A Real Coaching Talent

By Stanislav Tokarev

Soviet Life, October 1985   Vladislav Rastorotsky, 52, from Rostov-on-Don, is one of the world's leading gymnastics coaches.  He is the one who groomed Lyudmila Turishcheva for the world overall title.  After Turishcheva's era ended, his new proteges Natalya Shaposhnikova, Natalya Yurchenko and Albina Shishova continued her triumphant streak, going from complexity to ultra-complexity and winning top honors at all major competitions.  Heading for one's fifth Olympic Games as a coach (that covers over 20 years), grooming world-renowned gymnasts for the national team, one year of his work is like three of anyone else's.

At least half of Vladislav Rastorotsky's training techniques are unique, while some of them simply cannot be analyzed.  During competitions he expresses his emotions, from the exhilaration of a win to the disappointment of a loss, in a laconic but animated fashion.  It's likely that many gymnastics coaches have already learned to imitate his facial expressions and to repeat his cutting and precise remarks.

What is the basis for Rastorotsky's long-lasting success?  According to his wife, the closest person to him: "Vladislav loves children more than anything else in the world."  His right-hand man, assistant coach Gennday Malayev says: "He takes his time in whatever he's doing.  Today too many people are in a hurry, but not him."  Another assistant Elena Rylkova says: "Everyone of his workouts is a heated competition."  Overall world champion Natalya Yurchenko says: "He has faith in us like no other coach has faith in his athletes, and we also believe in him."

In my opinion Rastorotsky is three times more stable than the ordinary person, and he has an incredibly good temperament and is absolutely ingenious.

According to the established routine, everybody must show up at the gym at 7 AM sharp!  If Coach Rastorotsky isn't there for some reason, the workout is conducted by Rylkova.  That was the case the day I attended.  I recognize the familiar tempo and the competitive spirit among the 12-year-old girls: Who can perform a somersault better and higher?  The girl who lands erect up on top of a pyramid of 12 mats is the winner (safety, of course, is top priority here).

The first questions Rastorotsky asks when he returns from competitions or training sessions are:  "Any injuries?  Everybody OK?"

The workout now going on is proceeding as usual, but what I'm seeing is quite unbelievable.  This is the gymnastics of the next century, I think.  Ultracomplex elements are executed with unbelievable ease and, what's even more impressive, by everyone.  Later, the coach will decide what elements are best suited to which gymnast, and combinations will emerge because Rastorotsky doesn't think in units.  He sees exercises in their totality.  That's the way he trained Turishcheva, and that's the same technique he uses now.

About an hour and a half into the workout, Coach Rastorotsky, who has the powerful build of a heavy class weightlifter, lumbers into the gym.  He had stayed home because of illness, but it wasn't long before he couldn't stand it any longer and had to come and see how things were going for himself.

What began then is impossible to describe.  I, too, even as a spectator, am under his spell and give in to the inexplicable force that brings the psychological temperature in the gym to the boiling point.

He doesn't shout the usual, "Come on!"  Instead he prompts:  "Analyze!  Think!  Express your nature!  Analyze!  What do you mean 'I'm trying'?  You can try on a shoe!  Elements must be executed!  They must be drawn like a picture!  You must seek to draw brilliantly, like an artist."

Rastorotsky is unlike anyone else.  Coaches usually try to make use of every minute of practice time.  But not Rastorotsky.  Suddenly he calls the girls into a huddle and begins to tell them a story:  "It was at the Youth Festival in Berlin. Everybody, including me, was running a cross-country race.  I finished last.  Lyudmila Turishcheva came in first.  One of our runners, a sprinter, came up to me and asked: 'Vladislav, did Lyudmila ever train as a runner?'  I told him no.  He couldn't believe what he heard.  'You're lying!' he said.  'I'm a champion, and she's beaten me!' You see, girls, the character she had.  She couldn't lose in anything ever!"

Sometimes Coach Rastorotsky spends hours telling stories.  His tales aren't rhythmic and quiet narrations, but explosive stories of passion and elan.   And immediately after finishing, he says: "Let's get down to business!  Who can perform better?  Higher?  Cleaner?  After about half an hour of such a workout he says:

"That's it!  Everyone home to their homework!  Read books!  See you tomorrow!"

Lyudmila Turishcheva was a gift of fate.  Nature lavishly endowed her with a fine physique, strong will power and rare industriousness.  But heaven knows how much sweat and tears she shed during her training with Rastorotsky, believing in him and taking everything.

Despite her success, his second major achievement -- Olympic champion Natalya Shaposhnikova -- was a series of errors.  She needed a special approach.  The usual training techniques did not suit her personality.  Rastorotsky didn't take heed of what Turishcheva had once told him:  "Keep in mind that Natalya is not like me.  It will be more difficult with her."  Natalya is more fragile, high-strung and stubborn and, though she achieved a great deal, she didn't reach nearly the heights worthy of her talent.

That's why the road to success of his next famed student, Natalya Yurchenko, who later won the overall world title, has put him through a lot of hard and painful mental contortions.  The main idea is that, since any sports talent is unique, the coach himself must change and adjust.  He must seek the correct way of training instead of altering the talent to the usual training methods.

Natalya has her own, totally original, manner of preparing for a performance.  She doesn't approach the program as a whole, doesn't mentally run through the succession of elements.  Instead she slowly analyzes each one, bringing her concept of it to precision.  Evidentally, this is an effective way for her to keep herself calm because she is easily excitable.  When I asked Natalya whether Rastorotsky had taught her this, she answered, "No.  He simply kept repeating, 'Be more attentive.'"  She started thinking over his advice and finally understood what she should do.  A book about Goethe lies on her desk along with college textbooks and a book by Dumas.  No special insight is needed to guess who gave her that book.

"That's pretty heavy reading," I tell the coach.

Rastorotsky likes to say: "People must be treated not only according to the rules but also according to their soul."

Many people say the coach is changing.  Now at age 52 is he getting tired and becoming less tough?  I don't think so.  The fact is that in the rigorous, competitive and quickly changing world of gymnastics, he, who formerly advocated large numbers of athletes in training, is now inclined not toward increasing his load but to reducing it, while searching for new techniques.

Someone told me a story that really shows the coach's true nature.  One Saturday Rastorotsky was preparing to leave on a hunting trip.  Before he left, he had to make sure that everything would be all right during his absence.  In the gym he approached Yurchenko, who was recovering from a leg injury, and said:  "Be careful not to overdo it.  There will be enough time for us to achieve our goal, believe me!"

The hunting trip was to last a week, but on Sunday her returned.  On Monday he told everybody, "You should have seen what I saw.  There I was standing in the bushes, when an elk suddenly appeared in front of me.  Its antlers looked like the branches of a tree!"

"Did you get it?" everybody chorused.

"Why should I shoot such a beauty?" he replied.

This page was created on March 31, 2001.
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