Two weeks before 2023 Europeans in Espoo, Julia Sauter had some roller coaster days to deal with.
Emotional ones, with high highs and low lows, but some that finished with a smile in Otopeni, Romania, at the end of a small, but inspirational international competition, EduSport Trophy.
First of all, landing her first ever triple Lutz, on January 10, in her training rink in Germany, right before coming to Romania, a reason for happy, amazed tears – “I landed one on Tuesday, for the first time!”
Then having a nervy short program in Otopeni, not getting the much-desired TES-minimum for Worlds, crying sad hopeless tears at the end of her skate: “I skated my short program the entire week very good in practice – and I came here, and I did mistakes!”
Then landing her first triple Lutz in competition, in the free skate on January 15, finishing EduSport Trophy 2023 on the 2nd place, hence happy tears again. “The fact that I actually landed the Lutz was mind-blowing! And the fact that I learned both the triple Flip and the triple Lutz by the age of 25 and a half – that must mean something!”
The noticeable tremble in Julia’s voice tells a story by itself – indeed, a chain of powerful emotions for this 25-year old skater from Ravensburg, Germany, who’s been coached by the Romanian Marius Negrea since 2010, who’s been representing Romania since 2013 and who’s been making slices of history for the country she has been skating for a decade now, achieving the best performances by any Romanian woman skating at Europeans and Worlds.
You read that right: Romania’s Julia Sauter placed 14th at 2019 Europeans (the oldest best result had been attained by Roxana Luca, 15th at 2005 Europeans), then, recently, made history again by finishing 10th at 2023 Europeans in Espoo, Finland – and not only she qualified for the free skate at the last edition of the World Championships, but she ended the competition on the 18th place.
Once again: historical performances for Romania, for Julia herself.
But in spite of her progress, in spite of entering the elite Top 20 at Worlds, during our lengthy talk with Julia last March, in Montpellier, the day after her free skate, she was rather uncertain about her skating future – she envisioned 2022/2023 season, this one, as her last competitive one.
Eyes on a future outside skating, on her recent marriage and family-plans, Julia had been, for the entire length of her career, discouraged by the chronic lack of financial support. She and her coach have been basically supporting themselves from the start of this journey.
And skating is indeed an expensive sport, the training itself, and having her programs done, and searching to constantly improve while constantly working one, or two, or three jobs, going to competitions, paying the fees and all the other expenses – well, all of that has never been easy, or financially friendly, to this talented young woman trying to stay competitive and become the best version of herself.
Take the last Olympic season, for example: to get her short program minimum for 2022 Worlds, Julia would travel and travel, often one week after the other, chasing the points, but more than that, chasing a dream, her dream.
To finance her skating journey in the last couple of years, she has been working as a kids-aid in a school, she also has a part-time waitering job, she coaches too, at the rink she trains in – and, in between, she’s still committed to her skating.
Representing Romania has definitely opened a lot of doors for her, Julia says it loud and clear – she was able to go to Junior Worlds, to Europeans, to Worlds, to have the skating journey she always envisioned having. Without switching countries, she would have most likely retired years ago.
Romania gave her the time to improve at her own pace – but she did the same for Romanian skating: opened a lot of doors for women’s skating too, and allowed the country to reenter the statistics of women’s discipline in recent years.
The costs had been high though – and she could not see a real light at the end of the tunnel.
“There are a lot of things to consider, and it’s not just figure skating, you have a life too… And I think you’re allowed to dream, but you also need to be smart in making life choices”, she told us last year in March, still trying to figure out what was next.
But now, things have seemingly started to change – and by now, we literally mean the beginning of 2023.
Skating gods, and some very attentive people at a club in Braşov, Romania, opened their eyes to this hard-working, strong-willed skater, who, if everything goes according to (the newest) plans, and if her body allows it, intends to stay competitive for this entire Olympic cycle, envisioning the much-dreamed trip, by any skater, by any athlete, to the Olympics.
Who is Julia Sauter, who she really is, what she wants, what she aims for, how her competitive career’s been so far – in short, who is this skater who wins us over every time she takes the ice, in smaller and major competitions – you will find out, in long, in this story fully dedicated to her skating journey.
There’s no other way: in the end, you’ll be in awe with her resilience, her passion, her maturity and wisdom way beyond her age, her grit.
You’ll fall in love with her. Just like we did.
This story is Julia’s story – but one that’s universal too: apply it to any skater out there, and especially those from smaller countries, federations, to any skater that you will find in the sport’s statistics, from cubs and chicks to novice, juniors and seniors, to whoever puts one’s skates and enters competitive ice with a dream.
That hard it is, that financially consuming, that emotionally overwhelming.
But still, that beautiful. As it is always with chasing dreams.
Story by Florentina Tone / interviews done in Montpellier, France & Otopeni, Romania
4-year old Julia Franziska Sauter starts skating in the small town of Ravensburg, Germany.
“I remember we were living in an apartment complex – and one girl there was doing ballet, and this other girl was doing figure skating, and I wanted to do both, but my mom told me to make a decision, and it was figure skating. I think it was the fact that she couldn’t afford both for me – my parents are regular people, not a lot of money…”
Eyes on the past, there’s a detail she discovered later, and she connected the dots.
“Actually, my mom used to play ice hockey, but I didn’t know that when I was 4. But maybe that’s the reason why I chose figure skating, and then it came really natural”.
Julia really remembers those days with a proud smile – she was good for her age, she was really good.
“When I started, I honestly loved it – like I won every competition I entered. I remember it was an open ice rink in Ravensburg, people took me in and said I had a lot of talent. I learned all double jumps by the age of 8.
And in this small town I had the biggest experience, but no one sent me to another figure skating club – and then Marius came [Marius Negrea, her future coach] when I was about 13…”
KIIRA, YUNA, KAETLYN, CAROLINA, ROXANA
But before that particular encounter that proved decisive for her future skating journey, we want to know the little figure skater-Julia.
Looking back at those times, first competitions, first victories, first firsts, did she look up to someone? Wanted to be like someone?
Oh, that’s an easy one, and Julia-the adult answers in a heartbeat.
“I always loved Kiira Korpi. I remember she had this one program to Over the Rainbow [Kiira’s short program in 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 – editor’s note], and that was my favorite.
And then, obviously, Yuna Kim and all the good skaters – but I think when I got little older, I really looked up to Kaetlyn Osmond.
Because she was a woman on the ice – and my body was like a woman’s at that point already – so I really saw her energy, and I was always just trying to replicate and learn from what she was doing”.
First skating memories, other than those she’s created for herself?
That one is hard to put a finger on.
“I know that we always watched Carolina Kostner – I think when I really remember a moment is 2012, when she won in Nice. And I know that I also watched Vancouver Olympics.
And in the rink where I trained, I really remember watching Roxana Luca’s performance – but I don’t know which year was that. And I was really fascinated by her”.
Knowing Julia’s journey of representing Romania for the last ten years or so, this particular detail right here might even seem far-seeing.
Or just a fortunate stroke of serendipity.
Roxana Luca was, at the time, the most accomplished Romanian figure skater in the women’s discipline.
By 2009/2010, the season she retired, Roxana had won ten national senior titles and represented Romania at two Olympics (23rd in Salt Lake City, in 2002, and 26th in Torino, in 2006). She had also taken part in ten editions of the World Championships and ten Europeans (with her best performance in 2005, when she finished 15th).
Training most of the time in Switzerland and Germany, Roxana had been coached by Marius Negrea.
There you have another (shared) piece of both Roxana Luca and Julia Sauter’s skating journey: their coach.
And the coach himself is a part of Romanian figure skating history – and you may remember him from 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville or, even better, from 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, where he finished 19th.
But you know what? Just leave aside the results, all of them.
What we are actually telling you is that these layers, these people keep intertwining throughout this story.
Marius, Roxana, Julia are all inhabiting a bubble that still keeps Romania active in the figure skating world, even though Romania has never proven particularly supportive to their efforts.
We’ll get there too.