You can call them the surprise winners of the bronze medal in the ice dancing event in Budapest – but, actually, with a sixth place at the 2012 Europeans and a fifth place at last year’s edition of the continental competition, you knew their time would come. And it did: skating on a Michael Jackson medley, Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland haven’t put a foot wrong during their free dance – and found themselves on this year’s podium of the Europeans. At the end of the day, the British – along with their coach and choreographer – looked as if they were ready to jump for joy. And they surely enter the Olympic competition in Sochi with a huge amount of confidence; as Nick says, in this interview for Inside Skating, “I think everybody will see a new couple skating out there at the Olympics!”.
by Florentina Tone
Once again, congratulations for that wonderful bronze medal in Budapest. Your joy and enthusiasm were purely contagious at the Europeans and I do want to know more about your success and about the team behind it; as a matter fact, when writing about your triumph in Budapest, someone pointed out that I might have overlooked your choreographer…
Penny: Our choreographer is my step dad, Philip Askew. I feel very lucky to have him as part of our team, he has always been my coach since I started skating, and he has always worked with Nick and I as a team. We are lucky to work with him because he offers something different and I always love our programmes. He actually takes quite a long time choreographing them, and we never start from the beginning! Some days we can spend a couple of hours on developing just one or two steps. I love watching how he works, nothing is rushed!
Which was, in your opinion, the winning formula for your success in Budapest?
Penny: Hard work! Evgeny [Evgeny Platov – their coach, two-time Olympic champion with Oksana Grishuk] really pushed Nick and I in the weeks leading up to Europeans. We pushed ourselves, we both said to each other: “Whatever happens, we couldn’t have done anything more!”
Nick: I think we both knew that we had a lot of hard work to do on our programmes because we felt like they had so much potential. We performed them well at Nationals, but we knew we had a long way to go before they would be anywhere near what we wanted them to be. We had meetings with our judges in the UK and also with Evgeny about our plans for the programmes and then we returned from Nationals at the end of November to put in the work. There really are no shortcuts to skating well and we put in a huge amount of work before Europeans and we feel it put us in a great position before we started.
Did you see that coming, after a disappointing seventh place at Trophée Eric Bompard? In a way, your programs haven’t been so well received at the beginning of the season, so you probably tried to improve little parts of them before the Europeans. What did you specifically work on after Bompard?
Penny: Eric Bompard was disappointing for us. We didn’t execute our elements very well and so our technical scores were very low, but we believe that everything happens for a reason. We were able to go away from that competition and really worked on all of our elements, making sure that we hit the technical criteria every time. We also had a lot of open skating in our programmes then, so we tried to change those parts; we needed to skate together more.
Nick: I think it was the best thing that happened to us this season. Although it wasn’t nice getting the result, it made us work even harder and want it even more! We had a lot of work to do after my heart operation in preparation for the Grand Prix and we felt like we were ready at the time, but, looking back, our programmes needed a lot more work to make them like we wanted them!
You were sixth at the Europeans in 2012, fifth in 2013… this time you are third. Is this the best moment of your career?
Penny: Yes, definitely! We have always dreamt about getting medals at major events so it truly is a dream come true for us. It’s a proof to us that hard work really does pay off, we are now hungrier than ever to work harder!
Nick: This is absolutely the best moment in our career… So far! I think it’s come at a great time for us, leading into the Olympics, and it’s given us huge confidence moving forward! I think everybody will see a new couple skating out there at the Olympics!
How are you, Nick, after your heart procedure? Your success might seem even sweeter now, knowing what you’ve overcome (and your facial expression in Budapest shows how determined you were to prove that you’re ready, that you’re good…)
Nick: Thank you! Yes, I think it is sweeter! When I found out I needed the operation I wasn’t sure if I would be able to continue with the season, so winning the bronze at Europeans certainly made everything worthwhile! Above all, it showed me that we can overcome anything that is thrown at us. The experience has made us both stronger and I might even go so far as to say that we might not have been on the podium at Europeans if the surgery hadn’t happened. It made us both realize how much we wanted it and to remember that you have to live every moment like it’s your last, because you never know what is around the corner!
I’d love to know more about your programs this season – and especially about the free dance. Whose idea was it to use a Michael Jackson medley? One thing is sure: the musical choice suits your style of skating perfectly; you are both very convincing when skating Michael’s songs, which is why I have to ask: are you fans of his music? (I know I am…)
Penny: We are both huge Michael Jackson fans! I actually found the album when we were looking for music for last season. I fell in love with the Cirque du Soleil versions because they offer Michael Jackson with a twist, but we decided to save it for Olympic season because we thought it was special, and exactly what we wanted to do this year.
Nick: I thought I found the music? I guess it was a long time ago now! (laughs) I think Penny said it perfectly… We love his music and I think it’s so important to pick something you enjoy skating to because you will be listening to it all season! I think you know when you have chosen the right piece of music for you when you enjoy listening to it in the last practice session of the season just the same as in the first one.
There will be two Michael Jackson routines in Sochi: yours and the one skated by Maia and Alex Shibutani. Which are your aces, what differentiate your program from theirs?
Penny: To be honest, I think that when you hear that another team is using the same theme as you is a little disappointing. Having said that, Nick and I have watched their programme throughout the season, and we really love it! I think it’s great that two couples can skate to the same artist and have their programmes come out completely differently. It illustrates how great and how versatile Michael Jackson was, no two songs sound the same! We thoroughly enjoy skating our Free Dance, and I am sure they feel the same way.
Nick: I also think it’s great that our programmes are very different even though they are both Michael Jackson. I think they both provide something that the audience will enjoy in Sochi and that’s great for us and for figure skating. Sochi is a figure skating platform for the world to see and I think we both show that ice dance can be fun and exciting. As far as our aces, I think we have tried to use our size difference as an advantage to make our lifts as spectacular as possible. I think it’s very important to play to your strengths, especially in an Olympic season, so that’s what we have tried to incorporate and earn some extra points.
What are your goals for Sochi, yours second Olympics? (at the previous one, in Vancouver, you were on the 20th place, but you very much improved since then…)
Nick: I think we have proven to ourselves that we are now amongst the top teams in the world, so this in itself had given us so much confidence! But we have a lot more to offer and these programmes still have such potential, so I think if we can go out and skate the programmes like we know we can then I’m hoping we will be pleasantly surprised with the result.
What are your favorite ice-dance couples in the history of the discipline? Who do you aspire to be like?
Nick: Torvill and Dean are my favourites but in recent years Meryl and Charlie and also Tessa and Scott have taken things to a new level. Hopefully we can develop into our own team and be known for having our own style but we have a lot of work ahead!
Who do you think will win the ice dancing event in Sochi – and why? Who would you bet on? And, at the same time, who is your personal favorite?
Penny: That’s a tough one, I love both couples! Meryl and Charlie have this fearlessness when they skate, I admire the way they put everything they have into their performances. Tessa and Scott have an amazing chemistry on the ice, they have the ability to draw you into their programme. I think it will be down to who skates better on the day! It seems that the technical scores now have so much influence over placements so it might even be the difference between a level 3 or 4 step sequence.
Nick: Penny said it all! The Olympics are a different kind of pressure but they both know how to deal with it… It’s really going to be who skates best on the day! Let’s hope they both have a great skate and it’s very close!
PHOTO-GALLERY: Penny and Nick at the Europeans in Budapest