Ice Network

Tutberidze gains students' trust by expressing truth

Russian coach encourages her skaters to show their personality on the ice
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Eteri Tutberidze has guided Evgenia Medvedeva to the pinnacle of the sport. -Getty Images

Eteri Tutberidze has emerged as one of the most prominent coaches in Russia, and the world. Most notably, she has coached 2016 world champion Evgenia Medvedeva for almost her entire career, from the time she was a child until the present day. She brought three of her skaters to Marseille: Medvedeva; Alina Zagitova, who won the Junior Grand Final on Friday night; and the youngest man in the event, 14 year-old Ilia Skirda. Tutberidze usually shies away from interviews until the end of an event, but she agreed to answer icenetwork's questions about the students from her school, Sdusshor37 in Moscow, between practice sessions.

Icenetwork: Attaining perfection seems to be one of your school's goals. Both Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova rotate their jumps so perfectly. How do you teach that?

Tutberidze: (Laughing) It doesn't always happen! I wish it did. But you know, we work a lot! We work a lot off ice also, even the jumping. And we talk a lot, too.

Icenetwork: You talk?

Tutberidze: Yes, we talk a lot with the skater about every jump, the way it should be, the way it should look.

Icenetwork: Your skaters are all different. How do you manage to help them develop their own personality?

Tutberidze: I like to see their personality on the ice, and I want people to see it as well. Skating is life. We are here, and we live here. This is not only a matter of skating. We're spending four minutes on the ice in front of people. We're lucky to be there under the light. There are so many eyes watching them. It's OK to make mistakes -- that's life! Skating life…this is my life, too.

Icenetwork: You mean you want each one of your skaters to express his or her life in front of the audience?

Tutberidze: I want them to live. Life is long, but skating life is short. I just want them to be happy, as they skate in front of people who love skating. I want them to show what they have done in practice.

Icenetwork: Evgenia credits you with encouraging her to act in her programs. How did you get that idea?

Tutberidze: Just like that. I just decided, "Let's do it!" Zhenia (what she calls Medvedeva) really trusts me, and I felt she would like it. That's what happened. She has fun doing it.

That's her. She is different; we're all different. I'm trying not to make clichés, you know, do this and be that…

Also, Russian skating is so strong with girls now. We have to make something different! It's the same with Japanese men. Look at Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno. They seem unbeatable. It's unbelievable.

Icenetwork: Your junior skater, Ilia Skirda, got a huge applause from the audience Thursday night. He seemed to be having so much fun!

Tutberidze: That's why he is here. The best six juniors happen to meet once -- at the Final. So he can see the best skaters in the world in the corridors and the locker room.

With juniors, it's easier. Everything is fine. They want to have fun. Ilia was so excited because he would get to see Patrick Chan! I told him that he would be skating on the same ice as him. He wanted to take a photo with him…

We were standing in the same line at the Paris airport, en route to Marseille. Ilia noticed right away that Patrick was in front of us. I asked him if he wanted to take a photo with him, and he said, "No, no." He was so shy. That was funny!

Icenetwork: You are known for teaching your pupils all the way from childhood. Is that something you like to do?

Tutberidze: I do. Like Ilia: He started skating with me when he was 6 years old. It was the same with Evgenia. Next year, I'll bring a new girl to the Junior Grand Prix -- of course, if she skates well at junior nationals this year. She also started when she was 6. She is 12 years old now. She can land a quad. She should be pretty strong.

Icenetwork: Your students say how much they trust you. Do you do anything special to earn that from them?

Tutberidze: I don't lie. I always tell them the truth, even if it may hurt. I tell them it's better to hear it from me first rather than from anyone else. It may deal with their hair, face, body, steps, music, moves, anything. I tell them that they will always hear the good things from others but none of the bad things -- those, I have to tell them.

I think that's a building block for trust. It shows them that I do care about them. They are my life. They are my kids on ice.

Icenetwork: Why makes you dislike pre-event interviews?

Tutberidze: Because people keep asking me, "What do you plan for the competition?" or "What are your plans?" I have no plans. We just want to skate as well as we can. It's God's plan, maybe.

We can cope, but we can't plan.