Thoughts on the Japanese tragedy and the World Figure Skating Championships

By now we all know of the horrific natural disasters that has challenged the people of Japan in the last week.  The rest of the world sits in front of computer screens and televisions hoping to hear good news, while an entire nation in mourning begins to put the pieces of their lives back together.

In many ways, the now postponed World Figure Skating Championships scheduled for next week in Tokyo now seems insignificant in comparison; however,  there are many who wish to see the competition continue one way or another.  Currently, the event is in limbo with the ISU announcing that they are considering several options including cancellation.  The athletes who were to compete are also left in limbo, wondering if they should continue to train for the competition or start looking forward to the next chapter in their skating lives.  Golden Skate spoke with skaters from all over the globe to hear what they have to say about the tragedy, how they are handling their preparations for the competition, and often, messages to their Japanese fans who have so generously supported them throughout their careers.

Sinead Kerr (GBR) Ice Dance
“For us, things have felt strange as we had been about to withdraw due to injury – I dislocated my shoulder,” Kerr told Golden Skate. “Now we don’t know if maybe we will be able to compete after all if it is rescheduled to a later date.”

“My personal feeling though is that the Championships will not feel right taking place somewhere else,” the 2011 European bronze medalist continued. “I feel it should be cancelled out of respect for the Japanese people. We have been in touch as much as we can with our Japanese fans via Facebook, and I know there will be plenty more amazing skating events to look forward to there in the future. All skaters love performing in Japan probably more than in any other country so we will all be back at some point!”

Carolina Kostner (ITA) Ladies
The three-time European champion’s training rink in Oberstdorf, Germany, may be closing soon for its regular springtime shut down.

“I am sad that the World Championships have been indefinitely postponed. This situation isn’t easy for anybody, but my concerns seem so much smaller than those of the people in Japan,” Kostner said.

“The easiest thing would be if we just had a pause button that we could press. After everything has been sorted out, you just would press the play button. Unfortunately, we are not machines and not only the insecurity but also the sympathy for the people in the crisis area is wearing. The motivation is at rock bottom,” she explained.

“A Japanese man sent me a message on Facebook and described the situation in Japan,” Kostner said. “He wrote that it is very dangerous. It is important to me to express my sympathy with the Japanese people and they should know that skating doesn’t come to an end if Worlds are not held. As soon as the critical situation is over, we’ll for sure have big and important events in Japan again.”

Ingo Steuer (GER) coach, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy
Shortly after the earthquake, Savchenko, Szolkowy, and Steuer published a video on their website www.pixeleis.de and on Facebook to express their sympathy with Japan.

“We are constantly thinking of the victims of the catastrophe in Japan,” the German text at the end of the video reads. “The decision not to hold Worlds in Tokyo is absolutely correct,” Steuer said. “There is so much suffering that in my opinion, it is just impossible to pretend that nothing happened in our glamour world. More important than Worlds is now that things don’t get worse. We are in touch with our Japanese fans and thank God, they are fine.”

The European Champions are also facing the springtime shut down of their training center.

“Obviously we are falling into a deep hole,” Steuer revealed. “It feels like the tension is gone and it is hard to remain at a high level when you don’t know for how long you have to keep it. Another issue is that because of financial difficulties, we’ll have ice in Chemnitz only until March 26.”

Mervin Tran (JPN) Pairs
“It’s hard to say what I feel about Worlds being canceled or postponed,” Tran told Golden Skate. “Right now my thoughts are to those who have been affected. You can’t put a sporting event over the safety and lives of people.”

“Being an athlete is more than just going to competition and competing. If my season ends now, it doesn’t take away what I’ve learned and achieved throughout this season. So what if my journey cuts short? I still enjoyed every moment of it,” Tran, the 2011 Junior Worlds bronze medalist said.

“As for training, we were ready for worlds to happen next week. We have been in Japan between competitions since Four Continents, and were planning on staying until after World Team Trophy. But after the incident, we are going back to our training base in Montreal, and we have slowed down our training until we find out the final say in what will happen to Worlds. After this busy season of doing both junior and senior events, I feel that we have gotten used to preparing for competitions with little time and little rest.  We are ready for whatever the ISU plans on doing next.”

“I haven’t been in contact with any of the fans, but I know some people who have or who have family in Sendai. My thoughts are to them. I wish for best and a smooth recovery. I’m sure that with the help of the world and the organization of the Japanese, recovery of this country will be fast as soon as the situation is under control.”

Rachael Flatt (USA) Ladies
“I have been in contact with a few Japanese, and they are devastated for their country,” Flatt said to Golden Skate through email. “This unexpected tragedy will have repercussions globally, even though it is sometimes difficult to fully grasp the magnitude of this event. I certainly hope the Japanese people are able to recover from such a catastrophe, even though the recovery process will take time. I expect that they will come back stronger than ever, so I wish them all the best.”

“It has been a difficult time for all of the competitors since the ISU has decided to postpone the World Championships,” Flatt commented further. “I fully support the ISU’s decision out of respect for the Japanese. This will be an unforgettable season regardless of the outcome, but I am hopeful that Worlds will be held so that we can skate in honor of those who have passed.”

Misha Ge (UZB) Men’s
“This was to be my first World Championships, but I am not disappointed by the postponement,” Ge told Golden Skate.  “I agree with the postponement, because of how difficult it must be for the people of Japan, and nothing can compare to the loss of so many human lives.  I hope that the situation in Japan will get better. I have been in contact with my Japanese friends and fans because I care about their health and safety.  I have been trying to cheer them up in this difficult situation.”

Ekaterina Bobrova (RUS) Dance
“We are extremely worried for the Japanese people.  It is just terrible, what happened and frightening,” the 2011 European silver medalist said. “Of course it is right that the Championships have been postponed, but we are still hoping that they will take place. Therefore we are preparing and we are ready to compete at Worlds, wherever the event will be moved.”

Richard Dornbush (USA) Men’s
“I support the postponement of the World Championships one hundred percent. To ask the people of Japan to host the competition after such tremendous tragedy would be a show of terrible apathy,” Dornbush said on Wednesday morning. “At the same time I can’t help but feel saddened at the possibility of this year’s Championships being canceled. The training leading up to Worlds has been life defining, every moment a struggle to be where I want to be when the moment comes.”

“I have been in contact with a couple Japanese fans and they have all expressed a sadness at Worlds being canceled on top of all the tragedy taking place,” Dornbush continued. “I think many find emotional reassurance in sports as the perseverance of man in the most difficult of times. But the decisions for Japan must be made according to the needs of the victims of the crisis.”

And Dornbush had a message to the people of Japan. “Stay strong and come together in this difficult time. The whole world is at your back and will support the rebuilding of Japan. I above all hope, in the words of the Japanese Emperor Akihito, ‘that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times’.”

Nathalie Péchalat (FRA) Dance
“At the beginning, after the earthquake and the tsunami happened, we got a lot of messages from Japanese fans that were shocked and in panic,” Péchalat said. “They found comfort in the fact that the figure skaters will come, and they could live at least for a short while ‘outside of their sad reality’. In spite of all uncertainness we felt we tried our best to support them and we told ourselves if we are allowed to go there, we’ll do it.  The Japanese have always supported us and now it is our turn to be there for them. But this was before the situation became more and more dramatic with the nuclear fall-out, the rising death toll and the risk of another big quake. Now the extremely worrisome situation in Japan would completely justify a cancellation of Worlds.”

“It would be shocking for the skating world, but the extreme violence of the disaster and the plight of the Japanese people are far more disturbing for us than a competition,” the 2011 European Champion continued. The World Championships don’t have a place in the middle of an emergency. The ISU did what they had to do in the interest of the skaters, but also out of respect for the Japanese people. From a strictly athletic point of view, we would appreciate if the World Championships are moved and not cancelled. We have worked the whole season to attend this competition that remains the most important event of the year.  But the uncertain situation makes it difficult to stay focused.”

“It is hard to remain motivated and to train the right way without being able to make plans,” Péchalat admitted. “The place doesn’t matter much to us, it is the timing that counts today. We’re doing our best to be concentrated and highly productive, but our thoughts are with Japan. We feel it is egoistical to think that our priority is a sports event while millions of Japanese people are thrown into total anguish. We are corresponding directly with Japanese fans and the people that know us there on Facebook. We’ve sent a letter of solidarity and sympathy to the Japanese Skating Federation. We try to keep ourselves informed about the development of the events in Japan and try our best to help, even though we feel powerless.”

Cheltzie Lee (AUS) Ladies
“I must admit I’ve never been on such a roller coaster of emotions in the span of couple of days,” Lee said Wednesday via email. “I was due to depart for Tokyo this Saturday. My preparation and build up to Worlds was one of great excitement and anticipation to attempt new elements in my programs after being off most of the season with injury.  This excitement soon turned to disbelief, sorrow, and then despair.”

“All else pales in light of the tragedy that has taken place in Tokyo.  I am overwhelmed with sadness and to be honest my feelings about Worlds has taken a back seat. Should Worlds be postponed I will still compete, but should it be cancelled I hope to compete next year.”

Lee had this message for her neighbors to the north. “Though tragic the situation there is hope as the overwhelming assistance from all over the world restores faith in humanity.  Please know that your friends and neighbors across the seas will continue to keep you in their thoughts and prayers.”

Ryan Bradley (USA) Men’s
“I am really torn with how I feel right now. I am obviously really upset with everything that has happened in Japan and I feel terrible about what they are going through,” Bradley said to Golden Skate. “So, I have to keep my perspective clear on this. I was prepared for Worlds next week, and it is obviously very frustrating to be put on hold. I will feel a lot better about everything when I have a solid answer with regards to what will happen. It is just rather difficult to prepare for something that you don’t know when or if it is going to happen.”

“I haven’t really had the chance to be in direct contact with anyone yet,” the 2011 U.S. Champion shared. “I have ‘tweeted’ my thoughts to them, but that’s about it thus far. I want them to know that I am really torn up about what they are going through and I wish them the very best. I am hoping to be able to help in a more direct capacity after we find out our own fate. I know the Japanese are very strong people and they will overcome this, but I feel so terribly that they are being forced to go through this hardship.”

Victoria Muniz (PUR) Ladies
“At first when the quake happened I felt that Worlds would still be possible to have, but as the situation gets worse in Japan I feel that Worlds shouldn’t even take place,” Muniz said. “The Japanese are the biggest fans at competitions, and to hold Worlds somewhere else would be disrespectful to them as it was to be in their country this year. This tragedy really puts the sport into perspective as it is ‘just skating’ and that there are way more important things happening right now and should hold priority over Worlds. By showing our respect to them by canceling Worlds, could possibly show how much the Japanese community really means to all of us skaters when they travel to competitions. I’m hoping for all the best to the Japanese and praying for all those involved in the tragedy.”

Greg Zuerlein (USA) Dance
“I feel like the ISU made the right decision to postpone Worlds,” Zuerlein said from his home on Tuesday evening. “With the ongoing tragedy in Japan, skating should be the last thing that Japan and the World should worry about. Not only as an athlete, but as a human being, my thoughts and prayers go out to the those affected by the Earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I hope that my skating endeavors bring me to Japan in the near future, as I have never been able to compete and perform for the Japanese people.”

Maxim Trankov (RUS) Pairs
Trankov and partner Tatiana Volosozhar just arrived in Japan as the earthquake hit.

“We had just landed and took a train at 2:37 P.M.,” he said from the airport in Seoul Tuesday night as he and his partner waited to head back to Moscow.  “And then at 3:02 P.M. we felt the first (after)shock! We were rattled in the train and the train stood on the tracks for five hours without moving, then we only got to Osaka, because the trains didn’t go further. We stayed overnight in a hotel, and the next day we left for Fukuoka, thanks to Miki (Ando) who helped us via the telephone. In Fukuoka everything was calm and we trained calmly.”

Caitlin Yankowskas (USA) Pairs
“What happened last Friday in Japan was a horrific  disaster. Not only did it postpone our World Championships, but it ruined many  lives in a great nation,” Yankowskas said. “Having Worlds put on hold  is the right thing to do. People should not be worried about figure skating  when a terrible natural disaster occured. Yes, as an athlete, not knowing when  one of the biggest competitons of the season is going to take place, can leave  you feeling a bit out of sorts. However, that is nothing in comparison to what  the people of Japan are feeling.”

“To have one of the top five earthquakes in recorded  history and a 33 foot tsunami hit the shores of Sendai is much greater than  participating in any sports championship. My heart bleeds for Japan. Knowing  that friends and fans are over there is terrifying, and I have nothing but  prayers for their safety and recovery. Figure skating will find a way to carry  on it’s season, so for now I agree with the ISU in postponing Worlds.”

Dylan Moscovitch (CAN) Pairs
“Of course it isn’t ideal for Worlds to be cancelled  or postponed,” Moscovitch said. “We’ve trained very hard, and have  planned our peak for the right time so its hard to be in a holding pattern  until further notice. At the same time I have complete respect for the decision  as Japan is going through a major crises and needs all of its resources focused  on its people.”

Moscovitch had a simple but important message for skating  fans in Japan. “Though I have not been in contact with Japanese fans, I  want to send them my all my positive vibes and support to help them through the  rough times at hand and the continued struggle ahead.”

Golden Skate
Currently, the athletes  are confused as they don’t know when, where and if Worlds will be held. Over  the past few days, speculations were abundant, but real information is rare.  Apparently there are three options that are being discussed within the ISU: 1) to cancel  Worlds completely, 2) to move it to another country in a month from now or 3) to hold  it in Japan in October. The last option, mentioned by ISU president Ottavio  Cinquanta in recent interviews, does not seem very practicable as it would  affect the next season as well. Some athletes feel that the event should be cancelled completely.

If the event is moved to another location,  Turin in Italy and Lausanne in Switzerland seem to be the most likely  candidates right now. Turin has hosted the World Championships 2010 and  Lausanne is home of the ISU office. Apparently other Federations including  Russia and the USA have stepped forward and offered their help. The latest  announcement from the ISU says that a decision should be made and published by  Friday, March 18 or Monday, March 21. Until then, athletes, coaches and fans  can only wait and speculate.

Golden Skate and staff also wish to extend their deepest heartfelt sympathies and prayers to the people of Japan.

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