Nemov: It’s time to move to another generation of coaches

We’re continuing with the series of old interviews that have not been translated to English before.

Alexei Nemov is one of the vice-presidents of the Russian artistic gymnastics federation and he often publicly speaks very favorably about Rodionenkos (he complimented them quite a lot in his memoir). However, during the London Olympics, he was pretty unhappy with the results of the Russian team and blamed Rodionenkos and the federation leadership for that. The interview was taken after the team finals in London.

Q: Were you celebrating the silver medals of our girls or grieved over the sixth place of our guys?

A: Regarding Russian artistic gymnastics, I don’t see reasons to either celebrate or grieve. Let’s not hurry, not to go ahead of the events. The Olympic competition hasn’t finished yet, the all-around is ahead of us, the event finals.

Q: Ok, let’s summarize the preliminary results then. Or intermediate. Whatever you like best.

A: To be honest, I would prefer our guys to become champions. Alas, it would be naive to expect that after mistakes on four apparatuses in the team competition. Judges really tried to drag the British into the medals, but what does it even matter if we finished in sixth?

Q: Do you think that the judges favored the home team?

A: I’m sure of it. And I’m not the only one who has this opinion.

Q: Was it the mirror image of your story in Athens?

A: Not to that extent. Back then my score was blatantly lowered. In London, they tried to help the British more accurately, not so openly. But, I repeat, it doesn’t matter for us because we ended up being too far from the medal podium.

Q: But the girls are second.

A: And lost to the Americans by more than five points. That’s an abyss! The duel which everyone was expecting didn’t happen. They shot themselves.

Q: With a control shot in the head?

A: I repeat, we have good chances in event finals. There’s still hope. However, counting just on luck is wrong. You have to go out to compete already prepared. On the other hand, The Olympics, like the rest of the elite sport, are unpredictable. It’s not true that the strongest always wins. All sorts of things happen, too many factors must coincide, converge at the same point. You have to prove your superiority over your rivals every time from scratch.

Q: Nevertheless, do you agree that Andrei and Valentina Rodionenko have done a lot in recent year in order to return our gymnastics to the leading positions that were lost in the beginning of the 2000s?

A: I don’t know what they’ve done but you have to judge by results and the results aren’t pleasing yet. The guys perform worse than they should have. It means there’s something wrong with the coaching staff.

Q: Off with their heads again?

A: You’re asking – I’m answering. I’m giving my personal opinion.

Q: Four years ago in Beijing, it was a complete draught, two bronze medals and that’s it.

A: But look at how much better are the training conditions now, what opportunities there are. At least, the opportunities to bring back the specialists who moved abroad in the past.

Q: Well, Aleksandr Aleksandrov came back from the States to work with the women’s team.

A: I guess it’s not enough if the Americans didn’t leave us any chance, tore us to shreds… I’m sorry, emotions are boiling in me, I got very upset because of our failures. I even told my wife before the MAG team final: “Galina, can you imagine if the guys will win gold medals? That would be amazing!” My spouse is a more realistic person, she tried to moderate my fervor, but I still hoped. After all, we were in second after the qualifications… Turns out Galina was right.

Q: Which Olympics is it for you, Alexei?

A: Summer Olympics? Let me count. Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London… It’s fifth. I was an athlete at the first three and I went as a spectator to the last two. Each is precious to me in its own way.

Q: How does England endear you?

A: With its organization, thinking of every little detail. Everything is done clearly and right. I’m judging from the standpoint of a spectator.

Q: It was probably easier for you on the competition floor, right? There, everyone is a creator of their own happiness but here you can only emphasize with others.

A: That’s right, I got into the habit of taking responsibility for the results, but today I’m on the other side of the barricade and I’m quite comfortable in the stands.

Q: Well, yes, you can see better from above and it’s easier to criticize from there.

A: I take everything connected to my sport to my heart, I can’t watch competitions indifferently when our athletes are competing.

Q: Especially since you’re not an ordinary spectator, but a vice-president of the national federation.

A: That’s an additional burden.

Q: That’s why I want you to make more detailed claims about Rodionenkos. Your phrase that you don’t know what they’ve done hung in the air…

A: Listen, these people are over 70 years old or will be soon!

Q: So what? They don’t have to tumble, they have to teach.

A: I think it’s time to move to another generation of coaches. I emphasize: it’s my personal, private opinion. Personally, I like Andrey Fyodorovich and Valentina Aleksandrovna very much. They’re great people, highly qualified specialists, but it’s time to replace them with someone younger.

Oh, look, there’s a video with Larisa Latynina on the tv, our great athlete whose record number of Olympic medals was only beaten by Michael Phelps a couple of days ago. It seems like the BBC editors planned this show about Larisa Latynina to coincide with it. Notice how much gymnastics has changed in 50 years. The apparatuses stayed the same but the rest went far ahead. It’s a completely different sport now! You can’t continue using the old methods. Do you understand what I mean?

Q: Generally, yes. Do people in the federation share your opinion?

A: I can’t answer for everyone, I speak for myself.

Q: Considering that the head of the federation, banker Andrey Kostin who I talked to in details recently, honestly said that he doesn’t get involved in the federation affairs and limits himself to providing financial support from VTB, then, your voice, Alexei, is clearly not insignificant.

A: Is this a provocative question?

Q: It’s a journalist question.

A: I’m replying. My opinion is not decisive in the federation. But I don’t hide it because I try to look at the situation objectively and I say what I think.

Q: And why did we start talking about Rodionenkos’ ages only in London? Is it news to anyone?

A: I haven’t been silent before, either. Only your colleagues didn’t ask me about it.

Q: And what about your colleagues?

A: The Ministry of Sports appoints and approves the head coaches.

Q: So, you didn’t find an understanding there?

A: I’m on good terms with everyone and don’t want to ruin it.

Q: Do you have candidates to replace Andrey Fyodorovich?

A: Absolutely. But I won’t tell you.

Q: Why not?

A: It’s too early, the Olympics aren’t over yet.

Q: But did I understand it correctly that you didn’t raise this topic just yesterday?

A: It was a while ago… I’m deeply convinced that the strategy of development of artistic gymnastics in Russia leaves much to be desired.

Q: And who determines it? Is it not the federation in which, once again, you are occupying a significant position?

A: My intuition suggests that after this interview I’ll be removed from that position…

Q: Perhaps that’s exactly what you’re trying to achieve?

A: No one knows…

Q: You have many different responsibilities. In the worst case, you can manage the newly created public television.

A: That’s definitely not my zone of responsibility, I’m just on the supervisory board there… But I’m talking about something else. In order for our gymnastics to have prospects, there have to be changes at the captain’s bridge. To replace the coaches and not to multiple the intrigues which are aplenty now.

Q: Alexei, if you said “a”, say “b”. What intrigues, who’s leading them?

A: For my part, it would be wrong to name the names, but believe me, such a problem exists.

Q: Why is no one fighting it?

A: It’s more convenient for some to push their own agenda, but we see where this leads to. The expected results haven’t happened yet.

Q: Wait, but after Khorkina and you our gymnastics has gone into a deep hole. Rodionenkos got scorched earth on which they’re trying to grow fresh crops.

A: They left the country for 15 years, they were working in Australia and Canada.

Q: So what? Fetisov asked Andrey Fyodorovich and Valentina Aleksandrovna to come back in the middle of the 2000s. Do you think it’s not enough time to understand the situation from within?

A: It’s not – for gymnastics. Back in the time, we couldn’t win over the Japanese for 20 years, several generations have changed…

Q: But didn’t you just offered to bring back Russian coaches from abroad?

A: Right. From a different age group. Valery Liukin brought his daughter Nastia to the last Olympics who became the all-around champion and won gold for the US. Now, Artur Akopyan who I remember very well from when he competed for the USSR national team, he’s not much older than me, prepared a very good girl for the Americans. You see, all our coaches are working there!

Q: And do you want to start coaching?

A: Honestly? I don’t.

Q: Why?

A: Because I saw what kind hard labor it is.

Q: I understand: you want to enjoy your life, to travel around the world, to meet with nice people in nice places instead of spending your years at training camps. Rodionenkos don’t leave Round Lake, after all, and you know it well.

A: Yes, the coaching profession requires self-sacrifice but you can’t demand it from everyone. I can tell frankly that I’m not ready for something like that.

Q: But you speak harshly about others.

A: You imagined it. I’m sharing my worries. O really want for our guys to win medals not in the distant future but here, in London, and to surpass the Bejing results at least, because you can’t go lower than that. I will help with everything I can offer. I’ll sit in the arena, I’ll be clapping my palms away, I’ll be losing my voice from screaming, just so they could win! There are still chances, you can’t lose hope. As they say in America: we will see.

Q: Exactly. We’ll live and see, as Russians say.

A: Right. Let’s wait till the gymnastics competition ends and then we’ll sum it up. The final conclusions, not the preliminary ones.



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