AN (INTERMEDIATE) STOP – AND THEN THE RESTART OF A CAREER
Following her journey, or even studying her competitive profile, you might have noticed a gap in Julia’s career.
Two seasons – 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 – are completely missing.
In other words, in between 2019 Worlds in Saitama, Japan, and 2021 Lombardia Trophy in Bergamo, Italy, there’s nothing there – nothing at all.
And while 2020/2021 was a miss and a missed season for most of the skaters out there – pandemic hit us hard, and hit us all – there’s less clarity on what happened to Julia after 2019 Worlds in Japan, the first Worlds she qualified for.
She’d tell us what happened: without being really aware of it, she kind of… stopped.
“I never announced that I’m retiring, but it happened the following season, the season after PyeongChang. I had had an incredible journey up until then and…
I don’t know how to explain it, but a couple of years ago I was like: I want to become Top 15 at Europeans and I want to make it to Worlds. Those were my goals.
And, suddenly, not even expecting it, I finally made it, I had my goals set: I was 14 at Europeans, in 2019, and I was overwhelmed!, and then had a great first World Championships.
At that point, I skated clean, I did everything I was able to do at the time, everything I could have done, and I placed 29th in Saitama, in Japan. My goal was set for Top 30.
And… then, that was it, you know? It was done”.
…BUT IT TURNED OUT IT WASN’T DONE, SHE WASN’T DONE
Julia goes deeper into the story – there are some other layers, even sentimental ones, to be added.
“Back then, a little earlier, I had also met my husband, he was my boyfriend at the time – and he’s American, and in the summer  I went to United States, and I met his family, and everything was just right.
And he’s a hockey player [in Germany], and he moved two and a half hour away from my hometown – and, at first, I was driving back and forth to his place, but then I decided to go and stay with him.
And he arranged that I could train on my own there – and… it was really difficult to train on my own, I’m not gonna lie.
It’s a place called Landshut, behind Munich, people there were so nice to me, but I was alone on the ice… The head-coach was like: Julia, I cannot teach you, you’re better than me – but I’ll help you, I’ll be there.
And so I went from this huge high in a low, and I had no goals set for myself – it was very unmotivating.
But then I said: No, I’ll try for Europeans in Graz.
And I worked really hard, and I felt like it was getting better and better, but then my ankle started swelling and hurting when I was landing the jumps, and I couldn’t land any jumps.
It was honestly really painful, so I just stopped for six weeks – and then it was the next thing, and the next thing…
And every time I found some little motivation, something else happened, and I was like: Maybe that’s meant to be it, you know?”
It goes without saying, Julia didn’t go to Graz, to 2020 Europeans, after all.
“IF I GO INTO A TRIPLE…” JULIA’S BET WITH HERSELF
We all know what happened next: in the spring of 2020, COVID hit in full force – and 2019/2020 season ended without a proper ending, 2020 Worlds in Montreal, Canada, were cancelled, and the future of the world, the future of skating as a part of the world, seemed more uncertain than ever.
Julia still has those memories wide-open, just like a wound that simply refused to heal until the right answer was found.
“With COVID, there was no ice, nothing at all… And I remember staying at home and working out, because I had nothing else to do.
I couldn’t even work, no coaching anywhere, the rinks were closed… I was able to coach a little bit in the summer in Austria, but then Austria shot down again…. it was horrible!
And I was working out like crazy at home, and I was like: Oh, I feel so fit! So in shape! And I just realized there’s nothing that gives me so much passion, really, than figure skating!
After the summer, I remember, things were a little better, and I was able to go, once in a while, on the ice – and, on one of these occasions, I told myself:
OK, if I go into a triple, I’ll go back!”
Julia smiles to the ears – and then she starts laughing: she’d finally found the answer.
“I even have this recorded. I was like: If I do it today, if I go intro a triple, I will go back.
And I did it! I did a triple Toe!
It was not super nice, but still, it was a triple”.
She’s laughing still.
“That was in October 2020, but knew I needed to calm down a little, I was too excited about it! I took another three or four weeks, and now I was like: Marius, we need to talk – I want to come back.
I don’t even care if I’m gonna be better or worse, but I want to have one more European Championships that is filled with people, I want to experience that one more time.
And Marius was: Are you sure? You won’t be quitting?
And I’m like: No, no. I’ll do it!
That was on the 21st of November 2020”, Julia remembers with a kind of accuracy that tells you just how important these dates are for her.
“But then COVID came more! And I was able to go on the ice only on 23rd of March, 2021!
And I also came back to the rink in my hometown, under Marius’ guidance”.
But even if returning on the ice was possible in Ravensburg in the spring of 2021, that came with some restrictions too – fear of COVID had changed the rules of the game.
“The scenario back then was like: You can go on the ice for like 8 weeks, but only three times a week, for 40 minutes a session. And only two people on the ice at the same time. And only come in like 10 minutes before at the rink, and then leave right away. That’s how strict they were.
And it was hard, but I stayed motivated”.
Not to mention something else happened that spring, Julia smiles.
On 29th of April 2021, she got married to her longtime boyfriend, hockey player Robbie Czarnik. Committed to her goal of coming back, which had now become their goal, the husband-and-wife found solutions even for the time they were in the US for the summer.
“Robbie’s parents live in Georgia, Atlanta, and we went there for the summer – but their home is far from any rink, like 45 minute drive to the rink. And my husband had to drive me every day to this ice rink and wait for me. He even said: Julia, you better train your ass off. I’m not going to pay for it if you’re not gonna train.
Because I always have to pay everything by myself, and he supports it a lot!”.
An eyebrow is raised, two even, when this piece of information first pops out in our conversation – and, rest assured, we’re gonna discuss it in detail, since it’s a big part of Julia’s skating journey.
“And so I trained by myself in June, July – and I came back in Ravensburg in August, when Marius and I started working consistently. But even before that, I had been sending him clips every week, to show him the progress I was making.
And, when I came back, our focus was just to have an OK skate at  Nebelhorn Trophy, and then  Europeans”.
What was in front of Julia, you ask?
2021/2022 Olympic season.
What did she leave behind? One year and a half that resembled a lifetime.
THE MARATHON THAT FOLLOWED
Lombardia Trophy in Bergamo, northern Italy, in the middle of September 2021, was Julia Sauter’s first competitive event after the longest break she’d ever taken.
She’d finish 13th out of the 32 women competing, in an event that featured, among others, Alysa Liu, Ekaterina Kurakova and Audrey Shin (and we just named the medalists).
“That was actually not a bad competition for a come back, I was just happy to be there. The competition itself was fine, in warm-ups I was a little bit nervous, because I didn’t know what to do anymore”, Julia smiles, “but then, Nebelhorn Trophy… there I was tense”.
Because it was an Olympic qualifier and the stakes were high for most of the competitors?
Julia tends to dismiss this as a prime reason for it.
“Every single time I compete in Germany, I don’t know why, I’m nervous… I usually use all the energy around me to skate, but I couldn’t there – all of these emotions came and I got very tense”. She’d finish 20th out of the 37 fellow skaters, with six women winning their tickets to the Olympics.
“And then it was a journey – because I was working so hard for Europeans, and I got COVID! One of my husband’s teammates got it first, and then he got it, and I was like: Oh, but I suppose to leave to Tallinn in 4 days!, and it took me exactly 4 days to get it! And I had to withdraw, but I was ready!”
Remember: Nebelhorn Trophy and Europeans in Tallinn had been Julia’s main points of focus when she decided a proper comeback in the competitive arena – but it didn’t take her long to refocus.
It’s just that she had a battle to fight in order to get to 2022 Worlds in Montpellier: TES-minimums.
A journey that so many skaters out there embark on, usually unbeknownst to the public eye, to secure their World spots and show their work at the biggest event of the season.
No doubt: for many, getting to World Championships is the end of a long road – and just as precious as a medal.
MAKING THE POINTS FOR WORLDS
“I competed in so many events that season!”, Julia starts, and listening her name competitions across Europe, and results, one after the other, and little joys, and terrible disappointments, one week after the other, you realize just how much we don’t know, or simply forget, of the skaters’ competitive life outside the milestones of a season, like Europeans, Worlds or, if they’re lucky, the Olympics.
To get to one of these events, is sometimes an uphill battle.
“So we did Bergamo, then Nebelhorn Trophy, then we had to go to Romania, for Crystal Skate, but they cancelled, and so I asked, even though it was super short: Can we go to Nice?
Marius was sick at the time, so me and my mom, and my dog, went to Nice [at Trophée Métropole Nice Côte d’Azur] – and there I did the points for the Worlds, for the free skate, and it was for the first time that I thought: Ha, I think I might be even better than that!
I only needed the points for the short now – so I went to Celjie [Skate Celje, in Slovenia].
And it was terrible – because the pressure was ON! And I’m not as good in the short, because I start thinking more. So free skate in Celje was fine, I made the points for Worlds again, but I needed them for the short!
And then I went to Budapest [at Santa Claus Cup]: I had a good short program, just a triple-double, and a triple Loop, 29 points! I was just a little short – but then a horrible free skate.
And then I had Romanian Nationals the same week, then I was supposed to go to Europeans and I couldn’t do it, and then I was like: Now I really need a push and a squeeze!
I really want to go to Worlds so I can at least have a journey like this after all this hard work!
So I went to Belgrade [at Skate Helena]: I did an amazing free skate, but double Loop in the short program, and I was like: Aaaah! [and there’s frustration in Julia’s voice]
Then I went to Merano [Merano Cup, Italy] with my best friend, because Marius was commentating the Olympics. I went there, short program again: disaster! I was so mad, I was like: I’m not even gonna go for the free skate! I feel sick, I don’t want to go.
We drove back home, and I was like: Ok, mom…, because Marius still couldn’t come – you need to come with me to Ljubljana! And my mom was: It’s ok, don’t worry – every single time I’m with you, you’ll make the points!
We went to Ljubljana [at Dragon Trophy], and Daša Grm was skating there, and Yasmine Yamada – they’re both really good friends of mine – and they skated clean!
And I looked at them and said: This is my turn! So I went out there, and I had a good short program, and a good free skate too!”
It was February 10th, six weeks before 2022 Worlds.
With minimums for both programs in her pockets now, Julia Sauter could finally breathe a sigh of relief. And not just that – she could acknowledge the efforts she had put herself through.
“After getting the points, I was like: I’m so tired! It was Belgrade-Merano-Ljubljana in three and a half weeks: one week we flew to Belgrade, then 4 hours by car to Merano, 6 hours by car to Ljubljana…”
And in case Dragon Trophy in Ljubljana was a miss, did she have any other options before Worlds?
“I had one more competition left, if I needed it: Bellu Memorial in Romania”.