Tomáš Verner: “The audience won’t go crazy watching a triple loop”¬†
By Titanilla Bod
Photos © Joanna Pracht
Tom√°š is the dream respondent for a journalist. He is friendly, funny, talkative and he is willing to express his opinion. We chatted with him in Paris after the TEB, but of course we already talked about the Olympics.
How much do you think about the Olympic Games?
I train six days a week, and of course I’m thinking about the Olympics. I always try to imagine how it will be like when I am staying there. When you are on the ice on a world championships, you know that won’t have any next chance until next year, and it’s already a big pressure – and on the Olympics you know that you won’t have any next chance until the next four years! Already qualifying to the Olympics is a great thing. And you aren’t there skating for the Czech Skating Federation, you are skating for the country, for the nation. This makes it really special, but also the pressure is immense. A good example is Evgeni Plushenko in 2002. He was well-prepared, he was great and still, he went on the ice and after 20 seconds it was all over. He fell on the combination in the short program and his Olympics were over. No other sport is so cruel and I doubt any other athlete could imagine this pressure except figure skaters. Even though we have two programs, if you are going only for the gold, as soon as you make a mistake, it’s all over. And there are people who are interested only in the gold medal. They are not normal, but there are such people. And if you want to win, you can’t make any mistake. Plushenko simply couldn’t get the gold in Salt Lake City after that fall. So it’s a tremendous pressure. That’s why I have to get used to it. Every time I skate my programs at practice I think about it as if I were at the Olympics. Also at competitions, I try to imagine that atmosphere, I try to act as if it was already the Olympics. I have the five rings somewhere in my thoughts constantly, like Alexei Yagudin had banners with the Olympic rings around his practice rink to help him to get adjusted to the atmosphere.
How hard is it for you to get back into a program after a mistake? Can you cope with it easier now than in the past?
I think I’m improving. My mistakes mainly come from a slight distraction, like that I miss a few transition moves because I’m already focused on a jump and then I miss the jump as well. Anyway, if such a thing happens, I have to go on and concentrate on the other elements. Even the slightest distraction can cause incredible disaster. Do you remember Matt Emmons, the shooter? He was in the lead at the Olympics but in the last round he didn’t shoot on his target but on his neighbour’s. How many times such a thing happens to a shooter of his qualities? Never! Only once, at the Olympics. But it took him the gold. So even a minor error can result fatal effects.
Men’s field will be really strong at the upcoming Olympics.
Strong? This is a weak word to express it!
Besides the physical condition mental factors will also be crucial. Do you have any special preparation to be mentally ready for the Olympic pressure?
Not really. I rely on the fact that what I can do at practice, I will be also able to do at a competition. That’s why I take every practice session as a competition, so that I will get used to it and if it comes to the Olympics, I will have to deal only with the mental pressure not with condition or technique. It makes a lot if you are well prepared, because your body remembers the moves and sometimes it can make it itself, without much thinking about it.
There have been interesting discussions about the quad for a few years. Some skaters think quad is not the most important thing and it’s not worth the risk…
Of course they say it’s not worth a risk if they fall on it! The quad is a masculine jump. It’s a matter of being a man. I don’t want to say that is a macho element or that you need extra muscles for this jump. No, it’s not about the muscles, it’s about the courage to train it, about the courage to include it in your programs and then, when it comes to competition, to show it the others. Nobunari Oda said on the press conference here in Paris that he chose not to try the quad because he had troubles with it at practice. I also struggled with the quad at the practice, but in my program I still tried it. On the other hand, I don’t think the quad is the alpha and the omega of skating and I would never say Nobu didn’t deserve the victory because he didn’t have a quad. I know figure skating is not only jumping. But I expect that if I perform a complete program, with choreography, steps, spins, flawless triples PLUS a quad, I will get a suitable score. Personally I like the quad jump and I think the audience loves it, too. It adds a lot of prestige to the competition. What it would have been to watch the rivalry between Yagudin and Plushenko without a quad?! Who would have watched it? Triple axel was for them something automatic, like a waltz jump, their battle was about who would land a quad and who would land two. Yagudin had never done a quad-triple-double combination before the Games in Salt Lake City but he landed it there, because he wanted to use Plushenko’s own weapon against him. So even though a program without a quad can be really nice and entertaining, it lacks the excitement a quad adds to a program. The audience won’t go crazy watching a triple loop. But a quad toe-triple toe… That is something really different! (smiles)
You have two new programs this year. They both tell a story, but two totally different stories: Zorba the Greek and Godfather. If there is not only music but also a story, does it help you to interpret the program better?
During my programs I see and hear the audience, I notice the banners and the flags and I’m really really grateful for their support. It is wonderful to feel like home in France. But down on the ice I’m alone. Nobody is there with me but Zorba and Michael Corleone. I become them, and all at once there are also the other characters of the movie with me. If I didn’t say, nobody would know that the kicking movement in my Zorba SP means that I kick in the ass Bobulina, Zorba’s friend, but it helps me to imagine the supporting characters because then I’m not so alone on the ice. They help me to feel into my role much better. In the Godfather program there is death, my wife dies, I’m sad, I’m angry, I have to put my heart into it, then energy, adrenaline… This helps me a lot.
You were asked in the mixed zone who would be on the podium at the Olympics and you said: Petrenko, Urmanov, Sabovčík. Was this response already prepared or you made it up just at that moment?
It was just the moment because I really don’t like such questions. How can I know? How can anybody know? Who would have thought of Evan Lysacek as a possible world champion last year? But he was great and he won. Now there are some skaters returning… But I don’t care about the others. I know just one thing: on 16th February I will be Zorba the Greek and on 18th February I will be Michael Corleone. But I would never try to guess the medallists.
What do you think about the comebacks? Not only concerning that they might be your rivals but also in general. Do you think it is good for them, good for the sport?
It’s okay if someone thinks they still need the adrenaline, the excitement of the competition, if they realize that shows and wild parties don’t make them satisfied… All right, let them come back, but I still think everyone has his own era and it ends once. And I don’t agree with comments like I heard after my silver medal at the Europeans: that there wasn’t Plushenko, neither Lambiel. So what if they weren’t there? There were other tough competitors. Anyways, if the returning skaters act by the rules I’m looking forward to the battles with them, but if they expect that they will get points just because of their name, then I will look at them with a little disrespect, because it’s not right to want to be rewarded only because you were an Olympic champion. It is a wonderful achievement but it’s history now.
Many skaters plan to end their career after the Olympic season. What about you? Have you also thought about this?
I still enjoy skating and as long as I feel great on the ice, I will skate.