Tom√°Ň° Verner: "My home is where my skates are"

December 18, 2013
By Emilie Korsakova
Photos © Emilie Korsakova, Joy, Caroline Paré

Tom√°Ň° Verner's sportive career was shadowed by bad fortune for the last two years. In his final season he wants to show that he can skate at a high level again, and his results are already proving it. We met with Tom√°Ň° at the Cote d'Azur after he won the Cup of Nice. It is already Tom√°Ň°'s second gold medal this season.

Tom√°Ň°, I congratulate you on your victory and good results. Now we can say that your results are showing that Tom√°Ň° has returned. 

You might say that, but in fact I was never gone. The only difference between now and before is that now I'm slowly starting to perform up to the standard I set in practice. The past two seasons it was still me, but I couldn't perform in competition. I am very pleased with my skating at Cup of Nice. I made mistakes, but in general I left the best of me on the ice and that is what matters.

You made some changes this summer and we're seeing the results now. Tell us about returning to your old coach.

I have found a great working team in Toronto, with my new head coach Bob Emerson. Working with Bob was a great experience and it has shown me in my practice that I have a lot of potential. However after the first successful season I injured my back during summer preparation and ever since that injury I wasn't able to get back into the same shape as previous years. My physical condition strongly influenced my mental condition and my self confidence. If I was going to skate one more year after last Worlds, I needed a change. I was looking for a complex environment with a great coach, great skating facility, access to excellent medical support, a chance to go back to school (MBA program at University in Prague) and last but not least I needed to get closer to my mental coach.

Long story short, I asked Mr. Huth if he would accept me back as his student and he agreed. This was the most important change and the rest of the big changes simply followed. Now I have very complex care, great coach, great ice rink, excellent medical support, I am back to school plus my mental coach is only few hours away from me. Everything that you see came from this move.

Tell us about your new programs.
I am satisfied with my performance in the short program here.This short program is just like me: happy, silly and funny. Sometimes I have a little room to improvise, but not a lot since Lori Nichol's choreography is already at the highest level.The moment I heard "Dueling Banjos" for the first time in Lori's car (about one year ago) I knew right away that this would be my next short program. Lori's thinking was more in the direction of exhibition, but when we finished working on that short program I could see how happy Lori was to make it a competitive program.
I had already used the music for my long program in 2008. I love this music. The program is very good. I changed the costume, all the steps, but the "skeleton" is more or less the same. I added some jumps to make it technically more challenging and to increase the base value of the program.
I was able to manage to land two quads today. That made my day, because the last time I did so in competition was at Worlds in 2007.

Well, the audience always loved you.
To tell the truth, I had already forgotten what that felt like. I haven't felt any pleasure from skating for the past two years; skating felt more like work than something that brings me pleasure. In the first two competitions of this season I started to feel the audience again. I felt their love so I gave them my heart in return. It is truly magnificent to perform for somebody who enjoys watching you. THANK YOU FOR YOUR LOVE!!!

Where do you plan to compete next this season?
At Winter Universiade in Trento (8-15 of December). Then there is a National Championship, where I have to pick up my ticket to the Olympics, then the European Championship, and then there is SOCHI!

Don't you think about Sochi now?
No, it is very important not to think about Sochi at all now. As you know, you have to learn how to stand and walk before you can run. I have a lot of work to do. After the last two years my self-confidence and self-esteem were below zero. Now I have to recover step by step as if climbing a ladder. That is why I try to take my road to Sochi step by step. There are yet so many steps to make before I can even start to think about Sochi.

You are one of a few skaters still competing who also competed under the old judging system; you're in this sport for a long time.

Thank you for reminding me of that (smiles) Yes, you are right. I've competed for a very long time; I have competed at Worlds in 2002. As much as it hurts sometimes, I still enjoy my life as a figure skater. There are so many things that I have discovered thanks to figure skating, on and off the ice. It has been a long journey filed with joy, happiness and of course some tears, but no regrets. In Sochi this journey will find its end and I will retire from competitive ice.

So you don't like this life anymore now?

I love my life. Life is an incredible gift. We all should live our lives to the fullest and this is exactly what I do.

What was your motivation for skating so many years? What is skating for you?

It is very hard to find the reasons that kept me skating for the past two years. The only goal and motivation that I have at the moment is to stand on what I said earlier: "Live with no regrets." I know for a fact that I would regret leaving the ice the way I did at the last Worlds in London. Medals are important, but far more then medals I cherish good memories and moments of happiness. I want to finish my skating career on a good note and walk from the ice with my head up.

Is figure skating your life, the most important thing for you, or is there something else as serious as figure skating?
All my life I tried to do also something else in addition to figure skating.  I never wanted to put figure skating on the top of the list by itself. Figure skating is indeed on the top of my list, because I love it and I take it very seriously, also I have spent most of my life at the ice rink. There was always enough space to put education next to skating. I love to go to school and I take school seriously as well. After all, my days on the ice are almost over and I have to think about my future. If I shall be honest with you the top of the list has three spots, and the last spot is my passion: good food!!!

You have visited lots of countries in your life, what is your favorite one?
I think that the place is not as important as the people, the team you work with, and the people you meet. If I am around great people it does not matter where I am. It is the company, the people that count. Nice, Moscow, Prague, Toronto, Bratislava… you name it and I'll find enough great people living there to make it the best place on Earth. But the most beautiful city of all is Prague. I was born in the Czech Republic so this is where I feel at home. Nevertheless, people are always more important than the places where you meet them.

Where is home for you?
Of course my home is where my parents live. It's a big house and I have my own room there. My parents are always glad to see me. But I don't spend much time there, so it's important for me to feel at home at whichever place I am staying for the most time.  That's why now my "home" is Oberstdorf. My home is where my skates are (smiles). 

This means that now Nice is your home?
I have skates in Oberstdorf too (laughs). During the last few days Nice has become my home. Nice is a beautiful city, but I have to repeat myself now. It was the audience and the organizing committee that made the difference and made me feel at home for those few days.

Do you have superstitions?

Yes, I have. Before the competition I always put on my left skate first, and then the right one. Sometimes while training I put on the right one first and then check the difference.

Is there any?

No difference (laughs). But anyway I put on the left one first at a competition.

Is it possible to have friends in sport? What do you think?

The more I skate the more friends I have. It is easy for me to make friends. I love company and I enjoy being around my skating friends.

Do you have friends who are not from skating?

I do have tons of friends outside the skating world. It keeps me sane. As much as I enjoy the company of my skating friends, it is wonderful to meet people who have absolutely no idea what a Salchow or counter turn is. We can talk about cars, books, politics (not my favorite topic), women and so on.

What about movies, music?

I love movies. Too bad I have seen most of the recent movies already (smiles) I used to live in Toronto for the past three years. There is a special chain of movie theatres, and every Tuesday those theatres offer half priced tickets for any movie. This was a good enough reason to get together with a bunch of my friends and spend every Tuesday night at the movie theatre. Besides movies I also love popcorn; what a shame that Canadians don't serve sweet popcorn...
Music... I can't live without music. When I bike to the rink I listen to my favorite music, when I warm up I listen to the music, on the ice I listen to the music. Music is everywhere I go... I only wish I could play an instrument. My good friend, Polish national champion Patrick Myzyk, tried to teach me how to play bass guitar. I learned the basics, but I never had the time to step it up and create a band (smiles).

Talking about popcorn… Very often we see photos where figure skaters are enjoying Coca- Cola and burgers, so what do you think about healthy food?

People and athletes even more so should pay attention to what they eat. I don't believe that there is one diet for everyone. There is not only one way to build your menu. I don't drink Coke any more, but there were times when used to. I try to make my diet as diverse as I can. Lots of veggies, fruits, meat, pasta, bread and so on. Most of the time I eat whatever I feel like eating. I have only guide lines about when and how many proteins, carbohydrates, mono and poly saccharides I shall eat during the day. The rest is up to me to choose.

So your favorite food is soup?

I wouldn't call it my favorite food of all, but I love soup in general. I come from the Czech Republic and soups have a strong place in our cuisine and culture. It is hard to imagine a lunch without soup for me. There is this restaurant in Moscow called Soup Cafe. This is one of my most favorite restaurants in the World. They have all kinds of soup, even a strawberry one!!!

Do you have a particular family holiday when all the family meets?

My entire family comes together for Christmas. However, for the past five years I have been taking part in Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas's show in Lithuania. This year I decided not to take part in that wonderful show and stay home with family instead. I am very much looking forward to being home for Christmas after having been away for a long while.

Now you live far away from your family, is it hard?

I love my family dearly. Their well being is extremely important to me. Once I know all my family is doing well I can fully focus on my skating. In all those years when I was away I have learnt how to deal with being apart from my loved ones. I left my parent's house when I was 12 and I was on my own ever since.

Do you think about having your own family?

In general? Yes, I think about having my own family, two or three kids. But as for now I can't go that far in my thoughts. I told you, I have to take everything step by step.

Going back to figure skating, you are an example of a figure skater who creates really cool exhibition programs.

When people come to a gala they have already seen the short and long programs. And when they see the skater performing they should understand from the very beginning that what they see is not a competition program. In the case that you chose serious music, the exhibition program should look like those of Stéphane Lambiel and Carolina Kostner, where you can clearly see the artistry. Only they can do that. Also maybe Jeremy Abbott and Daisuke Takahashi can use serious music for their exhibitions and skate to it, but no one else. All of the rest of us should take something that speaks from our heart, something that will make the audience want to come to see the gala one more time. The audience should discover something that they haven't seen during the competition.
Evgeny Plushenko took exhibition programs to a new level with his "Sexbomb". It was shown on every channel in the world.  He showed what you can do in galas, which is not just skating your programs from the competitions. I try to present more of myself to the audience; I try to entertain them because this is the reason why they come to ice show.

Do you have a favorite program of yours?

Yes, I have one. It is a long program that I skated in 2007, "Requiem for a Dream". (in photo)
I wanted to use this music again for my new program this season, but Rostislav Sinicyn, who I worked with, suggested something else. Instead of making another new program, for which I didn't really have the time since I started the season very late, he suggested to go with something from my past which would be in great contrast to the new short program.
We agreed on rearranging the 2008 tango.

Do you have favorite programs of other skaters?

Yes, I have. There are two or three programs. One of them is Alexei Yagudin's program "The Man with the Iron Mask", also Evgeny Plushenko's long program from the European Championships in 2001, and Daisuke Takahashi's long program at the Olympic Games 2010. These are my three favorite programs of all time.

So you are interested in what other skaters are doing?
Yes, a little bit. (smiles)

If not a figure skater what would you be?

I would be a football player for certain, 100%. I used to play football until I was about 12 and then I had to make a final decision between the ice rink and the football field. I believe I made the good decision (smiles)

Tom√°Ň° had planned to skate at the Universiade and the Golden Skate Awards, but due to a minor back injury it was better to have some rest. He fully intends to still compete at Czech Nationals. which will start in 2 days, December 20. Good luck Tom√°Ň°!





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