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Q&A with 2008 European champion Tomas Verner

Czeck star talks about his life and his recent success

Believe it or not, Tomas Verner started skating in kindergarten because of a girl.
Believe it or not, Tomas Verner started skating in kindergarten because of a girl. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/21/2008) - For some, Tomas Verner has seemed to come out of nowhere the past two seasons.

Since placing 10th at the 2006 European Championships, the 21-year-old from the ancient town of Pisek in the Czech Republic has had a meteoric rise. In 2007, he won the European silver medal; this season, he brought home gold, defeating reigning world champion Brian Joubert and two-time world champ Stéphane Lambiel in the process.

It was the first time since Petr Barna's victory in 1992 that a Czech man had won the coveted European title.

Verner's journey began when he was 12. He moved from his hometown to Prague, where his long-time coach, Vlasta Koprivova, picked him out of a group of skating students. His first senior-level event was in Pyongyang, North Korea, when he was just 14. Early on, he also worked with the famed Russian technician, Viktor Kudriavtsev.

The skater still spends time training in Prague, but travels to Oberstdorf, Germany, before big events to work with Michael Huth, who also coaches the new ladies world silver medalist, Carolina Kostner of Italy. Lori Nichol choreographs both Verner and Kostner's programs.

Yesterday, in a press conference, Joubert announced that only three men -- Lambiel, Daisuke Takahashi and himself -- were capable of winning worlds. But with a consistent quad toe loop in his arsenal and a European title under his belt, Verner has already proven otherwise.

Icenetwork.com had a chance to sit down with the Czech star in Gothenburg.

You had a great victory at the 2008 European Championships. How were you greeted at home? Is skating popular in the Czech Republic?

Ice hockey and football are tops, but I am doing my best to change that. I didn't spend much time at home after Euros; I went right back [to Oberstdorf] to practice, so ask me later how I will be greeted at home.

You have had great results the last two seasons and improved a lot. How have you done this?

The magic world is "team." So far we have proved we have the best team in Europe. I spend nearly all year in Oberstdorf on the same ice as Carolina Kostner, so who knows? Maybe she is the key.

You seem like a fun-loving guy. What do you like to do at competitions to stay relaxed? What do you do when you're not skating or practicing?

During the winter season, there is only skating and practicing, nothing more. After worlds, there is off-ice practice and study; for four weeks [after worlds], there is no ice. [Verner studies at a university in Prague.] I do like playing [computer] games or watching movies to stay relaxed.

Who are your favorite skaters? Who inspired you to start skating?

I admire Evgeni Plushenko and Alexei Yagudin, but I started to skate because of one beautiful girl in my kindergarten.

You are now considered one of the favorites for a medal every time you compete. Do you feel more pressure?

Of course, but on the other hand, I feel I want those medals. You can handle the pressure from the outside somehow, but the pressure that comes from inside yourself, that is more difficult.

Your early season results -- third place at the Nebelhorn Trophy and sixth at the Trophée Eric Bompard -- were not too good, but you were able to improve and win Europeans. How did you do this?

I started the season so bad, I couldn't do any worse ... Plus, all the time I was having good practices, so it just had to come. If you continue to practice well and train hard, you will win some time.

North Americans are only just getting to know you. How would you describe yourself?

Let's invite me to [compete at] Skate Canada or Skate America and you can make a picture of me on your own. Otherwise, I don't know how to describe myself. I am a happy person, because I do what I love to do.