Mariusz Siudek: "In pair skating there is no me or you. It's us."

April 10, 2015
By Titanilla Bőd (Új Szó)
Photos © EMJO, Joy, Mireille Geurts, Caroline Paré, Johanna Welnicki

Mariusz Siudek was a World and European medallist in pairs with his wife, Dorota Zagorska. Now he is coaching in Torun, Poland and I met him in Budapest at the Four Nationals (Hungarian, Slovak, Polish and Czech Nationals), where there were no senior pairs and in the novice and the junior category only three pairs competed. He talked about the reasons for this hiatus as well.

Why do you think there are so few pairs in central Europe?
I think the problem is with the number of skaters in general. I am a pair coach, but I have just one team, as it is difficult to find a girl and a boy who will fit together. In my club there are almost no boys; even when I had one boy and we tried to find a partner, there were none in Poland and at this age they don't really want to move. This is not as common in North America.  Plus, pair skating is very dangerous. There are some kids who've already tried it, but after the first little accident they don't want to do it any more. So it's quite hard.

Is the skater more afraid or the parent?
I wouldn't say the parents. Frequently it is the coach who gets scared. There are not many pair coaches in my country. There are some single coaches who think they could make a pair, thinking that there are not too many of them, so it's going to be easy to get a good result and go to Europeans. But it doesn't work like that. The lifts and the throws are very dangerous, so when something happens, they say: it's not worth it.

I like the idea of the ISU pair seminar for young skaters and coaches. I've been working at this seminar for 10-12 years now. The idea is to produce new coaches. So I think now the situation is better than it used to be five or six years ago.

If a skater decides to do pair skating, what is required?
Firstly, there have to be two skaters who fit each other and get along well. When they don't understand each other, it is hard to work together. Then they have to meet physical criteria. The girl cannot be too large; the boy has to be quite big and strong. And – yeah, they need a coach. Now at these Nationals, we have only three teams, but I'm happy, because those kids are coming from the afore-mentioned seminar. They started to learn pair skating at that seminar, as well as their coaches. So it shows that this project works. I hope in the future there will be more and more teams.

In North America it is common that a skater does both pair and single skating, often until juniors, some of them even try it at senior level.
At a young age they should do it. When you put a young child into to pair skating only, they stop learning jumps… and jumps are just as important as other elements. So if they have enough ice time, they should practice both singles and pairs.

If an older skater converts from singles to pairs, what is the most difficult for them?
They have to remember that there is someone besides them. They have to think about unison; they have to take care of the other person. Sometimes they don't understand that they are not the most important one any more. That's the most difficult part.

How hard is it emotionally to accept a mistake from the partner? That even if one person skates clean, the partner can still make a mistake and this affects the result.
This is one of the difficulties of pair skating. When you decide to skate with someone, you have to learn that there is no more “me” or “you”. It's “us”. Even if my partner made a mistake, I never say she made a mistake. We made a mistake and it was our fault. They have to understand that they are now one unit. If they succeed, they have to divide the happiness, but this is the same for the bad moments, when they can share the sadness.

Is it possible that someone has the physical criteria but pair skating is still not suitable for them because of the mental part?
Oh, I know many skaters who could never skate pairs because of that! When you go on the ice with someone else, you have to remember that now both of you counts, you have to work together, you achieve the goals together. It's not like: “I'm the star and I just have someone here.”

What do you think is your biggest influence on your students as a coach?
In 2003, still competing, we and Dorota moved to Canada to work with Richard Gauthier. We learnt as skaters that the most important thing is a good atmosphere. Working with good emotions, with a smile on your face is more useful than working many hours in a negative environment. That's what Richard taught in his school and what we also now try to teach in ours.

There are some legendary famous pair skaters; some of them had very good relationships, perhaps husband and wife, but there are stories of others who were constantly arguing, even on the ice.
Dorota and I are married and we were competing as husband and wife for a few years. In our case it really helped and we were used to spending a lot of time together when we moved to Canada. Sometimes it is difficult to spend almost 24 hours a day together, talking about skating. Our goal was not to bring the emotions from the house to practice and vice versa. When we left the house for the rink, the door was closed, we left everything at home. And it was the same when we finished the practice. We never discussed what happened in the practice at home. But if they don't remember this, it can be hard.

Do your students know what their coaches have achieved?
Some of them knew before we started coaching them; some checked the internet after we started to work together. They watched our programs on You Tube and now they all know.

How important it is for a coach to have some competitive history?
It's important but not compulsory. There are many coaches who have never skated before but know how to work with young people and how to teach them. There are some very good skaters who are not the best coaches. But if you succeed in your coaching work, it is good to have a competitive background, because I see that our students want to achieve what we achieved, especially in Poland, there are not too many world medallists and we are a good example for them.

How often do you think about your competitive days?
Of course we remember because it was a great time in our lives. Sometimes we even miss competitive skating. But now it's a different period of our lives and we have other dreams; we want to succeed with our skaters.

Have you learned anything new about skating since you started coaching?
Oh, yes! It's funny, because when working with little kids the problem is not with kids, but with parents. So far we haven't had any skater we couldn't communicate with, but there already have been some parents who caused trouble. That was the first surprise when we started coaching.

What are your ambitions as a coach?
Of course we'd like to have a skater at European and World level; a medal would be perfect. If I thought it was impossible, I wouldn't do it. I learnt as a skater that you have to believe in your goals and follow them step by step.


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