- Ice Dancing
Ice dancing coach has best two teams at Olympics
SOCHI, Russia — Marina Zoueva's plans would make even the most detailed-oriented people look like slackers.
The ice dance coach has a big master plan, a blueprint for the four years from one Olympics to the next. Then there's a plan for each season, covering everything from when her skaters get their programs to which competitions they do.
Finally, there's a plan for each week, detailing -- to the minute -- the training schedules for each of her teams, including the times each day that she'll work with them.
"It's a system that keeps them straight, the system of preparation," Zoueva said.
Clearly, it works.
Just like in Vancouver, the gold medal in dance in Sochi is all but certain to be won by one of her teams, Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White or Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, with the other taking silver.
The training partners have been swapping places atop the podium since Virtue and Moir won gold in 2010. Virtue and Moir, the Olympic gold medalists four years ago, won the world championships in 2010 and 2012. Davis and White gave the U.S. its first world title in dance in 2011, and won again last year.
The ice dance competition begins Sunday with the short dance.
"First and foremost, she's an artistic genius," Davis said. "She's always trying to be innovative, which is really exciting for us as athletes. She's an amazing coach in every way, but I think it's mostly her artistic genius that we are just in awe of year after year."
Oftentimes when a coach or choreographer works with several skaters, there are similarities. The way programs are put together, perhaps, or style of music. Maybe the edge quality of the footwork or the intricateness of the spins.
But Zoueva's dance teams all have their own, unique look.
"When I'm doing a program, I'm not doing my program. I'm doing the best program for my skaters," Zoueva said. "No one is the same. They have different personalities, different body proportions, different lines.
"It's always in a process," she added. "The special program that can help my skaters to win, that looks different and looks better. And suits them."
Take her teams' free dances this season. With the Olympics in Sochi, the Russian-born Zoueva wanted each of her teams to have programs that would appeal to Russian fans. But the similarities end there.
Davis and White, whose artistic presence now matches their athleticism, are skating to Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. All Russians know the story of the sultan's wife who told stories to save her life, Zoueva said, and fans will recognize the music from its first bold notes.
Virtue and Moir are using three pieces by Alexander Glazunov, delicate music that tells the story of the seasons and highlights their beautiful lines and emotional connection.
And, finally, Maia and Alex Shibutani are skating to Michael Jackson. Yes, Michael Jackson.
"He's really, really popular for Russians, as well. I learned myself the Thriller movements," said Zoueva, who left her native country in 1991. "All my skaters in Russia, they learned Thriller. But it was difficult to do because it was not on TV. Someone had to bring the tape.
"But it was very, very popular."
Zoueva, a former ice dancer herself, became a choreographer after her competitive career ended, and was best known for creating Gordeeva and Grinkov's memorable programs. In 1991, she accompanied another of her skaters on a tour in Canada, and was asked by a local club to stay and coach.
"I just moved because I think it would be really good for me, because I think it would be interesting to see the North American style of coaching and teaching," she said. "It was a big thing for me to move."
Ten years later, she left Canada for Detroit, joining Igor Shpilband in what was fast becoming the ice dance capital of the world. The two had a falling out in 2012, and their top teams all decided to stay with Zoueva.
Though having competitors train side by side could be awkward, the skaters say it hasn't been a problem for them. Zoueva works with each team individually, as do the rest of the coaches on her staff. So while Davis and White see Virtue and Moir every day, it's not as if they're doing group lessons.
Which explains the need for all those planners.
And much like a parent with more than one child, Zoueva insists she has no favorites.
"The time when I'm with each team," she said, "my focus is with them."
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