Interview With Denise Biellmann
It has been a pretty good time lately on the blog from a writer's perspective... I have been fortunate enough to interview many of my OWN figure skating heroes and the opportunity to interview 1981 World Champion Denise Biellmann was an absolute dream come true, let me assure you. Not only does she have a spin named after her, but one of the longest and most successful careers IN figure skating to her credit. Born in Zurich, Switzerland, she won her first international competition at the age of EIGHT and went on to win the free skate at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games and the 1981 European and World titles, all the while making history not only with the Biellmann spin that she popularized but by becoming the first ladies skater to land a triple lutz in competition AND the first ladies skater to earn a perfect score of 6.0 in ISU competition. After becoming a World Champion, Denise turned professional, touring with Holiday On Ice and having one of the longest and most decorated careers as a professional skater out there, winning the World Professional Championships (both the Jaca and Landover events), the Challenge Of Champions five separate times, the Miko Masters (five times as well) among countless other professional competitions in a twenty year span. A skater who pushes boundaries not only technically but artistically as well, Denise continues to perform to this day as well as teaching skaters and passing on her remarkable knowledge and expertise to a whole new generation. She was SO kind to take the time to talk to me about both her "amateur" and professional careers, unique programs and style, coaching, the current judging system and much more in this fabulous interview:
Q: Your first trip to the World Championships came at age 13, 2 years after you introduced the Biellmann spin to your programs. You made history in 1978 by landing the first triple lutz by a woman ever in competition and becoming the first woman to achieve the perfect score of 6.0 in technical merit in ISU competition. You went on to win the free skate at the 1980 Olympics and finish 4th overall and then go on to win the 1981 Swiss, European and World title. What are your proudest and most memorable moments from your eligible career?
A: My most proudest moment is of course the World title from 1981 but the one of most memorable and magic moments was the standing ovation I received at the 1980 Olympics when I won the free skate.
Q: Compulsory figures were an area of skating that ultimately cost you a gold medal so I'm sure you were probably happy to see them go in 1990. Do you think compulsory figures are a valuable training tool or something that skating needs to leave in the attic forever and what are your thoughts on the way skating is being judged today?
A: Of course, if it hadn't have been for the figures, I would have been first or second in every competition since I was fourteen, so I was not sad to see them go but nevertheless, as a coach today, I do think they are a valuable training tool. Today's judging system might not be so attractive for the normal spectator, but I personally like it.
Q: You have had probably one of - if not the most - successful long and decorated professional career of any ladies skater. You've won the World Professional Championships (both the Landover and Jaca events), Challenge Of Champions (5 times), Miko Masters (5 times), International Pro Championships, Vicks 44 North American Open, Nikon Skating Championship, American Invitational, Rowenta Masters On Ice, toured with Holiday On Ice and performed in shows around world. What moments have stood out the most from your professional career and what has been the secret to your consistency and dedication over the years?
A: Naturally, the wins are always memorable but I had some wonderful moments skating in shows to live performances of such people like Montserrat Caballé. The chemistry when that atmosphere and those feelings connect with an audience are really special. Regarding the secret to the consistency and dedication, apart from the passion and love to the sport, I think it was just hard training and always wanting to try out different ideas, choreographic styles and costumes. Generally, doing new and original things.
Q: You continue to stay active both as a performer in shows, in the fashion world coaching your own students and in teaching at skating camps and workshops (for example in Dolder, Bellinzona and Davos). What is the most rewarding part of working with young skaters and have you seen the next Denise yet?
A: Along side working with young people and being able to pass on my knowledge and experience to young skaters, the most rewarding part is seeing the progress they make. I have a couple of young girls who are very promising, but only time will tell if they are going to follow in my footsteps.
Q: Throughout your professional career, you've always had such a close relationship with your mother Heidi. She travelled to competitions with you acting as your coach both through your eligible and professional careers and has been such a support figure. What is your relationship with your mother like today and how did you separate your lives at the rink and at home and make it all work?
A: My relationship with my mother today is still very close and we see each other most days. In those days, we didn't really have to separate skating from our home lives. It just worked out quite naturally.
Q: If you could go back and change anything in your life, would you or not?
A: No, I wouldn't change a thing!
Q: On a perfect day, what movie you would be watching, what book would you be rereading, what song would you be playing on repeat and what would you be having for supper?
A: On a perfect day, I would be out in the country side in the fresh air. I might be reading the newspaper or listening to something from David Guetta or Rihanna, then I'd have good massage and round it off with something spicy at the Indian restaurant.
Q: Your programs have always been some of the most technically demanding and artistically interesting. I just loved your "Test Overdub/Frantic", Salt N' Pepa programs, "Whirl-Y-Reel", "Istanbul", "When I Look In Your Eyes" and "Lullaby" programs, to name just a few. I know you worked with Robin Cousins on some of your choreography and programs but where did the bulk of your ideas for costuming, music and choreography come from?
A: I always knew what number I wanted to do and in which direction it was to go, so then I always approached the person which I thought was best suited for that choreography style and then the rest was always a joint effort, exchanging ideas and working as a team.
Q: You were one of the first skaters to travel with a sports psychologist throughout your career. How important, in your opinion, is sports psychology in really making instead of breaking that competition moment for skaters? What worked for you?
A: I believe mental training is very important in sport. You can't just train the body and neglect the mind.
A: Robin Cousins! I loved his artistic interpretation and strong jumps. Yuna Kim, for me a perfect all around skater, artistically and athletically. Thirdly, Evgeni Plushenko. He never ceases to amaze me!
Q: At the end of the day, what do you love the most about being on the ice?
A: I love the challenge of combining the jumps and the artistic creativity. When I am on the ice, it is as if the world around me stops.
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