Bureaucrats of Skating

Lights of the European championship are out; champions’ joy has grown dim...

Moscow has no Red Square. Leningrad has no Hermitage. Kiev has no Kreschatik. Odessa has no Deribassovshaya street... Is it possible to imagine this? No, it’s impossible! It is our face, our history, our pride.

And now let's imagine the Soviet figure skating without our great skaters Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, Alexander Fadeev and Maya Usova with Alexander Zhulin. In fact, it can happen that they at once will disappear from the National ice.

Recently in Leningrad, the European figure skating championship has ended. Our figure skaters have won three gold, three silver and two bronze medals out of four complete sets of Awards. And their smiles on a pedestal, as well as shining faces of people from National Sport Committee, showed us that Soviet figure skating is supposedly in good shape. "Supposedly" because, in Leningrad, nobody saw how an almost crying celebrity rushed into a teammates’ room and said: "It’s over. I quit..." Nobody saw how Sergei Ponomarenko could not hold his tears of despair on a "Leningrad-Moscow" train platform; how lonely and forgotten looked a new European champion Victor Petrenko and a bronze-medalist Slava Zagorodnyuk at the Championship’s Banquet. How they, the true heroes of the event, could not find a place to seat among all the tables occupied by the sport officials.

These are only a few strokes from "a secret life" of figure skating that shines with well-being out of our TV screens. The vice-president of USSR Figure Skating Federation E. Shevalovsky says: "It is unbelievable, but almost by the end of the event, we had to convince the leading figure skating coach of National Sports Committee (NSC), V.Piseev, that we have a figure skating federation, existence of which is obvious when you look into released European Championship programs and booklets. There you can see that the Figure Skating Federation is one of the Championship’s organizing bodies. The first ISU vice-president, I. Dedich had warm words of gratitude for the Federation’s huge work in the magnificent organization of the championship. But a National Sports Committee officer thought unthinkable for the Federation’s President to participate in the medal ceremony: "We do not have a Federation!" And only a quick intervention of ISU management saved the situation.

I don’t want you to think of it as an insignificant matter. The behavior of a National Sports Committee worker shows a precise line of non-recognition of a public organization that has existed and worked for a long time. This public organization shows a new way of thinking. Total obedience that once predominated between the Federation and a corresponding management of NSC becomes obsolete. And therefore, sports department’s non-recognition of the Federation is a way to preserve its domination over figure skaters and coaches. It is a way for bureaucrats to preserve their undeserved well-being.

The most interested people testify that changes in figure skating management are long overdue.

Stanislav Leonovich (a coach of E.Gordeeva, S.Grinkov and A.Fadeev): "We have successes; we are the strongest in the world. All is well? No! The problem is that our constant achievements and gold medals shine over the behind-the-scenes intrigues, so public does not see it".

Sergei Ponomarenko, the World, European and USSR champion: "Our figure skating is a monopoly of authority, authority of the officials who are frequently so far from our sport. This fact oppresses and morally cripples us. More often, the pain we feel is not from an injury, but from the heartless attitude and humiliation toward us".

Galina Zmievskaya (the coach of Petrenko brothers and V.Zagorodnyuk): "Though, I am from Odessa, it’s not a funny matter when it comes to our problems (Odessa-city for a long time has been a laughter capital – I.S.). I won’t even talk that, Odessa, being the center of man's single skating, still doesn’t have a figure skating rink. Last year, we have brought in half-a-million rubles to the NSC department, but we are compelled to buy the stuff we need somewhere with our own money. Who are we working for? Who are we feeding?

Alexander Fadeev, World, European and USSR champion: "Unfortunately, I did not compete at Europeans this year for many reasons. Now, I probably won’t be able to go to the Worlds. Though, I really want to compete. To be able to go to the Worlds, I have to go somewhere and get a certificate that I am a person. Excuse me, but I don’t want to be humiliated.

Full enumeration of all figure skating problems talked about by many leading skaters and coaches would fill too much newspaper space. Therefore, I would like to summarize by a conversation with E.Shevalovsky.

-What is to be done in order to save our talents and to cure figure skating, chronic illness of which has went too far and gives too much aggravation?

- It is necessary to create an essentially new, independent and allocated with authority Federation. That kind of Federation would become a social security for figure skaters and coaches, would "lead" figure skaters from sport school to retirement, would guarantee beneficial international contacts. We have to raise coaches’ involvement. Tarasova, Chaikovskaya and Rodnina have left the sport. They were not very happy to do it . It is difficult to account how much the figure skating world has lost because of this. And the most important, the Federation needs fair and decent professional people who truly love figure skating.

-You believe that such a Federation is possible?

-The National Sports Committee is in the way?
-Not the entire Sports Committee, but some people who, I wish, would be more competent and decent.

-And what is a way out?
-Only when all the skaters, coaches and specialists unite in their desire to live differently, then it is possible to create an independent Federation that will serve the figure skaters not the other way around.

A. Romanov. Leningrad - Moscow
Copyright by © Komsomolskaya Pravda February 16, 1990
Special thanks to Irina Bulgakova for this article