Valentina Marchei and Ondřej Hotárek: "The key word is trust"

March 22, 2015
By Titanilla Bőd (Új Szó)
Photos © Joy Geurts

At first it sounded like a joke... Valentina Marchei is switching to pairs and skating with European medalist Ondřej Hotárek?
However, at the Europeans in Stockholm, nobody thought they were kidding.
The newly formed pair placed 4th with impressive, enthusiastic performances.

Skate your heart out

"The mindset is always the same: go out there and skate our hearts out," they commented on their programs at the Europeans. "Technically we have so much to work on, so the goal was to do the few things we can do, in the best way we can. Some might have said: 'Oh, they found themselves fourth.' But no, it was not a coincidence. That's how we skate, that's what we can do. In the long program we had a maximum of one mistake in practice and this one mistake came out," Valentina stated.
Ondřej continued: "It really depends on the percentage at practice. We still couldn't consistently do clean programs, especially the long. The focus is on twelve elements in less than five minutes. We are really happy, because that is what we came here for: to show that we have skills, that we have good presentation and to be noticed; to leave our business card."

Mistakes are okay

They started the long program with a spectacular side by side Lutz. "We wanted to do the Lutz so much. We said it right at the beginning, when creating the program: the Lutz is the first element. If it works, it's good, if it doesn't work, then we just clean up and start from zero. It happened in practice that one or both of us would miss it and we were able to do a clean long program even with missing the first jump," Ondřej said.
Even though they missed the combination in the long program, it didn't affect the rest of their performance. "It was a mistake and it can happen. The good thing is allowing oneself to make mistakes. If you do this, you accept a mistake even if it happens in the middle of the program, as if it is part of it. In the past, at some moments I felt: "I want to skate clean because I'm able to!" But then we had Robin Cousins close to us and he said: "Vale, you have to allow yourself to make mistakes, because you are too hard on yourself." This really helped. Anyway, even without the mistake it wouldn't change anything," Valentina worded her opinion.

Jumping on a train

The fourth place made them very happy. "I would have probably signed a contract if they had told me six months ago I would skate like this at Europeans... at Europeans!" Vale cried out of joy in the mixed zone when the competition was over.
It is still unclear why Ondřej split up with his former partner Stefania Berton, but in Stockholm nobody wanted to discuss this. People were amazed by the major debut of Valentina and Ondřej. "There was no particular reason, as for the best things in life. Sometimes there is a train that comes in and you jump on. I knew I could jump on, but also that I could jump off if it didn't work out. It started as a game and we loved it, I never wanted to jump off. It really started in a playful way, because he wanted to keep in shape and I said, OK, let's do lifts together," Valentina explained the beginning.

"Where is he?"

At first she thought she would continue in singles as well. "The idea was, at the beginning, to learn pairs and keep doing the singles, because I love it so much. I also had the Grand Prix events. So I didn't want to give up after the good season I had last year. At the beginning practicing pairs was just to do shows or stuff like that, but then it was something that got to me. It's crazy. I still do single programs at shows, but it is strange, I'm looking around, where is he? I feel like a part of me is gone," Valentina told the press about her feelings on ice with a partner.
In Stockholm they enchanted the audience mainly with their performance and interpretation. They are both great performers, so even though they still have to learn some more difficult pair elements, such as the triple twist, their programs are 'complete' and don't lack anything.
"When you put elements in the program which you are not 100% sure of, you are losing on the performance. With the triple twist, the performance would be too closed in, too focused and stressed. A triple twist is also dangerous. All the other elements are less dangerous, the twist is something you need time for. You don't put it together in a couple of weeks. Maybe we will try it at Worlds, we will see," Ondřej said about this crucial element.

Skating or kickboxing?

Learning pair elements was not easy for Valentina. "Our secret is that I'm not afraid because I trust. We've had bad falls but he always saved me first and hurt himself. Sometimes it was really bad. He would go home to his girlfriend Anna [Capellini, ice dancer] and she would ask: "Do you skate with Vale or do you do kick boxing?" Sometimes he goes home with a black eye. But I also discovered bruises...and triceps! I didn't even know where they were. My body changed completely. Some people say I look skinnier than when I was a single skater, but I weigh more, because of the new muscles I've developed," Valentina said.
It is also strange for her that she doesn't practice as much as before: "I used to skate way more when I was a single skater. But now, for example, we do lifts. For him it is tiresome to lift me, but I'm just smiling up there and don't do anything. So when the practice is over, I say: "Franca [Bianconi, their coach], are you sure, we skated just three hours?!" Then I realize that for Ondřej it must have been enough." Her partner underlines that safety is the main priority, both at practice and in competition: "In single skating you don't fall from a big height, but in pairs, if you don't focus, or you are a bit tired, it can go wrong in a split second. The girl is much higher up; it's usually her who gets hurt. So we always protect the girl. You have to be clever. It's hard to practice pairs, but it's a little bit easier to perform, because once everything is ready, you just go and have fun," Ondřej said.

"Don't cry now!"

The pair learned the elements step by step, they didn't rush anything, because for Valentina pair skating was completely new and she had to think about lots of details. "Having an injury five weeks after we started was the key point," she confessed. "Then we understood we couldn't just go and start doing throws. We took a step back," Ondřej added.
Before the Europeans, however, they had to push themselves. It wasn't a walk through a rose garden, as Valentina described: "It was the first time that we had to push a little bit in the practice, because we had only four weeks. It was horrible, because one day one of us is tired, the next day, the other one is tired, and one day you feel like a bag of potatoes and he feels it, but he doesn't tell you because he is nice, but I feel it. It's so different from singles, there you can just turn to the wall and cry, but now, sometimes I cry and he comes over and says: Don't cry! Don't cry now!"

Not teacher and pupil

Even though Ondřej is the more experienced pair skater, (his best result was a bronze medal at the 2013 Europeans with his former partner Stefania Berton), they agreed at the very beginning that there was no teacher-pupil relationship between them. However, this kind of relationship appears in their long program, La Strada. "The characters are a bad teacher and a pupil, a girl, who is a little bit scared and everything is new for her. We found ourselves in this program, and we like the funny way of interpreting it. I'd never seen the movie and as we are skating to the music, I wanted to watch it. I could see the personality of Zampano in some of my words at practice, when I tell Vale: "Not this way, you have to go the other direction!" In a funny way, it helps us a lot in our long program, because the characters are very similar to ours. I try not to be mean to her," Ondřej said and Vale cut into the conversation: "No, he is never mean!"

The hand is always there

Even though Valentina is afraid of heights, she feels safe during lifts. "I fly, finally. It's as if your stomach was up in your throat. It's beautiful... I mean, it's not beautiful, but it still is in some way. I'm someone who is afraid of heights, but I trust Ondřej totally. I know he would catch me, I know it's always controlled. He feels how I am, so sometimes he throws me less. We tried everything off the ice, many times. So when it was on the ice, I was happy that we could do it on the ice," she told the press about their practices.
Ondřej talks about his partner with great respect and admiration. "Sometimes if you want to see if the girl can do it, you have to put her in front of the challenge. The point when I understood Vale could do it was when we tried the reverse lasso lift. During this element you have to lean back without seeing anything and you just have to hope there's going to be a second hand. You can see how much courage you need to do this."
"The hand was always there," said Valentina with determination. She doesn't think she is extremely brave. "Trust is there. Courage? Well, sometimes... but there are times when he has to tell me during the program: Look at me, Vale, look at me!"
"But you can force courage through exercises", Ondřej is convinced.
Valentina summed it up: "I think the key is trust, trusting him on and off the ice. The limits are just in the eyes of people watching. Not in ours."

New inspiration

"When we started, no one believed in us. We are not the kind of people to say: 'Hey, do you believe it now?', but we knew that it was coming. That's what makes me excited about it: that this is just the beginning. It doesn't matter how many medals we win or if we win at all. What matters is how much fun we have out there. This is the skating I dreamt about for so many years. It's more emotional than skating singles, because you share the experience. In singles it's just you and you. It's so egoistic at some level. I don't regret anything. I wouldn't change a thing, never. It's just the beginning of the second part of my career. It's a second chapter," Valentina shared her feelings with the press and Ondřej just nodded: "It's a new inspiration, definitely."


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