Van der Perren jumping towards the top


by Mireille Geurts, Magdalena Osborne & Titia Tolsma

Photos © EMJO, Mireille & Titia


Kevin van der Perren is no new name in skating. He became the Belgian champion already back in 2000 and was the talk of the town at the 2002 World Championships in Nagano where he charmed the audience and judges with a tango short program, dancing with a pretend partner. Earlier that season he got silver at Junior Worlds.

Having reached the ripe age of 23, he recently skated in the Stars on Ice shows in Antwerp for the third time, now as the ambassador for the event. As an IMG client he received the royal treatment and a hotel suite, to which he invited us to do the interview. He apologized for not being able to offer us anything to drink, but for the better part of an hour we had his undivided attention.

A good portion of the time was spent laughing and joking, but he also spoke in his frank and to the point way about his career, the Olympics and his life. We laughed about the construction in front of the hotel, which looked basically the same as last year and the year before that, and would most likely stay that way for at least two more. But according to Kevin that wasn’t the Belgian standard, but the Antwerp standard, and he jokingly added:

"Can you imagine what would happen if they ever had the Olympics here?"

A lady sat at a table while we talked, busy gluing tiny sparkling stones on a red bandana Kevin would wear with the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" costume.

"This is like my third costume for the season for the free", he explained. "Pirates" seems to be a very hard topic for a costume!"

This last version of the costume is red, black and white with sparkles all over it. It hung over a chair, and after a close look I just had to ask if he glued all the rhinestones on this one too and he laughed.

"No. I put in something like 30 hours on the last one, and the stones were still coming off. This one I didn't do myself, but I like it so I'm keeping it."

In the Stars on Ice shows, Kevin skated his "Pirates" free program and the exhibition number "Fever" by Michael Bublé. "Fever" is fun; we had watched it in practice and were impressed by the footwork and choreography, but he frowned.

"We just threw that together for Skate America and I'm still trying to figure out what to do with it. I have the choreography, but need to decide which jumps to do."

Practising "Pirates"

The cast for the Antwerp shows was very varied, offering a mix of professional and eligible skaters from all four disciplines.

“I was happy to see Susanna (Pöykiö) on the list, I know her real well. And Ilia and Katia because they were at my rink when I was skating with Nikolai (in Newington). And I know the Lithuanians and Maurizio because we’ve skated together here three times now. But I was kind of hoping for Stefan Lindemann to come again, or Brian Joubert. Stefan is like my best friend at competitions.”

Brian was competing at Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris the same weekend.

“Yeah, and it’s on TV but I won’t be able to see it cause I have to skate. I wanted to go to watch the men’s short, and it’s only like three hours away, but I can’t really do that right now…”

Like most shows, the time to put it all together is very short and sometimes frustrating, as Kevin confirmed.

"Brian Orser does a good job as choreographer, but yesterday it took an hour to go from two lines to a circle. With the kind of cast we have, why did it take so long? It should have been done in five minutes! It was really getting on my nervesÂ…"

So patience during practice is not one of his virtues, but he has many others. One is generosity. Being a Belgian skater, he was the star of the shows and the only skater some people in the audience recognized - the clapping and cheering knew no end when he appeared on the ice. Between the shows he met with many reporters and was interviewed for TV. There were constantly people around him who wanted his attention, and he took the time. We saw him backstage meeting with fans and signing endless autographs. And after the shows he came out and talked to people, big and small, and had photos taken with them. There's not a stuck up bone in the man's body!

Being signed with the IMG has its advantages.

“Interviews go through them… so I’m already breaking the rules, ha ha!”

But I assure him that although we know each other I cleared this interview with his manager and he continues:

“The IMG try to find me shows and sponsors… it’s actually easier for me cause now I don’t have to pick up the phone and make appointments. They just schedule it and say ‘this is good for you’. I’m going to do some shows in the States, and a competition in Florida in April. Florida is good - Disneyworld! I wanted to go there anyway on vacation. But I don’t want to go to like Spain and bake on a beach for two weeks, I think I would be bored. There has to be something there to really interest me, or I’d rather stay home. But as far as shows, my dream is to do ‘Stars on Ice’ in the US.”

A very worthy goal and who knows what the future holds? Kevin is a hard working, but also very funny guy, and if all else fails, his determination and generosity will get him far. His club in Liedekerke knows that, he organized a big club show there last year.

"Yeah, 'The Lion King', it worked out really good! There were like three of us fixing the set and the costumes, and almost 1000 people came which is a lot for a club exhibition. They paid to get in so the club even made some money. They wanted to pay me, but I said no, it's my hobby! We're doing "Aladdin this year", I always wanted to do that! This time the story will take an hour and the second part will be the exhibition. It'll be even better, we have the experience now of what can go w r o n g in a week and it's lots! The rink has all these high windows and we covered them up from the outside. The day before the show everything came off so we had to go back on the roof and start over. We spent 17 hours on the roof to make it dark inside. This year we'll cover the windows from the insideÂ… I'll choreograph again; I've already started on it."

Besides training, he keeps himself busy with coaching and choreographing and can consider a future doing both.

"If I have skaters, yeah, why not? I already did like 13 programs for Belgian kids this season, everyone comes to me!"

Skating is not a big sport in Belgium, yet his outlook on the future is optimistic.

"There is a future in Belgian skating, but the federation, the skaters and the parents have to change their way of thinking. Parents say it costs a lot of money, but my parents also invested a lot of money. Now I'm getting it back. You can't reach a high level in a sport unless you invest first, in money and time. Too many think it'll happen just like that!" *snaps his fingers*

Kevin has certainly worked very hard, and the work is now paying off. After years of being one of many quadless skaters, he did a quad in the shows and at Skate America he landed his first quad in competition and plans to continue that way.

"Yup, there's a quad in the short and long program now, it's not a problem anymore. I've even done a quad sal. In the show I do a quad toe in the demonstration part in the second act. They turn the lights down, no spotlights and I just go for it, if I fall I fallÂ…"

His programs this season are the "Computer game" short from last year, choreographed by Nikolai Morozov, and the "Pirates of the Caribbean" free. On the latter he worked with Diana Goolsbey.

"I worked with her before the last Olympics. I like what she does; it's a different style from other choreographers. And I was sick of "Robin Hood" after doing it for a whole yearÂ… I wasn't sick of the music, just of the program, I really wanted something new."

And already early last season he had the music picked out and knew he would be a pirate for the Olympic season. And Diana was just the right person to customize the action packed program."

"But you know, we even had to take stuff out. There were hardly any crossovers, it was all steps and it was too hard! At Skate America some judges even told me to take some stuff out cause I wouldn't be able to skate the program clean."

He plans to train with Diana again before Europeans, but she will not be in Lyon.

"I have to choose between her and my mental coach, and one competition before the Olympics I think I need my mental coach. Each skater can only get two accreditations, and if Diana comes too, then there are three people."

Kevin's competitive season started well with silver at the Ondrej Nepela in Bratislava.

"Well, it's not a very tough competition. It was early in the season, in September, but I was ready to compete. But the rink was freezing and we had to wait a long time for our results. After the first skater the computers crashed and we got blanco points and didn't find out how we did until everybody had skated. But I did ok. I tried the quad in the short, and I only stepped out of it, it was no big deal. And the free wasÂ… well, it was like it is at the beginning of a season."

At Skate America Kevin placed 4th, behind Brian Joubert and in Japan he was 5th and just missed a spot in the finals, which was a disappointment. The inconsistencies of the Code of Points also cause some aggravation.

"One judge loves modern music, the next hates it, so the scores are still opinion based, and they'll never be able to change that. I kept my short program from last season, and everywhere I went then I got a level two on my steps. Well, at Skate America I only got a level oneÂ… I changed directions three times, I did twizzles both ways, and still I got a level one! I saw the protocol, but there was no explanation. Why is it now all of a sudden a level one? It makes no senseÂ…"

But other things in the system work to his advantage, including, in a way, the new level 4 spins.

"Ever since the new system came out I've said to my coach 'we're just going to jump.' People are so caught up in spins these days, they forget to jump! My strategy is to have a quad and triple Axels and I plan to do a 3-3-3 after three minutes, which gives a bonus. One of my strengths is that after a jump I can do another. That's my advantage!"

With Europeans and the Olympics coming up, having those jumps will sure be an advantage. Staying injury free is another.

"Well, my knee is a little better, my back is up and down. In the summer it was fine, then it got worse but now it's better again."

Let's hope it'll hold up. The Olympic season is a long one and Kevin is a bit undecided about his life after the games.

"It will all depend on my results at the Olympics. I will probably do Worlds either way, unless I really luck out and finish in the top 5, then it's probably better to quit and do shows. And next seasonÂ… I don't even know if I will skate next season! But if I do I might only do Europeans and Worlds, I need a little break. If I say I'll continue then the Belgian Olympic committee will say 'ok, then you'll go until the 2010 Olympics.' And I have to do another four years of Grand Prix, Euros and WorldsÂ… Right now I'll be so happy when the season is over. I haven't had much vacation in years, so this year I will take some time off."

If he does, at least two creatures will be happy.

"Yeah, my dogs! I have a Labrador (Quad) and a Golden Retriever (Luna), and when I'm gone my mom has to take care of them. They need to run a lot and they destroy a lot, especially the puppy because his teeth are growing."It’s nearing time for us to move on; an hour goes by so fast!

Talking to Kevin in the evening is a real pleasure, but he admits to having a terrible morning mood.

“It’s getting better… This season it doesn’t matter if my practice session starts at 10 or 12 or whatever, cause I can do all my jumps. Last year, practice before 3 pm wasn’t hardly worth going to. Now I have ice time at 12 (noon), before that it’s all school kids. And that’s just fine with me! Only my dogs get to see my morning mood, and they have morning moods too, and they take it out on me!”

Well, next time I schedule an interview with him, I’ll make sure to get an evening appointment again, just to be sure.

Before we parted we asked him to make some choices, just for fun:

Photoshoot or interview
Sheep or dogs
Long eyelashes or Justin Timberlake look-a-like
(He picked neither since he hates being reminded of both)
Mama’s soup or pizza
(While still loving his moms soup, he picked pizza...:) )
Moulin Rouge or Chicago

Best of luck in Lyon, Kevin! Many of the Absolute Skating crew will be there cheering for you!


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