Golden Skate

Germany’s Vartmann and Blommaert hope for strong start

Mari Vartmann and Ruben Blommaert

Mari Vartmann and Ruben Blommaert take a break during practice at the Oberstdorf ice rink in Germany.

German pair skaters Mari Vartmann and Ruben Blommaert united forces this spring and hope to make an impact this season.

Germany has a rich history in pair skating, the most recent example being five-time world champions Aljona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy. However, the future didn’t look so bright after they split up. Savchenko is continuing her career with Bruno Massot, however, they still are waiting for Massot to be released by the French skating federation. In addition, two-time Olympians Maylin and Daniel Wende also retired.

Last fall, the promising young team of Annabelle Prölss and Ruben Blommaert also parted ways, so it appeared that Vartmann and Aaron van Cleave were the only ones left at the international level.

When Vartmann learned that Blommaert had become available, she contacted him.

“I was at a point in my career when I thought about what to do next, including a coaching change, which was very important to me,” Vartmann explained. “I have been unsatisfied for a while and not very happy in Berlin. So I decided just to ask him (Blommaert).”

Blommaert and Prölss were no longer gelling as a team and their career had reached a dead end as she had grown a lot.

“Mari wrote to me when I made it public that I wasn’t skating with Annabelle anymore,” the Belgian-born Blommaert confirmed. “Then she wrote to me again and asked if we could skate together. I was very happy about that, because I need a German partner if we are talking about the Olympics. I had some try-outs, but after the try-out with Mari I didn’t really have to think much to decide.”

Vartmann had already come to Oberstdorf before German Nationals at the end of last year with van Cleave to train under Maylin and Daniel Wende, who just have turned to coaching. Actually, Vartmann, 26, and Blommaert, 23, wanted to team up right after Europeans and even trained together for two weeks.

Timing was bad, however, as the German Federation asked Vartmann to go to Worlds with van Cleave so that Germany would have a pair in the competition and subsequently, would be eligible to have a judge the following year.

Both skaters are members of the German army—the biggest sponsor of high-level athletes. Following Worlds, Vartmann and Blommaert were required to attend army seminars. They used their free weekends to train together, but were only able to really commence full training in May with choreography in Berlin and in June in Oberstdorf.

The team looked good while training in Oberstdorf this summer.

“We realized right away that we are a good match skating-wise and that is the most important thing,” said Vartmann. “You know if you are harmonizing or not and it felt good from the very beginning.”

Two of the first elements that worked right away were the throw triple Salchow and the death spirals.

“In some elements, we just need to get together in the timing,” said Blommaert. “We can do all other pair skating elements and we were able to do them together rather quickly.”

Their programs were choreographed by Canadian Mark Pillay, who already previously worked with Vartmann and van Cleave. The team selected “Strange Paradise” (a modern adaption of “Polovetsian Dances”) for the short program and music from West Side Story for the free skate.

“Mark always sends us several music pieces and lets us decide if we like it or not,” Vartmann explained. “He is looking at what he thinks will works for us. We sent him videos of us so he would have an impression of how we look together on the ice.”

“Polovetsian Dances is well known, but we are using a special version performed by Sarah Brightman,” she added. “It also contains a Bolero rhythm that we felt was interesting and fresh.”

The long program was not decided until Pillay played the music for them on the ice.

“We knew right away that this was going to be our long program as we both really liked it,” Vartmann said.

While the German duo is mainly working on their elements and program run-throughs right now, they are also looking to find their own personal style.

“I think it will come with time,” Blommaert noted. “We are still thinking a lot and the choreography is new for us. As soon as everything goes smoothly, we’ll be able to pay more attention to facial expression and gestures.”

“Right now we are still looking rather athletic on the ice and we need to make sure that we are looking a bit more elegant,” added Vartmann. “This is what Mark tells us all the time.”

The skaters went to Berlin in the beginning of August to work with Pillay again to polish their programs. Blommaert’s twin brother Sander, a ballet dancer, came to Oberstdorf to work with them as well.

Incidentally, Vartmann and Blommaert are sharing the ice with Savchenko and Massot and feel that they benefit from it.

“We are not talking to each other during practice, but you are looking at what the others are doing,” Vartmann explained. “For example, they really have great lifts and a great twist. It is definitely good that there are other pairs on the ice with us.”

“It’s good for training and it is fun,” added her partner.

Vartmann and Blommaert, who both won German nationals with their previous partners, are looking forward to starting out this fall at the international level.

“Our first competition will be Nebelhorn Trophy and then Nizza Cup, for world ranking points,” Vartmann revealed. “We hope that we’ll get assigned to a Grand Prix and we’re planning on doing two more Challenger (Senior B) events.”

So far, coach Daniel Wende is pleased with his students.

“I think they’re really good considering the short time they have been together,” he commented. “They are getting along well and I hope it will stay that way. I can’t complain, they’re working really well. The programs are looking great, and so far, we have only gotten positive feedback.”

The coach hopes that their performances at Nebelhorn Trophy will be strong enough to warrant substitution slots for the Grand Prix should others withdraw.

“However, the main goal is to present themselves well at the Challenger events and to qualify for Europeans and maybe for Worlds,” he said. “I think they are looking really good together. They are in harmony and they are elegant. They also have great lines. Ruben is a strong jumper and Mari has become more consistent in her jumps as well.”

Wende believes that a top-five placement at the European championship is possible this season and a top-ten finish at Worlds should be achievable in the future.

The training atmosphere between the skaters and their young coaches, who not so long ago were their rivals on the ice, is friendly but productive.

“Maylin and Daniel just started out as coaches,” Blommaert noted. “They are motivated and they know us very well. I think it is a great project. All of us are young, motivated and we want the same thing. It is going really well and we have fun, too.”

Vartmann agreed. “It is also good that we have a man and a woman as coaches. She knows more about the mistakes the woman makes in pair skating and Daniel knows more about the male part. It is really positive.”