Always sticking to their guns

Part I

by Susanne Kempf
photos © Susanne Kempf

It is Sunday evening and the European Figure Skating Championships in Turin have
officially ended. After the gala Sinead and John found some time to sit down with me for a while to discuss, among other things, their performance here in Turin, the Olympic Games next year, their general idea on skating , role models and the new judging system in general.

How do you rate your performance here in Torino?

John: There was some good and some bad. We were very happy with the Compulsory Dance because we have been working on that a lot this year. We were quite happy with the Original Dance too although we could have probably skated it slightly better. As for the Free Dance, obviously we weren’t happy with it.
We have had some problems going into these Europeans because Sinead had a back injury so we couldn’t practice the way we wanted to. We felt we could get away with it but we didn’t (laughs). But that’s not to make up an excuse or anything...

Sinead: ........we also changed a lot of elements from our programs after Cup Of Russia to try to make them more difficult. We needed to practice those elements a lot and then, with the back injury, we couldn’t really do it the way we wanted ... Until we came here, we weren’t able to do a full run-through of our programs with all the new elements in it, so what can you expect..? Last year however, we felt we peaked it at Euros.

...wasn’t that the first time back then that you skated the Matrix Free Dance without any mistakes?

John: Yes, exactly. We hope this year we can reverse it and therefore peek at Worlds (laughs). That would be pretty cool. As long as we can peak at practice, it gives you a lot more confidence for the performance itself. I think one of the reasons we skated so well at Europeans last year was that we did so well in practice there whereas at Worlds the trainig wasn’t as good and solid.
But we still have six weeks left until Moscow so...

Sinead: We know we got a program that we are sure can be good if we just can pull it off and I think we can do that at Worlds.

Which skaters did generally inspire you?

Sinead: The Duchesnays. Whenever I watch their program "Missing", I can watch it over and over again.

John: I agree. It was the best. Even people who normally wouldn’t watch ice-dance watched or knew them. Of the present skaters I have to say Denkova & Staviski, even though their programs this year might not be as strong as last year. He is probably the most natural and talented ice-dancer around these days.

How was it for you to skate in Italy as it is kind of a second home turf for you with your summer trainings here?

John: Just great. They got some amazing audience figures: I mean, 16.000 for the Compulsories, 22 Golden Walzes...!? (laughs)

Sinead: Well, we had just been to one Europeans and Worlds so far before but we were happy with the audience reaction here!

John: The one criticism I might have about the arena is that on the judges side, there are no people. That’s 1/3 of the stadium.When I first saw the arena, I thought: „Fantastic!“ But when we actually got to perform, I thought that the dynamic just doesn’t work. I think they have to do something about how they handle the seating allocations.

Sinead: I mean, we practically performed for the ISU Officials, the media and the people of Eurosport (laughs).

After Torvill&Dean you are the first British skaters to make the Top10 in Europe. Does that make you feel proud in a way and did you ever think you would come this far?

Sinead: Of course we are happy to be able to bring back Great Britain onto the international skating scene, it feels good in our heart.

John: To be honest with you – and I know this sounds negative: I am still kind of surprised to be here (laughs).

Sinead: Seriously, we never thought we would have a chance to be getting on the Olympic Team. Our country says: Top 15 Worlds, Top 10 Europe – and we managed it last year on the our first try! And even at this competition, when we weren’t very happy about how we skated, we finished 8th which was very unexpected. We even managed to come close to Kulikova & Novikov just above us, even in the compulsories. They were still quite a bit ahead of us at Skate America in the fall. We did work a lot on the compulsories. Last year we were 13th in that part of the competition and now 8th....

John: Yeah, we have six weeks left until Moscow. We have said to ourselves, just for fun, that at Worlds we are going to try and make the Top 10, thus qualifying for the Olympics – I am not saying at all that we are going to manage it in Moscow - but we can still dream.... (smiles) The couples for us to beat in Russia are Kulikova&Novikov, Gregory&Pethukov and Wing&Lowe.



There has been a lot of open criticism that all Free Dances more and more look the same now in the CoP system (only with different music). All couples do the lifts, spins etc. which obviously get you the most points. Do you agree? What does still need to be improved about the CoP in your opinion?

Sinead: Well, generally we think CoP is a step forward. On the other hand now you see many couples doing the same kind of things, even in the same order: rotational lift, the change-of- edge lift, then the straight-line lift...
At Skate America we tried to come up with something different but got quite low levels for our lifts. Eventually we had to change it.

John: There has been some criticism that our Free Dance for example is not as strong as „The Matrix“. But I gotta say that because of the system all skaters are now quite restricted in the creativity and originality. For example, remember the lift in "The Matrix" where Sinead kind of flips me over at the end and which always got us a strong audience reaction? That’s a level 1 lift now! There is no point in doing such a lift anymore if you want to get high technical components marks.

Sinead: You cannot interpret the music the way you want to anymore because there are so many elements to fit into a program and you just start thinking from element to element. You simply think:“Lift.... twizzle sequence...... spin....... am I holding this lift long enough... ?“ Dancing is of course all about timing and music. But the problem is: If you have spent too much time on one element (maybe you have concentrated on it for too long or you are a bit slower than anticipated), you might have lost the timing for the rest of the dance - but you risk that just to have your elements clean and completed.
I mean, a program like "Missing" or Klimova & Ponomarenko’s "Liebestraum" for example wouldn’t be possible anymore today.. I have actually heard on the news today that many said none of the Top 5 programs here captured anybody’s hearts. But that’s really not the skaters' faults.

John: I think something that Tanith Belbin said hit the nail on the head: „The person who gets done all the elements and that "special something" in the performance is gonna win. I think to some extent Delobel & Schoenfelder managed to do it in their Free Dance here.
Personally, for our dance, it was very hard to fit the lifts into the upbeat music. Maybe it was our fault to pick this particular music. But we always try to come up with something different.

Still, don’t get me wrong: Overall we are happy with the new judging system. It is a more objective way trying to judge something which is subjective by its very nature. I understand why it is done. We just see the problems we and the skaters in general are having to adjust to the system.

Go to Part 2


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