Angelo Dolfini: "You should enjoy what you watch"

December 20, 2022
By Anna Kellar
Photo © Anna Kellar, Judith Dombrowski, Liza B.

As a skater, Angelo Dolfini is a four-time Italian champion, between 1999 and 2003, and participated in the 2002 Olympics. Now Angelo coaches at the Skating School of Switzerland alongside head coach Stéphane Lambiel. He also has been a regular commentator for Eurosport Italy. I caught up with him by Zoom from his home in Champéry.
In part one of our talk, Angelo shared about his work with Koshiro Shimada, Deniss Vasiljevs and Shoma Uno and how he came to teach in Champéry. In part two, we go more in depth on his opinions about the sport and his assessment of Deniss' cooking!

I read an older interview with you from when you were competing, and you said that you wouldn't stay in the sport after you retired. What changed your mind?

Good question! I was studying at university, and I felt like I wanted to do something with that. But when I quit competing, I was still finishing my studies and I started coaching just to get some spare money. And then I don't know, I guess I liked it.

What's your favorite part of coaching? Do you like working with certain types of skaters or is there a particular part of the process you enjoy most?

I like very much to help developing young skaters, to see their progress through time. When it comes to working with big champions like we have here in Champéry, it's a totally different job. Of course, I love it because I like skating and just watching them is amazing. You can also really experiment, and you can learn. What I find very, very inspiring here is that for us, coaches, we can see and talk and develop our knowledge through the feedback of those skaters that have this sensitivity to the technique, and then give different feedback to the young skaters and help them find the path. That's very, very, very motivating.

I also like the fact that we try to help them develop their own personality on the ice, their way to express themselves. That's something that is even more important than the technique. Of course, I love the technique, I like to do the skating skills and the jumps and proper spins, but to see that they can really work on something and then show it in a competition, expressing themselves, giving something... that's really pleasant, and I like it very much.(Pictured, Angelo with Marta Helena Prangel, right, and Maria Eliise Kaljuvere, below, of Estonia, at Latvia Trophy 2022).

Will you do commentary this year for Eurosport?

I don't know. We found a solution last season for the Olympics. We've worked together a lot, me and Massimiliano (Ambesi), the main Eurosport commentator, and we wanted to do it again if possible. So, I was doing it from Champéry. It's a bit complicated, but it's doable. I like it very much, but now it's getting harder and harder and especially commentating on the kids that you work with - the kids, the guys, the boys, the men! - that you work with, it's not always easy. In a way, as I commentate in Italy, I feel less biased... We get emotional anyway, me and Massimiliano, even with skaters that we don't know! I remember when Aljona (Savchenko) won the Olympics, it was really something!

I am in contact with Massimiliano, we will see if we can do something for Worlds, for Europeans, we will see. But it's also complicated, because now even if I'm not going to the competition with a student, then I need to be here with the other students. When I was working in another environment, I could leave one week during Europeans and the other coaches could take care of the skaters, no problem, but now I am the other coach! I was very grateful to Christopher who allowed me to do it for Olympics and for Worlds, because it was great, I like it very much. But I see it's hard, and anyway, my main job is coaching. So, this comes first and then if I have the opportunity again to step up and help Max and Eurosport, I'm happy.

I noticed in your commentary, you are very particular about some kinds of technique, like noting pre-rotation or the flat blade takeoff. Do you think there should be more rules to penalize issues with takeoff?

It's a hard question. I don't want to say we started it, but me and Massimiliano, we had an opportunity during the Pyeongchang Olympics to work with this technology where we could see the slow motion of the foot and the takeoff. We could really see the difference between the skaters. We showed the quad Lutz of Jin Boyang, of (Dmitri) Aliev, and someone else... The edge was also very clear and at that point I was really thinking something should be done with the rules.

There was a change, because now it's clearly stated that [takeoff errors] should be reflected by the judges in negative GOE. But the judges are not in the position to see these errors because the judges haven't got the review with super slow motion. They must review all the elements and give the components, so it's not possible for them [to take the time]. Either it's obvious, or they cannot catch it. The [technical] specialist can see the error, but then what does it mean? Should it be downgraded? They can downgrade the toe loop based on the take-off. Should we do the same for the flip and the Lutz?

I see when something is off, wrong, and I don't like that. I think it's not the proper technique, wrong, not because I'm Angelo Dolfini, but because it shouldn't be like this in the books. We should be able to give more precise feedback on that and to give full value to the jumps that are correct. I still am very uncomfortable because some jumps are really not the way they should be. Especially if we see that this is the world record, this is disappointing. So, there is something off, but if you asked me for a solution, I'm thinking about it, and it's hard to say. Where do you draw the line? I'm not so comfortable doing that.

It's hard to get an accurate reading, and the judging is not only about exactly where the blade is on the ice, but also how that makes the whole jump look.

Sometimes this is just a matter of the quickness of the reaction of the skater. They basically do the same thing, but one that is quicker is nice to see and one that is slower is not nice to see. But the technique is not so different. Of course, I would like to see a toe pick on a toe jump, and I would like to see a proper edge, and I know what a proper edge is. But even on the wrong edge, sometimes I see things that do not add up at all, we see that the inclination of the ankle is correct and maybe the direction is not. It's true that we have specialists, and they should be able to see. But it's not always so easy and everyone has a different view a little bit. We also have a problem, and I understand why, of consistency [in edge calls] throughout the competition. If it's not consistent during the same competition that will be a problem. But even if there is no consistency throughout the different competitions, that's also a problem. (On the right: Angelo works with Koshiro Shimada of Japan).

I do wonder if eventually we'll get to a point where there will be more technology to help the technical panel, more cameras or better resolution or something.

Sure. And yet, you should enjoy what you watch. I understand what you're saying, and of course when I did this work on the TV with a super slow motion, it was very clear, and we could explain very clearly what we were seeing, it was amazing. But at the end of the day, I want to see a beautiful jump, and if I need all this technology to realize what's what... For the regular viewer, it makes no sense if you cannot see the difference with the eye. I think the way is to really educate the judges to tell what technique is good, and then leave it to the GOEs, maybe it would be better.

The technical panel could have multiple camera angles, but if they stop and do a review from multiple angles for everyone's jumps, it will take forever, and that's not good either.

It takes too long sometimes. And it's hard for the people to understand. If you see a score that doesn't reflect what the people saw, that's also problem.

Even with under rotations, is the average viewer going to notice them? And then when you see someone's score drop so much...

It's like, "what the hell?"

It's a matter of educating the audience too.

Educating the audience is important, but for instance, if you ask me, the "q" should be canceled, tomorrow. Especially when you see a beautiful jump, perfectly executed with a beautiful glide, and then you've got a "q" and the minuses in GOE. I need to penalize the mistakes, and I need to find out if someone is cheating. But [to penalize a jump] that is beautiful and nice to watch? For a quarter? It makes no sense to me. You're penalizing someone who did a good thing. That's crazy. It's really not worth it. When you have clearly missing rotation, you'll see it. If there was a mistake, if you're good and have trained eyes, you can see that something is off. Then you penalize it, but if you cannot even see. We are lost in details sometimes because we are losing the sense of the program. When you watch it live, you feel it even more, the performance, the energy that the skater gave, that's what counts the most. Then if a jump was on the quarter, does it make a real difference? Not to me.

You participated in a meeting for the Centers of Excellence, in Bergamo. What is going to happen next for collaborations among the centers?

I think there's a great potential there. We have a core of six Centers of Excellence right now. The center in Beijing is a little bit more disconnected because it's harder to reach. But the core of the three Centers of Excellence in Europe that are also very close geographically is very good. I feel like we have a great connection with Oberstdorf and with Bergamo. Of course, Detroit is a great opportunity and it's in North America and then Bangkok, they're doing a terrific job in developing figure skating in a country that has basically no history.

We are coming to a point where we can define the role that we want to have inside the ISU. We will try to focus on the development of figure skating in underdeveloped countries (regarding figure skating), to have more and more countries that are able to produce and develop international-level skaters. Personally, I think we should focus on the novice and junior categories, but we will see. (On the left: Angelo works with Liubov Zholobova of Ukraine) Of course, Bangkok is very focused on this, but we will try to also open our centers in Europe and in the US to other countries that need it and try to develop their skaters and coaches, so that we can have long-term development programs in their own countries. We were supposed to host some Vietnamese skaters in Champéry for instance, then, with all the difficulties with visas and COVID it was not possible, but that is something we are willing to do again, maybe even with other countries. There will probably be the possibility to have visiting coaches, our coaches going to other countries to give some seminars and try to develop the skaters there, with the coach working together with the federations. One other possibility is to use our centers to check new things, either in equipment, or new rules, or new competition formats.

This last meeting was focused on finding a path, so we are doing a four-year plan and we will see if we can stick to that. The other thing we will try to develop is working more connected together, hosting some seminars in Champéry and some others in Bergamo. Champéry, Bergamo, and Oberstdorf are pretty complimentary, because in Oberstdorf they have a strong ice dancing team, and they have pairs and singles as well. In Bergamo pairs are very important, and of course singles as well. We are more focused on the singles, and have some excellence there, and we have St├ęphane who is an excellence for the choreography overall. So, we have a good combination of competencies, and want to share competencies in a way that we can join forces and have better results overall, for the development of the sport, not only of the individual skaters.

That sounds great. I hope that there are more publicly available lessons as well, like the series during COVID. I really appreciated getting to see what some of the different approaches are to off-ice training and picking up new exercises to try.

The production of some educational material is also one of our goals. Seminars, or the "Elements Explained" series or something like that, maybe more in-depth for steps or movements. We would like to plan some regular events in Champéry, in Bergamo, in Oberstdorf, in Bangkok, so that people will know Centers of Excellence do this every year. In Champ├ęry, they are focused on this subject, and Bangkok, they do this, and that will all be scheduled. We need to take this chance to now deliver something, because the first CoE project was a pilot, and nobody knows what the Center of Excellence is now. It's a center where there are some very good athletes. Okay. Good coaches. Yes, for sure. But other than that, there are many more places like these that are not Centers of Excellence officially, see what I mean? So, we need to develop the network.

I hope you can build on all the international connections that you already are developing. Champéry is an isolated place in some ways, but you have many people who come in to participate in camps and train so that it does feel more connected.

We are very far away, in a way a bit isolated, but this is also a good point sometimes. We have anyway, the possibility to host a lot of people in the village. It's a touristic village, so there's a lot of hotels, there is the hotel at the rink. There are flats, apartments, any kind of accommodation that you may want, and it's not dangerous so you can come with kids, there's no problem. It's also very quiet. So even for some very popular skaters that come here, they know that here really nobody will bother them. It may sound strange in Europe, but in Japan, that's a thing. So, for some of them, it is also a safe place. This is something that we would like to keep and develop. Then of course there are downsides, but we will manage.

Do you like it, living in such a quiet place?

I like it very much. I love the mountains and anyway, Lausanne is not so far away and other cities. Switzerland is beautiful, but of course, it's not like living in the big city. It's a totally different lifestyle, but I personally like it a lot.

My last question for you is maybe a little silly: as an Italian, what do you think of Deniss' pasta?

(laughs) Oh, he's a very good cook! He prepared some carbonara recently for us, and then he is also very into cakes, and biscuits - he does amazing biscuits and his specialties are cantucci (Italian almond biscuits - ed). That's his way: he's very precise, organized in his skating, in his cooking for sure. He's good at it and he really enjoys it.

Thank you to Angelo for such a detailed and thought-provoking conversation! We hope that he and everyone at Team Champéry will have a wonderful 2023 – and enjoy more of Deniss' cooking!

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