Alexander Dolgov: “Our Freestyle team is very young and it will get better”

‘Ilya Burov’s bronze in Aerials and Sergey Ridzik’s bronze in Ski Cross were on the team’s plan,’ the Russian team’s head coach Alexander Dolgov said in his interview to the ROC Information Service.

– We are satisfied with the result, since last time Russian freestylers won Olympic medals, was back in 1994, said the expert. Of course, we could do better in Women’s Aerials and Slopestyle, but we did what we did. Our team is very young. Most members are still juniors and it is their second season at the senior level. By the next Games Anastasia Tatalina, Lyubov Nikitina, Alexander Orlova, Maxim Burov and other guys will become ‘ripe’, while this time Anastasia Tatalina, for example, did not have enough experience. And how can an 17-year-old have it?!

– In Men’s Aerials many experts preferred not Ilya Butov, but his younger brother Maxim, the owner of a Christal Globe on the results of this season.

– Indeed, according to all forecasts, the gold medal will be contested between Maxim Burov and the Sochi Olympic champion Anton Kushnir from Belorussia. They had the most complicated programs, but eventually both failed qualification.

– The nerves or the judging?

– Both. We have some considerations about the judging. The judges of China and Japan gave unreasonably low scores to the athletes from the ex-CIS states. They obviously wanted to avoid ‘slavonic’ dominance in the finals.

– It must have been most painful for Pavel Krotov, who took fourth place.

–  If Pavel did not touch the snow during his last jump, most likely he would have taken bronze instead of Ilya Burov. It was difficult for both of  them to step onto the podium. However, generally speaking, all six finalists had similar chances for medals. Kushnir and Maxim Burov could be the favorites because of their most difficult for the moment jumps – triple flip with five twists. But they couldn’t make it to the finals. And the prizes went to those who escaped mistakes at the critical moment when performing similar jumps.

– According to the President of the Russian Freestyle Federation Alexey Kurashov, in Korea placed our stake on Men’s and Women’s Aerials. Thus, Sergey Ridzik’s medal was a sort of a pleasant bonus, was it?

– Ski cross is a contact and, therefore, absolutely unpredictable sport. Unlike Cross-Country Skiing, where favorite’s defeat is always a force majeure. In Ski cross you can be prepared perfectly, but in each heat there are three rivals who prevent you from reaching the finish line. We counted a lot on Sergey Ridzik, who is at the moment holding the 4th place in the World Cup overall standings. We also laid our hopes on the experienced fighter Egor Korotkov. If four years ago the track was built to fit Egor, in  Pyeongchang the conditions were more preferable for Sergey. He likes long amplitude tracks. And if he was not knocked down by the Canadian, I am sure we would have won a gold medal. At the finish Ridzik is very strong. By the way, representatives of the Canadian team apologized for the incident, admitting that Ridzik’s fall helped their athlete (Brady Leman) to become the Olympic champion.

– Do you assume that the clash was part of the command tactics on the part of the Canadians? After all, they could sacrifice one athlete to allow the other to win gold.

– I can assume that, but if we carefully review an episode where Ridzik and Drury fall, it becomes clear that the Canadian could not avoid the contact. In Ski cross it is not forbidden.

– What role did the pre-Olympic training camp, held in Sakhalin, play in Sergey Ridzik’s success?

– In sport there are no small things, and in Olympic preparations all the more so. The training camp in Sakhalinturned out to be perfect from all points of view. First of all, the guys got acclimatized to the time zone and weather conditions of Pyeongchang. Secondly, the team trained on the track that was identic to the Olympic slope. Thirdly, the training camp was controlled personally by the  Governor of the region. They met all our needs. You  need snowmobiles? You’re welcome. There’s not enough workers for snow removal? Here you go! Hotel, food, medical support-everything was at the highest level. The Aerials team was preparing for the Olympics in similar conditions in Kemerovo region. So many thanks to everyone who participated in organizing and conducting these training camps.

– Taking into account, that the next Games will also be held in Asia, will the Sakhalin track will still be useful?

– In Beijing, where the 2022 Olympics are to be held, the climate is different. It is more similar to weather conditions in Krasnoyarsk, Buryatia and Tuva. Therefore, in the next Olympic cycle, it is more logical to use the sports facilities of the Universiade 2019, and Sakhalin will remain a reserve site. Everything has already been set up there, the Ski cross sections have been opened. If the track is improved a little, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk could qualify for the World Cup in this discipline.

– What kind of assistance did you receive from the headquarters of our delegation in Korea and how do you assess the interaction with the ROC in the period of preparation for the 2018 Games?

– Back in 2015, when the first test competitions were held in Pyeongchang, I that it was necessary to book hotel rooms in the immediate vicinity of the Phoenix Park. Living in the Olympic freestylers village was impractical because of its remote location from the venue of the competition. The ROC fulfilled all our wishes, so we had two bases. One was located in the Olympic village, the second was near the tracks. Plus we were provided with private transport, for which, we also want to thank the ROC. When the guys had to stay till late at night on a doping control (as in a case with Ilya Burov), the car was very helpful.

– When does the freestyle season end?

– The final stages of the Ski cross and  Slopestyle World Cups will end at the end of this week, and in Half-Pipe a week later. The Championships of Russia is scheduled for the last days of March. After that the Junior World Championships will be held. As part of it, the competitions in Mogul will be held in mid-April in Sweden, in Ski cross, Slopestyle and Half-Pipe only in late August-early September in New Zealand.

– But it will already be the next season?

– Formally, the 2018 World Cup is included in this season. Unfortunately, due to such dates a number of the athletes of the main team, who can still compete among the juniors will prepare in a rush. Among them are Anastasia Tatalina and Lana Prusakova, who performed at the Olympic Games in Slopstyle, Valery Demidov, who took 6th place in Pyeongchang in Half-Pipe, Kirill Gladkov and Maxim Vikhrov (Ski cross). Meanwhile, the World Cup in the United States will be held in February already.

– What is the average age of the Russian team?

– 21-22 years. In Aerials, only 26-year-old Ilya Burov and 25-year-old Pavel Krotov are relatively mature. However, in this discipline athletes over thirty perform successfully as well. For example, the Chinese Olympians in Pyeongchang. The Ukrainian Alexander Abramenko, the winner of the last Games, is 29 years. However, we have a group of juniors in our team. Maxim Burov, Lyubov Nikitina and Kristina Spiridonova are 19 years old, Sasha Orlova is only a year older.

– Who of the leading athletes is going to finish career?

– This was officially announced by Egor Korotkov, one of the pioneers of the Russian Ski cross, for whom the Olympics in Korea became the third. Now he made it to the finals of the World Cup, to be held March 16-17 in Megeve, France. I don’t know yet, whether he will work as coach afterwards or not. For a start, I guess, he will rest. He spent 20 of his almost 32 years at the training camps.

We know that bronze medalists of Olympic Games Ilya Burov and Sergey Ridzik, Semyon Denschikov, Igor Omelin, Victoria Zavadovskaya and Anastasia Chirtsova will continue careers.

– Do you sometimes hear, that inflow of youth to Freestyle is insufficient.

– Alas, this is the general situation in Russia. Freestyle is difficult to cultivate, although the Games have shown that we are able to compete at a high level in all disciplines. There are talented children. However, there is a lack of infrastructure. There is no place to train in the regions.

There is only one Half-Pipe track, in Miass, which can be used only in winter. We prepare for the season abroad.

The Aerials school in Yaroslavl is quite efficient. Five out of eight Olympians are graduates of this school: the Burov brothers, Nikitin and and sister, Krotov. There are 120 students in it. But it is the only one in country.

There are two basic Mogul regions are Chusovy (Perm Krai) and Krasnoyarsk. We want to attract specialists to the national team from there. We think that in four years in Beijing we will have a competitive women’s team in this discipline. There are interesting young athletes: Anastasia Smirnova (silver medalist of the Junior World Championship 2017), Anastasia Kulikova. They have successfully performed at the European Cup, and now going to the World Junior Championship in Sweden.

– The coaching staff has changed significantly in the last few years. Thus, it will be a sort of a youth project: young coaches working with very young athletes?

– The federation attracted new specialists, who are willing to work. Leonid Mekhryakov from the Ski cross has not even turned 30 yet. The coaches of the Slopestyle and Half-pipe teams are also very young. However, progress is being made. Valeria Demidova’s sixth place in half-pipe at the Olympic games is a very good result. In Slopestyle two girls, Tatalina and Prusakova, achieved the top 8. Three years ago it seemed to be impossible. In short, we understand that we can move forward and defeat the rivals.

When in 2014 we started working with Prusakova and outlined a plan, we immediately said that no one should have illusions, that we will not force the preparation for Pyeongchang. Otherwise we’ll kill the athlete. Now four years later, when Lana is 21, she will reach an optimal level, and should be able to fight for medals.

– The hosts of the Beijing Olympic Games, will certainly prepare intensive They have a strong positions in Aerials. And what about other Freestyle disciplines? Can they claim leadership in them?

– China has been actively developing half-pipe in the last two years. With an unlimited influx of people, this country has a good young team. While we are searching for two or three athletes, they have a conveyor. They take people from Aerials or Trampoline and put on skis.

At the same time, in Slopestyle and Ski cross, which is an alpine skiing discipline, the Asians, have no chances, as I see it. In Mogul as well. Unless, of course, they naturalize someone. And it would rather be one of the Russians than the Western Europeans. But for the time being there are no serious signals. They invited our Slopestyle coach, but he refused.

Probably the Chinese will try to force the Team Aerials into the program. They practice it in the Chinese World Cup stages. This is a competition of two men and one woman in which our athletes, by the way, from time to time occupy a high positions. From the point of view of visual appeal it’s nothing special, the results of three athletes are simply summed up.

– In order to include something new, you have to remove something…

– Exactly. What can be removed from the Olympic program? Well, may be, Half-pipe, since this discipline is not easy to cultivate around the world due to the complexity of sports facilities. In turn, in men’s competitions in Slopestyle usually participate 100-120 athletes. The Anglo-Saxon lobby will surely protect this discipline. Mogul, is also quite popular, and Ski cross is sponsorship contracts. Only the Ski cross stages are broadcasted directly by the TV. Sometimes they also show Slopestyle, but only on special channels.

 – Half-pipe, however, is considered to be a North American discipline. Is it possible to remove it?

– The French are also strong in it. Americans are not interested in the Ski cross. But Canada dominates there. In general, it is difficult to guess. Perhaps the Chinese will use the right of organizers and agree with the IOC to increase the format.