In the pink
An interview with Ingo Steuer

December 4, 2010 
By Nadin Vernon
Photos © Absolute Skating, Art on Ice Productions

As Aljona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy took to the ice for their free skate at the Tropheé Eric Bompard last weekend, I couldn’t help but for a moment think of last year’s performance at the same event, one they would not be keen to repeat. As it turned out, I needn’t worry as this memory was completely wiped out within the first 30 seconds of their programme, as an incredibly high triple throw flip set the scene for the next four minutes. Not only did Aljona and Robin execute their elements to high standard, they also completely drew the crowd into their flirtatious programme and claimed a lead of more than 14 points over Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov (RUS) in second place. With the Bercy audience on its feet, Aljona and Robin won their second gold medal at this season’s Grand Prix events and qualified for the Final.

I caught up with their coach Ingo Steuer to talk about new programmes, the seasonÂ’s challenges, his skaters in Chemnitz and how to team up new pairs.

Congratulations on winning this event, Ingo. What a great performance. How have you settled into the season so far?

We started a little later than usual this season and it worked out really well for us. There was more time to test things, and especially after the Olympic season - which was a difficult season - we just allowed ourselves a little bit more time. We participated in some shows in Europe and then also went to Korea and the US. And we just didnÂ’t put ourselves under pressure with a deadline in terms of having to be ready for a certain date. And as we could see, the long programme is really well suited to Aljona and Robin. All in all we probably have more issues with the short as itÂ’s very difficult, but weÂ’re getting there.

Your short programme is to Korobushko, a Russian folk song. Was this something Aljona wanted to use?

No, actually I had suggested this music for the long programme in the past. I had cut it and proposed it to them, but they didnÂ’t like it. Aljona hadnÂ’t liked it as a free programme in the last few years but this year she liked it. I usually give her music from my list which she has already heard 20 times, but then listens to again and then there may be the decision that now is the right time and itÂ’s the right music.

Ah ok, so that happens too. ItÂ’s not always a case of listening to something and categorically saying yes or no, opinions can change on a piece of music over time?

ThatÂ’s right. Most of the music that we choose is music that IÂ’ve had for longer but where the time hadnÂ’t been right in the past.

And how did you come up with Pink Panther?

For the long programme, I actually asked Aljona and Robin for their input. Music suggestions generally tend to fall into my lap, as I have a huge repertoire of music. So I usually propose something, then there is always the big discussion, I like it, I donÂ’t like it. So I said to the two, why donÂ’t you come up with some ideas this time and think about what youÂ’d really like to skate to. To Robin it doesnÂ’t really matter actually, heÂ’s very flexible in this respect. The day after I had spoken to them, Aljona came up to me and asked what I thought of Pink Panther. So I downloaded the music, listened to it and thought it might work. I cut it there and then and the very version that I cut in the middle of that night, is actually the one we kept. ThatÂ’s quite unusual to go with the first version.

Did Aljona choose it because she liked the music or because of the whole pink panther concept?

Because she liked the musicÂ…(thinks)Â….then again, I think she just likes the pink panther (laughs). She could really get into the character from the beginning and itÂ’s very important that the athlete can develop that feeling. If itÂ’s something that comes naturally, itÂ’s a bonus.

The programme is very different to those you had in the past seasons, itÂ’s very playful and not so serious.

Actually this season I wanted to do something that would be more fun.

OK, so that was a conscious decision.

Yes, even before Aljona suggested the pink panther idea, I had already cut Austin Powers, both as a short and a long, so I already wanted to go in that comical direction and I mentioned it to Aljona and Robin. So thatÂ’s probably why she thought of the pink panther.

The programme was very well received here, not only did Aljona and Robin get a standing ovation after the performance, the audience was also clapping along from the very beginning.

Yes, weÂ’re really happy with the response and of course Pink Panther has a French theme, so that helped.

YouÂ’ve got some interesting new elements in your programmes that are very creative, like the positions in your lifts and spins. How do come up with new positions, do you just try things out?

Yes, exactly. You just play around. We always practice our lifts off-ice anyway, and thatÂ’s the same with new positions, you just have a go and sometimes come up with something thatÂ’s new and different.

Are there any other new elements that you are currently working on?

WeÂ’ve been training the quad throw flip and thatÂ’s coming along quite nicely.

Wow, will we see it in competition?

We probably wonÂ’t be showing it this season, we decided to spend more time training the sequence and getting that right for the moment.

Generally, what is your main focus this season?

The most important thing for us this season is winning back the titles. We said we would continue until Sochi and this is the first step.

At the beginning of the Olympic season last year, I asked you about your plans after Vancouver and you said you had taken a decision but werenÂ’t going to announce it until after Turin. Was the decision to keep going, even back then, before the Olympics?

Yes, even then we knew we definitely wanted to continue, but at the time we were thinking more of an extra season. And while weÂ’re committed to keep going until Sochi, we have to take things year by year. Four years are a long time, so weÂ’ll see, but weÂ’re planning to be there.

There have been quite a few changes in your training camp this season with AnaĂŻs Morand and Antoine Dorsaz splitting and Tatiana Volosozhar moving to Moscow to team up with Maksim Trankov. WhoÂ’s in your team now?

Yes, initially AnaĂŻs did a try-out with Ilja Glebov, but he had to go back to Estonia to fulfil his army service and there were nationality issues as well. Now she is skating with Tim Leemann from Switzerland; they mainly train in KĂĽsnacht with Birgit Brandt but when they are in Chemnitz, they train with me. Tim is still finishing his school though, so theyÂ’re in Switzerland most of the time.

Which competitions will they be skating at this season, will they be at next weekÂ’s NRW Trophy and at the European Championships?

No, they wonÂ’t be skating at either of those. ThereÂ’s not much point in diving straight into it and then experiencing the big disappointment. They have to get used to each other first and just find themselves this season, so this season they will focus on Swiss Nationals.

Is Dasha Popova also in your team?

Yes, but she doesnÂ’t have a partner, weÂ’re still looking. So for the moment, sheÂ’s training as a single skater. Dasha will obtain German nationality soon, but even then, there isnÂ’t really anyone suitable out there for her at the moment.

What do you look for when it comes to teaming up a new pair? Is it more important that the two skaters are on the same technical level, or do you mainly watch out for a connection and harmony between them?

Of course it would be ideal if the two skaters youÂ’re trying to team up were on the same level, but the overall harmony is really important. The level is something you can work on, so IÂ’d probably say the harmony comes first.

And how quickly can you tell whether or not two skaters would make a good pair?

Very quickly, in fact I can see it right away. And then I have no qualms being honest about it. Dasha and Ilja also had a try-out for example, and they werenÂ’t a match. Dasha has very long lines, and IljaÂ’s lines were overall shorter and it just didnÂ’t work.

Generally speaking, of course itÂ’s great if skaters want to come to me, train and improve, but especially with the younger teams that are supported by sponsors, the sponsors want to see results. So itÂ’s only fair for me to be honest if I donÂ’t think that a pair can achieve great successes.

Coming back to Aljona and Robin, how do you rate your competitors this season?

ItÂ’s going to be an interesting season, and especially the Russian pairs are very strong. All in all there are a few teams that are pretty much on the same level, so weÂ’ll see. Of course we have the two new teams. IÂ’ve already seen Tatiana and Maksim and they look good together, I like them. There isnÂ’t that much emotion between them yet, but that will come.

There werenÂ’t any French teams at the start here in Paris.

Yes, thatÂ’s right. I was here earlier in the season for a try-out between Vanessa James and Maxim Coia, but that didnÂ’t work out. Vanessa is now trying with a new partner, so in time, the French teams will come.

YouÂ’ve got the Grand Prix Final coming up in a couple of weeks, are you planning any other events this year?

Yes, weÂ’re looking forward to the Final. After that weÂ’re doing a few Christmas shows, a couple in Germany and in Bolzano.

Well, best of luck in Beijing and see you in Bern!

Thank you. See you in Bern, and donÂ’t forget to wrap up warm, itÂ’s going to be cold!

The Grand Prix Final will take place in Beijing from the 9th to 12th December. It will be the first time for Aljona and Robin to face Chinese pair Qing Pang and Jian Tong since the Vancouver Olympics. Will we see the revenge of the Pink Panther?


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