Flying high - a chat with Julia Sebestyen

by Adastra
Photos © Absolute Skating

Few lady skaters can jump as far up in the air as Julia Sebestyen, 24. She's the 4-time Hungarian National champion and 2004 winner of the European Championships. Her season started well when she won bronze at both Trophy Eric Bompard and Cup of Russia. She's a busy person but Absolute Skating managed to get an interview before she left for Moscow to compete with the
other top ladies in the World Championships.


How did you get into skating?
I started skating when I was 3, at an open-air ice rink in Tiszaújváros, my parents took me there. At the age of 13 I moved to Budapest, alone. In the capital city I was able to train under better conditions. At first I stayed with Klári Kozák, who was my coach at the time, I have a lot to thank her for.

Who are your favourite skaters?
Nancy Kerrigan and Kristi Yamaguchi, because they skated with so much grace. And Midori Ito because of her jumps, she was a really gifted jumper. She was the first woman to land a triple Axel in an international competition.

What do you prefer in your programs: technical elements or linking movements? What are your favourite figure skating elements?
I like the whole program, all jumps, spins and footwork. Since jumps are the most dominant elements, my favourite one is the triple Lutz. I was the first Hungarian woman figure skater who landed it in a competition, and I was only 13 then.

How do you prepare yourself for a new program?
For example how do you choose the music? And who creates your beautiful and elegant costumes? Do you have a say in that matter?
In the last couple of years, recognized choreographers like Nina Petrenko, Nikolai Morozov, Tatiana Tarasova and Evgeni Platov, have put my programs together. They also chose the music and I think they succeeded in picking the right music for my personality. These people know me and my capacity well and know what suits me. My costumes are created overseas. The makers show me the plans beforehand so I can choose what I like the best. I might have a say in picking the colours of the costume, but the makers know what kind of dresses will suit me and can emphasize my strong points.

What do you think figure skating is: art or sport?
Mainly sport, but a rather complex one because you have to be athletic and flexible at the same time. You need to be in great shape, yet you have to pay attention to all the details of a performance. You have to cope with the expectations alone.

Are you friends with other international skaters?
I am on friendly terms with a lot of skaters, because we have been competing together for some years now, we attend the same training camp, etc.

Tell us about your coaches András Száraz and Eszter Jurek!
I like working with them very much, they know all about my jumps and I’m practically able to read their minds as far as what they want me to pay attention to.
If there's a problem, we're able to discuss it and try to correct it; we always strive for better achievements.

Which one of you is the most nervous during a competition?
Probably András :))) because he cannot do anything to help during the performance, all he can do is watch and worry.

Last season Budapest hosted a quite successful European Championships. Thanks to the enthusiastic crowd foreign visitors came to the conclusion that figure skating is a pretty popular sport in Hungary. What is your opinion on this?
In Zsuzsa Almássy's time it was really popular. Families were watching figure skating competitions and cheering together. The European Championships in Budapest last year proved that people still willingly come to watch and cheer for Hungarian athletes. Since the Europeans, the interest in skating has definitely increased, and more and more people turn their attention to figure skating competitions.

Winning her European title in Budapest, 2004

How would you describe your training?
We've been training in the Jégcsarnok rink (in Budapest) for the past 4 years. Before that we had to train in a temporary tent put over the open-air icerink of Városliget (also in Budapest) for 2 years, because the Budapest Sportcsarnok (a stadium with training facilities) had burned down. Moreover, we had to travel day after day to Székesfehérvár and Dunaújváros to train (respectively 75 and 70 km from Budapest).
It was a very tough period. We had to compete with foreign skaters who had had better training conditions than ours. But that's probably encouraged us to work even harder. I have off-ice training, and ballet two times a week. I jog every day to better my physical condition. During the summer I do some different kinds of off-ice training as well, but that's only during the off-season. I sometimes do aerobics, also for physical condition.

What do you think your strength and weaknesses as a figure skater are?
For a long time I was Juli Sebestyén, the skater with the high jumps. Right now I'm working hard to improve my artistry.

How do you manage that marvellous spring in your jumps?
Everybody's asking me that! (She smiles) I would say talent, but good technique is just as important.

What are your goals for next season?
I'm always concentrating on the tasks ahead, and try to do my best. I never think in terms of placements, because results depend on lots of things: luck, good draw, opinion of judges...

How do you prepare yourself for the World Championships?
I'm going to a training camp in Landskrona, Sweden, before the Worlds. There I can be completely alone on the ice. I listen to my music a lot, it's calm and I train hard.

Beside skating you're also a student?
Exactly, I'm studying at the Semmelweis University in Budapest, Faculty of Physical Education and Sport Sciences. I'm also attending another school, the Budapest Polytechnic, where I'm studying technical management.

What about your family, do they attend competitions?
My parents still live in Tiszaújváros. I have a younger brother; he's a sophomore at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Faculty of Electrical Engineering. I rarely have the time to go home, so often my family visits me. If a competition takes place in Hungary or in a neighbouring country, they will come and watch me, along with my two cousins, Ági and Évi, and my godparents. All my biggest fans!

What are your hobbies?
Reading, listening to music, going to cinemas. During the off-season I have more time, so then I go out with friends and my cousins.

What, in your opinion, are the most important qualities in an athlete that can bring her/him to the top?
Persistence, diligence, strong will, endurance of pain, failure but success as well.

How do you react to criticism or praise?
I can accept criticism, because that's what makes you develop, and of course one is pleased with the praise, only you have to consider if it’s genuine or not.

Do you carry any lucky charms?
I have a small tiger and a frog; my coach always holds them in his hand when I compete. And I keep my pins from competition (for example team badges from the Nagano or Salt Lake City Olympics) on a stuffed mouse - but I'm afraid I'll lose it, so now I’d rather keep it at home. I hang on to some of the stuffed toys I’m given, others I give away (for example last time I gave them to a school in Tiszaújváros).

Julia with her plush toys from Euros

Are you comfortable with people recognizing you on the street?
I’ve had to get used to it, cause nowadays it happens a lot. Some ask for autographs or tell me that they're cheering for me, and that's really flattering!

Do you follow fashion trends?
Only if they suit me, and that doesn't always mean the newest trends.

Where is your favourite place in the world?
My favourite place is Tiszaújváros. I also like Vancouver, Paris and Brisbane in Australia; I've already been there. Unfortunately there isn’t much time for sightseeing during competitions.

What do you think of Sweden?
I train in a small town in Southern Sweden called Landskrona, and people are very friendly there. They're pretty calm; they don't worry all the time like we do.

Finally, what kind of boots and blades do you use?
Boots: Risport RF2 SUPER.
Blades: Wilson Gold Seal.

Julia shows her trophy collection

Julia with her car

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