There’s a lot to admire at Zoltan Kelemen, this wonderful figure skater born in Miercurea Ciuc, Romania, and training now in Dübendorf, Switzerland; because if it hadn’t been for his personal effort and commitment to the discipline, Romania wouldn’t have had any representatives in Sochi, in the figure skating events. In September 2013, at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Zoltan earned a spot for Romania in the Olympic men’s event – as he had done four years earlier, prior to the Olympic Games in Vancouver. And this is a huge accomplishment for someone who hasn’t received, in the last two years, any support from the Romanian Skating Federation; in Switzerland, Zoli (as his friends call him) split his time between training and working in order to pay for his coaches and ice time. Facing the adversities, the skater says, simply and convincingly: „I haven’t given up because I wanted to show the world that we were here, that we were a part of this sport too”.
by Florentina Tone
Zoli, how was this second Olympic experience for you? After all, you managed to enter the final 24 skaters: you finished the competition in Sochi on the 23rd place, comparing with Vancouver-2010, when you didn’t advance to the free program…
It was indeed a beautiful experience. Too bad I couldn’t show what I was capable of. I approached the Olympic event very seriously, I came to Sochi with the thought of skating the final and climb as high as possible in the Top 24…
What went wrong? Standing in the Kiss and Cry after the long program, you seemed very disappointed…
Unfortunately, I couldn’t rely on the combination and on the triple Lutz. I was indeed very disappointed because this was my weakest event in all season.
I was under the impression you would go for the quad Salchow in the long program. Why did you give up?
I wanted to climb in the rankings – but I needed a clean program in order to do that. I didn’t go for the quad because I’ve experienced some problems with my knees and my muscles. I hope everything will be fine until the next competition.
The Olympic men’s free program was definitely full of mistakes – why did this happen?
The men’s event is very difficult, everyone knows that – actually, the skaters are making a lot of mistakes because they’re constantly trying difficult elements. Plus, the Olympics can be very stressful…
You had your short program choreographed by the famous Pasquale Camerlengo. How did you end up working with him?
Pasquale was invited by my coach, Gheorghe Chiper, and stayed in Switzerland, at the club where I’m training, for two weeks; he came for other skaters too, not only for me. He’s a very modest man – and very good in what he does.
How did you prepare for the Olympic season and for the Olympic Games in Sochi, especially after the qualifying event in Oberstdorf?
The preparation for the Olympic season was among the hardest things in my life because I had a lot of health issues and also financial problems; I had no support from the Romanian Skating Federation and I had to work in order to pay my coaches, my ice time here, in Switzerland. I’m glad it turned out well eventually, I really wanted to qualify for the Olympics. Of course, it could have been better..
A couple of years ago, you said the triple Axel was your favorite jump…
My favorite jump is still the Axel, I get a special feeling while attempting it.
Have you managed to meet your favorite skater of all times, Alexei Yagudin? What did you like about him?
No, I haven’t met Alexei yet. What I liked about him were the determination, the easiness, the passion he put into skating.
What’s there for you after Sochi? Are you going to the Worlds in Saitama? In other words, do you plan to stay competitive?
I don’t know yet. Making a decision is hard, but I’m not sure I can remain competitive without some help, financial help. It’s almost impossible to go to Saitama – I simply don’t have any money left to pay for the trip. But let’s see what happens in the following days…
How is your life in Switzerland?
My life in Switzerland is quiet, without too much stress. I’m training, I’m working, I have my girlfriend, Emese, beside me… She is very supportive, she helped me a lot in the past two years.
Looking retrospectively, which was the most emotional moment of your career?
Actually, there were two: these two editions of the Olympic Games, Vancouver and Sochi.
The life of a figure skater born in Romania doesn’t seem that simple; no matter how talented, you have to struggle a lot in order to stay competitive… How come you haven’t given up?
You’re right: the life of a Romanian skater is not simple – and it will never be simple. I haven’t given up because I wanted to show the world that we were here, that we were a part of this sport too.
Before coming to Switzerland, I worked very well with Sorina Mladin and Cornel Gheorghe – I will never forget what they have done for me.
I’m sure you get this particular question all the time – but, unlike others, you can really give a pertinent answer to it: how do you see the future of figure skating in Romania? What should we do? How can we overcome this deadlock? At this point, the young figure skaters of Bucharest are training in a mall, given the fact that the official ice rink was closed a year ago…
It’s a complete disaster. And I don’t see any difference in the following four years. But maybe in 30 years time people will change their way of thinking; otherwise we are, unfortunately, lost. The solution? As many ice rinks as possible and very well prepared coaches.
On the other hand, figure skating is a very expensive sport – in order to exist, to show you’re there, you have to have the support of the club, of the federation, of the town.
PHOTO-GALLERY: Zoltan Kelemen at the 2014 Europeans in Budapest