Some years ago, at Crystal Skate of Romania, a local coach went to say Hi! to Anne Line, only to find out she was her twin sister, Camilla. And, surely, this happened more than once in Gjersem sisters’ career. Actually, when they were little, Camilla had to wear a red band in her hair, so that the coaches would tell them apart; and even the sisters have difficulties now in telling who is who in baby pictures. The truth is that for most of their skating career, Camilla and Anne Line shared the same ice, same coaches and events – take Norway National Championships, for example – so they became used to permanently being compared. As Camilla points out in this interview for Inside Skating, “we have been competing against each other for years, we’re used to it”. Still, the girls never quarrel about figure skating, even if they usually compete for that sole spot Norway has in Europeans and Worlds; and, for a couple of years now, one trains in Asker, Norway, and the other one, in Malmö, Sweden.
Camilla Gjersem, whom we talked to in Espoo, Finland, last October, at the end of Finlandia Trophy, is a three-time national champion (2012-2014) and took the trip to the Europeans in 2012 and 2015; she’s a cheerful young lady, wearing her smile as one of her most precious possessions. And her programs this season suit her and her character like a glove: the short one is skated to “The Havana Slide” by Vanessa-Mae, while the free is to Michael Bublé’s “Fever” and “Spider-Man”. And, as during childhood, Camilla wears colors deriving from red (whilst Anne Line wears more blue…).
The beginning of a discovery – that’s what this interview might act as: the discovery of Camilla and Anne Line, the Gjersem twins with Filipino roots, representing Norway in figure skating competitions all over the world. And, if you feel like knowing more, you might want to visit the sisters’ blog: a lot of time has passed since Sonia Henje’s golden performances and Norway might have forgotten a bit about figure skating. Bearing a suggestive name, Dobbel Gjersem (2xGjersem), the blog is about them and their lives as figure skaters: “We are writing stories about figure skating, so that people can read them and find out more about the discipline”.
Interview by Askar Ibragimov/Espoo
Askar Ibragimov: First of all, thank you, Camilla, for agreeing to this interview for Inside Skating. And I really need to compliment you on your attitude while skating. I have watched you at 2014 Finlandia Trophy too, and I noticed you’re always smiling, looking so very happy all the time. But, for starters, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? I’m sure our readers will discover things they don’t know about you… and your sister Anne Line.
Camilla Gjersem: I am 21 years old [when this interview was taken, in October 2015; Camilla turned 22 on January 6] and I am from Norway, but I am also half-Filipino, as my mom comes from the Philippines. I live in Asker, Norway – it’s near the capital Oslo – and that’s also the place where I practice. Besides skating, I’m studying Law, so that I can become a lawyer when I am done with skating.
You have a twin sister, Anne Line. Do you train together?
No, Anne Line lives in Sweden. She trains with Ela Magnusson in Malmö.
A rather obvious question: how come did you both become figure skaters?
It was a coincidence, because we were playing soccer, and my mom was thinking maybe soccer was not the right thing for us. And then she saw in the newspaper an add about a figure skating school, and we knew where it was, so we just went there with our skates, and it was kind of love at first sight: Yeah, we want to do this! We started to practice a lot, we had a Russian coach [Vladimir Starostin – Ed.], eventually we became a part of the Federation’s junior team, and then we moved to Asker because it was a better skating environment. And then we just practiced, practiced and practiced. (she smiles)
At what age did you do that?
We started to take skating classes when we were 8.
But how is it with two figure skaters in the same family?
I think it is sometimes hard for my mom and dad, because they want us both to succeed (smiles). And sometimes we only have one spot for a championship, so they know one will be happy and one will be sad. But my twin sister and I are used to it, we have been competing against each other for years, so we just want each of us to do best, and we’ll see what the result will be.
So there are no problems between you two due to this permanent competition…
No, never. Of course, we quarrel, like normal sisters do, but it’s mostly like: “I want to wear this shirt!”, “No, I want!” (laughs), so it’s more like silly small things. But we never quarrel about figure skating, no.
Do you consider yourself 100% Norwegian – or, let’s say, keep in touch with your Filipino family?
I think I also have some Filipino sides, because my mom brought that to us when we were kids. I eat Filipino food sometimes, and some of the values they have were brought to us, so we can see the difference from the Norwegians.
So you know a little bit about the Filipino culture…
Yes, and we have a lot of aunts from the Philippines, but they are all over the world now: some are in the United States, some in London…
Actually, I was curious about your roots because the first time I saw you I thought you didn’t really look like the typical Norwegian…
No, I’m not the typical Norwegian, with blond hair, no. I am half-Asian. (smiles)
Camilla, could you describe us your programs for this season? Some stories behind them maybe?
The short program is from last season: I’m skating to “The Havana Slide” [by Vanessa-Mae]. It’s more just a fun choreography, I really enjoy performing it, I like the music and there’s no story behind it, just fun skating. The free program this season is to Michael Bublé’s “Fever” and “Spider-Man”, it’s somehow different [from what I used to skate… - Ed.]. In the free program I normally skate to slower musical parts, but this season I wanted more rhythm and fun in the free program too.
Who decides on your programs – music, choreo? Do you take part in discussions?
I am participating, of course. I have to like the music, but my choreographer or my coach can come with suggestions, and I also come with suggestions, and we all talk and decide.
For many skaters, competitions are quite stressful. How do you manage to stay in such a good mood?
Well, I just try to think about what I am going to do, and take one element at a time, be in the moment. This competition [2015 Finlandia Trophy] is so fun, because the audience is amazing, the rink is nice, and everything is so good, the whole experience.
“When you fail it hurts a lot, but that is actually giving you more motivation to keep working harder. And, of course, if you put in the work, the result will come one day”
Have you set any goals for 2015-2016 season, some plans to go ahead with?
I really want to participate in the Worlds, but Norway has only one spot, so I’ll just do my best and see how far it will take me.
What do people in Norway say/think about figure skating? In Finland it’s all about hockey, and figure skating doesn’t seem too important in people’s eyes…
Figure skating is very small in Norway. Of course, after Anne Line participated in the Olympics , we got a lot of media attention, and now everybody knows what figure skating is about. But before, I could say to someone: “I am doing figure skating”, and people would be like: “What is that?” (laughing). Now people know, but cross-country skiing and soccer are most popular in Norway.
I really hope these days, in the Internet age, people would know more about figure skating, in Norway and elsewhere…
Actually, my sister and I decided to start a blog together: we are writing stories about figure skating, so that people can read them and find out more about the discipline. But we’re also writing about our daily routine: how we practice, when we go to competitions, so that we can spread the word about figure skating. [the address of the blog is: http://dobbelgjersem.playblogg.no and the stories are mostly in Norwegian; soon, an English translation plug-in will be added]
And your blog is just about figure skating or also about something else?
It’s mostly about figure skating, but we also meant to tell more about ourselves and our relationship as twin sisters (she smiles).
You travel a lot, and your perspective on the world is certainly different from that of others. So how does the world look like in your eyes?
It’s very… different. And, of course, when we were small we went to the Philippines and saw that not everyone had the same possibilities we had in Norway. It was kind of shocking. A lot goes on the world that we do not know about. Now, with the internet, media and [opportunities to] travel so easily, we can see that we, in Western part of Europe, are very lucky. [What one can see elsewhere] is shocking, and it is affecting us too, so we are trying to help. Some weeks ago, the school was gathering some stuff for charity. As a figure skater, I had a lot of warm clothes, so I wanted to give them many clothes.
But I’m lucky to live in Norway, and I’m so privileged that I can do what I am most passionate about, figure skating, and I have the possibility to go to school and pursue my goals and dreams. While others, unfortunately, don’t have the same possibilities, and too many struggle just to survive. It’s very sad and unfair.
As a figure skater, you’re always trying to achieve something, to be better than the rest. What advice would you give to people in order to do that, to grow, advance, stay motivated?
What I learn about figure skating is that sometimes when you fail it hurts a lot, but that is actually giving you more motivation to keep working harder and harder. And, of course, if you put in the work, the result will come one day; just do not give up, keep going, and it will go your way.
You mentioned the Law school before, and your wish to become a lawyer when you’re done with skating. How do you see that happening, and how much you’re studying now?
Now I take half-time, I took the exam and started in January . I was supposed to do it later, but I felt ready so I took the exam anyway. But for now I will mainly focus on skating, and the studies are somehow in the background. I know one day skating will end, and then I’ll have to do something else. I want to become a business lawyer one day. I met a guy, who is a senior partner in a company, and he was telling me about it, and I thought that this is really cool, I’d also want maybe to work in a place like that someday.
But for now I train three times a day, so I read whenever I have the time – and I don’t attend classes. The school is very kind, and I only need to take the exams. It’s very good for me, I can study by myself – and, as a figure skater or top athlete, I’m really structured. So if I know, for instance, that I only have 30 minutes at hand, I do what I can in those 30 minutes.
And you manage?
(Smiling) I manage.
[Interview by Askar Ibragimov, Espoo/intro and editing by Florentina Tone]