able to do a triple twist, a level four lift. All the teams now can skate. Next time maybe we will have 32 or 40 pairs at the Worlds! Why not?