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03 April 2006 @ 08:14 pm
Werner article on Gorshkov  

One Gorshkov’s gory story

I’d like to preface this by saying that this article is not about relationships between coaches and students. It has no generalizations or parallels. It’s only a story about a specific instructor and specific athletes.

The last name of “Gorshkov” is widely known in both Soviet and world ice dance. However, it first appeared in combination with the first name “Alexei” on the pages of major Russian newspaper only during the 2000 World championships in Nice. At that point, I invited Elena Vaitzehovskaya to meet with the young coach and his students, the junior World champions Natalia Romanuta and Daniil Barantsev. The athletes just got back from a comfortable win at the Junior Worlds in Oberstdorf, Germany, and where skating among the best “adults” skaters of the planet for the first time in their lives. The very next day, my colleague published her own version of that conversation on the pages of “Sport-Express”, which was the point anyway. My articles came out a bit earlier.

The publications led other journalists to express interest in the man sharing the last name of the famous Olympic champion, the man who came to Moscow area from the mountains of the Gray Urals. At the time, Alexei Gorshkov was working with a group of dancers that, beside Romanuta and Barantsev, also had Russians Domnina and Bolotin, Bulgarians Denkova and Staviyski, and several other quite gifted students, whose name, unfortunately, only survive in the memory of the historians of figure skating.

During the “let-go nineties”, the maelstrom of luck seekers carried to the other side of the ocean such people as Tatiana Tarasova, Natalia Dubova, and Natalia Linichuk, while the long established diva of the ice dancing world Elena Tchaikovskaya was slowly taking her final bows. The throne of the top ice dancing coach stood empty. A Muscovite Ksenia Rumiantseva was just starting off on her career as an established coach, while the now well know Elena Kustarova, daughter of Svetlana Alexeeva (a long time Tarasova assistant) was still taking strolls alone the Champs-Elysées. The names of the many talented instructors from Toliatti, Kirov, Perm, Samara, and other Russian cities were only mentioned in the lists of the Russian Figure Skating Association. Therefore, the appearance at the very end of 20th century of the “Ural Opal”[i] who gave Russia two Junior World champion teams, was very welcomed indeed. One wanted to believe that the abandoned standard was now in good hands, and that the alley of the Best Ice Dancing Instructors was seeing anew oak. Not in a sense that its fruits will be a pig delicacy, but because its’ green and strong.

Alas, the oak didn’t quite make it. He threw out two talented duos. He broke up several teams. He lessened the instruction to the dancers, while increasing the pressure on the judges. He convinced a talented and unique choreographer Sergei Petukhov to fold his creativity wings, and get into the routine of an artisan. Following the 2004-2005 season, which was disastrous for Alexei Gorshkov due to the flop of his Bulgarian team of Denkova and Staviyski, I got to thinking and looking for reasons for this odd behavior. I contacted his former teachers, his colleagues from the ice and the coaching factory, and his students, both current and former. The conclusions were sad. Very much so.

So, meet the protagonist: Alexei Yurievich Gorshkov. Born January 30, 1967 in Sverdlovsk. Sports Master of figure skating (dancing). Recognized coach of Russia. Higher education, long distance program (Malahovka). As everyone else, started skating as a little kid. His very first coach form DSO “Locomotive” was Rostislav Sinitsin, now a choreographer of International renown. According to the late president of the Sverdlovsk Figure Skating School Igor Xenofontov, Alexei was a mediocre skater. He skated with Natalia Zykova (she later became a soloist at Holyday on Ice). His biggest achievement was a 10th place at USSR Nationals. Then again, such mediocre skaters often make excellent coaches.

He’s the oldest of two sons (he has a brother Andrei). Their father died of the most common Russian ailment[ii] when they were both still children. The mother was killing herself to feed the two boys with one salary. Due to poverty, the elder brother had to think of his own living quite early. Ending his amateur career, Alexei went to work at a factory. However, a choreographer Mikhail Danilovich Pavluchenko convinced the youth to return to figure skating as a coach. Up until 1993, Gorshkov assisted Oleg Epstein, who was once his own coach. Together, they coached a beautiful girl Lyudmila Kirillova. According to witnesses, the girl had no chance to make the skating team, as she skated on straight legs (her daughter Nastya sill has the same problem); however, she soon started assisting Epstein as well. Lesha[iii] and Lucy fell in love, and ultimately got married. They’re living happily, and have two daughters.

For a while, they all worked together, but soon problems arose. Gorshkov, despite a complete lack of professional experience, was nonetheless eager to coach on his own, and demanded a few students. Things came to a split. Epstein retained those he considered the best, and handed off the rest to Oleg Mironov and Gorshkov. That was the beginning of Alexei’s journey as a captain of his own ship.

At the time of the split, Gorshkov and Mironov considered a team of Olga Sharutenko and Dmitri Naumkin to have no professional future, and neither one wanted to take them. Quoting Gorshkov himself, “I don’t need that junk here”. Ultimately, though, he listened to his elders (especially to Pavluchenko, who left with them and helping out), and kept the kids. It was with Sharutenko and Naumkin that Alexei managed to learn the basics of coaching. Having given Olga and Dmitri a lot, he also got much from them. If it weren’t for that team and for the most experienced choreographer who led the young coach through the stages of mastering the craft, the figure skating world like never hear the name Alexei paired with the last name Gorshkov.

Certainly, the fact that Sharutenko and Naumkin became World Junior champion is largely their coach’s work. However, after his students got such high title, he started suffering from the “stardom syndrome”. Problems started emerging on all sides. Gorshkov would constantly put down and even cuss his students, often making fun of them. Later on, this behavior became the norm at all practices with almost all athletes. Perhaps, it’s no so much Gorshkov’s fault as his big problem, stemming from the most acute deficit of education and culture. You can judge his intellectual level for yourself – once time, asked if he goes to the theater, Gorshkov said that yes, he once visited the Drama Theater of Opera and Ballet (that phrase came back to bite him many times over. Sverdlovsk has theaters of Drama, Opera and Ballet, Musical Comedy, Puppets, and Young Viewer).

Obviously, neither Olga nor Dmitri wanted to put up with the boorishness, which they quickly understood – on the horizons of the young and still poor coach appeared a team of Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviyski, who could pay him good money. Gorshkov, already a father, was still working for a pittance; he quickly concentrated on the Bulgarians. It came to the point where less than a month before Russian Nationals, he left the Sharutenko-Naumkin team with a choreographer, and went to Sofia. Realizing they had nothing left to learn from Gorshkov, the team split, and soon retired. Alexei blamed Valentine Piseev for the fiasco.

At the time, a Sverdlovsk native Alla Shekhovtseva, already living in the capital, got to head the figure skating school of the regional center of Odincevo in Moscow region; she invited a fellow Sverdlovsk native to work their as well. Gorshkov brought along from Sofia (where he’s worked for a little over two years) and from Yekaterinburg[iv] Sergei Chemodanov (who, again according to Xenofontov and his students, was a top level coach), as well as the teams of Natalia Romanuta / Daniil Barantsev, Oksana Domnina/ Maxim Bolotin, Natalia Lepetukha/ Sergei Mar’in, and some other talented dancers who were later thrown overboard from the ship of the Russian ice dancing. The Bulgarians moved from Sofia. Alexei got Lepetukha from Andrei Filippov who was leaving for Australia, but once in Odincevo, Gorshkov soon got rid of her. He wanted Mar’in to skate with his daughter, but he refused to skate with Nastya. Gorshkov then threw him out as well. Mar’in, who could a good chance to make the Russian team, now makes a living at Holidays On Ice.

Having gotten rid of Sharutenko and Naumkin, following the Junior Worlds of 2001, the coach as well started slowly kicking overboard Romanuta and Barantsev, who in Sofia ascended to the top place on the podium of the second time. At the same time, he started having problems with Maxim Bolotin, the partner of Oksana Domnina. Why? Once again, because of the put downs. As one former students of the Odincevo blasphemer told me, “If you are being cussed throughout the whole practice session, if you’re constantly being humiliated with expressions like ‘you’re a pathetic ***, an ungrateful ***’, it becomes hard to keep calm and not do something out of spite”. Gorshkov has a disgusting tendency to put down those who depend on him. Apparently, he doesn’t understand that children grow up, become adults, and one has to change the manner of talking to them.

The impossibility of the situation forced Maxim to leave for ”Locomotive” to train with Svetlana Alexeeva and Elena Kustarova. Gorshkov, having pair Domnina with another Maxim – Shabalin – whom he borrowed from Oleg Surakov, explained Bolotin’ leaving through the student’s psychiatric problems. Bolotin categorically disputes this, assuring everyone that he is completely healthy. Neither his new coaches nor the “Locomotive” students noticed any problems with Bolotin either. The doctors, both in Moscow and in Yekaterinburg, also consider Bolotin healthy. By the way, Romanuta and Barantsev, abandoned by Gorshkov, tried to remain in figure skating and train with Alexander Svinin. Alas, that was not to be. Either through Gorshkov’s direct appeal, or at least with his blessing, Valentine Piseev did not approve the move, and stricken the duo from the National teams, motivating this by Romaniuta’s weight gain. I saw Natalia at the 2005 Worlds in Moscow, after she gave birth to a son and returned to a perfect figure. She assured me that had the environment in Odincevo been normal, she’d never gain any weight. She is still in good athletic shape, always ready to return to big sport. Daniil is now skating in the US with a local lady Jennifer Wester, and in early January took part in Nationals. I am guilty before the team of Romanuta/ Barantsev. I trusted the coach, and published a one-sided article. This only gave him more confidence in not having to answer to anyone, and in having support of the media in all circumstances. To be fair, one dancer claims that as long as Petukhov only came to Yekaterinburg and Sofia for short periods, Gorshkov and the athletes got along find, visited each other at home, and celebrated holidays together. He claims that the cussing and the humiliating on the ice only started in Odincevo, where the choreographer showed up every day. I find it hard to see Petukhov as the evil genius, a “gray Cardinal” of Gorshkov’s, as he is a very religious man. Even if it were true, though, the responsibility for the students lies on the coach’s shoulders.

Paradoxically, following the Dortmund Worlds, it was Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviyski who became Gorshkov’s new scapegoats. Instead of putting out all the effort, talent, and connections for the Bulgarian duo to win in 2004/05 and 2005/06 seasons, thus becoming one of the youngest coaches of European, World, and Olympic champions ever, the dance teacher transferred his affection to Domnina and Shabalin. The Bulgarians got the cussing and the humiliation that the coach earlier bestowed on his other students. During the 2005 Europeans in Turin, Alexei Yurievich assured Russian journalists that Denkova and Staviyski have gotten greedy, skipped practices, and just have a lazy attitude to preparation. To be fair, no one who knew the skaters even a little believed the negative PR. Having spent eight difficult years with Gorshkov, Albena and Max long couldn’t understand that their choreographer and coach were getting rid of them. However, fifth place at the Moscow championships became the last drop, and the cup of patience overflowed. Two weeks after the end of seasons, Denkova and Staviyski left. At that moment, they left to nowhere.

Why did Gorshkov decided to lose his golden-laying team? There is an opinion that he simply accommodated his director Alla Shekhovtseva and her husband, the Russian FS Federation President Valentine Piseev, trading in the Bulgarians for the future of Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin as well as his own daughter Nastya. I, however, think it goes deeper than the Piseevs’ and his own families. Most likely, Alexei Gorshkov is a sick man, and his problems include delusions of grandeur and inferiority complex. It shows even when it’s about his own students. His remaining provinciality doesn’t let him see that the champions’ coach is no less a champion than his athletes. It’s had to see why he hasn’t gotten that over the years of observing such stars as Elena Tchaikovskaya and Tatiana Tarasova. However, Lyudmila, while assisting her husband, is constantly assuring him of his hyper-genius, and apparently on one dark day the spouse believed that himself. Didn’t Gorshkov realize that losing Denkova and Stavisky will not only cost him much money and a summer camp in Bulgaria, but also a team that was a role model for this pupils from Russia, Armenia, and Georgia? If he did realize it, why did he go that route? It’s a fact, that the last conversation Albena and Maxim had with him before they left came as a shock to him, and that the coach bitterly regretted not having foreseen this. However, if Alexei didn’t get that he was at fault for losing his long time students, it’s high time he went to a psychiatrist. Such condition often arises from overworking, from nervous stress, and from extreme fatigues, and it always leads to the loss of one’s students, money, and reputation.

Can Alexei Gorshkov’s problems hinder Russian ice dancing? Unfortunately, yes. Ice dancing in the country is extremely shallow, and there is no guarantee that Gorshkov’s treatment of champion athletes will end with Denkova and Staviski. Tomorrow, we may see the same treatment of the current favorites Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin. Why? At the least, for the same of his daughter Nastya and her partner Ilya Tkachenko when they get out of juniors. Then, it will be time for the younger daughter Angelica. Even before Domnina and Shabalin, there may be problems for the juniors Anastasia Platonova and Andrei Maximishin, who this season have gotten from him and Petukhov rather weak, unoriginal programs, thus making Nastya look better. Papa Lesha is doing everything for the victory of this darling daughter, and plans to go to the March Junior championships in Ljubljana himself to try to pull Nastya and her partner to the win. However, a coach with one sole senior and one junior teams cannot in any way be regarded as the leader in ice dance, which is title Gorshkov is pining for. New students aren’t too impressed with him – why go outside the city when Moscow itself has several clubs with coaches who are just as talented, but far better behaved. Even his own daughter trains in “Locomotive” with Elena Kustarova. It’s quite possible that Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin could leave as well, trading Odincevo for Moscow or the US, and a coach for a more renowned one. Having blamed Denkova and Staviyski for the betrayal, he is now doing all he can to get back at the silly Bulgarians and finally ruin their careers even prior to the Olympic games. To that end, Gorshkov and Petukhov quickly befriended Boris Chait. In Lyon, Mr. Chait took he new pals out to eat on almost daily basis, where they could try local delicacies including a reach lentil stew prepared from the Biblical recipe.

I fully realize that many common friends from the figure skating world, having read this article, will ask me (some have already asked), “You and Lesha are pals, why didn’t you talk to him prior to publishing such a tough material? Is it a revenge?” First of all, it’s because I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. Back at the Moscow Worlds, Gorshkov, realizing I’d want to question him about the real reasons for Bulgarians’ decision, started avoiding me, and has continued to do so in Sofia, Vienna, and Lyon (at the Europeans, it was together with Petukhov). Having been well informed that I was preparing this article (I sent him a letter after Sofia championships), he did not avail himself of the opportunity to present his own version of why his students left. Apparently, he had nothing to say. Secondly, I am certain that a coach’s responsibility is to teach his students how to swim, as opposed to drowning them. I am under no illusion about the character of most young skaters. The very same Maxim Bolotin confirmed that in response to humiliation he’d “act out”. Likewise, Natalia Romanuta and Daniil Barantsev had their own long list of problems. One can’t call Maxim Staviyski a “good boy” – the “stardom syndrome” hasn’t spared him either. I know that a long life side by side inevitably leads to a two-way stress. However, a coach, especially a children’s coach, is always a councilor, a teacher, a Maestro Cherry rather than the Fire Eater. The skaters, meanwhile, are not made of wood, even if they start off on the ice looking a such, then moving up to looking like Pinocchio. Tamara Nikolaevna and Igor Borisovich Moskvins have never badmouthed a student, whether current or former. This also goes for Nikolai Matveevich and Lyudmila Georgievna Velikovs, who treat their skaters like their own children. Both the former and the latter sometimes part ways with their pupils, but they also give their blessing, and never dump any trash on them. Gorshkov also knows many others, he has plenty of role models. The coach is still relatively young, not without talent, and with time he theoretically still has a chance to become a leader of Russian ice dance. To do so, though, he must first understand that the road there is not lined with either canes or corpses. Thirdly, one very ancient Roman named Plato once said, „Amicus Socrates, sed magis amica veritas“, which in this case can translated as “Gorshkov is a pal, but the future of Russian ice dance is more important”. This discipline of figure skating has already suffered irreparable damage from the tsunami “Natalia L”[v]. The dance scene won’t be able to handle another shock like that. Fourthly, I never take revenge on any coach, choreographer, or functionary, though I do often express my opinions both orally and in writing. Intelligent people take the criticism well, and we continue normal relations. Reactions of fools and boors is directly proportional to the level of their foolishness and boorishness. I had my last conversation with Alexei Yurievich last March in Moscow, and there was no reason for any fight or revenge. Neither one of us owed the other anything. I supported Gorshkov as long as I believed his actions to develop ice dancing in general, and Russian ice dancing in particular. I would still be willing to do all I can to help him to ascend – but to the Olympus, not to Vesuvius.

[i] Ural Mountains are famous for their semi-precious stones

[ii] Most common Russian ailment – meaning alcoholism

[iii] Just a reminder that Lesha is diminutive of Alexei; Lucy is diminutive of Lyudmila.

[iv] City of Sverdlovsk has been re-named back to Yekaterinburg in the ‘90s.
[v] Meaning Linichuk
Current Mood: disappointeddisappointed