Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding... in the early months of 1994 you couldn't turn on your television or walk past a newsstand without hearing or reading their names. At the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer one other young skater captured our attention and hearts and it was none other than Poland's Anna Rechnio, who skated two outstanding programs and ended up in the top ten. In addition to her 6 trips to the European Championships and 5 World Championships appearances, Anna won Poland's National Championships three times and competed at a second Olympic Games, remarkably earning her spot at the Nagano Games without the aid of a coach. Retiring from competition after the 2000 World Championships, Rechnio went on to skate professionally and is now the head coach of the Odense Skating Club in Denmark. Now a mother, Anna took time away from her busy schedule to talk about her "amateur" career, her daughter, coaching, competing against Katarina Witt and much more in this must read interview:
Q: You won your country's National Championships three times and represented Poland at 2 Winter Olympics (Lillehammer and Nagano), 6 European Championships and 5 World Championships. I remember first watching you skate at the 1994 Games and being absolutely and completely impressed with your "Don Quixote" short program, which was clean as a whistle with a HUGE double axel and triple loop combination. What were your favourite Olympic experiences like and what was sharing the stage with Tonya and Nancy, Katarina, Surya, Tanja, Lu, Yuka and Oksana in 1994 like?
A: At my first Olympics in Lillehammer in 1994, I was just 16. At this time, I was one of the youngest skaters in the Senior category. I remember that it was almost dream come true to see all great skaters like Brian Boitano, Viktor Petrenko, Kurt Browning and of course to compete against Katarina Witt. At that moment, figure skating started to become really popular and there was a lot of journalists and TV around Tonya and Nancy. For me it was great experience and I didn’t feel any pressure. I just tried to skate my best and enjoy my programs. On the Polish Olympic team, I was treated as a small mascot as all other sportsmen were more than 20 years old. For all competitors, the Olympics are the most incredible experience which you can't imagine and the biggest present for hard work.
Q: After not competing in either the 1996 or 1997 Worlds, you seemingly made a comeback out of nowhere at the 1998 World Championships and skated brilliantly there, finishing just behind Laetitia Hubert at that competition. Your consistency really seemed to be there even more so later in your career. Was it a change in technique, a new attitude, coaching related or luck?
A: After the Olympics in 1994, I got really famous in Poland and I think that I wasn't mentally prepare for being a celebrity. Suddenly everybody expected a lot from me and the pressure came. As well, I changed coaches after the Olympics, moved to the United States alone without my family to practice with Grzegorz Filipowski and coach Barbara Kossowska. A change in the way of practice, school and living by myself was pretty difficult for me. Suddenly I had to grown up really fast and be able to take care of myself. Some people were saying that those two seasons were a waste of time but looking back I am very thankful to Barbara and her family. I learned a lot both technically and mentally. I had a great chance to practice on the same rink as Surya Bonaly, Ilia Kulik and Oksana Grishuk and Evgeny Platov. I could see how they worked and how they were preparing themselves for the most important competitions. My skating however wasn't going good. On the practices I was doing everything and in the competitions I couldn't take the pressure and was really nervous. Just before Nationals in the 1998 Olympic season, I decided to move back to Poland and even thought about quitting skating and going to university. I decided to take part in Nationals as I practiced so hard before them without any coach. I just skated for myself and nothing else really mattered. I skated great two programs and won Nationals and a ticket to the Olympics in Nagano. Just after Nationals, I got a new coach, Mrs. Mirosława Brajczewska. I am thankful for all her time she spent with me. She took care of me to the end of my amateur career. I was preparing myself to go to Europeans but got injured. I twisted my ankle and couldn't practice for almost three weeks. My coach were very focused to get ready and be prepared well for Olympics. We almost did it. My skating during those Olympics wasn't good. You could see lack of condition and practice. After being 19th in the Nagano Olympics, I really worked hard before Worlds in Massachusetts to prove to everybody that I could do it. I have to say that I was ready and was skating at 150 percent. I didn't miss any jump in practice. Worlds in 1998 was a dream come true for me. I loved skating in front of an American audience. It was almost like coming back home. Being 2nd after the short program was overwhelming but of course I was really dreaming about a medal which was so, so close. I think that I showed people as well that I am good jumper and a pretty emotional skater. I felt more confidence about myself and about my performance.
Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time?
A: I have to say that I love how Kurt Browning skates and performs. He would be one of the most inspiring people. Second, Katarina Witt for her feminine way of skating and bringing beauty to skating competitions. Third, Michelle Kwan - a true champion and great person. She skated for many years and could be true inspiration for young skaters.
Q: You retired from ISU competition following the 2000 World Championships and went on to skate in shows, coach and become a mother. Was professional and show skating something you wish you would have pursued more and could you ever see yourself getting back involved with performing again?
A: I love skating and I am a really lucky person that I can do what I love. After finishing my amateur career, I graduated with honors from the Academy of Physical Academy and skated for few years in different shows and galas around the world. Of course, skating was my whole life and a lot of times I missed skating by myself. A lot of times there are thoughts about coming back and still skating by myself. Of course I can't leave my students but sometimes I still do some short shows. I have to be honest in that I miss it a lot but life is going on and I am happy that I can still do what I loved.
Q: What is the most interesting thing you've done off the ice since retiring from ISU competition?
A: When I finished amateur skating I started to participate in sport aerobic competitions in pairs and teams. My partner and I won Student Nationals and in Team we won the silver medal. This was a pretty interesting experience. I learned a lot about my body and proper off ice practice which now helps me to prepare my skaters.
Q: You are a mother now! Tell us about your daughter and what you love most about her!
A: My daughter was born in 2010. Her name is Maria and in July she will be 4 years old. My husband and I are laughing in that she is a cumulation of our two characters - an extemely stubborn small lady with energy which is unending. So far, she was trying to skate a few times but is already is going to gymnastics once a week.
Q: You are currently the head coach of Odense Skating Club in Denmark. Having trained for most of your career in the U.S., what major differences are there with the Danish program and how different is it to be on the other side of the boards?
A: Skating is not a very popular sport in Denmark so there is plenty of work which has to be done. I like challenges so I am not giving up too early. After one year, our students made big progress and I hope that we (my husband and I) will be able to grow some good skaters. At this moment, our junior girl Pernille Sorensen is National champion and will be going to Junior Worlds in Sofia. In the U.S., figure skating has a big history and kids have a lot of examples to look up to and big competitions in between themselves to make skating on the highest level. Here in Denmark, they are just learning everything from the base. The mental aspect is very different. People are not so self-confident and it shows in the competitions. We are starting to put into place our own way of practice which is starting to work pretty well. We teach kids how to work and how to perform and have the confidence to skate the best in the competitions. For me, it is always most important to teach people that skating is your life and passion. You have to really love it to be able to keep up with hard training. Being on the other side of the boards is more stressful because you really can't do anything more to help your skaters but I love the training process and working with kids.
Q: What do you enjoy most about it?
A: The smiles of my students and seeing their passion and hard work.
Q: You speak Polish, Russian and English. Which language are you most comfortable with and where did you learn to speak three languages?
A: I think that Polish is my best but at this moment I speak Russian very well. My husband is Russian so we speak Russian at home a lot and at work we speak English so all three languages are all the time in my life. Right now I am starting to learn Danish which is pretty difficult language.
Q: What is the most important lesson you've learned in your life thus far?
A: You have to live your life fully as it is so short. Carpe Diem! It is better to try then to be sad and be thankful for everything what we have in our lives.
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