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Morozov once turned down chance to coach Mao

by Jack Gallagher

It’s a story that few know, but is fascinating nonetheless, one that may have changed the course of recent skating history.

Five years ago, shortly after he led Shizuka Arakawa to the gold medal at the 2006 Turin Olympics, Russian coach Nikolai Morozov was approached by the Japan Skating Federation with a proposal: Take a look at its two most promising young female skaters—Miki Ando and Mao Asada—and decide which one he would like to work with.

Both were world junior champions and filled with the potential for even greater success.

Looking back now, it seems an amazing selection under the circumstances at the time.

Mao had just won the senior 2005 Grand Prix Final and shortly thereafter become the first female to land two triple axels in the same program (at the 2005 Japan national championships).

Ando was coming off a poor season that saw her finish sixth at the Japan nationals and 15th at the Turin Games. After becoming the first (and still only) female to land a quadruple jump in competition four years earlier, at 18, there were real questions about the future of her career.

In a meeting with the Foreign Sportswriters Association of Japan last year in Tokyo, shortly before the Vancouver Olympics, Morozov revealed the untold tale.

“After the Turin Olympics, the Japan Skating Federation came to me with Miki and Mao and basically told me I could choose which one I wanted to coach,” Morozov stated. “I chose Miki because it would be much harder.

“Mao would have been easy,” he said. “She works hard, is very talented, flexible.”

As a young coach, Morozov felt he wanted to take on the bigger challenge.

“Miki is stubborn,” he noted. “It is hard to get her to practice, but she is good in competitions. That is what is important.

“People often talk about how hard Mao practices, but in the final analysis it is about winning.”

After retiring as an ice dancer, Morozov worked for a time with legendary Russian coach Tatiana Tarasova, then branched out on his own.

“I came into coaching by accident,” he said. “I had not planned to be a coach. It just happened. I started doing it and found I enjoyed it.”

One can only wonder what would have happened on that day in 2006 when Morozov told the JSF he would coach Ando, if he had made a different decision.

Would Ando have risen to the heights she has since—winning two world titles and finishing fifth at the Vancouver Games—or continued to struggle?

How about if Morozov had chosen Mao?

Would she be the Olympic gold medalist and a four-time world champion?

Would Morozov have made her cast aside the triple axel and concentrate more on programs she could be consistent with?

Considering all of the possibilities is certainly intriguing.

The whole issue becomes even more compelling with Ando’s recent revelation in an interview with a Russian publication that the JSF asked her to get rid of Morozov shortly before the 2009 worlds in Los Angeles.

Like any highly successful person, Morozov has his detractors. But this is no different for coaches in any sport. If your profile gets too high, people start taking shots at you. The bottom line is results.

I have always sensed that Morozov is unconcerned with what others think. He is focused on the task at hand and nothing else.

The reality is that Morozov’s genius was on full display this season, as he directed Ando to victory in every event she entered, with the exception of the Grand Prix Final (where she finished fifth after changing her short program). The culmination came at the delayed world championships in Moscow, where Ando beat 2010 Olympic champion Kim Yu Na for the gold.

Early decision: Here’s hoping that Kim reconsiders her recent announcement that she will skip the 2011 Grand Prix season. She will be busy promoting Pyeonchang’s bid to host the 2018 Olympics in the next few months, ahead of the IOC’s vote in July, and doesn’t feel she will have enough time to get ready. Pyeonchang is the favorite to win.

Skating received a big boost by Kim’s return at the worlds in Moscow this year. There is a reason they call her “Queen Yu Na.” Her style and grace, along with her competitiveness, made the worlds absolutely electric.

Her mere presence turns an event into a big deal. The more she competes in the years ahead, the better for the sport.

New sites launched: Both Ando and world silver medalist Takahiko Kozuka have started new websites since their recent success in Russia.

Ando’s can be found at:

www.miki-ando.com.

Kozuka’s is located at:

www.t-kozuka.com