Radiant Cappellini, Lanotte all aglow after triumphLoquacious Italian couple still beaming after coming away with gold
Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, the newly crowned European gold medalists in ice dance, have always been known for their unique kindness. They took the time to fit in an interview with icenetwork at the 2014 European Figure Skating Championships, in between a reception at the Italian Embassy in Budapest and the rehearsal for the final exhibition. Plus, Luca is handsome and Anna is as beautiful as a natural Snow White. Any discussion with them can only be a pure delight.
Icenetwork: You have won the oldest ISU competition, the European championships. How does it feel, two days later?
Cappellini: It really doesn't feel real. It does not feel like me. I see all these wonderful champions who have won the title before us, and now I am one of them. This is impossible. I'll have to watch over and over. I will need people to tell me again and again that it is for real.
This season is so frantic. We were coming out of the Grand Prix Final, where we did not skate so good. And now this. Winning this title was a career-changing moment. I have not slept, I have not dreamt. No one will ever take that away from us. It is an achievement.
Lanotte: I still can't help saying, "I am the European champion," without giggling. I can't be serious when I say it, even to my girlfriend!
Icenetwork: How do you think this will help you in the future?
Cappellini: Can you believe that in just two weeks, we will be competing again (at the Olympics). This title will be a great push for us. It will be with us forever now, so we can really build on it. We did it.
Lanotte: We did what we had to do on the day we had to. We managed to stay calm and deliver.
Cappellini: All day leading to the free dance, I tried to forget we were in the lead and to stay by myself. Then, when I entered onto the ice, I saw on the screen: "Rank after short program: 1." That was almost a shock to me!
Icenetwork: Is there a special preparation when a medal is at stake?
Cappellini: In Sheffield, [United Kingdom,] during the 2012 European Championships, we missed the bronze medal by the slightest margin: 0.03 points, to our friends, Elena [Ilinykh] and Nikita [Katsalapov]. This was the best lesson we ever got. Skating for a medal is a completely different feeling. When you skate for the gold medal -- especially when you are in the lead with, again, the slightest margin. (We were only 0.04 points ahead Elena and Nikita after the short dance!) You are perfectly aware that everything you leave on the ice can change your whole life.
Also, when I am really in a medal-winning position, I know that some things happen. I tend to forget. In Sheffield, for instance, I had forgotten my starting position. I had competed all my life without any problem. It had never happened before. You can always try to ignore that you are fighting for a medal; you can always focus. Something in me knows. Even if it is subconscious, it is there. This happened to me, although in a different way, as we were skating here. At times, I realized that I had to think of what to do.
Icenetwork: How do you think you can you fix that?
Cappellini: I have learned to be prepared for something different. At one point in my program, I know that I will forget something and that I will need to think of what I am doing. Here, I forgot one step in the short dance. Luca told me afterward. It was not an important step, but he was right. I just forgot it. Luca won't have the same problem. It's psychological. I blank out. Just like in school, when the teacher puts a question in a different way than usual. You won't know the answer, even though you have rehearsed. You would have known the answer perfectly had the question been asked in its usual way.
After the short dance, everyone was so nice with us. One would tell us, "Whoa! You could win!" Yes, thank you! We were dying of the idea we could win!
We found out that the best thing for us was to remain alone before the competition, with only our coach. We do not want anyone to connect with us, however nice people can be. It is difficult, because you don't want to disappoint anyone. But we need our peace.
Icenetwork: So now, what is Igor Shpilband's school secret? How does he make his pupils fly on the ice?
Lanotte: I don't know, myself! We spend lots of time training to look effortless and athletic at the same time, powerful, strong. If you want to be in the top three at worlds, you need to be both. Igor pushed us in the right direction in this respect. He taught us to use our skates as a part of our bodies.
Cappellini: Our two coaches, Igor and Paola [Mezzadri], complement each other really well. Here, Igor told us to attack in the free dance and not protect what we had. Paola told us to skate with our hearts.
Icenetwork: Let me suggest a theory: If we were to measure the distance you cross on the ice during your twizzles, just like they measure the speed of the ball during a tennis match, your twizzles would be the ones which cover the longest distance on the ice.
Cappellini: Each day, at training, we start by twizzles. They are so crucial in ice dance. It's our quads!
Lanotte (laughing): Maybe figure skaters would disagree, but ... we will do the twizzles of our short dance five times and then the twizzles of our free dance five times. Our work is repetition. We rehearse each element, and starting from that element, we add what comes before and what comes after. So, we do the element plus and minus 10 seconds, then the element plus and minus 15 seconds, etc. We make it bigger and bigger until we get a whole sequence.
So, it's repeat, repeat, repeat. At the end, it is just like in a competition with stress and tiredness. This way, the actual performance in competition will come automatically.
Icenetwork: Ice dance is known as a very trendy sport. There are fashions, and they change often. You are known to have kept your own line throughout your career without being influenced by trends and fashions. How did you manage this?
Lanotte (laughing): That's because we're Italians! We know how fashion works!
Cappellini: We have a big tradition of skaters who have always coupled interpretation to skating. Even during the least of our practice, we interpret our music. I must admit that without interpretation, I feel stupid. It feels empty, not fun. Also, we are always looking for the best style -- costume, music, … which will fit exactly what we are. It won't work for us if we skate a program that does not represent us.
We have tried in the past because several people advised us to explore other styles. We have followed their advice to push our boundaries, but the result was always the same: We competed the worst when we could not connect with each other and with our program.
Lanotte: Our program is sewed on us like a dress. It has to be tailor-made.
Cappellini: I look at Luca on the ice and I feel he is so handsome, I want to dance with him. I hope he feels the same about me. … Well, I don't know if he does, but…
Lanotte (serious and reassuring): Yes, of course I do! We feel so much pride on what we present. We understand where each other belongs. We've known each other for a long time. We are "vintage" now! And we know how we work and what we need. This is extremely important.
I can see that Elena and Nikita, Tessa [Virtue] and Scott [Moir], Meryl [Davis] and Charlie [White] are connected, too. Each one of them is a real couple, and it's a real couple that expresses itself on the ice.
Cappellini: When we are on the ice not skating close to one another, I hope anyone in the audience can recognize that we are skating together simply by looking at each one of us. I can tell right away what Luca thinks of any detail.
Lanotte: Can you really? You're putting a lot of pressure on me!
Cappellini: I can tell from your eye that you prefer this dress to that one.
Lanotte (half-laughing): Let's say I am a very bad liar…
Icenetwork: The Italian team is incredible here in Budapest. You win, Carolina Kostner medals, and Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek are on their way also for a medal. Is the team event in Sochi something you're considering seriously?
Cappellini: We are blessed. We have grown together, all of us. It will be a great moment for Italy. Our national federation has done a great job in promoting each one of us.
Lanotte: Also, we have Carolina. She is a blessing to Italian skating and beyond. We should just kiss the ground where she walks.
Icenetwork: So the least that can be said is that you are proud of being the second ice dance team from Italy who claims the gold at an European championships (the first one being Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Magaglio in 2001).
Lanotte: I grew up with those legends in front of my eyes. They demonstrated that it was possible. (He thinks a bit.) Now, it is actually well possible that we are doing the same for the next generation: Demonstrate that it is possible to achieve such a result.
But the nicest thing is that such a result belongs to so many people: All those without whom we would never have been here and who helped us along the way. Starting from our parents. Without their efforts, money and support, nothing at all would have been possible. We will always be thankful.
Icenetwork: You share your time between Shpilband's Novi school in the U.S., and Milan. What do you think you will do now? Novi or Italy?
Cappellini: With only two weeks to go before the Olympics, there would be no sense to go to the U.S. and take jet lag twice in a row. We will go back to Igor before worlds; we'd like an extra push. But this is not decided yet. Then (she laughs) we will go around the world again: Milan, Detroit, Tokyo, and Milan!