Catching up with Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini

January 24, 2023
By Davide Sanneris and Anna Bertoloni (with special thanks to Anna Kellar)
Photos © Anna Bertoloni, Davide Sanneris

Rebecca and Filippo kicked off the 2022-2023 season with a gold medal at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic - and after a 4th place at the Grand Prix in Angers they won their first Grand Prix gold in Espoo. 
Even if not everything turned out as they wished at the Final in Torino, it's been a great pleasure to talk with them, the day after their free skate.

Congratulations on qualifying for the Grand Prix Final. What was it like to skate here in Torino?

Rebecca: We've come from a first half of the season with which we are more than satisfied. Here in Torino maybe the emotion failed us a bit - but you know, as we always say: sometimes you enjoy the moment, sometimes you learn from it. This was our time to learn. It's been a first Final which we'll bring with us to go on and become stronger.

Filippo: To perform here at Palavela has been amazing, this city always fills our hearts with emotion - and to skate at home, with our own crowd, hearing the warm applause before they called our names has been really special. You are never completely ready for this kind of feeling, even if you try to prepare for everything, technically but also mentally. When the moment comes it's a new kind of emotion that's not possible to understand before - when you finally live it, it's breathtaking.

We really loved both your programs. Tell us more about how you chose the music and how they've been choreographed.

Rebecca: We decided to work again with Anna Cappellini / Luca Lanotte and Corrado Giordani, like we did last season. This year we chose the music a bit later than usual, because we wanted to find something different and new, but nothing really looked like the perfect choice. In the end they proposed these two pieces, we tried them and we felt that we could make them our own. We had good feedback, so we think it was the right decision!

How was it like working with two ice dancers, Anna and Luca?

Filippo: At the beginning it's been quite complicated! (laughs) There were so many small things, every element that we did, they told us: "No, stop!" We worked for a whole hour on a single step, and they took apart and rebuilt things that to us were simple - sometimes it's been even frustrating, at our age, to change our posture, even our way of skating! It's been two years since we started working with them, and even though it's not been easy, we think that we have improved a lot.

What is your favourite element or moment of choreography in the programs?

Rebecca: Probably the last part of the free skate, because it's full of details and nuances.

Filippo: We know that many people love the slap scene, when she gives me the two slaps and I'm there suffering! (laughs)

Has she ever really hit you, by accident?

Filippo: Yes, of course, it happened in practice! (laughs) Especially at the beginning, because we wanted the distance to look as real as possible!

Rebecca: We also love the final crescendo, actually there are many parts that we like. The step sequence in the short program [is another of our favourite moments], we really feel it, so there is always that "extra something" that we manage to give.

You changed the layout after the first Grand Prix, didn't you?

Filippo: Yes, we worked on the program and we saw that the Axel-Axel-Axel combination was in our favour, so we decided to put it earlier, when we have more speed - in general we moved some elements that at the beginning of the season bothered us.

[To Filippo] Are you planning to grow your moustache for every short program for the rest of the season, and shave it off for the free skate?

Filippo: If I manage, yes! (laughs) I think for Freddie Mercury it's a very important detail. It's going to be complicated next week for Italian Nationals. I'm not sure there is enough time for it to grow... I thought about keeping it yesterday for the free, but as I always shaved, in the end I decided to do it here too. And many people tell me that I look better with a moustache!

Rebecca: We should launch a survey: "How do you prefer Filippo, with or without a moustache?" (laughs)

It must have been very disappointing to finish last season not able to compete at Worlds because of the positive COVID test. What did you do to reset and recharge after that?

Filippo: Not being able to skate at Worlds has been awful and unexpected, but luckily we just had the opportunity to experience wonderful Olympic Games, so we kept that memory in our hearts, tried to forget about Worlds and immediately started to prepare for the new season.

Some time ago you told us that the twist was the most difficult element for you. Are you still struggling with it?

Rebecca: No, we made friends! (laughs) It's not an element that we watch with fear anymore, we worked a lot on it with Ondřej [Hotárek], and that really helped. Of course, in pairs skating there isn't any element that you can say "that's easy", you always have to work and bring quality on everything - even things that may appear effortless. And sometimes even one level on a simpler element is what you need [in competition] to make the difference.

What is Italy doing right produce so many interesting pair teams?

Filippo: For sure, the absence of Russian pairs this year has helped all those countries that usually don't stand out so much - but it wasn't so obvious [to be able to take advantage of it]: you have to be ready at the right moment, because there are many other good pairs. What is happening with the Italian movement is that we started to like pairs more as a discipline, but also Ondřej brought a big plus, when he retired and started coaching. He is really able to convey his passion, and his team with Franca Bianconi is growing a great pairs school - of which we are one of the pillars.

Was it difficult to learn Ondřej's "signature lift"?

Rebecca: The first few times, when I tried it with Ondra it was a bit scary, because for him it was so easy that he did it very quickly - and I asked: "No wait, please, not so quick!" (laughs) It's nice when you have a coach that is still so fresh from his own experience, because he can try the elements with you, make you "feel them", this really gives you something extra. To explain something is good, but to be able to do the element together is probably one of the best things you can give to your students. We see this especially with the young skaters that are starting now to do pairs - the opportunity to work with him, Franca and all the team is gold, and they really should hold tight to it.

Filippo: Because he really did all these things, pairs skating is something that he has inside him - it's not like just having studied it.

Rebecca: This is not a given. We have also known some great champions that couldn't really give us the feeling, maybe for them it was easy to do something but they were not able to really explain it to us.

Filippo: The sport is also always evolving, every year the level is raised. Now we have to look almost like a dance couple, we have to be together, to interpret the music, have beautiful lines, all things that in the past were not that important in pairs - the discipline was more focusing on the technical side. It's a beautiful improvement.

What do you like the most about working with each other?

Filippo: She always finds something positive, even when I see all black in life, she is always able to show me the light.

Rebecca: The joy, the serenity he always manages to give me.

... and the less?

Filippo: Sometimes I wish she talked a bit more, she's so quiet! (laughs)

Rebecca: That's true, sometimes my emotions are very difficult to read. But in spite of everything, he learned "my language" and he knows how to pull me off when I'm in the wrong mood. Sometimes just with a smile, or a word, he manages to cheer me up and to take me out from my "bubble". About him, maybe sometimes he talks too much. We are the opposite! (laughs)

That's perfect, one talks and the other listens!

Rebecca: Exactly! (laughs) And with time we learned to know each other, we know when we have to stay silent, or on the contrary when one of us needs to vent.

Do you have time for hobbies?

Filippo: Not much, figure skating takes almost all our time. It's funny how sometimes, when I struggle to do something, I tell myself: "Well, I've only been skating for all my life!" (laughs)

Rebecca: If we had time, and the mental freedom to focus on something else, for sure we'd find a lot of other things that we like to do. For example, I love working with children, but sometimes I have to tell myself: "No, not today, not this week." Because it means taking away energy that we need to achieve our goals.

What is your goal for the next events?

Filippo: To learn from the mistakes we made here, and to come back at our best.

And in the long run?

Filippo: Milano-Cortina Olympics - even if it's not going to be easy. You know, maybe people just see the performance and don't really understand how difficult it is, how much work there is behind it. Every day we make a lot of sacrifices. We are two different individuals, with our own lives, and we have to match them in order to build our path together. In this sense, pairs skating is a great school of life: it teaches you some values from the past that I think are getting lost nowadays - how to share the fatigue, the efforts, how to stick together to overcome obstacles. It looks like today, unfortunately, many couples - even husband and wife - give up as soon as there is a problem. Our sport teaches us that you can get up after every fall, that life is unpredictable but you have to go on. And we are lucky to have people who help us deal with all the obstacles, who are always here for us.

Rebecca: Yes, we are really grateful to the people who have been always with us from day one. If I think about two weeks ago (when they won their first Grand Prix gold medal - ed.) and I compare it with today, there are not many people who have been with us on both occasions. You know, it's easy to be there when things go right, but when things don't go the best way, when there are some difficulties - it's even more precious to have someone who helps us stay on track.  
The athlete's life is a bit of a rollercoaster, you live on highs and lows but if we wouldn't believe that after a "low" will come a "high", we wouldn't be here!

What could be done to spike an interest in figure skating in our country?

Filippo: We should bring more young people to the rinks. I think school should help to introduce more children to sports in general. According to our own experience, the school in Italy doesn't value sport like it does in other countries - even if it has many other qualities. Also, parents focus more on school and don't rely much on sports. What I want to tell children is: nurture your passions, because it is possible to live according to your dreams and make a job out of them.

Rebecca: If you think you have found your path, don't give up, don't let everything around you influence you. It may seem a scary road, it is a path that not everyone takes, but it is worth it.

We are looking forward to seeing their beautiful programs at the Europeans Championships, and we hope they achieve all their goals, there and in their future.

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