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Korpi ready to return following surgery on Achilles

Finnish skater discusses missing Olympic season, rehab process
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Kiira Korpi says she is ready to compete following a long road that saw the Finnish skater undergo surgery on an injured Achilles tendon. -Getty Images

Finland's Kiira Korpi continues to recover from an Achilles tendon injury that forced her to miss the entire Olympic season. A three-time European medalist, with a silver and two bronzes to her name, Korpi decided in late April to undergo surgery after trying to rehab the injury for several months.

Korpi's treatment has been overseen by German professor Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt, the club doctor at FC Bayern Munich and a member of the medical staff of the German national soccer team, which recently won its fourth World Cup title in Brazil.

Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt is considered one of the world's leaders in treating sports injuries. He has worked with several renowned athletes, including Jürgen Klinsmann, Ronaldo, Steven Gerrard, Giorgio Chiellini and Usain Bolt.

The surgery, performed in April, was a success. Korpi returned to the United States at the end of June to continue preparing for the new season under the guidance of her coach, Rafael Arutunian, whose students also include two-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner and 2014 U.S. junior champion Nathan Chen.

Icenetwork talked with the popular Finnish skater about her recovery period, her new programs and what she likes to do in her spare time.

Icenetwork: How are you feeling and how is your rehabilitation going?

Korpi: Thanks for asking. It's been a long process, but now my foot is starting to feel really good. I had a surgery for my Achilles tendon in April, and I've been back training on the ice since the end of June. I still need to do a lot of work to build back the calf and quad muscles, because after having my left leg immobilized in a cast for six weeks, I naturally lost a lot of the muscle mass there.

Icenetwork: What has it been like to be treated by Dr. Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt?

Korpi: I'm forever thankful to Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt, who has been taking care of me since February. He is such a tremendous doctor and a very inspiring person as well. First, he tried to treat my foot without surgery, but after six weeks time there was still some necrosis (dead tissue) in my tendon, and the only option was to operate to get rid of the necrosis and replace it with some healthy tendon.

The operation was done in Tübingen in April by Müller-Wohlfahrt's trusted surgeon, professor Ulrich Stöckle, and it turned out very successful. The rehabilitation time in Munich was naturally quite challenging, but I got many new friends and met other top athletes from all over the world who were going through similar things. That kind of mutual support was very important for me.

Icenetwork: Can you take us through the timeline that led to the decision to get surgery?

Korpi: After the injury happened last September, the doctors in Finland evaluated my situation and recommended conservative treatment because it was considered as effective and an even faster option than surgery. But everything didn't go quite right during the process and I ended up going to Germany for a second opinion.

In Germany, Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt wanted to still try to do all the possible treatments and rehabilitation training before going for a surgery -- which always has more risks -- but in my case, it turned out that there was already so much dead tissue in the tendon that the body couldn't erase it by itself anymore.

Icenetwork: You have many years of competition under your belt, but this injury forced you to miss the Olympic season. How difficult was that?

Korpi: Of course, it was not nice to watch the Olympics on TV, but my family, friends and coach Carlos (Avila de Borba) have all helped me so much psychologically to get through this challenging phase in my sports career. Also, Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt and operating doctor professor Stöckle were, and are, greatly supporting me, and I'm so thankful for them, too.

Icenetwork: What should we expect from the post-injury Kiira Korpi when competitions start?

Korpi: I'm so happy to have been able to work with the amazing Carlos Avila de Borba since December of last year. Even when I went through the surgery, we never stopped working hard and as professional as possible. It's really great how well I could actually keep my condition up even when I had the cast on for six weeks.

I've spent countless hours in the swimming pool, ballet room and on the stationary bike. We've been working so much to improve my flexibility, intramuscular strength, balance and motor skills as well as edge work and free body movements. I'm sure the people will notice a difference in my skating. It has become more like dancing!

Icenetwork: Do you already have ideas for new programs?

Korpi: I will keep the short program that I had for last season that was done by Jeff Buttle. The music is Jeff Beck's version of the Beatles song "A Day In The Life," and the choreography is very sophisticated and cool. I have a new long program that I did with Shae-Lynn Bourne in early July, and I chose to skate to Sibelius' "Violin Concerto in D minor.".

The two programs are very different from each other, and I love both of them! Especially skating to Sibelius' music -- it has always been my dream, and I finally felt ready for it. The choreography is very challenging and requires a lot of dancing skills on the ice. It portrays my feelings toward my home country Finland: the amazingly beautiful nature and summer time, but the sometimes also brutally cold and dark winter. It's a very emotional and personal choice of music and choreography for me.

Icenetwork: Last season you played the role of spectator. What are your general thoughts about this past skating year?

Korpi: The past skating year showed that there is a young, new generation of super-talented skaters rising to the very top. But, on the other hand, the more mature skaters have also been able to constantly improve and take their skating to a different level of performing and dancing on the ice.

Icenetwork: What performances and personalities did you like the most and why?

Korpi: It's so hard to name only one or even a few because there were so many wonderful performances last season. But, if I had to choose whose skating I would prefer to watch on repeat all the day, the answer would be Tessa (Virtue) and Scott (Moir).

Icenetwork: I recently saw you at the Madrid Open tennis tournament. Is tennis your second-favorite sport? How do you like to spend your free time in general?

Korpi: I love to follow other sports, and tennis is one of my very favorite sports to watch. I had a Finnish friend, Jarkko Nieminen, playing in the Madrid Open tournament and it was so much fun to be able to finally watch him play live.

In my free time, I like to read a lot, watch movies and hang out with my friends and family. I also enjoy eating well and having nice dinners with friends or family.