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Verner's long and winding road of self-discovery

Czech skater reflects on circuitous route life, career have taken
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Tomáš Verner says he will enjoy the Olympic experience in Sochi more than he has his in two previous trips to the Games. -Getty Images

Tomáš Verner has had a long, beautiful -- yet rough -- journey through his skating life. He announced that Sochi would mark the end of his competitive career. His first half of the season sounded like a rebirth of his career, and the short program at the European championships proved that he was back on his track after two erratic seasons.

Monika Hoferova, a Czech journalist and filmmaker who has followed Verner for the last 11 years, invited the press Sunday morning in Budapest to a presentation of the 90-minute documentary she has been preparing about Verner's career. After her presentation, Verner agreed to answer icenetwork's questions about the lessons he has learned and the plans he has for the next steps in his life.

Icenetwork: It seems that you are back on track?

Verner: I don't know. But yes, after two really difficult years, I can now feel that I am back on the ice. I feel the confidence. These two years I had to go beyond my back injury, and I did not know whether I would be able to come back and jump again. But I could. I am back, and I smile -- not quite a lot at the moment, but I'm here!

Icenetwork: Monika said that you embarked together into that project more than 10 years ago. What did that documentary bring in your career?

Verner: At first, I had to tell Monika that I could not promise anything to her. Back then, I was still fighting to enter into the European top 10! A couple of years later, I came so close to the world podium, and I let the ball go. I thought that I was ruining Monika's project! Yet this documentary is not about one big hero of the sport, an Alexei Yagudin or an Evgeni Plushenko; I'm not one of them. It's just the journey of someone who's kept trying, and the ups and downs of a skater. (The documentary might be called The Figure Skater, Hoferova said, and it should be ready within the next year.) In life, we go through good and bad. We always try to push the bad away. It's all in the movie. Once, I even called her to tell her something I wanted to remember, and how cruel some people can be.

As such, that documentary helped me go through the whole journey again. It may help any other athlete or human being in his or her personal life.

Icenetwork: Do you think your American journey was worthwhile?

Verner: Yes. My stay in the U.S. helped me find myself, and it was worthwhile. I left Oberstdorf not because of Carolina [Kostner] (who was also training there) or Michael [Huth] (their coach), but because I had been falling into the same wall too many times. At 2008 worlds, I had a good short program. In the free, I had two quads, and I was the only skater to have that arsenal. And then I dropped to nowhere. Then at worlds in 2009, I was ready for a big result and I popped the two last jumps of my program. They were easy; such a thing had never happened to me before, even in practice. So then I had to make a decision and a change to avoid falling into the same wall again. I was feeling stuck, and I don't regret my decision, even though I had tragic results in that period.

Icenetwork: How well do you think you have managed to overcome this "wall"?

Verner: I had to cope with that, for sure. One day I will be in business, and I hope I can be at least as successful in business as I will have been in sports. Now, at school, I am learning a lot about leadership, and I can see what it takes to be a leader. I thought anything could be learned all at once, and that is not true. You have to take things one step at a time, not two steps at a time.

Now I moved back to Oberstdorf, and I could realize that I had some faults I needed to work on. For instance, I was always taking each critics too personally. Now I love critiques, which make me improve. I have been foolish not to listen to them in the past, as I thought that they were just against me.

Icenetwork: How does your MBA help you then?

Verner: I am the youngest student in my MBA [program]. My colleagues are already managers in their own company. I have competed only in skating, and they are used to competing in the real world. It's good to be with people who just don't know what a choctaw or a bracket is, and don't care much about skating.

Icenetwork: Are you positive about not participating in the world championships in Japan?

Verner: Yes, absolutely. I would have loved to go to Japan, because it is one of my favorite countries, skating-wise. But actually, my agenda is rather busy after the Olympic Games. First, I will join Evgeni Plushenko's tour, then I will go back to school. Then in August, if all goes well, I should have my MBA. Then I plan to host a camp in Mexico, to put together pleasure with ... more pleasure. Teaching is such a pleasure for me, that I will really enjoy it.

Then I will do a last tour in Japan, to say goodbye to my many fans there. They have provided a wonderful support to me throughout the years. There were the presents they sent, of course, but there were more than presents. The letters I received from them kept me on the road.

Finally, as I said, I want never to have regrets. I would like to take part in the show Dancing with the Stars, of course, if it is continued. I must say that figure skating has not taken anything away from my life; I don't feel that I have sacrificed anything but one: my dance classes. That would be one regret, so I would like to give it a try.

Icenetwork: And then?

Verner: Life has taught me to look at a direction rather than to make plans. The Guy up there decides, not me. The direction is that I'll remain close to figure skating and to the sport. I should get my masters degree in sports marketing and management, so I think I will never leave sport.

Icenetwork: What if you put your whole career in perspective?

Verner: I tell myself that I am still that young guy who started from loving a sport. That young guy who was skating in a small club where hockey was number one and who was almost ashamed to be a figure skater. In figure skating, we are friendly to one another, but when we are in the warm-up room, we don't look at anyone else. We pretend to be other persons than we are. In fact, we are all human beings!

Icenetwork: So now you are ready to go for yet another Olympics. What will the Sochi Games represent in your career?

Verner: I go to Sochi for my own competition, of course, but I also go there for the Olympic experience. At a regular skating competition, you just do your thing and leave. For the first time, I will stay there and watch the other athletes. I will enjoy the Olympic spirit. I want to see bobsled, long run skiing, acrobatic figures, name it! I will have no regrets if I manage to enjoy the Olympics as a sportsman does: with tears, pain and everything that comes with sport. As my mental coach tells me, I should "leave the backpack at the border!" I wish I can just enjoy a competition, once in my life. Maybe in Sochi I will then realize that this will be the last competition of my life!

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