Revived Verner finds new inspiration in SlovakiaCzech skater gives coaches, fans credit for re-energizing himself
For 2008 European champion and nine-time Czech champion Tomáš Verner, the last two seasons were not just difficult -- they nearly ruined him. The famous European skater almost gave up skating because of the combination of injuries, weak results and a loss of self-confidence.
There is a well-known saying, "The darker the night, the brighter the dawn," that applies to what happened to him at the beginning of this season, when he convincingly performed at and won the Ondrej Nepela Memorial in Slovakia.
The 27-year-old Czech skater not only regained his old confidence, artistry and technique, but he also improved other aspects of his skating. This week he competes at the Cup of Nice in France, where he will try to show that the success he had in Slovakia was not a fluke and that this is a renewed Tomáš Verner, one who is ready to do battle.
Icenetwork talked with Verner about his recent success in Bratislava, his difficult times and his renaissance.
Icenetwork: You impressed many people with your strong performances and victory at the 2013 Ondrej Nepela Memorial. Would you share your thoughts with us on this event?
Verner: By all means (smiles). Unfortunately, there is not much I could say, other than I managed to surprise myself as well. I had only one goal for the first competition of this season: to do as many elements as I can. I wasn't able to perform clean programs, but I fulfilled my goal as best I could at the time.
Icenetwork: In August, you returned to your long-time cooperation with Michael Huth. Is there a connection between that and your success in Slovakia?
Verner: There is a strong connection between my performances at Ondrej Nepala and my move back to Europe. I have not only re-found a great training base with Michael Huth, but I also moved much closer to my mental coach, Daniel Landa, and last, but not least, I'm now closer to the medical center in Prague, where I'm under the supervision of the best physiotherapists of the world. It wasn't an easy move, because I have worked with a great team in Toronto. However, I needed an even more complex training environment.
Icenetwork: In your opinion, what separates Michael Huth from other coaches?
Verner: I can't answer this question. If I do, the rest of the skating world will move to Oberstdorf, and I would have no more place to skate (smiles).
If I may, I would point out just two things. The first one is that Mr. Huth works with a human being instead of just with an athlete; his approach is visible not only on the ice rink but also outside of it.
And the second thing is that you can see that Mr. Huth works with his students by using his full potential, with all his knowledge, experience and, most important, his heart.
Icenetwork: I would say that in Bratislava people saw a renewed Tomáš Verner, especially taking in account last season, which was a difficult one in your career. How did you manage to regain your confidence, your passion for performances and your complex technical arsenal?
Verner: As I said earlier, I have moved from one great team in Toronto back to Oberstdorf, to another great working team. Before I decided to move back to Oberstdorf, I had to make a far bigger decision: whether or not I want to keep on skating one more year. After this decision, I had to make sure I was physically ready for the coming season. My physical shape had a lot to do with my poor results in the past two years, which affected my confidence. I haven't regained my confidence quite yet, but I am working with Mr. Huth, and Carolina Kostner is a great inspiration to get back on track.
Icenetwork: In your opinion, what was the main cause of inconsistency in your performances in the two past seasons?
Verner: Two years ago, I suffered from a severe back injury that was a major setback in my practice, as well as in everyday life. It took a very long time for me to recover physically. It took even longer to come back to real training, landing all the jumps again and so on.
Then I had to slow down again, because my back couldn't withstand the amount of activity. This procedure of slowing down due to my weak back repeated itself a couple more times and that influenced my subconscious and my self-confidence.
Icenetwork: You have very passionate programs this season. Tell us about them.
Verner: "Dueling Banjos" -- the short program -- is exactly cut for me. When I first heard that piece, I knew right away that this would be my program. I also knew who would be the perfect choreographer. Working with Lori Nichol on this piece was an amazing experience. This program is simply fun to skate, and I hope the audience will enjoy it as much as I do.
"Tango" -- my free skate program -- is a remake of my 2009 long program. I kept the music, changed the costume and changed most of the steps and skating parts. The idea of this year was to have two programs that were as different as possible. I believe this is exactly what the team and I have achieved. Well, at least I hope so -- the real judgment is up to the audience (smiles).
Icenetwork: This is your first season in many years without Grand Prix assignments. What do you think about it?
Verner: At first, I was disappointed, but I understood the reasons. Soon I realized that this is a great chance to organize my season exactly as I wish. Mr. Huth and I then sat for a while and made the perfect plan for the Olympic season.
Icenetwork: This week you will be competing at Cup of Nice in France. Will we see you at other additional events prior to the European championships?
Verner: I will take part in the Winter Universiade in Trentino, Italy, this December. The only other competition I will take part in is nationals, where I have to stamp my Olympic ticket.
Icenetwork: What comes to your mind when you think about the coming Olympics in Sochi?
Verner: At the moment, I'm not thinking about the Olympics at all. There is still so much to do before I can even start to think about Sochi. Having been through two years that were so hard, I have to take my journey to Sochi step by step. Every step on the way to Sochi is as important as the Olympic Games itself. "Mission Olympic Games" starts for me shortly after Europeans.
Icenetwork: If you qualify, this will be your third Olympic Games. Does the experience play a big role in your case?
Verner: I believe that experience from the two previous Games will help me to stay calm through the Olympic experience before the actual competition starts, meaning keeping my focus on my own competition. It is really overwhelming to take part in the Olympics. Everything is truly overwhelming, starting from the Opening Ceremony, through living in the Olympic Village and ending with having a chance to see other Olympic events, where you support your teammates. Experience can help not to take you away from your own goals.
Icenetwork: What is next for Tomáš Verner?
Verner: I have many plans for the future. A few months after the Olympic Games in Sochi, I should be done with my MBA study, and then I will be ready to jump into normal life, without skates on my feet. I will always stay in touch with figure skating and with sport -- I haven't just decided in which form yet. Anyway, as I said earlier, I take everything one step at a time (smiles).
Icenetwork: The Olympics will be in Russia, so I would like to ask about your five favorite Russian things.
Verner: First thing is Soup Cafe. It's a restaurant in Moscow. I love soups, and this is the number one restaurant for soups in the world.
Second thing is Russian hospitality. I have always felt welcomed in Russia, and this feeling helped me through some rough times, so thank you, Russia, for that!
Third: Viktor Kudriavtsev. In my eyes, he's one of the best coaches in the world. I had the pleasure to take part in a few summer camps with Viktor.
Fourth: Russian fans and friends. It is hard to describe my Russian fans as just "fans;" they belong to my friends. Their caring love and support, especially during rough times, is overwhelming.
Fifth: Bolshoi Theatre. I have never been to a performance at the Bolshoi. It is on my bucket list. I would love to see Swan Lake or The Nutcracker at the Bolshoi.