His favourite place to compete is all by himself

Part II

By Susanne Kempf and Tatjana Flade
Photos © Susanne Kempf and Andrea "Hoo" Chempinski

Have you already made any plans after you will have finished your skating career?

I think in a way I will always be involved in skating in some wayÂ… maybe doing choreography. But I definitely want to finish my degree in chemical engineering.

Do you plan on "staying in" after this season or do you think of retirement already?

I don't wanna think about it just because I don't want to go to the Olympics thinking "There are always the next Olympics" so if I don't do good there then it's like giving me an excuse before it has even started! (laughs) So going into these Olympics, I am thinking it will be my last.

What has been your greatest accomplishment in sports so far?

Winnning the silver at last year's Worlds was certainly a big deal but I guess it has been my first National Championships. I was waiting for a long time for a good performance in front of a home crowd and in the long program I really put it down and for me, I just enjoyed that program most of all.

What do you like about skating?

I enjoy being on the ice, just gliding – not necessarily the jumps. Sometimes my favourite programs are at the very beginning of the season when I am not even doing the jumps yet and when I am just trying to get the choreography done. That's the time when you can actually challenge yourself with actual skating.

What's your favourite place to compete? From your record it seems you have a special relationship to Asia –for example you won your first competition (NHK) there.

Yeah, I have had a lot of success in Japan. I don't knowÂ… I would say my favourite place to skate is sometimes when I am absolutely by myself in the rink, that's when you feel completely inhibited, you can just do your thing. As far as competitions go, I would say I was indeed very successful in Japan. (laughs)

How do you feel about the new system? Obviously it is a new approach... do you prefer it and does it make skating easier for you?

At first I was like "It is going to make it so much easier, it will be less pressure on the quad!" and stuff like that but honestly I think a program with a quad under the old system is probably easier than a program without a quad under the new system. (laughs) I am thinking constantly now! I mean, even in my short program in Paris at Trophy Eric Bompard I did my butterfly sit-spin and I came out of it and I was like "This is good, I am really on time!" because at Skate Canada I was so far behind the music that the choreography wouldn't really fit in but at the end of the program I realized that I hadn't done one of my positions – that was really a basic position but I was simply thinking so much: "Oh, you have to do the footwork, my change of edge…" My level 4 flying-spin ended up being a level 2 because I forgot a position. With the new system there are so many things and you have hardly time to think…

...but it obviously favours youÂ…

Right, then there is the "pro". (laughs) As long as you are training really hardÂ… at the beginning of the season it is probably more frustrating just making sure that your choreography is CoP-friendly, but other than that it is just basically training it. I think it's taking longer than training a new program than before to become comfortable with it and things are constantly changing. So I think it does benefit the fact that I achieve with the second mark.

Do you have any ups and downs with your jumps or how does a usual training session look like for you?

Axel not usually – quads are good, some days they are not so good… I try not to try more than six or so in a training session because in the summer I was doing too many and I ended up hurting my ancle. I try to limit my amount of quads but I have been landing one or two every day… it's not a huge rate but it's certainly a lot better than it used to be – maybe I would land one per day last year and that's only if I tried really hard. I think it's going better. I think just the entry into it has improved a lot, it is a lot more relaxed, I don't feel quite as uptight anymore.

You seemed to be a bit nervous in Paris – was it because of what happened in Canada? (Jeff's pants split halfway through his program)

Yeah, I didn't want to repeat it. I came to Paris putting a little bit of pressure on myself because I knew I had to come second or better to secure a spot in the Grand Prix Final. There is the added pressure and the fact that I didn't wanna tear a hole in my pants againÂ… (laughs)

Did you feel that by the way?

Well, I cut my leg but it wasn't painful. At first I thought: "Should I stop? And I was like "No, I will keep going but I will keep listening in case somebody blows the whistleÂ…!" I wasn't really sure about the rules in such a caseÂ… (laughs) But I wasn't in any danger and there was no piece of fabric hanging in front of my skate soÂ….

Did it take off some of your concentration?

Yeah, it threw me off a little bit, even if it was only subconsciously.

How did you end up working with Rafael Arutunian?

It's funny actually. I hadn't known him before. Well, two seasons ago I had a really bad National Championships – I skated terribly and I sat down with my coach afterwards and I just said "I want to change", especially because everybody was training for Worlds (unlike me) so I didn't really wanna be there and see all these skaters train for it because that would be just horrible. I did choreography for many programs and just after Worlds I ended up going to Rafael because Lee had recommended him. As said I didn't know him but I knew he had coached Alexander Abt who I loved to watch. I was able to not question anything he had to say and told him "Okay, tell me what to do, I will do it!" I think that's the best way to work with a coach. You can't work with them if you doubt your coach.

It was really cool because he is very different from Lee. Lee is very cool and relaxed during training sessions and then I go to California and Rafael is completely the opposite: He is really passionate, he will yell when he is happy and he will yell if he is mad. He is not afraid to vocalise what he is thinking.

I had both of them with me at Worlds and that was the first competition I have ever had both with me. I mean, I had both of them work together with me before for a week but I never had them at the boards so… Lee is always very rigid and he just stands there and doesn't show any emotion – it is already something if he claps. (laughs) Rafael is constantly moving at the boards and skating "with" me. I think by the way that I would be the same if I coached later, I just couldn't stand still!

Has skating changed your way of tackling things in some way over the years? Can you enlighten us about some character traits of yours? :)

If I make mistakes, I can learn from them. Before, when I was a junior skater, I was so hard on myself and really upset and I wasn't even improving. I was just being pissed at myself. I wouldn't learn and do the same mistake all over again afterwards. Over the years Lee has helped me to calm down after I skated even if things didn't go my way and at least we talk about it now.

With my training I am generally really passionate. Lee would probably say that I am. I think I have improved a lot. When I started working with Rafael, I would still get really mad when making a mistake. But then having Rafael getting mad at me as well was simply a bit too much madness in the rinkÂ… (laughs) He said "Don't get mad because if you get mad, you will get worse and your skating suffers. Let me get mad at you!" And it works! Now I am able to chill out much easier.

Also, I am a perfectionist. In high-school I was really competitive because I wanted to go to a good University and my program was hard to get into so I had to have good marks. When I got to University, I had too much on my plate (skating AND University) so that my marks started to worsen a bit which I didn't care so much aboutÂ… but I realized I had to concentrate on one thing only for the time being.

Do you get nervous before you skate? Does that annoy you?

Sometimes I think it is a good thing when I am nervous. It keeps the tension. As long as my body is relaxed and I am not shaking or something, I am okay with it.

Where do you see your weakness?

I think it lies not so much in the lack of the quad but rather in feeling that the program is lacking without it. It's weird. I know that if I did a program without a quad, things would go a lot better.

I don't really know why a quad in the program makes such a big difference for me. I just have to learn to be comfortable with the program, even if I don't land it. And even if I do land it, I must not separate it from the rest of the program. I think that's my weakness right now.

Which skaters do you admire most apart from Kurt?

Brian Orser. Just the thought about the "Battle of the Brians" and how close it was, just hearing stories about him and under which pressure he was. I admire his mental strength. And Michelle Kwan! I have been a huge fan of her since 1995. I followed her from then onÂ…

...and now you are training with her! How is that like?

Actually I was scared to train with her at first! When I got there, it was really cool. I don't know why but I had always pictured champions to beÂ… well, I don't wanna say "diva-ish" butÂ… (laughs) Â…But then I got there and she trained so hard and I realized that's why she is so good.

I also enjoy watching Daisuke. I remember when he came to Barrie to skate and even back then you could see he is really dynamic and had a lot of potentialÂ… which frightens me a bit. (laughs)

Would you describe yourself more of an "effort" or a "genius" type?

I am definitely an "effort person". I work extremely hard. Especially the jumps don't come naturally for me. It took me three years to get a triple. And I won't say I am a genius because that would be too cocky and I am not. I do well at school and at maths but that's about it. Maybe in terms of expressing myself, that comes naturally to me. Just working hard, basically. That's how I improve.

Thanks so much and good luck for the Olympics!

For more information on Jeffrey, please check www.jeffreybuttle.com.

Back to Part I


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