"The only important thing is to improve"
- A chat with Gheorge Chiper

Part II

by Helga Dobor
photos © K. "bird" N. & Helga Dobor

You also placed very well at the Eric Bompard Trophy in Paris last November (5th place). The skaters who placed before you were in the top 5 at Worlds in Dortmund in 2004. What did you think of this competition?
Gheorghe: It was a hard one! Before Paris I competed at Skate Canada, and I wasn’t too successful there (12th), so afterwards it was hard to motivate myself to go on. Although it was important that I be satisfied with my performance, I was not focusing on finishing in a certain place. But when in the end I was the second European skater, after Joubert, I thought it was a positive sign before Europeans! Every competition is unique and you can’t afford to settle in complacency. You always have to push to get better.

What is your opinion of the new judging system?
Gheorghe: I think the first few years will be hard. Yesterday I saw that everybody made mistakes. The pressure to earn points is huge, so it is expected that many skaters will make mistakes. In the men's short program, there were only three clean programs and same with the ladies! I think that says it all, but in two or three years it will be different. There will come a new generation with a new mentality. Those people will become accustomed to the system and they will learn how the competitions go and what they can expect. I think it will be better this way. What isn’t working well is the components category. I think more work and development is needed in that area.

One goal of the new system is to avoid predictable results, but isn’t everything the same now too?
Gheorghe: No. Now at least you can see technically that ok, there I lost points, but here I gained points. Then with the second mark, the components, yes, not too much has changed. If I see that the difference in the previous group is 10-15 points, but only in the components, it is very hard to make it technically from there. We'll see. I think there won’t be any major change before the Olympics, but perhaps afterwards some parts will be changed. There still needs to be changes made!

Who do you think could be a good skater in Romania?
Gheorghe: In Romania everything is hard. People have no money to skate and if they had money, they wouldn't spend it on skating. As a skater in Romania I wouldn't be able to reach very far. This is a big problem, not only in Romania, but also in the surrounding countries. It is not like in Russia, where when you have good result you can do anything. In Romania, even with the same result, you wouldn't be able to start anything.

Are you popular in Romania?
Gheorghe: I don't know! Sometimes I hear that some newspapers write about me, and sometimes a radio station calls, but really, I can't answer this question!

During the European Championship 2004 in Budapest, somebody brought your daughter Flora to you. This sweet moment moved the audience to tears as everybody saw how important your family is to you. Would you tell us about them?
Gheorghe: About my family? I don't want to involve them in the business of skating.


You mean involve them even more?
Gheorghe: Yes, they are in it enough as it is! * smiles*
I skate, my wife coaches me and I work as a coach, too. Our daughter started to skate already. We are a skating family! While I skate it’s very hard to find more time for my family as the practices take up a lot of time. Of course my wife is always with me – and sometimes Flora also comes with us on the ice. She skates there or does what she wants while we work. Sometimes it’s hard but we can do it and will continue as long as possible.

Do you want Flora to become a skater?
Gheorghe: I don't want Flora to become a skater! I know all aspects of a skater’s life very well, and what it takes to become good. To have the whole family in skating is very hard. I don't push her to go skating, but she likes it. She wants to be on the ice; we just came back from the rink now, we had a great time there. Once Flora is on the ice, you can’t get her away. She really likes to be there, and as long as she feels that way we support her. But we don't say she has to be a champion or she has to go to practice. If she wants to do it ok, we’ll help, but if she doesn't want to, it’s also ok.

What do you wish for her in life?
Gheorghe: She is only five years old, so it is a hard question, I can't really say. I want her to grow up well and be healthy; the other things aren't so important right now. When she’s 18 it’ll be a different story...

How many languages do you speak, and which ones?
Gheorghe: Officially? *smiles* Seven languages. I should know seven languages. It's another issue whether I can actually still speak these languages or not.

Your Hungarian is great!
Gheorghe: I started to forget Hungarian. It’s very hard for me since I don't speak it much. But do you know Bálint Miklós?

Yes, of course. Your teammate.
Gheorghe: He is now in Switzerland too. He studies there at a University. I talk to him in Hungarian and to my mother, but other than that not too much. I speak Romanian, Hungarian, French, English, Italian, Dutch and German. Yes, now I try to speak German, Swiss German, but it’s very different from real German. I never learned German in school, what I know I picked up here and there; from my family, my daughter, the kids when they are chatting on the ice. I am trying to put the pieces together.

Which languages do you speak at home?
Gheorghe: At home? I speak Romanian to Flora always. Flora and my wife talk in Swiss German and Sandra and I in English.

So Flora listens to at least three languages every day?
Gheorghe: Yes, and that is our problem. She started to understand English when I talked to Sandra. We couldn’t say anything to each other without Flora understanding it! * laughs*
We have to speak French to avoid her understanding us when we don't want her to. If she learns French too we’re in trouble! * smiles*

What languages did you use at home when you grew up?
Gheorghe: I talked to my mother in Hungarian and to my father in Romanian. I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s (mother’s side). We were always there during the summer holiday, so I talked a lot in Hungarian. It was normal because there are lots of Hungarians in Csikszereda. You have to know Hungarian or you cannot live there. At the Csikszereda rink everybody spoke Hungarian. There were only two or three Romanian skaters - the others were Hungarian, so it was essential to speak the language.

Do you consider yourself Romanian or Hungarian?
Gheorghe: I am Romanian, as my mother is also Romanian- she just happens to be a Hungarian minority. Others have different opinions, but I feel Romanian.

So Romanian is your mother tongue?
Gheorghe laughs: My father tongue you mean? Yes, it is.

Since you speak the language, what is your relationship to the Hungarian skaters?
Gheorghe: It’s the same as with the Romanians. I have a good relationship with almost all skaters. I can say we’re friends. I think it’s important that everyone can talk to each other, it widens our perspective. Some years ago, when the Russian skaters didn't speak English, everyone thought they were so strange. When you can't communicate with somebody, you usually don’t become friends. As I learned more languages I could talk to more skaters, and since the Russians started learning English I can communicate with them too. I have good relations with everybody.

And where did you learn all these languages?
Gheorghe: Hungarian and Romanian I learned at home. I learned French and English in school. Italian... I just watched TV and picked it up! Italian is very easy to learn for Romanian people. It sounds good and I liked it a lot. Dutch I learned when I went to the Netherlands to study; I had to learn the language. It isn't a beautiful language, nor easy, but I had to learn it. I learned German in Switzerland. Since I live there now I have no choice but to learn it. I took special classes to learn French and English.

So you went to the Netherlands without knowing a word of Dutch?
Gheorghe: Yes! I really didn't know any of the language before I started my studies at the University. I went to register and I didn't understand a thing. Then I went home and read the curriculums again. I had to look up every other word in the dictionary; it was really, really hard! I had 10 months to learn, because if I didn’t pass the language exam, I wouldn’t be allowed to continue my studies. So I took language courses, but I also had to train, and there was my family... I spent 10-12 hours a day studying, so you can imagine how hard it was for me to learn Dutch. I had to pass my exams at the University too, and these were hard. After I learned Dutch, we left Holland and went to Switzerland, and everything started over again. I’m now learning German.

What did you study at the University?
Gheorghe: Physical education.

What are your plans for the future?
Gheorghe: The children are always there and I want to work with them. About my own career... First I want to qualify for the Olympics, and do everything I can to prepare. What I will do after the games is another question. After the Salt Lake City Olympics there was some trouble with the Romanian Federation and I didn’t skate for 6 months. Then they approached me again and asked me to continue skating. I agreed, let's do it, but the conditions must change. The 2006 Olympics are coming, and they should expect results from me, right? So we’ll see. I take each day as it comes, one at a time.

Back to Part I

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