Elena Zamolodchikova on coaching, judging, and the current state of Russian gymnastics

Elena Zamolodchikova gave an interview to Bolshoi Sport (Alexei Nemov’s sports magazine). The interview was partly a promotion of Nemov’s gymnastics show “Sports Legends”, so this is the show she’s talking about in several of her answers. She also talked about her coaching career and addressed some of the issues Nellie Kim raised in her interview to Bolshoi Sport – specifically, about the need for video replays in judging and whether Russian system needs to become semi-centralized to allow gymnasts to spend more time at home.

 

Q: What was your impression from the last year’s gymnastics show “Sports Legends” by Alexei Nemov?

A: The most positive one. I even felt a bit sad when the show ended. I got all the memories from the wonderful years I spent on the gymnastics podium.

Q: Do you have to train to prepare for the shows?

A: I’m working with kids in the gym, showing them exercises, I keep myself in shape. But I have to add training time to prepare for the show. It’s impossible to demonstrate the level of mastery that you’ve seen in the first show without training. No matter what other participants say.

Q: Have you already decided which routine you will show on October 28th?

A: I have certain ideas, I’m going to change my [past] program. But I’d like to keep the details secret.

Q: Is it possible to compare the show routines and the competitive routines in the difficulty level?

A: I think that a year ago I showed about 20% of the difficulty I did as an athlete. But that’s understandable: I retired in 2010 and have not been training for 6 years, and I also didn’t have much time to prepare. I’m going to add difficulty this year.

Q: You have Oksana Chusovitina as an example…

A: She’s unique, she’s everyone’s favorite.

Q: Can you say that Nemov’s show is kind of a “high school reunion”, a reason to meet the people you competed with? Or do you keep in touch with your former national team colleagues anyway?

A: We don’t meet in such numbers anywhere. I regularly talk to Aleksei Nemov and Svetlana Khorkina, to other athletes who live in Moscow. Honestly, it’s almost impossible to really talk with people from other regions or countries even during the Nemov’s show because everyone is focused on their own performances.

Q: Many Soviet and Russian gymnasts moved abroad after the end of their competitive career. Have you ever thought of doing this?

A: Never. I live by the old saying “grow where you are planted”. I don’t think that I’ll be accepted so warmly anywhere but Russia. I have an opportunity to do what I want here and that makes me happy. But I’m not criticizing anyone, people build their own lives.

Q: You coach kids, judge competitions, and work as an anti-doping program manager in the Russian Federation of artistic gymnastics. Would you say that such versatility means that you’re still looking for your calling?

A: You could say I’m useful everywhere. Working as a judge really helps me as a coach. I know how to construct a routine so that the gymnasts would get fewer deductions and more bonuses. I train little kids, I decided to raise strong gymnasts from scratch. In the morning, my pupils are at school, and during this time I can be at the federation, take care of its business. I’m happy with everything.

Q: Aleksey Nemov used to call professional sport a kind of a social elevator – he noted that success in gymnastics allowed him and other athletes to achieve a certain financial status that wasn’t available before. What is the main motivation of the gymnasts you train? Do they want to win major competitions or do they train for “health improvement”?

A: Each kid has their own story: in some cases, the girl wants to train, in some cases, her parents want her to. I just hope that all of them like gymnastics. If they have an athletic career – great. If they don’t – then they’ll be in great shape thanks to gymnastics. At the moment, all my gymnasts want to compete at the Olympics. Although, only a few understand what kind of extremely hard work is needed to achieve that.

Q: At what age you can see if the child can become an elite athlete?

A: 12-14 years old when the [female] gymnast makes the junior national team, you can be able to judge whether she reached her maximum potential or she can progress further.

Q: In the interview she gave to our magazine, Nellie Kim expressed her dissent towards the current judging system, saying “We have a lot of unsolved problems. The main is that the current system requires video replays but we don’t have them”. Could you please comment on that as a current judge?

A: Currently, I don’t have the highest judging category, I’m on the E judging panel which gives deductions for execution problems. It’s not hard to see mistakes in execution. It’s much harder for the judges on the D panel who calculate the difficulty score – sometimes it would indeed be better if they could see the video replay. Judges can miss something, can be too nervous. I believe that you need to consider the human factor and allow to use video replays for D score calculations.

Q: Do you like the current direction of gymnastics? Some specialists note that the emphasis is on clean execution now and there are fewer elements of high difficulty.

A: There is indeed less difficulty on floor now, even though the apparatus itself has been improved, it has more springs, it’s bouncier. Only Americans had really difficult acrobatics at the 2016 Olympics. As an Olympic champion on floor, I’d like to see other gymnasts do more difficult routines. There are gymnasts with strong vaults, although not that many. Bars programs are definitely much more difficult now compared to when I competed, and I’m glad that our girls are the best on this apparatus. Beam is, generally, at the same difficulty level.

Q: Do you think that Russian system of athletes’ preparation is optimal? People often say that our government coddles the athletes too much which leads to motivation loss – people tend not to value what they get for free.

A: I’m sure that we have the ideal conditions to prepare national team members and the Round Lake facilities are the best in Europe. In their home cities, many gymnasts commute for 1,5-2 hours to their gym. What kind of state will the girl be in, if she has to spend so much time traveling by public transit with a heavy backpack? I think that the existing centralized training system is optimal for the Russian conditions. The Federation supplied good equipment to many gyms in the regions, so there are places to train, generally. But there are other factors that make the training camps preferable. Besides commuting, there’s also school. Teachers come to the athletes that live at the Round Lake. Our gymnasts lead very busy lives, participate in all sorts of activities, go to concerts. And, as far as I know, they don’t spend the whole year at the Round Lake. There are three weeks of camps and then a break for seven days during which the gymnasts can go home. Of course, not during the preparation for competitions.

Q: What do you think about the potential of the current national team in this quad?

A: I’m optimistic about them. This year’s European Championships gave us a floor champion, and we hadn’t won floor since 2013. Watching Angelina Melnikova, I noticed she started to train with a lot of motivation. She’s been to the Olympics already and felt what it is. Besides her, I’m happy to see the young Elena Eremina. I also believe in Seda Tutkhalian. Let’s see how our youth will compete with the American gymnasts. And let’s not forget about Aliya Mustafina who said she’ll definitely be back.

Q: What can you say about Viktoria Komova?

A: Slender, beautiful gymnast who’s very pleasing to watch. As far as I know, she’s training, she plans to compete at the Voronin Cup in December. I think this tournament will show how ready she is to compete.

 

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