POTIOMKIN VILLAGES AT THE LANDS OF “USSR COLLECTIVE FARM”

About a year before the Salt-Lake City Olympics I wrote that after USSR disintegration International Skating Union was joined by newly created figure skating federations or becoming independent Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

Some Presidents of these new federations hire skaters from other countries and supply them with fake passports, false resumes and fictitious addresses – so that the presidents could travel to ISU Championships and Olympic Games, frequently accompanied by their wives or girlfriends.

Obviously, foreigners exist in other sports as well: football, hockey, basketball, athletics, etc. But there those people are top guns, best sportsmen purchased for big money and trying to prove that they are worth of that money. In the figure skating world, for some other reason people hire even those who could not make it into reserve their national team, i.e. not ‘top guns’ but ‘migrant workers’.

After the article was published, I was accused in not seeing how “nurseries” of new the ISU members are growing own skaters. Let’s have a look then at what grew up over there for the last four years. October selection in Vienna will make it clear who will represent these federations in White Olympics in Turin, and I will get back to this subject later.

Baltic countries are not pursuing for at the present time unrealistic medals and are just preparing national teams. New names showed up at the figure skating of Latvia, which suffered after couple Berezhnaya/Sliakhov separated and Valeria Trifantsova and Konstantin Kostin left. Estonian skating is developed by coaches Irina Kononova, Anna Levandi and Lea Rand. Their pupils are moving to the direction of the first top ten junior skaters, though with the anecdote speed of Estonian slowness. Something green showed up in Lithuania, though leaving ‘star’ dancers Drobiazko and Vanagas decreased the popularity of the figure skating. Though Margarita and Povilas are coming back for this Olympic season and even between seasons they perform at the homeland, showing to the youth an example to duplicate.

In the neighboring Belarus figure skating did not raise but instead got into arguments and flied away in all directions. The country has a number of experienced trainers with International level of qualification, but significant portion of their time is spent on working out such non-required elements as toppling down, switching and digging. The question of who will represent the country on international junior competitions is often decided not on ice, but in the offices of the Federation and of The Ministry of Sports. Likely, because of that, Natalia Lebedeva defected from Minsk to Russia, and emigrated to Belarus Nina Ruchkina (who was the first trainer of Elena Berezhnaya) not in every prayer thanks that day and hour when she approved the idea to move from Samara to Vitebsk. Especially, considering that her main ‘nestling’ Sergei Davydov preferred lights of the big city and moved to Moscow nursery of Elena Chaikovskaya, where he transformed from ambitious and ‘about-to-be-famous’ skater to a regular ‘representative of Belarus figure skating on ice’.

After sportsmen from Urals will stop performing for Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, figure skating there will return to the primitive stage. The only Uzbek dancer found a partner and a coach in Kharkov, Ukraine.

We cannot say that Armenia moved to the honorable spot by huge jumps, but she did make some first steps. In the past Armenians gave good skaters to the World. Former ‘silver’ champion among juniors in USSR Ararat Zakarian is known on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean as a manager of many Russian skaters. A bit less popular is his partner-clown on ice, Akop Manukian. A frequent participant of international tournaments, the winning of unofficial World championship Ennia Challenge Cup Gurgen Vardanian and his wife Eraniak Ipakian became successful coach couple in Budapest. Using the fact that Armenian people are spread on many continents, Armenian Federation could collect money in one country and skaters in another. The pupils of Erevan figure skating school are starting to participate in international junior championships. And on Championships of Europe, World and Olympic Games, Hayastan will be represented by Russian dancers Anastasia Grebenkina and Vazgen Azroian, where Vazgen is a native Armenian from Odessa, as was his predecessor Samvel Gezalian. The couple dances well and soon may appear in the top ten couples of Europe. Especially after the team of judges will be extended by “Armenian” judge, Muscovite Igor Zavozin. May be his last name will be styled for Armenian art “Zavozian”. So, the former Soviet dancer will be wearing two hats: his son Maxim performs for USA and during last season became with his partner World junior ice dancing champion.

Something similar happens in Georgia, where Federation management was taken by hands of coaches Irakli Japaridze and his wife Marina. During Soviet times, Tbilisi had his own Sport Masters and even Sport Masters of International Class: Nelli Dvalishvili, Andrei Torosian, Marina Tsertsvadze, Leah Gabelaia and Vissarion Tsintsadze. There Rafael Arutunian was making his first steps on ice. Today’s ‘Lone Star’ of Georgian figure skating Vakhtang Murvanidze is a follower of Marquise Pierre de Coubertin ideas and considers simple participation in international competitions a sufficient effort to receive small but steady income without spending extra energy. On the other hand, pretty, clever and hard-working girl Elene Gedevanishvili who made her first steps in her native land now is learning in Moscow by the experienced coach Elena Buianova and is expected to grow into first-class skater. The couple representing Georgia, where the boy Otari Japaridze is the son of the Federation President and the General Secretary and the girls were taken from Russian province, spends most of the time of the year in Moscow district, Odintsovo. There they are trained by one of the coaches of local figure skating school. To believe kind rumors, one-place pedestal for National Championships is sufficient in both Caucasian republics.

Azerbaijan remains the same dead desert with no ice, no school, no figure skating specialists and obviously, no own sportsmen. Skaters coming on ice for European and World championships under the banner of this oil-producing republic usually are not highly qualified. Often, they were transferred by the Russian Big Brother for cheap by the rule ‘take what we don’t need’. Muscovite Darya Timoshenko, who came to replace another Muscovite Julia Vorobyeva, lowered Azerbaijan further down in the records of Figure Skating (woman singles). While Vorobyeva at least at the beginning tried to compete and win, Timoshenko’s goal it to receive the monthly grant and showing herself up on the international championships. Clearly for the same reason low-level skater Andrei Dobrokhodov from Pervouralsk, Russia replaced mid-level skater Sergey Rylov also from Pervouralsk. Speaking about Azerbaijan Figure Skating, it is worth mentioning only one dancing couple of Kristin Fraser/Igor Lukanin. Quite a strong couple, where the man passed school of ZSKA by Gennadii Akkerman (second coach in the group of Ludmila Pakhomova), and the girl practiced some time in US by his pupil Genrikh Sretenskii. It is not a secret that born in California Kristin would not know the difference between Azerbaijan and Abidjan, and Igor from Sverdlovsk would have nothing in common with his ‘country people’ according to the ‘working’ passport.
The only skater who can be considered the real Azeri is sixteen years old Emma Hagieva born in Dagestan and living in Moscow. The girl is trained by Elena Chaikovskaya, so the hope for any Hagieva win on any international competitions is infinitely small. Though trainer of excellent dancers in the past, nowadays Chaikovskaya spends more time to criticize the management of Russian Figure Skating Federation than to teach her pupils. Sergei Davydov and Emma Hagieva are not as much her students as an opportunity to go for championships with coach accreditation.

Until March 2005, the Azerbaijan Federation of winter sports was managed by Hussein Aliyev, who tragically passed away in Moscow in a few hours before the opening of the World Championships. Unfortunately, the former sportsman on international class for whatever reasons was not respected by his bossy chief with the same last name and first name Ilkham. As the result, NOC of Azerbaijan and the Ministry of Sports did not give money to Hussein neither on figure skating nor to repair ice arenas.
That is why desert.
In May the vacant position was offered to the person from the closest environment of the President of NOC and Azerbaijan itself Dr. Ilkham Aliyev, economist Iskender Khalilov, one of the Vice Presidents of “Lukoil Overseas Holding Ltd”. On the Web site of “Business Russia” Khalilov is described as “Possesses extensive business contacts in professional circles dealing with oil business in Russia and abroad”. Obviously, this man is a talented and very rich person, but what possibly an oil oligarch living in Moscow can do for Azeri Figure Skating about which he had no clues until his current appointment? Bring into the national team some more apples falling off the drying Russian Figure Skating tree? He will likely be unable to buy best sportsmen and issue them Azeri passports on the name of Eugenaga Plushchenogly or Irinkhanum Sluzko-zade: champions even for the biggest money will not perform under the banner under which they have no chance to medals. And even Tzar Midas would not be able to make Azeri skaters ‘Gold’.

The latest fashion in the countries of former USSR is to appoint economists to be sports managers instead of specialists. It became a good manner for the country President to be also NOC President. And Presidents of National Federations of various sports usually work as ministers, members of parliament or, at least, run big businesses.

A person not familiar with the unclean cuisine may ask: why such serious people need hired help of questionable qualifications?

The answer is ‘not “why”, but “for whom”! For themselves, dear, loved and only ones! The ticket to a competition is not hard to buy, but majority of these people is not interested in seats for regular public. And the entrance into the highest level of world sport gatherings is open only by the accreditation card marked VIP and hanging from the neck. Without this card one cannot come neither to VIP tribunes, nor to more important VIP bars, where one can have a drink/snack for free (though such gentlemen have enough means for that), chat with important people and on exit almost by occasion happen to come before TV cameras. Federation leaders coming to ISU Championships without skaters are not getting VIP accreditation!

In some of the above-mentioned countries, the means issued for Figure Skating become an additional source of income for the Federation’s Presidents. Champions are not needed by such managers: their training is expensive and money must be literally taken from themselves and their families. They would rather have sportsmen of lower quality but at cheaper price. Then travels to Championships become full-paid tours for the nominal Presidents and their lazy sportsmen. And Figure Skating, which let’s jades compete the trotters and amblers, obviously loses. We should not forget that hired sportsmen will never cancel their original passports and will not live on their ‘working’ native land. Former “pride of Azerbaijan” Muscovite Igor Pashkevich assists to Alexander Joulin in USA. Julia Vorobyeva works as a couch under Moscow. Sergey Rylov makes money in a show ‘Holiday on ice’. That means that the benefits of hired help for the development of national figure skating are none, and performing under foreign banners – something similar to contract service in the army. To summarize we can say, that the part of new figure skating federations is obvious eyewash. Something like Potemkin villages with veneer façade instead of houses which nobody is intended to build.

But they are spending money given by ISU specifically to develop skating sports. And if so, the question is rising: why would ISU need it? Why should ISU for years cover its certain members by publishing in its bulletin clearly false information about non-existing achievements and national championships that never take place?

Obviously, some sense exists, because ISU is an organization staying far from charity. Increase in the number of banners on its championships allowed increase in the number of zeros on the contracts which this respected organization receives from TV for the right to translate its championships. On the account on TV’s money, ISU achieved a lot, and among others made sure that its executive members, like Council, Technical Committees, judges, etc – may stay in luxury hotels during competitions and swim like drunken cheese in butter. However, the presence on the championship sportsmen of the category of ‘visitors’ lowers down the interest of TV viewers to the shows and the love for figure skating surely and relatively fast. And decrease interest leads to lowering amounts of the next contracts.

What is the feeling of ISU President Mr. Ottavio Cinquanta, that energetic motor developing figure skating on the planet of Earth, to these Potemkin villages? Russian prince Potemkin-Tavricheskii, who invented and built these villages, ordered to drive Empress Ekaterina II around them very quickly. Because if she were riding slowly, Her Majesty could notice fresh paint leaks on the facades are facing the road, and the same peasant bringing the same hen into a house after house. Is it possible that Cinquanta likes high-speed travel and intentionally does not want to notice obvious?

May be no, though surely he knows for a long time about bought mercenary sportsmen, bribed judges and fake passports. A serious businessman in a daily life, Cinquanta due to his western upbringing has no clues about the survival system developed behind the ‘iron curtain’. Even after ten years of being a president, the Italian gent could not understand secrets in shade aspects of figure skating and especially its department of Russian cuisine. For that, he had lots of troubles with anti-Russian alternative federation WSF.

Otherwise he would not let a bunch of chefs to be in closest environment, where each of them cooks his own oily soup and hangs tons of bull’s pasta on the ears of Signor Presidente. This pasta is given to him under a sweet sauce of flattery and non-sincere compliments and makes Ottavio’s attempts to dig in to the depth of figure skating just a travel of amateur along Potemkin villages. After travel is complete, the President Awards flatterers for their achievements in building of something that he mistakenly thinks are new nurseries of the world figure skating. Alas, these are not orchards where strong sportsmen are growing up. These are the tombs of the beautiful winter sport. And well-paid place for local rogues.

by Arthur WERNER, 30.08.2005.

© World copyright by Arthur Werner

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