The transformation was nothing short of phenomenal.
|Nikolai Morozov, who coached Miki Ando to the world title last season and Shizuka Arakawa to the gold
medal at the 2006 Turin Olympics, speaks to The Japan Times during a recent interview.
YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO
In one year Miki Ando went from an overweight, under-motivated skater, who looked like her best days were behind her, to world champion.
After completely bombing at the 2006 Turin Olympic Games — where she finished 15th — the Nagoya native was in need of some serious reconstruction — both physically and mentally — and she found it in Russian coach Nikolai Morozov.
Morozov, coach of 2006 Olympic gold medalist Shizuka Arakawa, recognized that Ando had exceptional talent and went to work trying to bring it out again.
“It was hard (at first), because she wasn’t believing in herself and was probably finding it hard to trust someone, because she hadn’t been getting good results,” Morozov said during a recent interview while in Japan for the U.S.-Japan International Counter Match in Yokohama. “So it wasn’t easy, but it (the partnership) has gone very well.”
Morozov, who at the young age of 31 is already considered one of the best coaches in the world, noted that one of the keys to Ando’s comeback was her natural evolvement.
“She has grown up and matured a lot in the past couple of years. She is emotionally stronger. She is a woman now, not a little girl,” Morozov said of the 19-year-old Ando.
Morozov, who was born and raised in Moscow, makes no secret of the fact that Ando, who became the first female to land a quadruple jump in competition (at the 2002 Junior Grand Prix Final), is a very gifted athlete.
“She is technically very sound — one of the strongest girls in the world — and has a high artistic level. She is the only girl in the world who can do the quad, and she has a good triple-triple combination, which not many girls can do.”
Ando, who will begin her Grand Prix season Saturday at Skate America in Reading, Pa., left coach Nobuo Sato — father of 1994 world champion Yuka — in 2005 and joined forces with 1960 Squaw Valley Olympic gold medalist Carol Heiss Jenkins.
Sources said that the 2004 world junior champion was unhappy with the selection of Jenkins by the Japan Skating Federation, but went along it anyway.
Following the calamitous outing in Turin, where she fell twice during her free skate and looked completely shattered afterward, Ando left Jenkins, moved back to Japan and reached out to Morozov.
A former ice dancer, who competed at the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games, Morozov acknowledges that when they began their partnership Ando made the necessary adjustments to put herself in a position to be an elite skater again.
“Her personality and the way she worked and practiced changed,” Morozov said. “Lots of things changed. We focused a lot of energy on the aspects she needed to improve upon.”
Ando was clearly in better physical condition last season, but Morozov says that this was not the result of extensive roadwork or a special diet.
“She has just been working on the ice in the right direction,” he said. “When you work hard every day on the ice, your body changes by itself.”
Prix campaign at Skate America on Saturday.
Morozov, who also coaches 2007 men’s world championship runnerup Daisuke Takahashi, admires the commitment Japanese skaters have to their craft.
“They are very hard workers and dedicated at what they do,” he said. “They have strong discipline, which is important in any sport.”
Morozov, who studied under famed Russian coach Tatiana Tarasova before branching out on his own, offers his skaters more than just coaching.
“I do everything — coaching, choreography, music, costumes,” he said.
Having enjoyed such great success already as a coach, one wonders what lies ahead for the personable Morozov, who has the looks of a movie star.
“I will continue on (coaching) until the Sochi Olympics (in 2014) because it is in Russia,” he revealed. “I would like to do more in skating than just coaching. I would like to get into managing.
“I would also like to work with a federation. For example, the Japanese federation, because I like working with Japanese skaters, or the Russian federation, because I’m from Russia. This way I could help coaches to work with skaters, not only work with my skaters.”
After spending time with Morozov, who exudes a quiet confidence, one quickly gets the impression that he could succeed at whatever challenge he puts his mind to.
Miki Ando would certainly attest to that.