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Rebuilding Brazil: Alexandrov's Latest Challenge
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The current issue of International Gymnast includes an in-depth interview with Alexander Alexandrov, whose coaching genius has been well documented but often overlooked. But that could be due to his mild manner, which does not lend itself to self-promotion. The success of his gymnasts has always proved a more effective advertisement for his talent.

The photo-collage here comprises a handful of his champions: Dimitry Bilozerchev and Valentin Mogilny in 1983; the 1989 world champion Soviet women's team; 1994 U.S. junior champion Dominique Moceanu; and, of course, 2010 world all-around champion Aliya Mustafina, who won the most women's medals (4) at the 2012 Olympics, including the uneven bars gold.

Under Alexandrov, the 2012 Russian women's Olympic team won six medals in London, more than any other country. But somehow this led to Alexandrov's dismissal as head coach and eventual move to Brazil. Following are notes and excerpts from the interview with the 64-year-old Alexandrov, who candidly answered our questions while visiting his wife, Tatiana, and two children, Sergey and Anastacia (both married), all of whom live in Houston.

How did Alexandrov get involved in gymnastics?

The Central Soviet Army Club (CSKA), which had produced the famous Viktor Klimenko, was looking for potential gymnasts. Alexandrov (around 8 years old at the time) and some buddies, all of whom wanted to be like Klimenko, played hooky from school and went to the club to try out.

"From around five to six kids, the coaches picked me and another boy, so this is how I started gymnastics. I received a Master of Sport designation, and then went to Institute. After graduating, I decided to stay in the sport that I learned to love so much, and went to work as a coach in my club, CSKA, where I was a gymnast for so many years."

What went wrong with the plan to rebuild Russian gymnastics after the 2008 Beijing Olympics?

"One of the main problems Russia has today is the fact that there is practically no reserve. Andrei Rodionenko does not agree with this point of view and these measures, so there is very little retention to this day. I think that as long as the Rodionenkos (Andrei and wife Valentina) are in charge … rebuilding the Russian program will be very problematic."

Why was Alexandrov held accountable for the failures of other gymnasts on the 2012 Olympic team, such as Anastasia Grishina. Did they not have personal coaches?

"Those coaches who supported the Rodionenkos and their criticism toward me unfortunately did not always do their job thoroughly … For example, Sergey Zelikson, who was the personal coach of Grishina … was training by his own program and not necessarily at national training camps. Somehow he was able to convince the Rodionenkos that his way was correct and was promising to 'rip the competition apart' at the London Olympics.

"I think everyone saw what happened at the Olympic Games, but for some reason no one was criticizing Zelikson or the fact that a talented gymnast like Grishina did not compete well … Somehow I ended up the one to be blamed, while Zelikson had the audacity to criticize me at our staff meetings."

How was Alexandrov's relationship with Andrei Rodionenko in the 1980s?

Alexandrov always got along well with Rodionenko, but when Alexandrov was promoted to head women's coach after the 1988 Olympics, he essentially replaced Rodionenko.

"I was very sensitive to this transition between Andrei and I, and I think that I acted like a gentleman trying to ease things as much as possible … Things were fine between us at first, but after some time I started to notice that we stopped seeing eye to eye … Then he and his wife left for Australia, so this is how we parted."

Does the Russian gymnastics program receive the same financial support that it it did in the 1980s?

"There have been several new gyms opening throughout the country with brand new equipment, which is wonderful. The Round Lake training facility is truly one of the best in the world. So it actually feels like, today, Russian gymnastics may have more substantial financing than in the ’80s."

Did Alexandrov consider returning to the U.S. to coach, and what made him choose Brazil?

He says he had several offers from different countries, including the U.S. "My decision was mainly based on the offer that was most interesting to me, work-wise." Alexandrov says that Oleg Ostapenko, who returned to Brazil after initially joining the rebuilding effort in Russia, was one of the reasons he chose to go to Brazil himself. "Oleg and I worked together during USSR times and during Russian Federation times and always were able to have a good relationship and to find common ground … Oleg had already worked in Brazil for some time … Having a shoulder to lean on when everything around is new is great and very helpful."

Is Rebeca Andrade one of the hopefuls for Rio 2016?

Alexandrov says she "is a talented gymnast and has the potential to be very good" but prefers not to name names just yet.

How will Alexandrov improve the Brazilian team, which barely qualified for the 2012 Olympics?

"The main challenge is to raise the overall discipline and to unite the parties in charge of gymnastics and also the coaching staff." Alexandrov added that a new gym will open in Rio in the spring, and the women's national team will train there.

How does Alexandrov view women's gymnastics today, when most gymnasts are concerned only with raising their difficulty?

"Yes, there are problems today between difficulty and artistry." Alexandrov says he thinks the FIG Women's Technical Committee should meet with working coaches, choreographers, etc., to solicit their ideas on how to improve the Code of Points. "Surely, collectively, we can come up with agreeable solutions that will benefit both the artistry and difficulty."

What are Alexandrov's plans after Rio?

"To be honest, I really don't think about it yet."

To read the full interview in the January/February 2014 issue of IG, subscribe here.

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