Kevin van der Perren: "I always hoped that my last skate would be like this"
free program was one of the highlights of men's competition at the World
Championships in Nice. For the very last time as a competitive skater he
skated clean and landed all the jumps, and the crowd gave him a standing
ovation. The day after that free program Kevin van der Perren talked with
Absolute Skating about his future plans, competitive regrets and more.
Your free program in Nice was amazing. How did you manage to deliver such a performance?
I actually thought that I was going to do a clean short program as well, because I was in good shape. But I think I was too nervous in the short, and I had to skate last in the group, and that just kills me. So I was happy that I could skate my free program right away after the warm-up. It was better for me.
How did you feel on the ice? It was thrilling to be in the audience and watch you land every jump.
It was the first time in the season that I did everything right, so I was happy I was here for the last program I did.
Was this the farewell you wished for?
Yes. That's what I always hoped that my last skate would be like this. So, that's it. No more coming back!
Originally you planned to finish after Europeans, but you had to withdraw. How did you cope with it and when did you decide that you wanted to go to Worlds?
At first I was very mad. I didn't want to skate anymore. But already the day after the free program in Sheffield, I sent a text to my federation that if I can, I want to go to Worlds. I've skated for 21 years and I didn't want to stop with just a bow. At first they wanted to send the other guy, Jorik [Hendrickx]. The criteria were if I stopped after Europeans, then Jorik would go to Nice anyway, and another was that it depended on the result at Europeans. But I didn't have a result and he skated well, he was top ten. So at first they said: "We are going to send Jorik", and I said: "okay, it's fine, no problem". But four days later they called me: "We changed our decision and you'll go to Worlds". At first I was like: "Oh, no!" Because it had been a week and during that week I ate what I wanted, I drank what I wanted, I didn't go on the ice because I thought it was over. So suddenly I had to go back on the ice and I just worked really hard for about four weeks.
Did the federation tell you why they changed their mind?
No. I didn't talk to anyone when the decision of sending Jorik was made. I didn't call anyone in order to change it, I accepted it. I said: "well, that's their decision, I respect that, and Jorik is good". Then they changed their decision and I was happy to go. I wasn't like: "no, no, Jorik should go" and of course Jorik wasn't like: "no, no, Kevin should go…" But we are still good friends. I hope. He texted me after the free program that he was happy that I skated so well, so I hope nothing has changed. He's always been like my brother.
Have you talked with Jorik since this message from the federation came?
Not really. I was as a coach at the Coupe du Luxembourg and I saw him there and we talked for five minutes, but nothing about Worlds, just about everyday stuff. Well, he'll come to my show in a few weeks, so I think it's going to be fine.
Was your preparation for Worlds somehow special, knowing that it would be your last competition?
I did the preparation differently. The whole summer and autumn my coach pushed me to do whole programs and focus on components, components, components... But now I said: "this is going to be the last time. I just want to do all the jumps, that's all I care about". I almost didn't run through the program at all, I did parts, but no complete run-throughs and I just jumped, jumped, jumped four hours a day. I said: "I don't care if I die during the program, but I want to do all the jumps!"
The wrist injury you had at Europeans didn't hold you back?
It's still there as it's still swollen. The doctors told me as long as I won't rest it completely for a month, it won't get better. But I have this brace and it helps a little bit as long as I don't put a hand down or fall. But now I will set the quads a side and let my hand heal.
Did you have to skate through pain?
In the beginning it was hard, especially when I did spins and closed my hand, it pulled and hurt. But there was no other way…
You were here in Nice also in 2000; that was your first Worlds. What memories do you have of that event and how would you compare it to this competition?
My first thought was: "How old am I?" I can't really compare, because I don't remember anything. I was eighteen, and then you don't look around. I was just happy to be here, to watch Yagudin and Plushenko. Now it was different. I really came to skate well, I was prepared. In 2000 it was my first Worlds, but I wasn't ready. I couldn't do all the triples yet, but there was nobody else from Belgium back then. The thing I like about Nice is that it gives you that vacation feeling: palm trees and this weather; it's definitely better than Estonia, where it's minus fifteen.
This time men's competition started later in the week than usual. Did it affect you in any way?
No, because I just came later. Normally I always came on Sunday, now I didn't come until Tuesday night, so it didn't affect me. The only thing that affected me in the short program was that it was really early in the day. The practices were early, and at home I don't practice before twelve o'clock, and that's a completely different kind of day. I went to the practice of the short and it kind of disturbed me for the whole day. I felt stiff and tired. Before the free I told Silvie [de Rijcke, Kevin's coach] that I'm not going to go to the practice, I'm going to sleep, it's going to do me better. I'm happy that I didn't go.
Why did you choose the Man in the Iron Mask soundtrack for your free program?
My biggest example has always been Alexei Yagudin, and he still is. He skated to this music in 2002, and you have to let it rest for a few years, because people will always compare you. I always wanted to skate to it, but I decided that I'm going to do it in my last season.
Weren't you afraid that even ten years later people would compare you?
They will always compare. If somebody does Carmen, they will compare to Lysacek and Plushenko, on the other hand: it's called the Man in the Iron Mask, not Yagudin in the Iron Mask, so if you want to, you can use it!
The fighting character was probably very suitable for you, wasn't it?
I liked it, because it's masculine and expressive. The only disturbing thing was that I broke my costume last week, that's why I had to wear the one from last year's short. Usually I have a costume with black and brown [photo to the left], and this purple and black one [photo to the right] I wore in the end is not really suitable for the music.
What happened to your costume?
I don't want to say it, because people will laugh! I was going to the toilet, I wanted to lock the door and it just ripped off. Oh, no! I had my costumes made in England, and it happened on Friday, I had to leave on Tuesday, so there was no way to send it there and get it back in time.
Do you usually practice in your costume at home?
I do before competitions, just to prepare myself mentally. Because when I'm nervous, every small thing drives me crazy, that's why I practice a week before a competition wearing the costume; to get used to it.
Are you very nervous before a competition?
Most of the time I'm fine until I get to the rink. Then after the warm-up, I usually feel fine for about ten minutes, and then it all comes back. I like to skate early in the group, preferably first. Because it's like in practice: you do a warm-up, you do a program - same as every day. I really don't like when I have to wait.
What will you miss the most from competitive life?
The practices at competitions, because they are just fun. Being with the other guys. If you are used to being on the ice by yourself everyday, and then you come here and you share the ice with Brian Joubert, Michal Brezina, and so on, it's just fun. They give you the adrenalin and kind of a competition feeling, but still there are no judges. That's the only thing that I will actually miss. I will skate every day, because I still like skating, I've just really had enough competitions: that stress, traveling, hotels… I don't want that anymore. But I will skate every day.
You also mentioned that you will miss being with your coach.
It will be weird. Of course I will still see her, though she is not from my rink, but from another one, because she will still come every Friday with Ira [Vannut], the good Belgian girl. But it will be weird that I will skate on my own now, with nobody checking you, helping you, telling you what to do. Even if she's there, she won't guide me.
What are your plans for your after-competitive life? You have a show called "Ice Fantillusion"…
Yes, that's going to be at the end of April. And that's a lots of work. Originally I thought I would finish after Europeans, and I still had my topsport contract in February and March, so I was paid, that's why I planned that I can do 24 hours a day for the show and get all the things done… But things changed, I couldn't do anything in February and March and now I'm stuck with everything, so it's going to be long days and nights of work. And starting April 2nd I'm also a full-time coach at my rink.
Do you teach little children or do you have some senior competitors as well?
The Belgian junior champion is a student of ours, she'll go to Junior Grand Prix, so I'll be back to competitions already. And we have a very good ten-year-old girl. If she keeps it up, she could be something for future Europeans and Worlds. But we also have older students, like 21 year olds. But it's not my number one job choice to be a coach; I don't have the patience and I get frustrated if something doesn't work. I'd like to go back to school to become a gym teacher. But it's four years of education without any income, and Jenna [McCorkell, a British skater and Kevin's wife] doesn't really have an income… I'll see, maybe it's possible to do evening classes, because that's what I really want to do.
What kind of coach are you?
I'm very friendly; the students are like my kids. It's funny, because when Jenna's there, they do everything they have to do. But when she's gone, it's always a party. They are standing in a corner talking, they don't want to do jumps and I'm too soft. Jenna can be really strict with them, she says: "now you're going to do that and that's it!" While I just say: "okay, you don't feel like spinning, all right, let's do something else". But it will probably change from now on.
Putting together and practice for an Ice Fantillusion demonstration
Looking back on your career, what were the highlights for you?
My short program at the Olympics in 2002, because that's when it really started for me. After that I got financial support from the government, so it made things a lot easier. My parents always paid everything until then and they said: "look, we give you one more year to get to the Olympics, and then you can quit because we can't pay anymore". So suddenly I got everything I ever wanted, and that was great. And then the free program in Nice, because after the short program there were already voices that they should have sent Jorik, bla bla. It was a lot of stress: you have the stress because it's your last competition, you have the stress of the competition itself, you have the stress because everybody skates so well, you have stress on yourself and you still have the stress like "I have to skate well because otherwise they will say they should have sent the other one". So, it was quite hard.
Were there moments in your career when you thought you should stop? When you were really down?
2010 and 2011 were bad. It all went fine until the summer before the Olympics, then I injured my Achilles and couldn't train all summer. I basically started preparing for the Olympics in October, and the Olympics were in February. That was bad but Worlds were good. All of last season, except the Worlds, were bad as well. This year the Skate Canada was bad, I was sick there. And somehow it wasn't like before, when I just went out and skated well. The last two years it wasn't the case anymore. It's hard to cope with, if you are used to always skating well and then not so much...
Do you know the reasons why it happened?
It was partly because of the injuries, but mainly because before I skated just for myself, but in 2010 it changed mentally. I told myself that I have to skate well because otherwise the newspapers' and the people's reaction will be bad. That's when it went wrong.
Do you follow what the media writes about you?
With the introduction of facebook you can't really miss it anymore. Before that I never used to read the articles. Now it's just there in your face when you turn on the computer.
And did it make you nervous if they were negative?
It just made me precautious, that I cannot screw up… And of course then you screw up. Moreover, I had lots of injuries in the last couple of years. At first I had my hip surgery, then it was the knee, then my Achilles - there was always something!
Was there any practice in the last couple of years when you weren't hurt?
From December 2010 till last December I was absolutely fine. No problems at all.
At Europeans it seemed that even though you were injured, you still really wanted to skate.
Yes. The injury happened after the short program. Actually I fell in the short program, but it was okay. Then I fell during practice the day after the short, and it was really painful. I got an injection [pain killer] before the warm-up for the free. I was first to skate after the warm-up, and the first half of the warm-up I didn't feel any pain, so I thought I'd be fine. But suddenly my hand got warm and numb and I couldn't feel it, it became so heavy. I had to decide: Am I going to skate with single jumps or am I just not going to skate at all? I decided to withdraw, because what's the point in skating with singles? It was a hard decision, but I just thought it is stupid to be 20th at Europeans.
I read a comment from Brian Joubert, who was next to skate after
you, that you let him know that you might withdraw, so he could prepare
Before the warm-up I went to his coach and said that there is a possibility I might not skate, because I'm injured. I have known Brian for so many years and always had a very good connection with him. I think it was only fair. If it wouldn't have been Brian, I would have said it as well; I think it's only normal. I wouldn't like to be in the same situation, so it's only normal you don't do it to others.
What is your relationship with the other skaters?
I'm friends with everybody; I don't have problems with anyone. It's fine. On the ice we are competitors but off ice it's life. What's the point in being enemies?
If you could change anything in your career, what would you change? Or you have no regrets?
Oh, I have lots of regrets. I wouldn't have left Nikolai [Morozov, Kevin's former coach] so fast, I probably should have stayed for another year or two. That's my biggest regret. In the last couple of years it was always components that cost me medals. I was there at the time when he just started, and choreographically he was the best, but technically he wasn't that good. I always lost my Axel and my quad when I went there, and if I spent long periods there, it went even worse… Then I just made the decision, I felt that I'm not making technical progress anymore, but for the components it would have been much better to stay.
What do you think about the current judging system?
I hate it. Lately it's just all about the components. Before if you did a quad and a triple Axel and did everything clean, you would be near the podium. And now if they decide to give somebody twenty points more on the components, they do! Okay, that's their opinion, but I think there's too much weight on the components. They shouldn't let them rule the competition. I think they should cut half off the components, they are too decisive. The technique should still be the primary aspect of the sport, because otherwise let's bring in the spotlights and it's a show. If the components weren't rated so highly, you would see very different results.
You started to skate because you wanted to skate in a show.
Yeah, I wanted to be in Disney on Ice.
Now you have your own show, "Ice Fantillusion". How did you come up with the idea?
When I came back from America in 2004, the club asked me if I can help them with a show. I said yes. Then every year I was a bit more involved, I had ideas, let's do this, let's do that. Then the club said that they can't do it anymore, because it's too big a money risk, so I said I'll still help you with the show, but I'll do my own show as well.
What about this year's show?
It's the fifth show, so it's all about celebrations, like Halloween, Christmas, and so on, all through the year. I hope it will be good, there is not so much time left to prepare, we will see. There is so much work on the backgrounds, because me and Jenna make everything ourselves. She makes the costumes now, so it's going to be a busy month. I'll have some shows in between, Jenna has commercial things in England in between, we have a competition of our students in between, so I really don't know when we will do all this work. I think we're going to ask for a lot of favours from friends and family.
Your wife, Jenna is also a skater. Does it help at the competitions?
It's just easy when you have the same life. I had plenty of relationships before, and it's not that people who are not involved in skating sometimes can't understand that I have to train and can't go anywhere. It's not that. It's understanding skating life. If you see judges, you can't slouch, you have to walk straight and such things. Plus when she has had a bad practice I know to leave her alone, and she knows that for me, and you know how the other one feels.
How do you see the future of skating in Belgium?
Jorik is good, Ira is good. And after them… I don't know. I have no idea.
What's the approach of the federation?
It's better now. It used to be all volunteer work, but now they have some full-time people on it. But there are still some gaps and mistakes. I will tell them I can help them, because I know how it works from my own experience. I will try to help, if they don't want it, okay, it means less work for me, but I still do want to try, for my own skaters as well. So that when they grow up, they'll have it a lot easier.
Let's hope that that wish will come true.
Kevin said goodbye to his competitive career with a great farewell skate, and after such a long career, he will surely be missed at the competitions. We wish him all the best with his future endeavors and we will be certain not to miss the Ice Fantillusion: Celebrations shows that are taking place April 27-29.
Check out www.icefantillusion.com for more details on the show.
Ice Fantillusion: Fantasy
Ira Vannut, Sasha Lanser, Susanna Bureiko, Ellen Mareels, Kaat van Daele, Jenna McCorkell, Kirana Noerens
Ryan Stillwell, Alex Wilde, Kevin Van Der Perren, Jelle Butzen, Jorik Hendrickx