Home Figure Skating News Step by step, Conti and Macii continue to grow

Step by step, Conti and Macii continue to grow

by Judith Dombrowski
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Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii

Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii are the first Italian pair skaters to win a gold at the European Figure Skating Championships.

Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii

Step by step, Italy’s Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii have continued to grow together as a team—both on and off the ice. On January 26, 2023, they became the very first Italian pair team to become European Champions in Espoo, Finland. This is an achievement they never would have dreamed of a year ago, but the they showed very strong skates all season, even winning the bronze at the 2022-23 Grand Prix Final in Torino back in December.

“We haven’t had time yet to process what happened and what we achieved,” a very happy Conti admitted, three days after their historical victory. “It had been a dream we worked for a lot. We worked even double as hard as ahead of the Grand Prix Final, and we made it. I think it will need a little bit more time to sink in.”

Conti began skating at the age of five at an ice rink close by and fell in love with it at the very first moment. She improved fast and became a successful singles skater on the international level. However, competitions weren’t her thing at the time.

“I had very good practices, but couldn’t transfer it to the competition,” she admitted. “Nerves always got to me. So, I had decided to end my competitive career.”

On the edge of quitting the sport she loved, it was suggested she give Pair Skating a try with her now-boyfriend, Macii.

Macii had been true late bloomer into the sport.

“I started when I was 10 years old,” he said. “I had been trying different sports, and a classmate of mine was skating. She convinced me to give it a try. I tried it and loved it on the spot: there were no Saturdays and Sundays outdoors anymore. All the birthday parties, we did them all on the ice.”

As he started very late for a professional athlete, Macii laughingly admitted that this was why he was a “very bad singles skater.”

“So the direction that it would go towards pairs became obvious pretty soon,” he said. “At the first little show I ever skated in when I was ten. I already did something with a girl in a couple.” He also had no other choice: “I was the only man! They dragged me to pairs as they were in desperate need for boys!”

Conti and Macii have known each other for a very long time, since they were kids.

“The world of figure skating is small,” noted Conti. “Everybody knows everybody, but we never had any type of relation. We weren’t even friends as Niccolò was five years older than me, so we were in different friend groups!”

However, when Conti turned 18, the two of them spent a nice summer together that eventually led to them becoming a couple in September 2018.

“It has gone very well since then,” Macii said, while putting his arm around Conti, “and hopefully will last longer and longer.” “I hope so too,” said a smiling Conti, “but I still don’t have a ring!”

When coaches suggested they try skating together as a pairs team, Macii was particularly afraid that the personal and professional relationship might interfere with one another.

“I was very afraid of that at the beginning,” he said. “I really didn’t want to skate with Sara, not even for a try out, because I saw so many teams fighting and having problems. I really didn’t want that to happen to us, but I gave it a try after all. We knew from the start we had to be very mature to do it. You have to separate on and off the ice, and that’s really difficult, be luckily we manage pretty well.”

The journey has not always been an easy one for the emotional Italians. Macii admitted there were moments when they eventually fight.

“We sometimes get louder with each other, for example, when we get really nervous ahead of a competition,” he revealed. “But we never want to hurt one another.”

The team laughingly shared that they manage to keep their relationship stable with a lot of “breathing and meditation.”

Macii remembers the very beginning when they first started skating together, realizing that it could actually work.

“We gave ourselves objectives that we can achieve,” he said. “Slowly, bit by bit, never going too fast. Of course, we were trying to learn as fast as possible, but we never wanted to rush things as it was important for us to have the right technique.”

Like all athletes, Conti and Macii learned that beginnings are difficult. They learned this the hard way in their sophomore season at the 2021 Challenge Cup in the Netherlands—their only international event that season. The team took a very hard fall on their opening twist in the short program and withdrew from the event.

“I still feel a bit haunted by that event!” Conti admits. “Our coach suggested that we go to Challenge Cup again this season, but I feel like, ‘no way!'”

“I did a huge mistake!” Macii recalled of the situation from two years ago. “We were very fortunate that Sara didn’t seriously hurt herself!”

However, the following season picked it up, improving from event to event, especially on the pair elements combined with their very strong and secure jumps.

“We are really hard workers!” Conti said, pointing out their key to success. “We were always told that our proportions weren’t ideal, so we have to be very precise with the technique.”

With her height of 1.64m (5’4″), Conti is rather tall for a female pair skater.

“Sara turned me into this hard worker!” Macii admitted. “She got me as far that now, even I am sometimes the one who pushes to go again, again and again! That’s the key!”

Another key to their success seems to be their strong confidence in their jumps. At 2022 Lombardia Trophy, their first event of the season, Macii told the press that they “usually never make mistakes” on their jumps.

“Sara was a singles skater and can jump a triple flip-triple toe!” Macii pointed out proudly. “She is a very good jumper and very, very solid. I was not as stable, obviously, but I wanted to improve myself. I could do everything except the jumps. I really wanted my own doubts to be gone. So we worked on difficult combinations. Last year we wanted to do triple Salchow-Euler-triple Salchow. We also thought about it this year as we have a high percentage of success, but we so far decided to be more safe. But we are trying different ways to get more points.”

Coach Barbara Luoni has worked with the team since the very beginning, in Bergamo.

“We started to work together in 2019, but, of course, with a long period of stop in between, because of the pandemic season,” said Luoni. “I have worked with Niccolò as single and pair skater since he was 13 years old. I think they have improved so much, because they are really feeling each other and started to be more confident with their technical elements.”

“Sara is a really good jumper and this is a great advantage for the pair,” pointed out the coach. “In the future, it will be really important for them to develop their jumps even more to be at the top of the podium as we will see more pair teams with more difficult jumps and combinations.”

Luoni also feels they can improve their triple twist and their speed through the elements, so the on and off-ice couple know they have a ways to go to reach their full potential.

“We achieved a very good result at Europeans, but not our maximum,” said Macii. “We really want to improve for the next competition.”

Conti and Macii are looking forward to the upcoming 2023 World Figure Skating Championships in Japan, and want to include a triple toe-double Axel-double Axel in their free skate.

“Maybe we will after all go to the Challenge Cup, not only to overcome our demons there, but to try this combination!” said Macii.

With two months of hard work ahead, fans can be excited for their next improvements at their world debut in Saitama.

“Apart from the ice, we really try to enjoy some calm time together as a couple!” Macii summed up. “We spend so much time with on- and off ice training, that afterwards, we really enjoy our little calm family life.”

The couple recently welcomed a new housemate this fall: their dog Tyson, a Labrador and Rottweiler crossbreed, that they rescued from the shelter.

 

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