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The Descendant: Ten skates for famous ancestor

Great-great-grandson of Korean general has jumpstarted sport in Kazakhstan

Denis Ten turned Kazakhstan's skating program from an outdoor rink to a national operation.
Denis Ten turned Kazakhstan's skating program from an outdoor rink to a national operation. (Getty Images)

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By Vladislav Luchianov, special to icenetwork.com
(05/21/2012) - Not every skater can boast that he is a descendant of a real national hero. Kazakh skater Denis Ten can, but he prefers to be modest about it. Although his many fans around the world have long known that he is a descendant of the famous Korean general Min Keung Ho, who successfully fought for the independence of his country, Ten tries to be worthy of his ancestor and is constantly improving his results on the ice "battlefield."

The past season was successful enough for him. In the 2011 Grand Prix Series, Ten was assigned to Skate America and Skate Canada International. He placed fifth in both events. At the 2012 World Championships in Nice, France, Ten posted 229.70 points overall to finish seventh. He also competed at the 2012 Four Continents Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo., taking sixth place, and at the 2012 World Junior Championships in Minsk, Belarus, finishing fourth.

Icenetwork.com talked with Denis Ten about his impressions of this past season, his work with Frank Carroll and his famous ancestor.

Icenetwork.com: Denis, skating season is over. What are your thoughts and impressions of it?

Ten: This season was special for me, in some sense even crucial. I took part in 10 competitions, so by the end of the season I feel some fatigue (mental and physical), but I'm happy with the results and experience of this year.

Icenetwork.com: I think this season can be called successful for you -- seventh place at the world championships, sixth at the Four Continents Championships, fourth at junior worlds and successful performances in the Grand Prix Series. Which of your performances did you like the most and why?

Ten: First of all, I'm very happy about my decision to include a quad jump into my program. It happened very spontaneously, after a mistake on my triple Lutz at Skate America. My coach and I had a conversation during which I very emotionally expressed the desire to add a quadruple toe loop in my free skate program. To my surprise, Frank [Carroll] has supported this idea, and we changed the plan of the program.

During the season, I executed this jump quite stably, but I had difficulties with it at the Four Continents Championships and world junior championships. I'm very glad that I finished this season with a successful execution of quad toe loop in Nice. For this, probably, I would like to pick out my free skate program at the world championships.

Icenetwork.com: Was it difficult for you to compete at both worlds, junior and senior?

Ten: I [gained a lot of] experience returning again to the junior stage. Frankly saying, it was mentally difficult to me to compete in Minsk. When I was asked to take part in this competition, I agreed, because "leaving" from the juniors was very early for me and the result shown at my last junior worlds (ninth in 2010) did not produce satisfaction.

I'm very happy that I took a little bronze medal (Ten was third place after the short program), which was the first ever for Kazakhstan.

It was hard to go back to the training process after Minsk. Physically, I was pretty exhausted, so I was allowed to take a little break from skating. As the pause between two worlds was very little, I had my preparation in Europe, in Switzerland. I am very grateful to the fantastic skater and friend Stephane Lambiel for his assistance with the ice, and for his continuous support and very valuable advice.

Icenetwork.com: You are still very young, but you already have lived out a long and challenging path, both literally and figuratively. Almaty, Kazakhstan; Moscow, Russia; Lake Arrowhead, Calif. How do you adapt to new conditions and the rhythm of life in other countries?

Ten: Since I often have to fly to different countries to participate in competitions, adapting to new conditions is going quite fast. I love to travel and study the culture of new countries.

But when you compete, you don't have enough time for other things, unfortunately. At the age of 10, I moved to train to Russia, but I never paid attention to any changes in everyday life (for this, I am grateful to the people around me and especially my family). I was always completely immersed in figure skating because I love this sport. And even now, being on another continent, the most important thing for me are the conditions for training. If there is a good ice arena and room for off-ice workouts, then I'm "adapted."

Icenetwork.com: And what could you tell us about the differences in the United States training process in general and with Frank Carroll in particular?

Ten: I would like to point out that I was very lucky with all my coaches. All the coaches I've worked with have taught me so much, and I am very grateful to each of them. Working with such a great coach like Frank Carroll is a great honor for me. Frank truly embodies the spirit of a true teacher. He is very wise and openhearted. Frank is always talking with his students, and what I always admire is his ability to remain calm in the most difficult situations. We, athletes, should learn well this point.

Icenetwork.com: One of your favorite skaters, who is also coached by Frank Carroll, Evan Lysacek, not only confirmed that he will return to the sport, but is actively preparing programs for the new season. What could you tell us about Evan and his comeback?

Ten: I think it will be great. Evan has been actively [practicing] in the past offseason, and our group had the opportunity to see his programs. He was in excellent shape!

It's always very interesting to watch his trainings. Not every athlete is able to train so hard and with such strong discipline. It's very motivating. Frank often posed Evan as an example and talks about him. Evan is always very kind to share some skating tips and suggestions.

Icenetwork.com: Denis, in one interview you said that you want to be worthy of your great-great-grandfather, the famous Korean general Min Keung Ho. In your vision, did you already achieve that or you are still on the way to it?

Ten: My grandmother often told her grandchildren about the general Min Keung Ho. Therefore, from early childhood, I was very proud of my great-great-grandfather, but at the same time I began to understand all the responsibility that goes with being a descendant of such a great man. Awareness of the heights reached by my grandfather -- his victories, courage and dedication -- causes a storm of emotions in me and it helps in that I do. In Kazakhstan, [people] often say that I have accomplished so much, and of course it's great, but I believe that all the achievements that I have are not the limit and all the high results are ahead.

Icenetwork.com: As far as I know, in the Republic of Korea, children learn the history of this general from the earliest grades. Do Korean fans draw an analogy between you and your ancestor? Sometimes "ice battles" by passion and emotions are inferior to military battles.

Ten: I agree with you. Now figure skating has become so truly spectacular a sport and often big competitions turn into the real "fights on ice." Korean audience is always very kind and warm.

When I first competed in Korea (2008 Junior Grand Prix Final), I was very surprised that people are really interested in my great-great-grandfather. They shared their knowledge about him, and I had the opportunity to compare the stories told by my grandmother with stories from Korean sources.

In 2010, the Korean channel KBS filmed a documentary about Min Keung Ho and his descendants, and the scenario of the program highlighted a story about me. We filmed excerpts from my life for several days, first in Almaty and then in Korea. We specifically went to Von Zhu, the hometown of my great ancestor. I went to his grave, which was separated by a hill. On his tomb was written "General Min Keung Ho who gave his life for the independence of Korea." People around me were crying, and I took a stone from his tomb, which I still have and always carry with me.

When I was young, I was very hot-tempered and often fought with the children in the kindergarten and primary school. At that moment, I did not know that I am a descendant of the great general, so I sincerely believe that his spirit is in me and I genetically inherited his warlike qualities. But in reality, of course, those children "skirmishes" were only for fun, but it influenced the decision of my mother to put me in the creative activities and sports sections. She wanted me to reveal the creative potential and took me to the schools of dance, arts, painting, music and figure skating.

Icenetwork.com: I'm sure that figure skating is growing in your country as you continue to succeed. What can you tell us about skating development in Kazakhstan?

Ten: When I started to make the first steps on the ice, we didn't have conditions for serious training. We skated at the outdoor rink, which worked only in winters. But even then there was a school of figure skating. The most popular section was the "group health," where parents bring their children not only for skating lessons, but also to strengthen the immune system of kids.

Coaches immediately approved me for figure skating and took in the group. It is ironic that in my very first day of skating, I managed to fight with a boy my age on the ice. When this ice rink didn't work, I trained at the ice rink in the mall.

Now, the situation has changed totally! There is a real "boom" of figure skating in Kazakhstan after my victory at the 2011 Asian Winter Games. There are lots of fans of this sport, many people wishing to learn to skate, and all the children's clubs are full. I'm very happy about it because I like to popularize the skating in my country. I always try to help our young skaters.

It is important that a lot of sports facilities were built and children have really good conditions for training. I think it's just amazing! In Almaty, there is a great sporting base at an altitude of 1,800 meters above sea level, which combined the ski resort and the ice arena. It's [an] ideal place for skating camps and even competitions.

Astana is also very well equipped. There was built a very large number of ice rinks that meet all international standards. Participants in the Asian Winter Games were delighted to see the scale of built structures. I believe that soon Kazakhstan will hold various international competitions, and skating fans will have the opportunity to get acquainted with the culture and see firsthand the beauty of my country.

I would like to note that ice arenas are opening not only in metropolitan areas of the country such as Almaty and Astana. This year, the championship of Kazakhstan was held in Shymkent. Also, this year was held a wide-scale opening of the Ice Palace in Karaganda, which was attended by the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. It was a very colorful show, which involved hundreds of athletes from different sports, one of which was Alexei Yagudin.

Kazakhstan has many talented children, and I believe that in the near future in the world of figure skating will appear new names representing my country.

Icenetwork.com: Denis, tell us please about your immediate plans and ideas for new programs.

Ten: I'm going to spend the summer for trainings only. I will not have vacations, and I hope to come to the next season with the right approach. I don't have specific ideas for my programs yet, but I would like to try something new. Anyway, all will be decided together with my coaching staff. But if readers have any ideas, I can always be found in social networks.

You can find Denis Ten on Twitter @Tenis_Den and on Facebook here!