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Brezina happy with move to New Jersey, Petrenko

Czech star enjoys challenge of training alongside Johnny Weir in Hackensack

Michal Brezina knows he needs quads if he wants to unseat Patrick Chan as world champion.
Michal Brezina knows he needs quads if he wants to unseat Patrick Chan as world champion. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(08/25/2012) - Michal Brezina has made the Ice House in Hackensack, N.J., his home since the spring, when he began training under 1992 Olympic champion Viktor Petrenko.

So far, the 22-year-old Brno native counts his move to the Garden State as a success.

"I just felt like I needed something new," Brezina said. "I had been training in Oberstdorf (Germany) for six years. I would never say that my coaches (Petr Starec and Karel Fajfr) were bad or anything; I was second after the short at worlds, so it was all good. I just felt like I needed a change.

"I wanted to find someone who would have a similar coaching style to my [former] coaches, and since Viktor is also from the Eastern Bloc, the technique is basically the same."

Of course, there were other advantages to the move.

"Viktor is a technical specialist, and I was looking for that, too," he said. "In Oberstdorf, Mrs. (Sissy) Krick was there, but not every day. Viktor knows the rules, and when the ISU changes something, he's the first one to know. This helps a lot.

"And because he is a champion himself, he knows what it takes to get to where he got. He's just really calm, and that's one thing I really like. I don't really work best under pressure; I do my best when I'm not thinking about pressure and just do what I do."

Unlike in his practice sessions at Oberstdorf, Brezina shares the ice in Hackensack with another elite man: Johnny Weir, the three-time U.S. champion who is returning to competition after two seasons away.

"That's another thing I like that I didn't have in Oberstdorf, after Tommy (Tomas Verner) left," Brezina said. "I kind of need that competition in the practice. It helps me to push a little more."

And then there is another plus: Brezina's girlfriend, ice dancer Allison Reed, trains at the Ice House under coach Galit Chait.

"That's true, too," he said.

Brezina placed seventh in the free skate and ended up sixth overall at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships in Nice after falling on his quad toe loop and stepping out of a quad Salchow. He and Petrenko have made gaining consistency on the quads their top priority this season.

"We're working on the toe to make it more stable," Brezina said. "We want to do two quads in [the free] program, so I just want to concentrate on training the toe and Salchow for right now. I did both in the free in the worlds in Moscow (in 2011), and I rotated them both in Nice. Not perfect, but I went for it. That's the thing I most want to do this season: Go for it."

After fourth-place finishes at the 2010 and 2011 world championships, Brezina hopes to step up to the podium this season in London, Ontario, and he thinks his quads will be his ticket.

"They are worth a lot of points, and the fact is you can't really win anything without them," he said. "Patrick [Chan] is doing two quads in his free at every competition, and if I want to keep up with him, I have to skate a clean free skate with two quads. Then, maybe, I can compete with Patrick."

Brezina has also trained the quad flip, but for now -- partly due to orders from Petrenko -- he's putting it aside to focus on his other jumps.

"I was working on quad flip in the practice at Moscow worlds, and I think I tried it at Skate America one time, but Victor said he wants to wait on it," he said. "If you can do a quad flip, it's the bomb, but until it's stable, I'm not putting it in the program."

"I want him to be more aggressive on the quads," Petrenko said. "But we are also working on spins, skating skills, everything -- the whole package. He is one of the skaters who has the technical side and the skating skills, but everything has to be put together."

Of course, Canada's two-time world champion isn't the only skater Brezina must contend with. To add the 2013 European title to his resume -- his best finish at the event is fourth, in 2010 and 2012 -- he must defeat Evgeni Plushenko, who seems to regard Europeans as his personal property.

The 2006 Olympic champion, who owns seven European golds, has already announced to the Russian media that while he will not compete on the 2012 Grand Prix circuit, he will defend his European title in Zagreb in January.

"Zhenya (Plushenko) is a great skater; I've done a lot of shows with him, and he's a great guy," Brezina said. "But nobody really agreed with the [judging] in the short at Europeans last season. In the free, he did a clean program with a quad and two triple Axels, and that deserved 170 points. But to be second after the short, with what he skated ... there were people who skated better shorts than Zhenya. (Plushenko did not do a quad in his short.)

"Still, though, skaters like me and Javy [Fernandez] and Tommy (Tomas Verner) have to skate clean and show Zhenya, 'You were great; it's our time now.' If we don't, then he can come back any time. As long as we just step aside and let him pass, he will still be there."

Brezina is keeping his free skate to Ennio Morricone's The Untouchables soundtrack another season, but he traveled to the Detroit Skating Club earlier this summer to get a new short from Pasquale Camerlengo.

"I've worked with Pasquale for two years, and he really knows what style of music fits me," Brezina said. "This time around, I told him I had no ideas, so he gave me two choices. After he played the first (Edvard Grieg's 'In the Hall of the Mountain King'), I said, 'Don't play anything else, this is it.'"

His new short gives Brezina a chance to engage in one of his favorite pastimes: showing off some fast footwork.

"It's like the short I had last two seasons (to Japanese Kodo drums): It starts slowly and then when the steps go, it builds," he said.

Brezina is thinking ahead, not only to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi but beyond.

"After the Olympics, I will be 24, still young," he said. "I think I will [continue to] skate. There aren't many [younger skaters] in Czech [Republic] right now; we have a couple of junior skaters, but to give them the opportunity to come to worlds and Europeans, it would be better if I stayed.

"So as long as I'm able and not injured, I will compete."