What’s the purpose of all this, and aren’t you too old to do it, people asked Valentina Marchei and Ondrej Hotarek when they decided to give it a try as a pair. But here’s the thing with them, and they’ll tell you that themselves: if they can see even the tiny light, the smallest possibility, “we always go and try”. And not just that: “we give 300 percent to get there”.
And the truth is that’s almost hard to remember now that Valentina was a single skater while Ondrej had skated with a different partner in the not-so-distant past. That matched they are, and that convincing. That much into each other’s bubbles.
We talked to them at the end of this year’s Europeans in Moscow, after the exhibition (and its adventurous stories) and before the skaters’ banquet – and this particular conversation has all the ingredients, enthusiasm included, to keep you glued to your chair until you finish reading. ‘Cause they’re addictive Valentina and Ondrej – and, with them, what you see is always what you get.
interview by Nadia Vasilyeva/Moscow
Nadia Vasilyeva: First of all, congratulations on your wonderful performance here in Moscow. Two great programs, the audience loved it, and it seemed like you loved it as well. How do you feel about your overall presence this year at Europeans?
Ondrej Hotarek: I told a couple of people already: the way we train the programs, it’s not spontaneous. It’s not like you can just come and perform, and smile, and try to catch the contact with the public and with the judges. We work every day to do this, with our choreographer. It’s like an element – you just work to get this impression to the judges, and to the public. And you have to work every day to be secure that you can actually do it every day.
So you are satisfied with the way you skated here…
Ondrej: Of course!
Valentina Marchei: I think we are satisfied, going into the Olympics, with the way we skated here. We saved a little something, ’cause we didn’t have the best Nationals ever. We had a good short [program], we didn’t have a good long. So it was just about putting out a good long, and then to go satisfied with good work. We are satisfied because we could not only perform, but also enjoy it. It was professionally done, but with the heart part [smiles].
THE ADVENTURE STARTED WITH FELLINI, IT CONTINUES WITH FELLINI
Your both programs are Italian-themed this season. Does it have anything to do with the fact that it’s Olympic season?
Valentina: Yeah, the idea was to find something pretty Italian to bring to the Olympics. Even the year I was a single skater, I brought two Italian programs. I wanted to bring my culture.
Ondrej: But we actually wanted to do something from Federico Fellini.
Valentina: Yeah, and to portray a story, because with the “La Strada”…
Ondrej: We did “La Strada” the first year when we skated together, and it kind of stayed with us, because it’s who we are, and it’s funny…
Valentina: It’s how the adventure started. At the beginning, we even thought maybe we should bring it back. In a different way, with different costumes, maybe different music. But then…
Ondrej: But then we found the “Amarcord” music, and it actually felt a little bit more mature, and it fit us better at this moment, so we decided to go with this one. Now it feels really similar to what we did in “La Strada”.
And when you do it from the scratch – it’s always better than when you have to re-do something that you’ve done before.
I think that helps us grow. Every time we do a new program, it helps us to add something new.
And with the short program… that was a last minute call, we had to convince our coach.
Valentina: She thought that in Korea it might not be that well known, ’cause it’s an old song [“Tu vuò fà l’americano” by Renato Carosone]. So she was like: “Did you guys really think about it?”
And we really wanted to do it, because it’s the kind of music that we would skate to. It’s like the ‘Barbie Girl’ type. It’s a fun music, and it’s good for the short. Because if you’d have to skate the intensity of a short program for a long program – it would be too much.
So what we did – we did a show with this music. To see the response of the public. There were 7.000 people on the show, and everybody was clapping, everybody was standing up. And we sent our coach the video, saying: “This is gonna work!”
Ondrej: And she was like: [in a slow, non-enthusiastic voice] “Yeeeah, well, good, we’ll see if that happens in competition as well”. And we were like: “Here! Twice this year! People are clapping from beginning till the end!”.
So I think this time it was even better than what we did at Cup of Russia. And also I think because people already knew the program was gonna happen – people were looking forward to it.
And when you actually do it well, it kinda has a double meaning.
Valentina: The mistake can always be there, but the good thing with this program is when it’s well done – it has a good impact. And for us, Europeans have always been very important. I think it’s a thing that comes from back in the years when getting the qualification for Europeans was never easy, you’d have to deserve it. So we always have huge respect for European Championships.
And especially when it comes to countries where you are loved – you want to skate well for them. Because here the public gives you the reward if you skate well. It comes with you, and it’s beautiful. So it has a double meaning. Especially this year, going into the Olympics, it was extremely important. Because this season wasn’t linear. It was a bit of ups and downs, never two good programs in a row. I guess this Europeans is saying now: “Okay, guys, you are ready”.
Ondrej: Like we can finally do both programs in two days, and perform them well.
Valentina: Yeah, we can get it together, and then go confident. Because that’s all it actually takes – being confident. And I think this week has set our confidence to go. And you know, at least we’re serene, and happy, and ready.
Because we’ve been working like we’ve never worked before – it’s true! [both chuckle]. With throw-ups and everything… And we had really hard times recovering.
Valentina: Yeah, recovering, because sometimes the practices are really intense, so the next day you can’t even walk [smiles].
It might be the age! [laughs] Or it might be the fact that we are working a lot, and it’s not so easy to go through the week. And coming here, we had three good weeks of practice, so it was just about putting what we did in practice into competition.
And now we are happy.
Did you bring that extra intensity to your training because of the Olympics?
Valentina: No, I think it’s a mental game: because of the Olympics, you wanna be so perfect and clean, and so you put the attention to things that you wouldn’t put the attention normally.
Ondrej: Well, I think we started our preparation earlier. We built the programs sooner. I think usually the best of our programs always comes at the World Championships, and we tried to shift everything at least a month back. Because you can see, last year we did over 200 [points] only at Worlds, and now we already hit it here at Europeans. Our improvement is getting there earlier than last season. I think that was the main difference in the preparation: the summer.
PREVIOUS OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE: SOCHI 2014
You both have previous Olympic experience, but I imagine it’s gotta be different for each one. Can you both tell a bit about how it feels when you look back at it, and does that experience help you now?
Ondrej: Well, mine was probably way shorter, because I was the first one to compete [with Stefania Berton in Sochi, in 2014]: I did both programs in the team event, then I had a day off, and then I did my regular event, and then the day after, we left.
It was a lot of training, a lot of programs, one competition led to another… So I saw the Village just for one day, and it was real quick. But I managed to see the opening ceremony, and it was an emotional thing. So for me I would just wanna enjoy it a bit more.
Valentina: Yeah, mine was different, because I did just the second part of the team event [in Sochi], and then I did my competition in the end. So I had time in the middle to enjoy, and practice for 10 days between two competitions, and to really breath it in.
Especially because I was coming from two qualifications failed [smiles], so those Olympic Games were that kind of competition that you have done in your mind twenty thousand times.
So when I was out there, I was like: “I know how to do it. I know exactly what to think”. So I really lived that competition like the best experience of my life. The best of my career, actually, as a single skater. Really, adrenaline-wise I could last for three weeks, and I really did everything I could do out there. And then when I got home I was like: I wanna do another one! [laughs]
Ondrej [adds quickly]: Let’s switch to pairs and do it pairs! [all laugh]
Valentina: But the actual idea wasn’t then. I thought: if I keep going as a single skater maybe I wouldn’t make into the next Olympics, because of the age, because of different things… And then this happened.
THAT’S WHO THEY ARE: “IF WE CAN SEE THE SMALLEST POSSIBILITY – WE ALWAYS GO AND TRY”
Yes, about that. Because your case is really unique: you were a successful single skater, and now you are even more successful as a pair skater. What’s your secret? Because people don’t normally succeed at that, and people don’t normally do that!
Ondrej: Well, a lot of people try.
Try, yes… But not at this level, I mean.
Valentina: When we decided to switch, we had a lot of people saying that we wouldn’t be able to do it, because we’re too old, and where we would want to go, what was the purpose of it…
But, actually, when we started it, we said: Let’s do it for shows. Like, I can sell myself as a single skater, and I can sell myself as a pair skater.
Ondrej: Because considering pairs’ possibilities – you’ve got, you know, big tricks, you can always entertain the public.
Valentina: But we were learning very fast, so like on the third attempt to the triple Lutz throw I said: Let’s do it! And he [Ondrej] is somebody who’s a very excited person, so it wasn’t difficult to be on the same page. Because we are that kind of people, if we can see even the tiny light…
Ondrej: If we can see the smallest possibility – we always go and try.
Valentina: Yes, the smallest possibility, we take it. Knowing we could fail.
So I think we could enjoy this whole adventure because we knew there was the possibility to fail. And if we did fail – Okay, at least we tried. If it’s not gonna take us anywhere – that’s it.
But it would be a strange thing for us not to… not succeed, but not to get to that point. Once we see the possibility, we give 300 percent to get there. And so far we’ve always achieved every little step that we set.
We always say – even today, after a week like this: It’s not the medal that would make this experience better. Well, of course, having a medal would be something that would stay there forever, but… I mean, if they would tell me: A medal, but less love and support from the public – then I would choose the public.
Ondrej: Yeah. [nods eagerly]
Valentina: And to get transported by their energy, and to have them feel our energy – it’s something that you cannot explain. You can feel it only by being out there. That’s really precious, and that’s our main goal.
Now we are happy. There’s nothing more we want. Because we’ve got all the technical elements, and it’s just about going for a clean skate. And once we did a clean skate – that’s all we’re asking for.
But there is no way you could get less love from the public! You earned it all.
Valentina: Yeah, of course, medals are good to have, and important…
Ondrej: But there’s always gonna be people who have more medals than you. So in the end…
You can’t win all the medals in the world…
Valentina: This inventory is gonna end at some point, and then what is gonna remain? Okay, the medals are going to remain, and most of the average athletes – and we are in the group of the average…
[the interviewer makes the ‘oh, come on’ face]
Valentina: No, it’s true.
Ondrej: We’re like in the middle. Not the last, but…
Valentina: There is a small percentage that is gonna be like “The Champion” champion. And all the rest are gonna be those who make the numbers, who enjoy a good performance. Good performers, good athletes. Like, for example, football players. How many football players are the very best? Three, four in the world. See what I mean?
Ondrej: And then there are some personalities. We are just trying to sell it in a different way.
Valentina: Yeah, leave our mark. We know that every time they’re gonna say our names, they’re gonna smile and be like – ‘Oh, Barbie and Ken!’ [smiles]
Ondrej: People will remember. It’s more about the story, not so much about the numbers, or breaking records.
Valentina: We’ve already done the great thing.
“WE CHOSE THE WAY WHEN WE TRY TO ENTERTAIN THE PUBLIC”
I see, and in figure skating especially, there’s sometimes a group of medalists and then the group of the most loved by the public, and they are often not the same.
Ondrej: Yes, and especially pair skating in the last four years made a huge, huuuge leap ahead.
Like, when I take it back to 2008, 2007, when I had my first Europeans, you could have medaled at Worlds with a double twist. You could have medaled with a double Axel and one triple jump. We didn’t have to do that much that we have to do now.
Now, to qualify we need a triple twist. Like, last year, three couples who did a clean short program didn’t make it to the finals. So pair skating got sooo much more difficult in the last two years – now you really need everything. You need to be unique, you need to have big tricks, you need to skate clean all the time. So it’s huge, it’s really difficult.
And we live in an era where you have perfect matches. Like Aljona [Savchenko] and Bruno [Massot] – she’s like the most experienced with probably the strongest guy. Then you have the teams that train together every day, they are the three of the best in Europe: the three Russian couples, and it’s so hard to even compare to them.
When you have that kind of competition every day at practice… We don’t have that at home, it’s good that we have at least two strong couples, we can kinda help each other to grow a little bit. ’Cause if not, it’s basically impossible for other teams to even compete against teams like these.
So what you’re saying is, it’s actually better for you to train with someone else, someone stronger?
Ondrej: Oh, my God, yes!
Valentina: When you are the one who has to push the others – it’s hard. When you get pushed – it’s easy.
Ondrej: …because you don’t understand like how much speed is there… Of course, you make mistakes when you get really fast, but the speed is impressive, it’s one of those things, and then you get height… And sometimes you don’t know when you train on your own. You’re like – Well, I think it’s high, and then you get to the competition, and you see that people can do much more.
But we also don’t wanna get hurt, so on the throws especially, we decided that we don’t wanna risk it too much. Like you know, Chinese pairs do huge throws, but they also sometimes need surgeries. And we are both over 30, and we are still good, with no surgeries. And pushing it too far with quad throws – it can be dangerous for the girls.
So we chose the way when we try to entertain the public.
And I think probably in the future there’s gonna be some talking among the panel, to try to see if they can really show this in the marks. Because sometimes it’s hard to see the Components: you have the standing arena clapping to you performance, and then, in the end, you find out that your Interpretation and Performance was number four or number five of the competition, which…
You know, I don’t say that we have the best twist, but I think we have the arena going for 2:50 minutes, and we don’t get the best Performance of the night – it’s kinda hard.
Valentina: You know, the video of our short program – it got to 2 million views today. It’s a lot! Two million people know who we are [smiles].
Ondrej: I think it’s important to say this to the new judges, and they need to be aware.
Valentina: Because people get passionate about something. If you have fun – you wanna see more, right? Not of us, in general.
Ondrej: You can tell just by explaining: okay, we lost, because the technique is not that strong. But when we have a tie in technical, and we’re losing Performance – it’s a little bit hard to watch look in the result sheets.
For me, I just say this to everybody, I think it’s a good shout-out, for everyone who’s judging – try to go a little bit more with your heart, not just what you’ve been taught.
Because it’s actually really hard to judge. There’s so many sections of the Components that you need to be aware of. But I’m the supporter of the new judging system, I think it really improved the way how we are judged, and I think it’s more fair – but I still think, the Components, we can figure it out just a little bit better.
But I think ISU is working on that, and in time we’re gonna get closer to the reality. I hope! [smiles].
ENTERING EACH OTHER’S BUBBLES – THE ROAD TO BECOMING A PAIR
Ondrej, were there any challenges for you to skate with someone who was previously a single skater? And, Valentina, were there any challenges, difficulties, that you didn’t expect from pair skating?
Valentina: I didn’t expect anything! [laughs]. I had no clue what pair skating could be. Coming from somebody who’s afraid of heights…
Valentina: Yeah, and I am still – even in Moscow metro I cannot look down the escalator [smiles].
Oh, wow, so how do you survive doing what you do?
Valentina: Because I trust him [nods at Ondrej].
It all comes down to trust, so I’m not afraid. It’s the axe of the jump, it totally changes.
Ondrej: And it’s also a very complicated technical move, so your brain is very busy – but when you’re standing at the escalator you’re not busy, and you’re thinking about the height. But with the triple twist, I tell you, whether it’s one meter, or two meters, or three – you will not gonna tell the difference of height. It’s very fast and there’s so many technical things that you have to do.
Valentina: Yeah, but learning the twist was a nightmare for me [laughs]. But then we figured it out pretty well.
Ondrej: But starting from the beginning, with all my partners we started with a single skater, so for me it wasn’t completely new. The passages are always the same.
Valentina: But I don’t think it was easy for him to adjust with someone who was used to motivate herself by herself, to keep on working, and working, and working.
Ondrej: Yeah, the problem as well, you get through competition, and our coach in the practice would be like: “Okay, now go and do a Sal”. And I turn – and she was already going.
The main problem was to train her, to remind her that it’s not only her anymore. But in a good way. When you do it for 20 years, it becomes automatic in you.
[And] when things are not working, she’d shut down and talk to herself, but I’m like: “No-no-no, we just have to talk a little bit, and figure it out together”.
Valentina: It was difficult to accept to have somebody next to me, and let him into my bubble. To accept, and find the way of talking, and I had to filter everything I said. ’Cause if you’re a single skater, and you’re disappointed with yourself – you tell yourself the worst things possible. But then I couldn’t throw myself on the floor if I would be frustrated, ’cause then he would look at me like: “Hey, I’m here!’ [laughs].
Nothing was easy, but I think everything was pretty smooth. We did it step by step, we got to the point where we are now. That now we are even sometimes too much into each other’s bubbles.
Ondrej: Yeah, sometimes we influence each other almost in the bad way. Like when one is feeling a little bit down, the other is… The empathy is so strong, that you would go just: Okay, it’s a bad day, and I feel it too.
Valentina: But the good thing is, if it’s a bad day, you know you can rely on the other one.
Ondrej: We both have to get through the day.
Valentina: Like today, for example. [the last day of Europeans, the exhibition-day]
It wasn’t a bad day, but everything happened: I woke up and I couldn’t find my wallet, then the bus for the opening [of the exhibition] didn’t arrive on time [at the arena]…
I was just like: “Ondrej, seriously, I’m trying, but karma is not helping me. What else can happen today?” [laughs].
But the fact that there is somebody else… Yeah, I was down, but at least there’s him that keeps my mood up. And it’s good. And it can be bad at the same time, because sometimes you just wanna be alone, and there’s that person next to you! [in a mock-frustrated voice].
But we learned that there are days when we say to each other: Today, don’t talk to me, ’cause it’s not our day, which means, well, we talk to each other, but, like don’t tell me too complicated things.
Ondrej: Let’s just keep it simple, get the job done and go home.
Valentina: We had a person that helped us.
Ondrej: Helped to set the basic rules. Because sometimes in the communication it’s good to have someone who sets the rules for you, the mentor, the mental coach, whatever you wanna call it. Because like that, it’s an impartial person, and you both have to follow the same rules.
Valentina: Even if you don’t agree, or if they are too tight for you.
And who was it for you, was it your coach or someone else?
Valentina: No, we have a person who helps us do our mental preparation, by visualization and other things. But not a psychologist, it’s a whole other person. It’s sports mental preparation.
Ondrej: I think a lot of skaters now work with any sort of coaches who help you with that. Because the mental factor in figure skating is really, really huge. Sometimes in competition you just have to channel your thoughts into that thing that you’re doing at the moment. And it’s not easy, but you can train.
Valentina: It’s a double training, basically. You get it done even when you don’t practice.
And it’s not easy, but if something happens, like last year, before Worlds, he got hit by a car, and his hand was injured. For two weeks going into Words, and we couldn’t do anything with our hands – basically, everything. So we had to find a way to stay in shape, like with the parachute, physical preparation.
Ondrej: But the technical things… you are only able to do it in your head.
Well, you could jump?
Ondrej: Yeah, I could jump, but…
Valentina: But not at the beginning, because all the blood was…
Ondrej: I had like five stitches, because the whole arm was open out… I couldn’t grab the right way, throw was hard, twists, everything… We fixated it, and I did the whole Worlds not using these [gestures at his right palm, showing that some fingers weren’t mobile]. I just had three fingers.
Valentina: There are elements, like the lasso and the death spirals that we did only in competition.
Ondrej: Yeah, we didn’t even try it.
Like the lasso lift – I didn’t do it for two weeks before. And the twist – we just started doing it only a couple of days before Worlds. I just couldn’t do it.
But you know, you focus and you find the solution. That’s what we always say. There are always stories of people overcoming things. Skaters are much tougher than they look like. On TV, it looks really pretty, and we smile, and it doesn’t really look hard when you do it. Well, yeah, you get points for not making it look hard. That’s basically our job.
[smiling] We know that you are actually tougher than hockey players.
Ondrej: Well, I don’t know about that [laughs]. Because I think hockey is tough. I like to respect all other sports. There is always a difficulty in every sport on a high level.
THE ADVENTURE OF ARRIVING AT THE ARENA IN TIME FOR THE EXHIBITION
[You might have noticed that when skaters were announced, during the opening of the exhibition in Moscow, on January 21, Ondrej Hotarek was all by himself. Some people even asked on twitter: what happened to Valentina? Well, Valentina tells the story of a bus full of skaters, including a very relaxed six-time European champion, trying really hard to get to the arena in time for the exhibition]
And you mentioned the thing with the bus today. Can you please explain to our readers what happened there?
Ondrej: So basically, we are really close to the arena, even in the busiest days it never took more than 15 minutes to get to the arena. So we assumed that the last bus before the show was at 13:30…
Valentina: But with the wallet that I couldn’t find, I lost a lot of time.
At 12:45 they found the wallet, so I was like: No, I’m not taking the bus at 13:00, because I still didn’t have make-up on, nothing on. And, plus, I wanted his wife [Ondrej’s wife, ice dancer Anna Cappellini] – usually she does my hair for the competition and for everything.
And I thought if she could do my hair, while I was doing my make-up… I risked it.
Ondrej: I took the bus at 13:00, and it already was pretty busy, and I think it was because of the mall next door, because it’s Sunday… But there was also a sold-out at Megasport, so probably a lot of people coming in.
But then you told me that there was a little bit of a traffic jam right at the arena? [turns to Valentina]
Valentina: Once we got to the arena, they let out all the buses, instead of letting us in.
Ondrej: But the ISU and organizers handled it well, people who weren’t there yet [for the presentation of skaters] – they just didn’t announce them. They announced us, and I was like: “Asdfghj, well, she’s somewhere!” [shrugs his shoulders comically]
Valentina [joking mood]: They probably thought I was drunk somewhere.
Ondrej: But Ari [Zakarian], the manager of the show, was like: “Well played, well played”. So I think it was fine.
And how did you feel at that moment when you had to go out there alone?
Ondrej: I was a bit worried, but I knew it wasn’t so important. It was just the presentation. I would be more worried if we missed our number, but…
Valentina: ’Cause he’s used to plan everything, like when to meet and everything.
Ondrej: But I knew that she was taking the bus, so if she could make it – she would. But if not, I was just gonna figure it out on my own. And we are good at improvising.
Valentina: [to Ondrej] I admit I was more afraid of your reaction. I was like [in a pretend-terrified voice]: “He’s gonna kill meeee! Because he took the 13:00 bus, and I should have taken the 13:00 as well, he was right!” [laughs].
But we changed in the bus, and we put our skates on, and, you know… It was just panic in the bus. While Javi [Javier Fernández] was like: “Well, my skates are at the arena…” [in a very calm, non-disturbed voice]
Javi was the calmest person there!
Valentina: Because he couldn’t do anything if he would change!
Ondrej: But the more shows like this you do… You don’t resolve anything if you just freak out in the bus. It’s not gonna make it any faster. If you arrive – you arrive, you don’t arrive – you don’t arrive. And the more things you do…
Valentina: It seems like something always happens, always! [laughs] With me there is a lot of drama all the time.
Ondrej: The most nervous I was when I had to do the clapping thing. [Ondrej had his role in the exhibition’s Finale, remember?]
We were just told: “Oh, it would be cool to do”, and Ari was like: “You go in the middle and do it”. And I was just like: “Well, I hope the people will get it”, and then, by first three claps, it wasn’t really working, but then when we started – the whole arena did exactly what we wanted it to do by the end.
It really got them going, but at first I was so nervous that it’s not gonna work… So that was my worst moment of tonight’s show [laughs]. Silly things.
But if my partner’s in the bus – she’s in the bus, and when it arrives, she will be there.
[to Valentina] And your worst moment was probably in that bus?
Valentina: Yeah. Well, I think I managed, I learned to not freak out right away, to be more zen even than him sometimes.
Ondrej: But definitely before we started you were not that zen.
Valentina: Noo! [laughs]
Ondrej: Sometimes I was like: “Stop it! Stop it! That’s enough!” [both smile]
SOAKING UP THE ATMOSPHERE OF EVERY PERFORMANCE
It looks like you are very good at improvisation. And am I guessing it right that there was some improvisation in you exhibition number today?
Ondrej: Just a little bit [smiles].
Valentina: Well, it wasn’t like I didn’t know you were gonna be naked.
Oh, you did plan it? [to Valentina] Because you looked kind of surprised when he stripped.
Valentina: Well, we planned it 5 minutes before.
Ondrej: My idea was the one with another T-shirt – because it was one of the gifts of the first day from a fan. The ‘Super Ondrej” T-shirt, and I just wanted to bring it to the show.
Valentina: She [the fan] probably died watching.
Ondrej: And even our coach was like: “Yeah, you should take off the other T-shirt as well!”
Valentina: And he was like: “Well, I don’t knooow”… And I was like: “Come on! Who, at 33, has a body like yours? Show it, once you can!” It’s like – smile till you have teeth. Do it, while you’re still in shape! [laughs].
Ondrej: And it felt like the arena was pretty pumped for it, so, in the end, I just went for it.
It was like the same as when we dove into confetti. I always wanted to do it, and, with Matteo [Rizzo], our youngest team member, he was just so excited, he was like: “I wanna do it too!!” So that was it.
So you didn’t do it before because you were alone to do so?
Ondrej: I don’t know. It was just the right time. You never know. And this season was just so great, and here at Megasport we had so much fun. So many great stories to tell one day when we sit in the bar with my friends. These are the greatest stories to tell. Like: “You know that time when I dove and scratched my forehead?”
You scratched your forehead?
Ondrej: Well, no, that was the time when I missed the backflip and landed on my face.
Some might remember the time when I did a little lift with Yuzuru [Hanyu] and gained like 2.000 followers in one day [smiles].
You know little, spontaneous things, they are always cool, and I like people who try to embrace these things.
You know, like Ari Zakarian, who’s doing the show [the exhibition]. He always won’t tell you all the things that he wants you to do, but the last minute, he’ll be like: “Okay, I want you to do this!” He showed me the video of the team doing the clapping-thing, and he was like: “You do this”. And people feel like it’s not super-rehearsed – ’cause it’s not – and here people always appreciate it.
We’ve done some crazy shows with Ari and with my Czech friends, we’ve invented a show on the spot, when we did a show in my home town, in Brno with Tomáš [Verner] and Michal [Březina].
We basically invented it in the 15-minute break between two halves, and we performed it as the first number of the second half. And the next day, there was an article in the main newspaper of the town, and it said: “Three Czech boys overshine the King” (’cause it was “Kings on Ice”).
Ondrej: And it was invented five minutes before, in the locker room!
We never tried it, we started from the stands and just… You know, good story to tell. Gave us hundred views on YouTube. Hundred! [smiling].
But the video’s there! You go ‘Kings on ice Brno’ – it’s there.
Do you have any stories like that from this competition?
Ondrej: That one right there [laughs]. Well, taking the leap and diving into confetti…
You know, something unconventional is always fun. Like with Matteo, he basically went to buy his costume into H&M here at the mall, because he wasn’t expecting he would be invited to the exhibition.
So the day after the long, he was like: “Oh, my God! But why?” For the whole day he was trying to understand why he was picked out for the exhibition. And we were like: “Well, people probably liked your programs”. And he was like: “But why? I’m 9th, there are 6 places, why should I do it?”
So we wanted to do something fun, something that really suited him. And I remember that he did this show a couple of years ago, and it was really cute, but he didn’t have any costume, so we bought a black tie and some pants and a white shirt. And I think he did a great job, and the arena loved it, and I think he earned a spot for the next show as well! [smiles].
Did he improvise the whole number?
Ondrej: No, we had our choreographer here, so they built it yesterday.
That’s still pretty impressive.
Ondrej: Yeah. He did prepare his music last night, and he rehearsed it in the room, till one o’clock in the night. That’s also dedication, you don’t wanna disappoint the fans [smiles].
And he did a great job.
Valentina: We are very proud of him.
Ondrej: He took his spot, and he’s been amazing in stepping up and trying to be on the same level as other three disciplines. Which is hard! Skating next to Carolina, and Luca… And he’s just trying to get as high as he can. And here, skating in the last group, that was a big surprise.
I think he can be the revelation of the Europeans. He missed the [Junior] Grand Prix Final by one point or something [Matteo had amassed 20 points in his two JGP assignments; the last one to qualify in the final six had 22], and he wants to do everything. He’s gonna do two competitions at Olympics, and he’s gonna go for Junior Worlds as well as Senior Worlds.
You have this significant move, or significant pose, when you pose everywhere doing that particular lift. How did you come up with that idea?
Ondrej: I think we did it for the first time in Florence last year. It’s a lift we do in other programs, like show programs. It always has a great line overlooking the city. So there’s been quite a few places where we’ve done it.
Valentina: Around the world.
Ondrej: Yeah. The best, I think, was in China, because people always take photos and start clapping [smiles].
Valentina: People are like: “Stay there, stay there!” But no, I can not stay that long! [laughs].
We have these instagram stories full of people asking to take pictures with us after they saw it.
Is it harder to do that lift off ice?
Ondrej: No. The skates add the major difficulty. So, usually, we can do it off ice. Of course, we have to work on it, but it’s just practice.
And my last question is where do you see yourself one year from now?
Valentina: We don’t.
Ondrej: We can’t say, because now the only thing we can’t think about is competing. Maybe you can ask us one week after Worlds when we can sit down and understand what we really want. Because now what we wanna do is go and win! Or go and perform well.
Valentina: Now it’s [the] time when you know it’s coming, and you’re on the right path, and I think this is a good trampoline, so we need to take the chance now.
So you are in the moment, and you’re not thinking about the future?
Ondrej: Exactly! That’s exactly it.
Valentina: Well, of course, you think about it, but you wanna do so many things that, at some point, you have to sit down and say: “Okay, I have to choose, I can’t do everything”. We’ll see.
SEE MORE of Valentina and Ondrej during 2018 Europeans
[interview by Nadia Vasilyeva/intro and editing by Florentina Tone/photos by Natasha Ponarina and Kate Yurina]