Gheorghe Chiper behind the boards

By Magdalena Osborne
Photos © Chiper and Absolute Skating

As an eligible skater he had a unique style on the ice. He often skated to folk music and wore colorful costumes. He placed in the top 10 at Europeans four times and won the Romanian Nationals seven times. But after the 2005/2006 season he chose to hang up his competition skates to become a full time coach at a club in Switzerland, a country he has ties to through his Swiss wife, dancer and choreographer Sandra Schär-Chiper.

They work together at the Zürich-Oerlikon club where Gheorghe carries a full coaching load teaching more than a dozen students, ages 7 to 17.

I teach juvenile, novice and junior students, including my daughter Flora. This past season I had 3 medalists at the Swiss Nationals; a 3rd place juvenile ladies, 2nd place novice ladies and 3rd place junior men.

That sounds like the future of Switzerland, and it can be, but Gheorghe knows what it’ll take, and there are no shortcuts.

It takes a lot of work and patience. And of course to stay healthy... But I manage my students; I offer them everything they need to get to the top, or at least to improve.

Coaching can be a sweaty business, especially while watching the students compete.

Of course I’m nervous, but I think with time I’ve learned to deal with it. The most difficult part is that I can’t actually help them anymore, I’m helpless! They are on their own and they have to bring their program to the end, and I hope that they do what they’ve been taught.

But it’s not just agony or no one would be doing it. And of course there are rewards.

I find something rewarding every day with every student. But mostly it’s when I see them applying most of what they know, that makes me feel very good.

A few years ago he didn’t wish for his daughter Flora to become a skater, but now going on 8 years old, she is.

I had no choice. We say in Romania: what comes out of a cat will always eat the mouse.

Meaning like daddy like daughter. And with daddy and mommy at the rink every day…

She likes it so I support her, and as I know all the faces of the sport I try to guide her in a good direction.

Camp Bäretswil

Gheorge and Sandra currently stay busy at another joint adventure; teaching at skating camps. The first week kicked off on April 14th in Bäretswil, Switzerland . Now in its fourth year, the Chipers have been there since the beginning as organizers. The camp also offers coaches like Angelika Krylova and Pasquale Camerlengo.

Gheorghe feel very strongly about the camp concept which focuses on the components.

We want to offer the students the chance to improve the five components, as well as make them aware of what they need to work on. On the ice we work on skating skills. Off the ice we do basic ballet, and in street-dance we try to help them be able to come out of themselves and get moving as they feel.

Ballet is a classic part of skater’s training while street-dance may sound a bit odd. But it’s growing in popularity and there are already many elite skaters who perform programs influenced by street-dance. At the Bäretswil camp Dutch dance teacher Anna van de Water is available. She teaches hip hop, funk, soul and disco and Gheorghe pictures her getting the students to open up and show their artistic side.

The students have the opportunity to make new programs as we have 3 great choreographers available.

And choreography is certainly important in a time when components seem to matter more than ever. After the outcome at the men’s event in Göteborg the technique versus artistics discussion is once again on, if it ever went away.

I think the system is still developing, it‘s like a child growing up to become an adult. It’s going to take a while before it’s perfect, or close to perfect. So whatever the situation is right now, we have to work on the components, especially with the young skaters (juvenile, novice). You don’t get so many points doing only double jumps so the components make the difference. And because it’s been requested I also teach technique at this camp, although that’s not the main focus of the camp.

Gheorghe is a master at teaching steps. In the summer of 2006 he w as invited by the Dutch federation to teach in Den Bosch, The Netherlands. Absolute Skating’s webmaster Mireille Geurts witnessed him working with Jenna McCorkell.

Mireille: I watched him working with Jenna for a long time, and it was really fascinating to see them brainstorm and work, going from basically nothing to a full fledged stepsequence in a relatively short time. It was also a bit comical, seeing him first picture the music in his head, then working it out for himself with his hands and then with his feet and communicating it to Jenna. A bit later the two of them were doing the exact same thing in sync.

Jenna: I had a lot of fun working with him, he is a great skater and especially talented in steps, that’s why I had him do my step sequences. He had many great ideas, and very unusal things to offer.

This is right up Gheorghe’s alley and he states:

This is something I really like to do (working on steps sequences). Sometimes I work with higher level skaters just on their steps. It started with my wife's request to do the steps for a girl that she was making the choreography for. Since then I almost always "interfere" in making or adding some input to the steps.

Attending the camp has a lot of pros and Gheorghe wishes more skaters would take the opportunity to attend.

My students come every year. But there are also skaters who come just once and then never again. It’s a pity because they just don’t realize how important it is. I think continuity is very important, and I would be happy when participating skaters would continue the work they start at the camp in their training with their own coaches.

The fact that the number of students is limited also works to the student’s advantage.

It is a small camp, and we really focus on the quality. This is my main goal as organizer: quality. There are some camps that only see the money; that is not the case here. We have a team of coaches that come regularly and we all know what to work on and we try to improve every year.

More information and photos from last years Bäretswil camp is found here.

About one week. That’s how much vacation time Gheorghe anticipates getting this summer.

But even then it would be good to work with the students as they are out of school and would have time to train…

Hopefully the family can squeeze in some free time before their next project starts.

Camp Champéry

Is also in Switzerland and runs from August 11th to the 16th. This is a co-production with Linda van Troyen who coached Kevin van der Perren in Belgium for a while, but for the last five or so years has been coaching in Switzerland. Gheorghe is very proud of this new camp and has high expectations.

With this skate academy we want to offer skaters of all levels a complete quality package; technique, spins, steps, choreography, off ice jumps and dance. We have accommodations for about 30-50 students.

That is a lot and language issues could arise. So what is the communication solution?

Good question. All the coaches speak English, and most of them German and French.

But we also have interested students from Belgium and Holland, and even skaters from Romania are interested in coming.

It’s going to be an exiting week for sure. Champéry is located about 1½ hours out of Geneva, close to the ski resort Les Portes du Soleil. Camp participants can look forward to traditional Swiss architecture and the overwhelming beauty of the Alps.

The camp staff is also impressive. Willy Van Veen together with Linda van Troyenand, Gheorghe cover very different experiences in skating and coaching, and Gheorghe is confident they can cover all the needs of the skaters.

Alexei Vasilevski is also going to work on steps and choreography, and Sandra is working on choreographies. And Anna van de Water will teach street-dance.

A strong team, but this is in August and most of the skaters will have their programs made already.

Yes, most programs should be done already. But cleaning up, improving the choreography and making changes once the jumps and spins are in place is always a must, if we want to get the most out of the program.

And at the end of the camp we are planning an exhibition where a number of talented camp participants will take part.

There are already so many skating camps in Europe, one can’t help but wonder if there really is room for one more.

There are quite a few international camps, yes, but most of them are getting overcrowded which can affect the quality. We want to offer something competitive in this sense. Maybe we don’t have a coaching staff with world and Olympic champions, but we do have a very highly qualified teaching team. We will assess the situation and distribute the tasks and try to give every student what he/she needs in every session. All of us have worked with Alexei Mishin for many years so we all follow the same line in teaching.

But then there’s the price issue…

Price is a problem at camps and Switzerland is not a cheap country to be in, so it’s difficult for us to have a lower price. But compare our Performance package and the price with the ones from other camps and we’re in a very good situation.

There is still room for a few more skaters at this camp. For more information and application forms, go to First International Figure Skating Academy’s website:

http://skate-academy.com/

Questions and answers

Chatting with Gheorghe is a pleasant experience and towards the end of the session there was a quick Q & A. He proved to be both quick and witty.

How long do you think you'll be coaching?

I try to look far ahead and so far the end is not in sight. I feel that I haven’t yet reached the peak of my teaching ability.

Are you also into judging?

I act as a technical specialist on a national level (in Switzerland).

Do you skate in shows?

No, I try to focus on teaching skating.

Do you miss competing at all?

Missing it? Yes, maybe a bit. As a person who likes to compete, I can’t NOT miss it.

Did you watch Europeans and Worlds? Do you still follow the men?

Of course.

Were you surprised at the outcome in the men's competition at Worlds?

I think it was a surprise for all. But I didn’t really follow Jeffrey’s skating this season.

Is there anything non skating related you could consider doing?

As?

I don’t know, sell hot dogs!

If I have something in mind I will get it done, no discussion. But it has to be a challenging thing, like selling 200 skater shape hot dogs. Seriously, I’m sure I would find something to do that I’d enjoy.

You just turned 30! How did that feel?

I still feel the same as at 29. I feel great. I spent my day with the kids as my wife replaced me at work that day.

Are you happy with what you have accomplished in your life so far?

Of course. What more could you wish for? I think I have everything needed to make one happy.

How about a million bucks?

I don’t see money making me happier; I think a nice family is worth more.

 

Do you ever have time to play golf anymore?

Very little.

What's your handicap?

My handicap? That I can’t play so good... Just joking, I have no handicap as I don’t have time for tournaments.

You are very gifted with languages. Are you fluent in Swiss German now?

I created my own German: Chiper German. It’s a combination of Swiss and High German with a Romanian accent and English influence. The kids can understand me.

Do you still speak Romanian at home with your children?

Of course.

What's your son’s name and how old is his?

His name is Aurel and he’s almost a year.

Do you think you'll ever move back to Romania?

I don’t see it happening in the near future, but never say never...

Does it still feel like home when you go there?

Of course. But my family is here in Switzerland now.

Thanks, Gheorghe, for taking the time. Best of luck with your family, coaching, camps and finding some time to relax!

 






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