On November 20 the Russian women’s handball team headed to the Far East where it will participate in the friendly tournament in South Korea. Later in Japan on the last day of Autumn the team will play the first match of the World Championship with China. The President of the Handball Federation of Russia Sergey Shishkarev has talked with the media before the start of a journey.

"We have mutual understanding with Martin"

- The World Championship in Japan will be the first major tournament for the Russian team with the new Head Coach – Ambros Martin from Spain. How has the team changed under his leadership?

- I think that the squad is optimum for this moment. Like other teams we lost several players due to injuries, including very important ones like the captain Daria Dmitrieva. Ekaterina Ilina might have been a huge boost for the team – but she has just come back to handball after the missed season and is obviously not in the best conditions. Apart from this, the squad includes all the best players we have right now.

What has changed in the team? New people in the training staff, completely different approaches: instead of highly emotional and impulsive Evgeny Trefilov we have calm Ambros Martin. I would not make comparisons of their methods and trainings – all evaluations will be preliminary. The most important thing is the result, how the team will face the first challenge. For the first time there will be so many matches at the championship, so it will be vital to keep the pace at the distance.

We have a deep mutual understanding with Ambros, that’s important. We always stay in touch, I follow the matches of his Rostov-Don. I can make some comments or suggestions. We have a productive cooperation.

- You expressed a wish to win the World Championship in order to qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020 and avoid participation in the Olympic Qualification Tournaments?

- This is just a wish and certainly is not a requirement (smiles). If our team wins the tournament or the French team does it, we will automatically qualify for the Olympic Games either as world champions or as the team which lost in the final of the EHF EURO to France. As we know, the winners of the World and European Championships qualify directly for the Olympics.

If there will be another result, we will prepare for the Olympic Qualification Tournament, try to get the right to host and organize well this event. It’s worth mentioning that the main squad has a pretty busy calendar, and that 5 out of 6 reigning Olympic champions – excluding Viktoriia Kalinina – play for Rostov-Don. This club has a lot of upcoming matches, especially after the New Year: DELO WOMEN’S EHF Champions League, national championship and the Russian Cup. The Federation had to correct the calendar in order to give the team a little bit for time for preparation in case of participation in the Olympic Qualification Tournament. So if there is one less tournament, it will be a great help for the team. They will have more time to have a rest and recover before the Olympics.

"Trefilov’s health is our priority"

- How does the former Head Coach of the women’s national team Evgeny Trefilov feel? Will he go to Korea with the team?

- No, he will go straight to Japan to the World Championship. We value his health: long flights is not exactly what he needs. But he is currently in the perfect intellectual shape. Regarding the physical form, he follows advices of the doctors. In this sense Trefilov is not very disciplined person, so we constantly remind him that his health is our priority. He helps us: follows the news from the team, makes comments and suggestions. We also discussed the squad for the World Championship with him.

- How do you evaluate the play of the team’s newcomers, what do you expect from them at the Championship?

- I will repeat the words of Evgeny Trefilov: we shall not overpraise the girls. In case you noticed it, before the today’s training session I wanted to personally support Elena Mikhaylichenko, because you can see how responsible she is, who professional is her attitude. That’s why I think that young players such as Valeriia Maslova, Anastasiia Illarionova and Elena Mikhaylichenko have all chances to shine at the championship.

Only overwhelming responsibility can stop them. I have even asked the older players to support them, lighten the mood with a joke, not to be tough with the girls. It turns out that Elena is the key player of Lada Tolyatti now. Can you imagine the share of responsibility this 18 years old girl takes on! But it’s obviously good that such young girls are in the squad of the national team. I hope that they will be players of a world class in future.

- How do these young girls interact with the team’s old-timers, Olympic champions of Rio 2016?

- There wasn’t much time for this, as the current squad played only two matches. But this is a very important issue indeed. At our closed meeting I told our girls that they have to leave all their medals and rewards at home. We are going to Japan as one united team where a lot of things depend on mutual understanding, including the way how old-timers will treat the youngsters.

I cannot say at the moment that our team interactions are at the highest level, in this sense the upcoming tournament will help to unite the team, to find team chemistry. We have to understand that the national team is not only Rostov-Don, it’s also Lada, Zvezda, CSKA and Kuban. The quick friendly tournament in South Korea will help the team to prepare for the World Championship.

"Skirt is a symbol of femininity, I stand for this style of uniform"

- Due to absence of Daria Dmitrieva, Anna Sen will be the team’s captain. How do you like her in this role?

- Anna Sen is a reputable player, Olympic champion and a kind person. That’s why she has to be a role model for the girls. I don’t mean the Olympic victory – it’s already in the past. I mean the example of a right attitude at the trainings and even in everyday life, because when the team stays away from home for a long time, the tensions go up inevitably. A lot of things will depend on Anna, and I hope that she will cope with this challenge.

- The female players can choose now between shorts and special skirts. What do you prefer?

- Every club has a right to choose what it likes, but I think that a skirt is a symbol of femininity. If the players are comfortable with playing in skirts, if it doesn’t bother them, I think it will make women’s handball even more attractive. I understand and support this initiative. If I find out tomorrow that there is a direct cause and event relationship between skirts of female players and increase of men’s audience at the matches of national championship, skirts will become obligatory for all teams (smiles).

- What do you think about the group where the Russian team will play at the World Championship?

- We are lucky because our group is quite comfortable. It will let the team to get in the best shape before the most important matches. Although we have to remember that brave Asian teams – China and Japan – will be very tough to beat. Of course, the same applies to Sweden. But the calendar looks to be very good: we start the tournament with the match versus China, then we play with Argentina and DR Congo. I hope that other African teams won’t do the same what the team Angola did at the Rio Olympics and won’t injure our players. I think that the training staff keeps it in mind and will ask the players to avoid clashes.

- Do you plan to visit the capital of Japan and Olympics-2020 during the World Championship?

- I think that the match and training schedule will let me do this. Let it be a good motive for the players to go to Tokyo next summer not as tourists, but as participants of the Olympic Games.

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