Episode #29: Slavka Kohout, Part 2

by allison on July 26, 2009

JULY 2009
An interview with elite coach Slavka Kohout Button, who ran the Wagon Wheel Skating Ice Palace in Illinois, and was coach to Janet Lynn. 20 minutes, 14 seconds.

Thanks to Fiona Mcquarrie for transcribing these interview highlights:

On Dick Button’s influence on Lynn’s career: This was partially due to Doug Wilson, as well, and Jim McKay. They enjoyed watching her skate. But what was great about Dick was that he put a face on skating, and that was such an important thing at that time. So she had a larger audience for that reason, and she got a greater following.

On retiring from coaching in 1973: When my son was three months old, John Curry asked me to work with him, and he was really upset that I didn’t. I spent a day with him and laid out what he should do, that he should go to Carlo Fassi for his figures and Gus Lussi to straighten out his jumps. But he was upset, and I told him, I’ve worked so hard from when I was 17 years old, and I want to be home and raise my children, and  I want a normal life. I just didn’t have any more in me at that point.

On how skating develops as a sport: When you’re in this kind of sport, you visualize what the next step is. When Janet did double axels, or double axel-double loop, nobody had done it then. Double axels, they might have, but they weren’t clean. Hers were clean. You just look at the training, and think, where does the skater go? What’s the next step? Now I have a boy who, in my mind, can do triple axel-triple toe. I can see it. I just have to figure out how to get him there.

On team teaching and specialist coaches: I like it because it spreads the responsibility, but I don’t like it because no one’s responsible [laughs]. It works well when you’re all tuned into the same technique. It doesn’t work well when some people, like lower-level coaches, are working with your skaters but aren’t open to your ideas. Then it doesn’t really work well at all. But it’s kind of a necessity today because people go from rink to rink and aren’t in the same place all day long. So you really need that help, that backup.

On returning to coaching: I was off for 17 years, but I’ve skated more of my life than not, and I kept up enough with it. But now [with figures being eliminated] people are not quite understanding what it means to skate, and how long it takes to build the body to skate effectively. And I worry that when everybody is gone who has a figures background, what will happen to the sport? Because I see it in the skaters that only do synchro and are taught only by synchro coaches. I see how weird their positions are in line to the ice. And I see a lot of that happening in the future, when people don’t understand.

And this sport was thought up by very smart people who really understood physics, and how the body line should be to make the figures. And when you go against it, it forms awkward lines. And it doesn’t put the balance on the joints on such a way that people don’t get injured. And maybe people are doing things their body isn’t ready for, and that’s part of bad technique. I don’t think I’ve had a major problem with a skater ever, with injuries.

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