Marina talks about training Team Canton

Coach Zoueva has recipe for ice dance success

zoueva-584.jpgMarina Zoueva, far left, and coaching partner Igor Shpilband, far right, guided American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White to Olympic silver in 2010. They also coached gold medallists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

On any given Saturday, master figure skating coach Marina Zoueva can be found at her kitchen table in Michigan, poring over the schedule she creates every week for her skaters.

Zoueva and her coaching partner, Igor Shpilband, are the Russian-born masterminds behind the most prolific ice dance program in today's skating world. They have "permanent" teams that represent four different federations, including Canada, the United States, Lithuania and Russia, and work with nine teams and two girl dancers who are on the search for partners.

Zoueva and Shpilband have five teams who have qualified for the world championships, another qualified for junior worlds, and another for international competition. Their highest-ranked students are Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir - the reigning world and Olympic champions from Canada - and Meryl Davis and Charlie White - the world and Olympic silver medallists from the United States. They also handled the 2006 Olympic silver medallists - Americans Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto.

Zoueva is also busy as one of the world's leading choreographers.

Helping Virtue and Moir

Although this is an unusual time in figure skating, with the world championships in limbofollowing the natural disaster in Japan, it was business as usual for Zoueva on this particular Saturday.

Next week's schedule can take three hours or so to complete, and includes information not only for the skaters but for the coaches as well (such as who's going with the skaters and who's staying home to take care of business). She likes looking at everything on paper. It helps her determine who needs extra attention and in what area. Zoueva and Shpilband have others on their team who see the skaters on a regular basis: Jonny Johns and Adrienne Lenda offer coaching support, while Aliona Morgan is the ballet specialist. There are others who are on hand for ballroom dancing or whatever else is needed.

"It is not just a schedule, it is a plan," says Zoueva.

When we last saw Virtue and Moir, it was at the ISU Four Continents Championships, where Virtue stopped skating in the middle of their free dance with pain in her quad muscle. Once home, the coaching team had to work on healing her and making adaptations to accommodate the weakened muscle.

"[The injury] is healed," Zoueva says. "We did many things in order to have fast recovery. We also changed the lift that hurt her leg and now she is really, really, really well."

This season has presented its share of coaching challenges for Zoueva, not to mention training challenges for Virtue and Moir.

"Right now they are training very well," Zoueva says. "Their practice season was not so long because of [the leg surgery Virtue underwent in the fall]. Now with the delay of worlds, it gives her time to keep going and get more preparation."

Growing up

She credits all of her skaters with knowing what to do at competition and in practice, and sees her role as one of a supporter.

"All of them are absolutely great kids," she says. "They grow and compete against each others sometimes for 10 years or more from novice [level]. When other kids come to us we try to give them the right environment and right atmosphere and we do for each team the best. We don't have a favourite. we give all the teams the best we can do."

As far as results are concerned?

"When it is competition time, they have to skate, that is their job. We try to spread attention to all of them and to help if they need something."

In some cases, Zoueva has worked with a skater for many years before he or she becomes a star.

"I have grown all of my Olympic champions from little," she says. "Katya [Ekaterina Gordeeva, a two-time Olympic pairs champion with her late husband Sergei Grinkov] from the beginning, Meryl and Charlie [from age] 13, and Tessa and Scott 14 and 15.

"It feels great to see them succeed. I feel like with every champion I get new knowledge and new experience."

'Keeping their peak'

The world champions for this season are yet to be determined, and Zoueva says that she and Shpilband won't really create a definite plan for worlds until they know what they are planning for.

In the meantime, skaters are skating and coaches are coaching. All according to the schedule.

"Everyone is keeping their peak and working hard to keep their peak," says Zoueva.

"Every day they are better and better."


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