Talking to the Hungarian Team
Series part 2


Welcome to the second part of our Hungarian special; Adastra, Helga, & Kati went to the Jégcsarnok icerink in Budapest, to talk to several members of the Hungarian team for Absolute Skating, as well as for Pixieworld.

Not only skaters will get the mike, but also some coaches. Some interviews were in-depth, others were mostly focused on fun. All interviewees filled out the same 'fluff' questions and choices at the end. Join us for the second part of this marvelous series!

2.2 Zsofia Kulcsar


Interviewed and translated by Adastra
Text: Helga Dobor
Photos © Adastra

Zsofia Kulcsar, internationally known as the longtime coach of Zoltan Toth, the Hungarian we are so used to see in international competitions. But she started out as a skater herself and coaches many other young Hungarians. It is about time we learned a little bit more about this woman.

When and how did you start skating?

I started to skate in 1985, in the Mujég’s skating school. I had asthma and the doctors said that the cold ice would help. I fell in love with the ice and it became my life.
The coaches soon noticed that the way I was gliding on the ice was really good. They said I had talent and should start skating seriously. So that’s where it all started. After that, I went to the Ballet Institute too, but they sent me off saying my feet were too muscular for ballet, so I decided to focus on skating.


What are your best results up to date?

I was a two-time National Champion at the Junior level and two-time runner-up at the Senior level. Tamara Teglassy and Krisztina Czako were still competing at that time, and I always came second to them! Unfortunately, I suffered a knee injury a bit later and I had to end my skating career - that was around 1996. But even if the injury didn’t happen I’d probably have quit skating anyway since I lost my motivation. I felt I had no reason to skate anymore. Even though I had some good results at international level, my love for competing was gone. I still adored the practices though, but in skating, the competitions are so important, as it is a competitive sport. So I quit skating, but I’ve been working as coach since then.

What are your goals as a coach?

It’s a good question. Perhaps the coaching is a goal in itself. At first I worked with children, then I started to work with Zoli (Zoltan Toth -ed), and since that time everything went in a different direction. I have to take care of him both in technical sense and in personal aspects. As a coach, my goal is to learn new things every year. Therefore, we join Alexei Mishin's camp every year. We always learn a lot from him. I’d like to go to learn something from the coaches from United States, where I could encounter more skating styles, and as a result improve, I think. And of course I would like to coach more skaters than I currently do.

What do you think is your biggest success as a coach?

Zoli, of course. But to be honest, it was not me was who brought him up as he was 18 years old when we started to work together. He was at the point where he couldn’t put his jumps together, and many people around him were telling him it was too late to learn new things. But of course, that was not true - our hard work really shows since we've worked together.
I think this is a big thing.

Is it better to be a skater or a coach?

I enjoy the coaching more! But being a coach at competitions is less enjoyable, as I am more nervous. It's difficult standing watching and being unable to control what happens on the ice, as you cannot influence the another person, as he is also a human - all you can do is encourage and support.

The coaches are more nervous?

Speaking for myself, definitely yes. Especially the first time, it was so bad! I handle this better now. I coach myself too.

What did you think of the 2004 - 2005 season?

It was the first year when we put the triple axel into Zoli’s programs at big competitions. Since this next year is the Olympic year we thought we had to include this jump in order to qualify for the event. The Axel is almost a requirement now, so it is not a bad thing for a skater to have, that’s for sure. Anyway, it’s his second year with the triple axel but as we expected - the more he tries to do it, the more mistakes he makes, and that often has a negative impact on the other elements too. For example, I still don’t know what happened to him at the 2004 European Championships. He was well prepared, both physically and mentally but for some reason things didn't go as we planned; nothing seemed to work - even his boot lace came loose. On the other hand, the Worlds were great. Zoltan was very down after the disappointment at Euros and it was fantastic to see him getting his act together this time. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to qualify him for the Olympics. He had to do that through the qualifier in October.

How did your other skaters do?

For me, Annamari (Bitter) was the skater who improved the most over the previous season, both in her jumps and in mental development. Zoli and I are very proud of her. The same with our other skater, Erika. She had a very strong season, too. However, she experienced some disappointments, too. But this is a part of figure skating and one needs to learn from that experience.

What did you think of the international field the previous season?

To be honest, I felt very sorry for Plushenko. Even though his withdrawal from the LP at Worlds was not completely surprising, it was very sad to see. But one can't always be top. I was also surprised with Joubert, and especially with his skating at Worlds. I was very happy for Lambiel though. You could see that it was his moment to shine. It was great! I was also surprised with Kwan and Arakawa’s lack of preparation for the new system.

Talking about COP, what’s your opinion on this system?

I think it will be good eventually.
It will deliver the goods - the more mistakes come out in competitions, the better they can revise them.
Unfortunately the judges can still manipulate with the second set of points - PCS.
It can also be confusing when at one competition you make a third level element and at another competition you get only second level for the same element.
Ok, I can live with this, but you know.. I miss the feeling of the 6.0 system. I think there is no value now of the new scoring system.


What were your goals for this season?

Making sure Zoli did well at the Karl Schaffer Memorial and qualifies for the Olympics. It was one of our goals that we met. And now, we had the Olympics itself.

With the girls, we want to have good programs choreographed and then work on maximizing the points value of all elements which is not always easy for the up and coming skaters. I want Annamari to be able to do the double Axel and some triples too. I feel she is very close to getting them under her belt. And the same can be said about Erika. We were not focusing on results this season, but rather on improving as skaters.


And what did you think of it?

I think Zoli did the best he could. His sixth place at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial in Bratislava was a good start, and after it he could qualify for the Olympics in Vienna. The Europeans could've been better, but perhaps it was worse so that the Olympics could be better for us.
Of course it could've been easier without Zoltan's back injury, which set him back the whole season. But it was worth it for the Olympics. We enjoyed staying there very much, the programs, the competitions, the whole feeling, and I'm very happy that Zoli could say good-bye to his career in such a beautiful way!

With Zoltan retiring, who are the upcoming skaters?

I don’t know what Berci Zákány is up to nowadays. But we don’t have anymore skaters who could compete at the international scene. Speaking from my own experience it takes long time for a skater to reach a high level in skating. I hope our other skater, György Beck, gets his jumps consistent, as well as spins and the overall quality, since without these two he cannot count on scoring well under COP.

Does it mean that after Zoli retires the Hungarian men’s skating will die?

I don’t know for sure, but I’m afraid it will. There is guy who is coached by Szabolcs Vidrai. He is the closest to being successful, but again, it depends on lots of different things.

And what is the situation abroad?

I don’t have too much knowledge in this matter, as I haven’t seen too many young international skaters. What I can tell you is that the Russians are in trouble. They still have lots of skaters but their best coaches have moved to the United States. That seems to be the biggest problem in the Russian skating. The countries on the rise are Japan, Korea, China, both in Men and Ladies field.

What are your goals for the future?

Now Zoltan retired, he's not my competitor anymore, but I hope that our work with Kati Hadford will continue. Kati can skate for Hungary as she is a Hungarian citizen. She will come to summer camp with us in June, and again later in the summer. Then hopefully she will skate at the Junior Grand Prix in Budapest. It seems that I will be her coach here.

Of course, we will continue our work with Annamaria Bitter and Erika Fekete, who are novice skaters, and they've already competed in international events.

We have a new discipline - adult amateur figure skating - which we started one year ago. It hasmore than 12 people, both men and women. Zoli has taken a hand in this work already, and he is an active contributor in the preparation for adult competitions. Hopefully in the next year we can participate in the international ISU competitions.

We have beginners too - the children in the 4th division - so perhaps the talents of the future will come from there.

Who do you see as the hope of the future in the next Olympic cycle?

Stephane Lambiel is very young, but I suppose that he wins or finishes second at the Olympics he will retire from competitive skating. And there is Andrei Griazev too. He is also young and good, but not as good as Plushenko or Yagudin used to be at Griazev’s age.There is Sergei Dobrin too, he is not bad at all! The Japanese don’t seem to be too strong right now. I think Daisuke Takehashi has lots of potential but he’s not at the level that Takeshi Honda used to be in his best years. There is also Karel Zelenka who could be very good if he got a triple Axel. Tomas Verner, he is also a good skater. Unfortunately, I don’t think that he is strong enough mentally. Who else should make my list? Kevin Van Der Perren, perhaps?

What’s the best way of getting people interested in figure skating?

Oh, the first thing that comes to my mind is Yagudin’s “Gladiator”. I would definitely show it to them, as well as some other programs of Russian skaters, but with exception of Russian ladies since I don’t really like the Russian style in ladies skating. I prefer Cohen and Kwan, and some of the older skaters too, like Witt, Debbie Thomas, and Kristi Yamaguchi. I could name more men skaters as good examples of complete skaters, perhaps because I follow men’s skating with more attention. Names that come to my mind here are Boitano, Orser, Kurt Browning, Kulik, and Urmanov. All of them had very good programs, but not as good as Yagudin or Plushenko.

Who was your idol then when you started skating?

Katharina Witt. Absolutely. At that time I saw her skating as perfect, and she’s so beautiful to boot. She was my idol. Nowadays, it’s not possible to have idols like her. Some girls don’t even know Michelle Kwan. When you tell them about her accomplishments as a skater they say “Oh, that’s good” and move on. In my opinion our young skaters should look up to Julia as she is a great skater and European Champion. But it doesn’t seem to appeal to the kids anymore.I don’t know why.

What do you think is the reason for that?

Perhaps it’s because skating has became a very expensive sport. When a child starts skating, the family needs to have enough money to make it possible for him or her to continue. Personally, if I had 20 students and five of them would not be able to pay, I would coach them anyway. But I can’t afford it now, as we have to pay for the ice and many other services. This sport is too expensive, and the skaters don’t get much support, and we don’t have enough ice rinks. I was hoping that after hosting European Championships in Budapest and Julia’s winning the ladies event, this would change. But it sadly didn’t.

What it takes to be a good skater?

Sometimes it is hard to separate skating and artistry. To be a champion you have to skate well and beautifully, but you also have to have your style. You have to be strong to be able to perform everything together. If somebody jumps well, people tend to say: “he is a good jumper but there’s something missing in his skating”. And to get this *thing* is a challenge sometimes. That’s why Yagudin is a gorgeous skater; he had everything that makes a great skater. Plushenko too, although he is different.

Is there any sport you like watching?

Yes, especially Formula 1, but I don’t like Schumacher! I like watching tennis, but I don’t follow all the events. I like gymnastics too, and of course I always watch the Olympic Games, and sometimes football matches too.


Would you tell us about your family?

My parents liked watching figure skating, especially when I started to skate. Then my sister also started to skate. She ice danced and had a French partner (Benjamin Delmas). However, she had hard time living abroad for so long. She quit skating and came back home to study law. She has just got her degree. I am so proud of her! My parents don’t like figure skating as they used to, as it brought lots of pain and suffering, but they are still interested in our careers.

What is your biggest treasure in your life?
My family and the health - the two most important things.

How could you live without your skates?
Not possible.

Without sport?
No, I don’t want it to happen.

Without music?
Nor without music.

Without credit card?
It’s ok.

Without computer?
It's hard now. But of course, that would be possible, and I would have time to read.

Without friends?
I don’t think I could. I like being with them.

Without dreams?
Same as above. I don’t think that is possible.

Having to live without which of the above would be the worst?
If there wasn’t figure skating it would affect lots of things in my life, so figure skating.


Please associate with one or two words:

Figure skating is ... A wonderful sport

Family is ... They are everything to me! And my friends too.

Friends are ... They mean a lot to me, my life develops together with theirs, and we can help each other whenever there’s a need.

Money is .... Necessary to live, however I am not materialistic.

Sport... Sport is my life. Through sport you learn everything!

Love... It’s the foundation of everything in this world! If you love something or somebody it can bring only good things.

Peace ... Its difficult to achieve, had it been up to me we would live in peace.

Belief ... I believe in positive and in good things. These bring me on the way and perhaps another people too. I believe in the small joys of the life.

Please choose between

Movies or TV
Summer or Winter
Lángos or Palacsinta
Summercamp or Small demonstration
Skiing or Swimming
Shows or Competitions
Black or White
Short or Long Program
Sleeping or Partying
Movie or Theater
Day or Night
Pörkölt or Gulyás (Goulash)



Do not miss the third interview in this second block of the series, with coach Andras Szaraz. Click here to read!
For reading the first interview, the one with Zoltan Toth, click here!


In case you missed the first block with Viktoria Pavuk, Szabolcs Vidrai & Dejan Illes click here!

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