Skating in Sweden – one on one with Kristoffer Berntsson

Part I

Text by Magdalena Osborne
Photos © EMJO

For Kristoffer, the 2004/05 season started out with an injured foot, but he later dazzled the audience at the European and World Championships. His historic 10th place in Torino earned Sweden a second spot at the European Championships in Lyon next January. For some time his results seemed to be at a stand still, but the last couple of seasons this talented Swede has continued to progress. Nicknamed “Chris” by fans, he’s also fast becoming a skating heartthrob. Now preparing for the new season, Kristoffer came to Malmö for a few days, and took the time to answer some questions. The setting was very informal, but his sharp mind was in high gear and the answers candid, as he talked about his injury, the past and future seasons, the Code of Points and more.

What happened to your foot last season?
During practice last August, I slipped while landing an ordinary toeloop. At first I thought it would heal if I just took it easy, so I continued skating and jumped on the other foot. But things didn’t get better, and finally I had to totally stay off the ice for 3 weeks. I realized I would miss Skate America, (his first Grand prix event ever) and my coach and I decided that the European and World championships were more important. They are the major competitions and if I wanted to be in good shape by then, I had to take the necessary time to heal.

Why do you think there are so many injuries among the men? Is it because of the triple Axels and quads?
No, I don’t think so. The wear and tear on your body while doing a quad isn’t much greater than when you do a triple. To gain speed and for instance do a triple-triple-triple is harder on your body than doing one jump.
And figure skating is like any other sport, you have to push the limits and press forwards all the time, and that means taking risks. There are injuries in all sports.

Your results from Europeans and Worlds have improved dramatically in the last couple of years. Has it increased the pressure on you to perform even better?
Pressure, well... I want to perform better! It was very hard during those years when nothing happened. And besides the injury in the beginning, the past season turned out well after all!

What were the Swedish Nationals last December like?
It was a very hard competition. My foot was ok, but I hadn’t competed since the Worlds last year. And the pressure at Nationals is always huge, I have to win! At Europeans I can set forth to do my best, and go after a higher placing than the year before. But at Nationals I have to defend the title. All the (skating related) Swedes are there and they expect me to skate perfectly, so yes, big time pressure!

The top Swedes at Nationals in December 2004. Kristoffer Berntsson - gold, Filip Stiller - silver, Duran O`Hara Lindblom – bronze

What do you remember the most from The European championships?
It was like a pre-Olympic competition and I enjoyed it very much. As far as the competing... I skated next to the last in my warm-up group. I was in 4th place with 11 skaters to go. I was so nervous while waiting! But things worked well for me and it’s wonderful that Sweden gets 2 spots next year. I really hope Filip Stiller and I can go, although Adrian Schultheiss is coming up as a senior, and he’s good! (Adrian is the Swedish junior champion.) Still, Filip and I are good friends, and we have competed for Sweden’s single spot for so many years. He deserves to go since I’ve always beaten him. He has fought very hard, and it would be so cool if he got the second spot.

What did you think of the Palavela arena in Torino?
It was fantastic, bright and open... but the seats were horrible! Sometimes the skaters had to sit on the stairs, because there wasn’t enough room in the section reserved for us, and sometimes we couldn’t get in at all. We sat on chairs, but I saw what the other seats looked like, and without a back rest it gets very uncomfortable. And down at the bottom of the arena, where we came in, there was this huge door, and it had to be kept closed at all times. We walked back and forth there maybe a dozen times a day, and opening and closing that door every time... And the volunteers, there were so many! Sometimes whole groups of them were standing around the doors, one could barely get through! You can’t have that many volunteers at a competition, and most of them did nothing anyway, they seemed to mostly stand around daydreaming...

What was your experience at The Nordics?
Well, this year was different from last year; I had competition again because Ari-Pekka Nurmenkari and Filip were there. But it was like at Nationals, I had to win, so it was a big relief after I had. There was a lot of pressure, and Nordics is always such a rush-rush competition. We skate the free program on Sunday morning, preferably as early as possible so everyone can catch their plane. There’s practice, rush back to the hotel and grab all your stuff and bring it to the arena, compete, medal ceremony and then off to the buss or plane. There’s no time to hang around and enjoy the competition or talk to the others. But the competition was good. I skated after Adrian Schultheiss, but I only saw the end of his performance. He did a double Flip and fell on a loop, and Filip wasn’t happy about his skate either. I got on the ice and the marks for Adrian came up, and it was 5.3, 5.5... He had very high marks and I was quite shocked and thought “What did he do before I started watching him??? I have to get a grip here!” But I had a good skate, better than at Europeans even. I fell on the quad toe, but everything else was fine.

How is your quad coming?
Well... it’s coming, and at Worlds I came very close at practice. What I need is to do it perfectly just once, but I’ve never had a totally clean landing. In the air I can feel “yes, this is working!” but then the landing doesn’t agree. But the quad has lost some of its significance. It used to be so important, and there was no way you’d get on the podium without it (at major international competitions). Well, at Worlds, the guys who came 2nd, 3rd and 4th didn’t have quads. Now the judges look more to the overall impression, and everything is important, not just the jumps. You can’t do 2 quads in the free anymore and think you’ve got it made; now you have to be good at everything.

After a full season of the Code of Points, what do you think of it now?
Having 4 levels is a good idea. It used to be that the difference between level 1 and 2 was very big, and level 3 footwork was almost impossible to reach for the men. On the other hand, for the ladies it seemed almost impossible not to get level 2 on the spirals... The problem has been that it paid more to do a sloppy higher level element, than doing a perfectly executed lower level element. One hardly ever gets GOE + on steps or spins, at least I don’t, one only gets base value. So if my choice stands between base value at level 1 or 2, of course I will go for level 2, since it’s worth more points! But there are many things which are good about the new system, for instance the fact that you can really advance in placement between the short and long programs. Sure, you can drop a lot too, but if you have a bad skate and fall several times, you should drop, so I think that’s fair. But I felt sorry for the French guy (Contesti) during Worlds. His qualifier was great, and then he didn’t even make the final! His triple Lutz in the short turned into a double, and he fell and took a deduction, so he ended up with a minus value. If he’d just skated and done nothing, he would have gotten more points, and I don’t think anyone should get a minus value for trying something! But I guess it’s these kinds of bugs in the system they’re trying to fix. It was also interesting to note that the World Champion got 7s and 8s in the program components. If he, the best in the world, gets that, who’s supposed to get the 9s and 10s? He wasn’t even close so that makes it impossible to reach! And one of the ladies skated almost flawlessly, yet she was 30 points under her personal best. And it wasn’t because of the jumps, but in the program components. I don’t think points should vary like that from one competition to another.

Gwendal said all the ladies’ free programs are too much alike, do you think he’s right?
That’s nothing new; it’s been like that for a long time. There are many ladies who skate to slow and beautiful music, that’s not even an opinion but a fact. The ladies skate to classical music and it’s slow and beautiful and many people like that, so it works! And it’s up to each individual, if you’re good at slow and beautiful, take advantage of it! Don’t change your style just because someone thinks it’s boring, do what suits you! But sure, one can wonder why it is that so many ladies are good at slow and beautiful...


The Prince Igor costume for your long program surprised a few since you said you didn’t care for glittery stuff or ruffles...
I liked it, what can I say? It suited the program and people change...

Do you already have plans for this season’s costumes?
No, none yet, costumes are a later issue. First I will finish the programs and that probably won’t be until August when I get back from Switzerland.

Go to Part II

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