Skating in Sweden - Up close with Lina Johansson

Part 2

Text by Magdalena Osborne
Photos © EMJO

Lina Johansson, the Swedish petite, blue eyed blonde, really caught people's attention last season. As a junior she reaped the success of the Grand prix, and was on the podium in Sofia and Bratislava and then won the silver medal before a cheering home crowd in the final. A couple of months later, at Nordic's, she competed as a senior and again got silver, only one step behind Finland's Elina Kettunen.

This season she's left the junior life behind and was given a spot in the senior Grand prix. But she hasn't had the great season she was hoping for. Plagued by sickness and injury, she's been prevented from really showing what she's made of, but many already know it anyway. At age 16 she still has years to prove that she's the greatest thing that's happened to Swedish ladies figure skating in over 70 years.

In October, at Skate Canada, you became the first Swedish lady ever to skate in a Grand Prix event!
Really? Wow, I didn't know that... Canada was great, the other skaters seemed to know who I was and they were all so friendly and nice. The audience was great too! But I wasn't very happy about how I skated; I had hoped to place higher. I made some silly mistakes and fell during backwards crossovers, I just lost control! And in the freeskate I overrotated the toeloop and fell...

Were you nervous?
No, I rarely get nervous, but in skating you just never know how things will turn out. You have to have a good day and feel that everything works and then give it your all! My coach gets very nervous; she'll stand there just shaking!

There's a 5 hour time difference between Sweden and Halifax, did you suffer from jetlag?
Actually, no! We got there a couple of days before the competition and I felt nothing at all then, not until I got home, that was much harder.

In December you won your first senior Nationals!
Yes, but I didn't skate so great there either. My foot was still bothering me but it wasn't as bad as in Finland. It was of course fun to win, but I usually stay pretty low key about my placements. At my school it was broadcast all over and it was embarrassing!

Which of your medals means the most to you?
Probably the first time I competed in Nationals, as a Novice. It felt so big somehow and I never even dreamed I'd win!

You were finally old enough to compete at Europeans.
Yes, and I prepared by spending a week with Viktor Kudriavtsev in Moscow. Then I came home and really went through my programs. My goal was to finish in the top 10 so Sweden would have 2 spots for next year. I also wanted to have 2 clean skates. It didn't work out, what can I say... I was nervous before the short program and then probably too relaxed before the freeskate.

How do you choose the music for your programs?
I tell Ela what I have in mind and she gives me lots of choices. I liked Romeo and Juliet a lot. Salome Brunner choreographed my long program to the Otonal and I like it a lot too.

What kind of music do you prefer?
I usually skate to slow, classical music but I think I'm ready to try something else now, something faster with a different beat! But I have nothing specific in mind. Sometimes I'll hear something I really like but by the time we choose the music for new programs, so many other pieces have turned up. I can spend entire evenings just listening and I'll even ask my family what they think.

What kind of input do you have in the choreography?
Hanna and I know each other so well that I can usually tell right away if something she suggests won't work for me. Salome shows me new steps to try out and we work on so many different things until we're all comfortable with it.

Have your programs changed much to adjust to the different levels?
Ela keeps track of all the levels and she has it all worked out for my programs. I never pay that much attention to levels or to the points. Ela can tell me that I got level 2 points for a certain spin, but I basically shrug my shoulders and let her worry about it. I just skate!

How are you coming with the interpretation part?
Well, we've been working on it and Salome has helped me a lot. She told me to view the program as a story I'm telling, and that I should be angry, or smile or be serious. For the short program I mostly smile since it's about Juliet growing up and she was happy.

What is your exhibition number?
I skate to Robbie Williams' "Rock DJ". Salome suggested it and I like it very much. And it's certainly not classical!

Who made your costumes?
They were ordered from the Czech Republic. I had specified what I wanted but when they came I was very disappointed. The pink one had some fabric draped across the front covering the sequins and it wasn't very attractive at all so I removed it. And the blue dress had a big rose on the shoulder and that had to go as well! I really didn't like that dress at all, in fact, when I first saw it I almost cried. But once I tried it on it wasn't so bad and now I love it!

The ladies are now allowed to skate in pants and some do. Did you welcome that change?
When I'm training I always wear pants and I wouldn't have it any other way, but somehow I think it's part of the competition to wear a dress. It looks elegant and I like it. But for my exhibition number I wear pants.

At the beginning of the season you were injured, what happened?
I went to compete in the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf in September, and my foot started hurting in certain positions, especially in the flip. But then I got sick and couldn't compete anyway. I was still in a lot of pain at the Finlandia Trophy a month later. I tried to rest and I hardly practiced jumps at all before the competition. I wasn't very happy with my skate at Finlandia, it could have been better. At Nationals the foot was still bothering me but then I thought it was all healed. Well, it wasn't.

How many hours per week do you usually practice on-ice?
I train twice a day most weekdays and on Saturday morning. I also have gym sessions and ballet. The ballet classes are held at different schools and it's working well. It helps build strength in my legs and I learn flexibility. Ballet is totally ok.

What element are you working on the most?
I work on everything! In the morning it's mostly steps and spins and in the afternoon I jump. Right now I'm not working on anything new but concentrating on what I already know, but I haven't given up the idea of a quad. It's more realistic than a triple Axel, so we'll see what happens this summer when I might have time to work on it.

Last spring you worked for a while with the French coach Pierre Trente, what was it like?
I didn't know anything about him when he came. He mostly said what coaches always say, but it was good!

Is there a difference in training with a Russian and a French coach?
Well, yes. Victor is very particular about basic skating and one needs to have a solid double before starting triples. He emphasizes the upper body and arm movements a lot. With Pierre it was more right to the point and we did a lot of jumping.

How do you communicate with Viktor?
Good question... He mainly speaks Russian which I don't understand, but he also knows a little English. Between it and his body language I really don't have any problems understanding what he wants me to do. I've trained for him so many times I've learned to understand him.

What are the Russian rinks like?
So far I've only been to one rink and it's good, but very loud! There's a huge thud when I land my jumps and I don't know why. But the ice is very good! And once Elena Sokolova came and complained that it was too cold in there so the heat was turned on and it was very pleasant to practice then!

And the Russian food?
The first time I was there my mom and I were going to eat in a restaurant. We had no idea what anything was and just guessed what was on the menu. I finally placed an order and got some sort of beef with cheese and it was good so that's what I had the whole week we were there! I varied it a little by choosing rice or fries with it.

Last time we rented an apartment but sometimes I've stayed in hotels. Some are better than others...

And the Russian winter?
Oh, it's cold, very cold! One time I was there I froze the whole time, even in the hotel.

Do you have to share the ice with Viktor's other students?
Yes, but some of them only skate for like half hour and then they leave, so I have plenty of room on the ice. Sometimes we talk some before the session, but not all of them speak English so it's pretty hard.

Is there a time during the season when you feel you peek?
This season hasn't gone so well for me so it's hard to tell. At the competitions during the fall I noticed that not many were in great shape yet.

Did you watch Europeans and Worlds on TV last year?
Oh, you bet I watched it! My favorite discipline is the men, their jumps and moves are just fantastic, the height and the speed... wow!

Who are your favorite skaters?
Irina Slutskaya, I'm very happy she's back; I've admired her for years. And in the men's it's Evgeni Plushenko. Ever since I was a kid I've admired him. He's an excellent jumper and has charisma. But it was totally fair that Yagudin won the Olympics, he was by far the best one there.

The Swedish newspapers have written a lot about you, do you read it?
For the most part, no. My mom saves all the articles, but I've been advised not to read the papers during competitions since some of it can be upsetting or increase the pressure. I mainly look at the pictures anyway and if they're good I'm happy! And Ela's husband made a CD for me with all the TV interviews and clips from the sports news.

Since this interview was made, Lina has had a thorough examination of her foot. It's not totally healed and she's been advised to take it easy. She can skate but should limit the jumping. Before Worlds she hopes to go to Moscow and train with Viktor Kudriavtsev for a week and is looking forward to competing there in March. The AS crew wish her a speedy recovery and good luck!

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