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[Herald Interview] New start for figure skating

First foreign coach trains Korean national team for Sochi 2014


It’s a Thursday morning in Taeneung, northern Seoul, and the 10 a.m. training session is well under way. A group of figure skaters are working out at the national ice skating rink.

“Come on, let’s move,” their instructor Sergei Astashev urges them. The 46-year-old Russian, wearing a dark hoodie and baseball cap, makes the group stand in a line and tells them to step forward one by one.

“Move inside, outside then inside again,” Astashev shows his skating steps and the group follows suit. Over the one hour training session, he made the skaters repeat step sequences and turns.

“I’m focusing on teaching how to skate,” Astashev says with his eyes still fixed on the skaters. 
National figure skating team coach Sergei Astashev. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
National figure skating team coach Sergei Astashev. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)

The Russian has recently been named the Korean national team coach by the Korea Skating Union, becoming the first foreign coach for the team.

“I’ve got an invitation from the Korean federation. I didn’t know much about Korean skating but the federation was very serious, so I came here” he says in English with a strong accent.

Over the past two decades, Astashev has established himself as one of the top coaches in figure skating. Since 1983, he has taught in Russia, Finland and the United States, producing a number of Olympic medalists, including 2006 ice dancing medalist Roman Kostomarov.

He admits that he did not know any Korean skaters, except the 2010 Vancouver gold medalist Kim Yu-na, before coming here.

“But I know Asian skaters work very hard, so I’m interested in working with them.”

Asked about his first impression of the Korean national team, he says: “They’re young and very talented,” adding that he is excited about sharing his skills with the potential skaters.

But the problem, he says, is that the Korean skaters still lack some of the most basic skills.

“They do jumps and spins, but they don’t know how to skate,” he adds.

Speaking at the ice rink Koh Sung-hee, a commission member of the Korea Skating Union, also agrees that Korean figure skaters need to polish off their basic steps and skating skills in order to make it onto the world stage.

“That is why we’ve signed a contract with Sergei,” Koh says.

Under the guidance of the Russian specialist, the national figure skaters have begun to focus on developing their step sequences.

“It’s a new beginning for them,” Koh adds.

South Korean figure star Kim Yu-na won the gold medal in the ladies’ singles at the 2010 Olympics. But it is not certain whether the 22-year-old will compete again at the 2014 Olympics. Many young skaters, such as Kwak Min-jeong, 17, and Kim Min-seok, 18, are trying to follow in her footsteps, but no one has yet come close to reaching her level.

In 2018, PyeongChang in Gangwon province will host the country’s first Winter Olympics, and the KSU is hoping to see another Kim Yu-na in its home competition.

Speaking of the current Korean national team, Astashev says: “Their skate skills are not strong. They still need to work on their steps, power and speed.”

“But they are young, and everything is possible if they work hard.”

By Oh Kyu-wook (596story@heraldcorp.com)
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