Golden Skate

Berntsson looking forward to rocking the home crowd

Swedish champion Kristoffer Berntsson performs his free skate at the 2006 Cup of Russia.

One of the most memorable performances at the 2007 World Championships in Tokyo, Japan, was Kristoffer Berntsson’s free skate. His upbeat program to disco rhythms (Saturday Night Fever, Studio 54 and Boogie Woogie Wonderland) got the crowd going right away, and the excitement grew with each element he nailed. And he nailed them all. The crowd gave him a standing ovation and Berntsson finished in 9th place, which was the best placement for a Swedish skater at Worlds in a long time.

Looking back now, the athlete feels it was by far the best performance he has given so far. “I did skate a couple of good competitions before, but I had a higher level (in Tokyo). I was just so happy. It was a special moment. I can remember at some point during the first part of the program that I was focused. But at some point I felt like ‘wow, I did every single jump!’ Before my last Salchow and double Axel at the end, you know the easiest jumps, I was thinking ‘Oh, I have to keep focus and not (relax).’ For the last step sequence I just gave it everything. The crowd was with me. When it was over it just felt good. Then I saw the crowd standing up and I was like ‘Wow! For me?,'” he recalled with a smile.

The good news for fans is that Berntsson is keeping this fun program (which, by the way, was his own idea) for the upcoming season. “The disco – I came up with disco,” explained Berntsson. “I thought maybe it’s good. I told my coach and choreographer and they liked it. So we went for it. It suited me perfectly.” His short program to La Vida es un Carneval and Merecunde (where he portrays a stressed-out guy getting too many phone calls) was very original and different from what most skaters do. “The short last year, my choreographer (Zerjon Abede) came up with the idea. He used this music himself and said the crowd always loved this music. I was also trying to do a different style, trying to do different things, and Salsa was new for me. Crazy things like screaming – that’s his idea,” the skater said.

Berntsson plans to make some adjustments to the free program because of some rule changes. “We have to rework the step sequences, of course,” he acknowledged. “And I’ll try maybe to speed up some entrances into the jumps and gain some more time for step sequences. They’re going to take more time. There will be some small changes in the spins because of the new rules, but there won’t be big changes.”

The 25-year-old is currently working on a new short program. “I’m going to do a Michael Jackson number,” revealed Berntsson. “My coach (Andrea Dohany) suggested it. I talked to my choreographer and he said, ‘Why not?’ We didn’t do it before. He is a big Michael Jackson fan, so he liked this idea.” Berntsson feels that it’s fun to skate to music that gives you energy and gets the crowd going. “The home crowd I’m hopefully going to skate for later this season,” he added, referring to the 2008 World Figure Skating Championships.

Indeed, this season is of special importance for Berntsson as Worlds will be held not only in his home country, but even in his home town of Gothenburg. The Swede already knows what it means to compete in a big event at home as he skated at the 2003 European Championships in Malmö, where he finished 15th. “I’ve been in the rink (at Gothenburg) many times and skated there many times. I don’t have to travel far. And of course, there is the support you get. In Malmö it was amazing. Up until this year it was one of the biggest moments (of my career),” he recalled. “I got so much energy from the crowd. I can’t explain it. I remember it. I was younger and more inexperienced. I started my short, I did a triple Axel, a triple Lutz-triple toe and then I just… the crowd was going, I got so excited and I lost focus. I did a single flip and I fell on my step sequence. I had a good start, but then I got carried away. I didn’t keep my focus. I hope I can learn from my mistakes and I’ll do better. Of course, it’s also more pressure (to compete at home). I know I’m going to be a poster guy,” he laughed. “I come from Gothenburg, I have been to many competitions and I did well last year and secured two spots for Sweden.”

Figure skating is still not a very popular sport in Sweden, but Berntsson got some media attention after his strong performance at Worlds and now sometimes is even recognized on the streets. “Sometimes they asked, ‘Oh, is it you skating?’ – It felt crazy,” the athlete admitted. Berntsson prefers to keep a low profile, but nevertheless, attention from fans and media is something he will have to get used to when he continues to be successful in this sport. For the new season, Berntsson wants to progress again.

“Last year I was sixth in Cup of Russia and I hope I can improve on this. I was really close in Cup of Russia. It was just two or three points to the third place. I hope I can get higher component marks. Of course I also have goals for myself, but that’s more like my private goals to keep me motivated. Until then I just wanted to skate well and do my best and show people what I can do. Like I did in Japan,” he said.

Unfortunately, the multiple Swedish Champion injured himself during a training camp in Switzerland at the end of July. He fell practicing footwork and tore muscles in his leg. He was off the ice for several weeks and had to cancel the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany (Sep 27-29) where he wanted to kick off his season. Now the student hopes to be ready for Finlandia Trophy in mid-October. He is also scheduled to compete at Skate America (Oct 25-28) and Cup of Russia (Nov 22-25).

Berntsson views himself more as a quiet person, “but more so when I was little. I was very shy. I think it (changes) also when you mature and get older. But I think I also benefit from my skating. You learn how to present yourself in front of an audience,” he explained. Still, it is a little surprising that the skater used to be a big Guns ‘n’ Roses fan and even played rock and punk music with his friends. “I played the guitar. We started our own little band actually and played in my friend’s garage,” he said. He is not playing anymore, though. “It’s too bad. I know how to play, but I can’t remember any songs anymore,” regretted Berntsson. Probably there is just not enough time for this as the athlete is also studying electrical engineering. “Now I’m going to be an electric power engineer,” he revealed. “I’m starting my master degree so I’m choosing power electronics.”

Thus far, Berntsson has been able to balance skating and studying. “I can do part time studying. So it’s going to take forever, but I still think that I will skate for many years and then as long as I’m skating I can continue studying. I think it’s good to keep my thoughts on other things also. Otherwise I would just skating and going home. I like to do other things in between. I go to school, I think about different things. I also have friends from school. I have many friends from skating now. I have been around for many years and I met many people. It’s nice to have also friends from another part of the world,” he revealed.