"Joe's fans know that they see something special every time he skates. There is always a sense of danger whenever he lifts off the ice into one of his death-defying jumps... what he brings to the ice is unique."
"Czech's Sabovcik is All-Skater"
by Monica Friedlander
(Published in the November, 1985 issue of AMERICAN SKATING WORLD MAGAZINE)
(Go to the article on the external website.) "Czech's Sabovcik is All-Skater"
Behind the scenes of figure skating - Dec. 27
At home with Jozef Sabovcik
By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(Go to the article on icenetwork.com.) Behind the scenes of figure skating - Dec. 27
Jozef Sabovcik: Online Interview
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Sabovcik has been skating for more that 30 years and can still do all the triple jumps as well as a quad toe-loop. As an amateur, he became a 6-time National Champion of
Czechoslovakia, 2-time European Champion,
and an Olympic bronze medalist. As a professional, he achieved the title of a US Open Champion, World Professional
Champion, 2-time World Professional Team Champion, and performed in countless TV specials and shows.
The exposure that Sabovcik received on TV, as well as his choice in music, afforded him the opportunity to meet, and in many cases, become friends with the artists that performed the music he skated to. His biggest victory, however, came off the ice when he was awarded sole custody of his son (Blade) after a long divorce and custody battle. “It’seems with that, my life is pretty complete and I couldn’t be happier,” said Sabovcik.
In 1995, he settled down in Salt Lake City, Utah where he currently lives with his wife (Jennifer) and son. “Right now my main priority is still skating and performing, but I am starting to look into the future. As much as I love doing what I’m doing, I know that I can’t do that forever. So whenever I’m at home, I like to work with the kids at my rink on a regular basis,” said Sabovcik. “Also, Jennifer is currently four months pregnant and we are extremely excited about this new addition to our family,” he added happily.
Lori: Love to see you skate! Where can one see you perform? Any U. S. shows in the near future?
Jozef: In the past year I have been doing a lot of stuff in Japan and Europe. This year it looks like I’might be doing even more in Europe, although nothing is set in stone yet. After the New Year, I performed in Brian Boitano’s Ice Spectacular and there are some plans for me to do some short tours. Hopefully everything will get done and I will skate more in the United States and Canada, because this is where I live, so this is where I like to perform. But I came from Europe, so I can’t forget about them.
Anonymous: How did you first’start’skating? Do you have any brothers and sisters?
Jozef: I started skating when I was 6-years-old. It was really my Grandmother who took me on the ice for the first time. She made sure I stayed there after I had convinced her that this is what I wanted to do. Without her, I never would have become what I am today. As for brothers and sister, I don’t have any.
Mary: What keeps you motivated?
Jozef: The love of skating. I cannot imagine my life without it. There is this incredible sense of freedom associated with skating, jumping and spinning that I don’t think I could live without. Although it is true that it hurts sometimes (sometimes it hurts a lot), it is never bad enough to say, “I don’t want to do this anymore”. Performing is another thing that keeps me going. The feeling that I get from the audience when I have skated a good number and they understood and appreciated what I tried to do out there, is something that is very addicting in a good way. Once you know that feeling, it is hard to go without. Unfortunately there’s no way to keep doing what I’m doing forever, so one day I will have to say goodbye to it all and just live with the memory.
Mark R: I know your son Blade is probably old enough to start taking an interest in skating. Is he showing any leanings toward skating or is one world class skater in the family enough?
Jozef: Blade is 10-years-old right now and he is skating a little bit. He seems to like it and he is pretty good at it, considering he only skates three times a week. So far it’s not very serious, but pretty soon he will have to make a decision whether he wants to skate for “real” or just for fun. I’m not pushing him into it, but it’s not because I think that one “world class skater” is enough. I want him to be the best that he can be in anything he tries and ultimately, I want him to be better than I was. That’s what you want from your kids when you are a parent. But it needs to come from him; otherwise it would be what I wanted him to be and not what he wanted to be. All I can do is try to guide him in the right direction so he can make the right choices for himself.
John G.: How long did it take you to learn your incredible back flip? Will you be visiting and/or performing in the Toronto area in the near future? Keep up all the great work and keep on rocking!!!
Jozef: It was a gradual process. I learned my back flip on the floor first, many years before I did it on the ice. While I was still competing in amateur competitions, no one would let me try it on the ice, because they all feared that I would injure myself. The first back flip on the ice I did in was 1988 and it was a “normal” one. But man, what a feeling it was!!! Eventually, as I grew more comfortable doing them in any situation and on any size ice, I became a little bored with doing them the same way all the time, so I started experimenting. Besides, there were a lot of guys that were doing back flips at that time, so there was nothing special about the one I did. I started stretching my legs in the air, all the while thinking that it looked like the back flip that Robin Cousins did. It was about two years of me doing it this way before I finally saw it on TV and I realized that it was nothing like Robin’s, but I liked the way it looked so I just kept on doing it my way.
Paula: How do you manage to do the back flip without bending your knees?
Jozef: It developed over time. About ten years ago I started to straighten my knees gradually, but I had no idea what it looked like. I have to say that I was pretty surprised when I finally did see it. All I really wanted to do was to stay in the air as long as possible, because it really feels like floating… it’s really a cool feeling. So I didn’t really practice doing a layout, it just’sort of happened. And when I realized that I’may have something there, I really tried to do it as big as I could, because I knew that nobody else was doing that. There are a lot of back flips around, so I did want mine to be different from the others. I guess it kind of worked.
Meagan L.: How were you selected for your role in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies at the SLC Olympic Winter Games?
Jozef: I really don’t know what the process was for selecting a skater for the role that eventually became mine. All I can’tell you is that, Sarah Kawahara, who choreographed the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, called me one day and asked me if I would be interested. There was a brief pause on my end, not because I had to think about it but because I became momentarily speechless. Then I finally answered and the rest, as they say, is history.
Singerskates: If you could have any jump that Elvis Stojko does or did, what jump would that be? Would you ever consider competing in adult’skating events if there was a category called Extreme Masters for amateur and pro skaters 30 and over?
Jozef: I could and still can do all the jumps that he can do. I’m not’saying that I can do them better than him, I just do them my way. I would never want to do someone else’s jumps because then they wouldn’t be mine. But if I could choose something from Elvis, it would be his consistency in jumps and his work ethic during his amateur days. I have always admired that about him, his ability to perform at his best under pressure. Then again, I admire that about every skater that can do that. As far as competing again? I don’t know if I still have it in me. You have to train differently for a competition than you do for a show. But I never say “never”. It will have to happen soon though, because I’m not getting any younger.
Katarina from Slovakia: Do you currently coach? How did it feel to participate at the Olympic ceremony? You were great!
Jozef: I do coach a little bit when I’m at home between shows. It is something that I would like to do full time when I retire for good from performing. You can’t do both. Teaching kids is a full time job and you have to be there for them. it’s kind of like being a parent, only in a different capacity. For now, I try to help them on the technical level and they seem to like me enough to listen to me. To be in the Opening Ceremonies was a great honor. The feeling that I had when I was surrounded by 700 children with their lanterns lit up, was one that I will never forget. It is hard to describe. All I can say is that it was unbelievable. I’m grateful that I was given an opportunity to experience that.
Katarina from Slovakia: Do you miss competitions or do you like shows much more? Thank you!
Jozef: Sometimes, but not as much as I would have thought. However there were different types of competitions in the professional ranks. The ones that I do miss quite a bit to this day are the Team competitions, like World Team and Ice Wars. Those were so much fun to do and even though we were doing our hardest tricks, we were also genuinely having one hell of a good time. If you ever saw one of those on TV, I think that you could tell how much fun we were having.
Paula: What is your involvement with Meatloaf? Are there plans to skate to their music – live or otherwise in the future? Are there any videos in the making?
Jozef: After I have skated to Heaven Can Wait, there was some talk that we might do something together, but Meat got really busy with his acting and put the music stuff on a back burner for a while. The possibility is not dead yet, so we’ll see in the future. As a matter of fact I have been involved with Joe Lamont, who has produced many different things, but never a skating event and he is very interested in trying it out. Right now we are talking with Alice Cooper about a possible collaboration on a Halloween Special. Alice is very interested and we know that he will be free next October. If we could pull it off I would really like to include Meatloaf in it. But these things take a long time to materialize, especially if you are trying to find sponsors or investors. It may not happen at all, but it would be really cool if it did. Let’s hope.
Paula: Are you working on any new programs, and if so, can you share the material with us?
Jozef: Right now I have two new programs that’stewart and I have done for this season and so far that’seems to be enough. We started working on a new one, but we got a little bit’stuck, so it’s best to let lie. The way it works for me is that if it is the right music for me, than we usually get it done in a couple of days. If however we start’struggling a bit, most likely it’s not the right kind of a program, or the wrong approach. There are some pieces of music that I have had cut for a long time and we never got around to doing them. One of them is an instrumental by Savatage. I would really like to do it, so don’t be surprised if you hear more Savatage in the future.
Paula: You are quite the artist! I could elaborate so much on the various pieces you’ve done. Was The Unforgiven inspired by the ballad from Metallica?
Jozef: It was. Really the idea came from their video. All of the paintings that you may have seen came from a very dark period of mine and it’seemed like a good idea to get it off me this way, rather that doing something stupid. I got pretty much inspired by anything that I saw. I still paint’sometimes, but it’seems like I don’t have as much time anymore. Most of my stuff is still very dark in color, and because I love black and red. They may seem a little menacing, but the subjects are a lot happier than before. Unfortunately, I don’t have as much time to paint as I would like, but I know that’someday I will get back into it. I have a lot of ideas that I would like to put down on a canvas and I keep them all sketched or just written down. When I finally have the time to paint, I will probably disappear for some time until I get them all done.
Paula: Is it true that you have a CD coming out with Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO), and if so, are you going to be doing more collaboration with them or any other bands? Any chance of seeing you covering “The Boss” songs? Any plans for touring with TSO?
Jozef: Well, I don’t know at this point. We are still talking about it, but we can’t'seem to find the time. I would like nothing better than to go into a studio with the band and record with them, but we all have our own things to do. I don’t like to do things halfway just to get them done. Things have their own way of working themselves out and if it’s meant to be, then it will happen. I also think that I need to get a lot better as a singer before I can do anything with a band like TSO. I want to be able to hold my own with them and not be “created in the studio” like a lot’singers are these days. As far as seeing me covering Bruce – I’ve already done it. Stewart’sturgeon and I have a band called The Thin Ice Band and we did Secret Garden on the ice with me on vocals, Stu on a guitar and a friend of ours, Scott Irvine, on bass. We both skated in the number and I can’t tell you how much fun that was. But we are getting better as a band and now we are more interested in writing our own songs. That is a whole new world for us and we are still learning how to do it as a band. With no formal training, it takes us a lot more time to come up with something, but the stuff that we have I really like. It is always fun when we get together to jam to run through songs by Bruce [Springsteen], Creed, Pink Floyd and many others, but we always work on our own stuff. When we have some songs that are ready, I’ll post them up on my web site and you can give us your feedback.
Paula: Any chances of you ever doing any programs to ballads by Metallica?
Jozef: I haven’t really thought about it. The only one that I would have liked to have done is Nothing Else Matters, but’steven Cousins already skated to it, so that one is out of the question. But their music has been getting a little less heavy and more melodic in the past few years, so you never know.
Paula: Other then Bruce Springsteen, which artists/groups do you enjoy listening to?
Jozef: I own about 1600 CD’s so it would take a few pages to list all the ones that I like, but here’s a few: Savatage, TSO, Great White, Pink Floyd, W.A.S.P., Iron Maiden, Bruce Dickinson, Thunder, Whitesnake, Smokie (from my youth), Asia, Bryan Adams, Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Ozzy, AC/DC, Pat Benatar, Lita Ford, Chris Norman (from my youth), Alice Cooper, Foreigner, Queen, Status Quo, Billy Squire, Slade, Tom Petty… and the list goes on and on…
Paula: Are you going to be choreographing for skaters?
Jozef: I haven’t done any choreography for skaters yet and I don’t think that would be my thing. I like to work on jump technique. That is something that I would like to get into when I’m old and no one wants to see me anymore throwing my body around on the ice.
Paula: How many years of performing/competing do you think you still have left taking into consideration your barring injuries?
Jozef: It really depends. I love what I do and as long as I still feel like I have something to offer and people are still interested in seeing me out there, I’ll keep doing it. If, however, I don’t feel anymore pleasure in performing, than I’ll know it’s time to go. For me, it’s really important to be able to be proud of what I do and not feel like I have cheated. What I love the most about’skating and performing is jumping. And if I can’t do a triple lutz anymore I’ll have no interest in doing it.
Paula: In the unlikely event that there were to be any more US Open competitions, would you consider competing?
Jozef: I think that if there’ll be any more of those I’ll do it, providing I can still do all the jumps that I would want to have in my program. So far I can still do them all, including the triple Axel and quad toe-loop, but there are no guarantees. Creeping age and a deteriorating body from years of abusing it on the ice are ruthless enemies of every skater and athlete. So far, I have to be thankful that I have been able to keep dodging them.
Paula: Do you ever regret that you didn’t get to go further as an amateur?
Jozef: No, never. I think that I did get pretty far, certainly farther that I would have thought in my wildest dreams. The thing is that I had to do things my way, meaning I wanted to enjoy life and train and compete at the same time. Perhaps I could have done more with my amateur career if I gave up the “good things in life” (although I seriously doubt it), but it would not have been any fun and I probably would not have stuck with it. You’ve got to love what you do and for me it was a compromise between skating and being a teenager at the same and being pretty good at both.
Paula: Other than skating, has Blade shown interest in other sports?
Jozef: For a while it looked like he was going to be a soccer player. In fact he didn’t'skate last year at all and just played soccer. He is really good at it and it was fun for me to learn about a different’sport from the inside so to speak. But then the Olympics came to Salt Lake and Blade wanted to be one of the ‘Children of Light’. Well, what kid wouldn’t want to be involved in something that huge? After that he wanted to skate again and it’seems like this is it for him. He skates 3 times a week, so for now it’s not terribly serious, but when he’s out there he’s working hard. That’s all I ask of him. He has a lot of catching up to do, because of the missed time when he played soccer. So who knows where it will lead to? I don’t really care if he becomes a champion. I just want him to be happy, that’s all.
Paula: Will you be skating in Sun Valley, Idaho this summer?
Jozef: Yes, this will be my 11th season. I won’t be staying there the whole summer like I did in the past. I’ll still do all the shows, but I’ll be driving back and forth. Sun Valley used to be the closest thing to having a home before I settled down here, but now, well, home is home.
Paula: Which skaters do you admire and why?
Jozef: There have been a lot of skaters that I have admired and still admire for different reasons, even though some of them don’t'skate anymore. Toller Cranston for taking all the risks at a time when risks were not really tolerated. Robin Cousins, for the beauty of his skating, Terry Kubicka for doing the first back flip and in doing so, made me want to do it’so bad I could taste it even back when I was 12-years-old. Gordy McKellen for doing the first real triple Axel, which made me want rotate in the air as long as I could. Scott Hamilton for just being the person that he is on and off the ice. Ondrej Nepela who came from my hometown and became a 3-time World Champion and Olympic gold medalist, for being very kind to me and showing me that anything that you set your mind to was possible. Brian Orser, Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko and countless others for being my friends and considering my jumping ability to be on par with theirs.
Paula: Your book, Jumpin’ Joe: The Jozef Sabovcik Story, was very powerful! I found it emotionally enlightening. It couldn’t have been easy to write it. What inspired you?
Jozef: My writer, Lynda Prouse, who made me feel like she really cared about my story. We stayed friends after the book was finished and are working on some other stuff together. It wasn’t easy to write, but it was a very good process thanks to Lynda. Sometimes it really helps to put things and emotions down on paper, because that way you can organize them better than just thinking about them in your head. And when you do that, you can leave the “bad” stuff behind and look into the future. Last year we got together again to update the book, which will be re-released in spring of 2003. There are three new chapters and the original text is re-edited. There was some stuff that was left out of the original release, so now it will be exactly how we wrote it. It was a lot of fun to work on this book again with Lynda, because this time the three new chapters are a lot happier and therefore were a lot easier to write. One of them doesn’t'seem that happy, but it really is if you know the outcome. I’m really glad that the book is being re-released, because where the original book ended it left a lot of things unsaid and open-ended. This time, we had a chance to end it the right way. I hope that you’ll agree with me when you read the new release.
Paula: Can you tell or “feel” if the audience is behind you when you are skating to a new piece of music or program?
Jozef: Absolutely!!! Sometimes I think I wouldn’t be able to finish a program without their help, that’s how tired I sometimes get. Like when I used to do Trapped, I felt great until I got off the ice and realized I could barely stand up. They make me want to give more and I do try to give more, without realizing that I’m going to edge of my powers, but that’s what makes it great. That’s what keeps me going. I think I finally understand how Bruce [Springsteen] can do a 3-4 hour concert going full out. The audience has a tremendous amount of power and energy and when they are willing to share some of it with me, there just isn’t anything like it.
Paula: Would you ever consider skating to music other then rock? If so, which pieces would you be interested in skating to?
Jozef: Oh I used to do my share of classical, and I hated it. Now I can at least appreciate the beauty and the power of some of the pieces. And if I find something that would move me enough and that no one has done before, then maybe. But’still I’m a rocker and that’s what I feel the most. Anything else…country…I don’t think so, unless it was done by Bruce, who actually has a few songs that have a country flavor, which would be a great compromise… dance or hip hop… CAN’T DANCE, nor do I want to. So I guess I’m really stuck doing what I love best and that’s not’such a bad thing.
Paula: Do you like living in the United States compared to Canada?
Jozef: I’m a Slovak and Canadian citizen but am a permanent resident of Utah and I love it here. Home is where you make it or where you have your friends. And I ended up here because of my friend Stewart’sturgeon who is my choreographer. When we didn’t have time to finish one of my programs in Sun Valley, he asked me to come to Utah and I never left. On top of Stewart was teaching my girlfriend Jennifer (who later on became my lovely wife), as she was living here as well. It was really a no-brainer why I wanted to stay here.
Paula: Will you be performing or competing in any events soon, and if so, when and where?
Jozef: This year has been really weird for everyone. I have been doing a lot of stuff, but not much of it on TV. Except for the afore mentioned, I will probably be going to Europe for a few shows and everything else is still being worked. I have a new management (IMG), which I’m really happy about. I’might be doing a tour in Europe, but no contracts have been signed yet, although we are very close. Plus, there is something surprising in the works here in the US, but I can’t talk about it yet. All I can say is that I really hope it happens, because it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do.
Paula: How do you feel about all the upcoming skaters that are putting so much emphasis on the quad? You played a very important role in the “quad,” however, it’seems that’skaters are more focused on the quad now then the rest of their program. What advice, if any, do you have on this issue for the younger men coming up through the ranks?
Jozef: It is very exciting to see all those young guys pushing the limits. There is, however, a little too much emphasis on the jumps. In order for it all to work, I believe that there’should be a balance in the program itself. But 4½ minutes is a very short time to accomplish all of that. So they have to do what the judges expect from them if they want to be competitive. Who knows where it will all go. All those young guys are very talented and if they want to win, they have to put all those jumps in, which leaves little room for entertaining the audience. There are some of them, like Alexei Yagudin, who manages to do both. He has great jumps, but even if he misses some during his program, you are always left with the impression that you have seen something special. That is very rare these days. I just hope that there will be more skaters like him coming up in the future. Of course he’s not the only one that has the ability to pull this off. There have been many skaters like that in the past, Scott Hamilton, Kurt, both Brians and so on. I just mentioned Alexei, not only because he’s a friend of mine but because he is an Olympic Champion, so therefore he’s a great’skater to look up to.
Paula: Do you plan to coach when you decide to stop touring and/or competing?
Jozef: I think so. As a matter of fact I’m teaching a little bit right now. I love working with kids, and what really interests me is working on the technique. I’d like to start with little kids and teach them from the beginning, because that’s when all the good and bad habits develop, which are really hard to break when they get older. There are some kids I work with right now, whenever I’m at home and it is really rewarding to see them try so hard to do it the way I want them to do it. I still work with them primarily on jumps and jumping technique, but I have also started to work off ice with most of them, so time will tell how much they will improve. The challenge is to figure out what works for each individual skater and you as a coach have to adjust your approach accordingly to each skater. What works for one may not work for the next one. But as they say “All roads lead to Rome”. Different approaches will lead to the same place (hopefully), and in this case the destination should be the right technique.
Paula: What do you think will be the determining factor for you in deciding that you want to retire?
Jozef: Not being able to jump or perform at the level that I’d like to. I don’t want to cheat the people that pay for the tickets. They come to see me jump and if I can’t give them that, than it’s time to go. Also I don’t want to ruin my knees completely, because I really enjoy playing with Blade and he is pretty active. But the other factor that comes into play is the one that I have not considered just yet. In order to perform at the level that I want, I have to put in the time to train, go through the pain, fall, get up and try again. As you get older, you don’t'succumb to these things as easily as when you were young, because you have a choice. I can either go through the pain of training to perform, or I can coach and spend more time with my family. it’s really a catch-22. I love what I do, but if the fire to train and be ready for my performances will go out of me, then even though I will be still able to do my triple lutzes and whatever else, I will know that it is time for me to bow out.
Paula: You have one of the best tuck Axels. Is this your favorite jump? If not, what is your favorite jump to perform? Which is your least favorite and why?
Jozef: Does anybody else do them? If they do I’d like to see it. it’s like a dying jump, with all the triples and quads; nobody takes the time to do a real simple jump. Sometimes there is beauty in simplicity and I think an open Axel is very beautiful. A tuck Axel is basically the same thing, but it has a little more edge to it, which is great for me, because I can use it with my rock numbers. If you noticed in my slower, quieter programs I always do an open Axel as it’s better suited for that kind of music. I do like Axels a lot, all of them, and I like to do toe jumps (i.e. toe-loop, lutz and flip). Edge jumps are not my favorite, but I still like doing them. Loop would have to be my least favorite, but in the past few months, I have become quite fond of it. Probably because I have been landing them again! HA! HA!
Paula: In your repertoire of programs, which three are your favorites to perform and why?
Jozef: I always enjoy my new programs, because they are fresh. But there are a few sentimental favorites that I like to do from time to time, even though they are quite old. it’s hard to choose three, because there are more than that, but… Trapped, Heaven Can Wait, and Rock Me, but you could add a few more. Right now I’m doing a number called Lift Me Up by Bruce, but you would not be able to tell it’s him singing. He does the whole thing in falsetto and gives the music an almost’surreal sound. I really like doing that one. A lot of times it’s the latest number that is my favorite, so it’s hard for me to tell.
Paula: Rumor has it that you set off a fire alarm in the middle of the night during a Skate Canada competition in order to see all the women without make-up! Is this true and if so, can you share the details? Are there any other mischievous pranks that you pulled that you can share with us?
Jozef: Well… we all were young at one time. It is true and it was fun. Real fun. However it was done after the competition was over, not as it has been reported that I did it before or on the day of the competition. We used to do a lot fun things back then, but I’m afraid that most of it would have to be censored and it would lose its charm. Perhaps one day I’ll write another book with all those stories in it. But for now, it’s better left unsaid. After all children could be reading this.
Paula: How did you feel when you were forced out of the 1986 World Champions due to your knee injury?
Jozef: I can say that I wish that I had been forced out. In truth I had to skate the long program, because my federation didn’t believe that I really had something wrong with my knee. It was the hardest 4½ minutes of my skating career, knowing that I had to finish, but could hardly walk, let alone skate. it’s something I would rather forget. I have it on a video tape, but I have never watched it.
Paula: How much does this injury still affect your skating today?
Jozef: Knock on wood, so far my knees are holding together. So I guess the answer to that is not much. However with getting older, you become aware of little pains in places you never thought about before, but that just comes with the job. As long as I take care of myself, I’m fine. The other thing that comes with the job is traveling and that I think is the hardest thing of all – especially if you already have an injury. But who am I to complain? As far as I’m concerned, I have the best job in the world. And so does every athlete out there.
Paula: Is it true that you are fluent in six languages? Which ones?
Jozef: it’s really only five. Slovak, Czech, English, Russian and German. German is starting to fade on me a little bit, because I don’t practice it at all these days, but if I spend a few days in Germany it usually comes back pretty quickly.
Paula: Do you feel that men’s skating in general has changed over the past ten years and if so, in what way?
Jozef: Ever since figures were taken out, I think there is too much emphasis on the jumps, which doesn’t leave much room for creativity. Plus, with all the changes that Russia went through, the field of skaters is so large now that they have to have an elimination round. That makes it a lot harder when you consider you have to do two long programs in one competition. In my opinion, the quality of skating itself (not jumping) has gone down. Figures taught how to use edges, like Robin Cousins and Brian Boitano still do, that with a couple of pushes they can get across the whole rink, you don’t'see that with the new skaters. On the other hand, now you see skaters that would never have made it to international competitions before because their figures might not have been good enough even though their free style was great. Figures and free style are really different from each other and having both was what made the champion “in the old days.” it’s kind of like gymnastics, having to master all the different apparatuses.
Paula: What area(s) do you feel your skating could use improvement in?
Jozef: Spins. I hate doing them, always did. And I don’t'spend enough time doing footwork.
Paula: What do you feel are your strengths in skating?
Jozef: Jumps. I love jumping and I always have. I also think that if all the elements are in place, I can get the audience involved in my programs. That’s because I really believe in the music I skate to. it’s not only that I like the music and would listen to it off the ice, but I choose songs that actually mean something to me on a personal level. That way I can be more believable when I perform it. it’s very much like a singer who goes on stage to perform a song that he or she wrote themselves.
Paula: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Jozef: Besides spending time with Blade and Jennifer, I like to read a lot. I read about 20 books a year. I also spend too much time on the computer. I love to edit music, play with graphics, but I think most of all I love to play games. That’s something that Blade and I have in common. I love to paint, but lately I haven’t done much of that. It goes in stages. I have to focus on one thing and when I get bored with that one I go to another one. In a sense, I have too many hobbies, which is a good thing, because I never really get tired of any one of them.
Paula: Who are your favorite authors and what are some of your favorite books?
Jozef: Stephen King, Brian Lumley, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, John Saul and countless other horror writers. I like anything by S. King. I really liked the Necroscope series by B. Lumley and The Great And Secret’show, Everville, and Imajica by C. Barker. These, as you can see are all horror books, but they all have a great’storytelling and strange twist. I’m also a big Agatha Christie fan as well as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes stories.
Paula: What movies or TV shows do you enjoy?
Jozef: X-Files hands down. I live for that’show. I like Friends but nothing will ever come close to the X-Files. In all honesty, when the X-Files series finished, I needed a little break from a serious drama on TV. So out of nowhere comes this reality show called The Osbournes. Now I already liked Ozzy already, so you didn’t have to twist my arm to watch a show about him and his family. Tuesday nights have become our “family nights”.
Paula: Who are your favorite actors and actresses?
Jozef: Jack Nicholson and Jack Nicholson. He is the coolest and always will be. Of course I love David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. There are a lot of other ones that I really like to watch like Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer… .
Paula: Your fans are very appreciative of the time you took to answer their questions! They send their best wishes, love, and success in all your future endeavors. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Jozef: The fans are the ones that make it all possible for me to do what I like to do best.
Without them there would be no “Jumpin’ Joe”. So when I perform, it’s first for them, then for me and
then for the judges (if it’s a competition). Competing is quite hard in that I have to find balance between
trying to please the fans and myself and including all the stuff that would make me competitive.
That’s why I prefer to do shows, because there you can’throw the rules out the window.
My fans have been very good to me over the years and I’m very grateful to them for their support. — Jozef Sabovcik
"Czech's Sabovcik is All-Skater"
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Oh well, only a triple. This sad state of affairs happens when this spunky Bratislava native doesn't successfully execute his famous quadruple toe loop (or toe walley, to be exact). Still, this jumping wizardry may not be the first thing that will strike you about this young skater.
Do you ever feel that the atmosphere at skating competitions gets too tense or serious? Then take heart, and meet Jozef Sabovcik.
With his astonishing jumping prowess, Sabovcik bested his strong competition to clinch the gold at Skate America last month. But after watching him interact with his fans and fellow skaters for a few days, you might think it was a popularity contest as well that the Olympic bronze medallist had captured that week.The all-American looking Czechoslovakian skating star brims
with energy and good humor. In his company, even the most demure skater
seems to loosen up, kid around and overall have a heck of a good time. |
Although he trains full-time in Czechoslovakia, his English is fluent, his best friends Canadian and American, and during practice sessions you'll spot him sporting a bright yellow "All Canadian" sweatshirt, and a Coke T-shirt - souvenirs from Brian Orser's family enterprise.
Unlike most of his countrymen, Sabovcik has had ample opportunities to travel around the world from competition to competition. In 1981 he trained for six weeks in Colorado Springs, Colo., under Carlo Fassi.
But his command of the language dates back a good many years: "When I was little my parents wanted me to study English. At the time i didn't like it at all, plus I had too many other things to worry about. But somehow, even when you're not into it, something is still left."
That, plus a generous dose of natural talent makes him the unofficial translator at international events, as he can converse in no less than seven languages.
Nevertheless, it is still his skating talent on which Sabovcik's claim to fame is based. His unique high jumps and consistent figures make him one of the three major contenders for the gold at next year's World Figure Skating Championships, and he hopes, the 1988 Olympics.
Nobody has yet landed a perfect quadruple in competition, but considering the number he has landed in front of an audience (at least six or seven at Skate America practice sessions alone), Sabovcik may someday be known as "king of the quad."
Ironically, these difficult jumps, in the past may have been his nemesis. His long program, especially, used to be an all-or-nothing proposition.
"If I missed the triple axel or the quad, I thought I was finished." he explains. "I could only think of how many more triples I had left to do. But if I landed the axel, I could do all the other jumps."
Now, however, audiences are treated to a more stylistically refined Sabovcik, whose new programs reflect an increase in maturity. "With my new program, if i miss a jump, there will still be a program. Because i like it, it seems easy to me. I don't even realize I'm doing difficult tricks. I concentrate on the artistic aspect, and go with the feeling."
This feeling may have been partially developed during his six week stay in Orilla, Canada, this summer, where he trained together with Olympic freestyle champion Brian Orser. Sabovcik's choice of summer skating school was the result of his special bond of friendship with Orser.
"We met in 1981," he says, "but it all started in 1983 when we spent time together during the world tour. Since then our friendship has continued to grow. We are still rivals on the ice, but we cheer and root for one another. When we go out for warm-up and say 'good-luck,' you can tell who really means it."
With Brian it comes straight from the heart. It doesn't matter who wins, as long as we both do well."
As an only child, Sabovcik follows in his family tradition of excelling in the performing arts. His mother used to be a ballerina and his father a choreographer.
But young Sabovcik was raised and inspired by his grandmother, whom he credits for his success. "She's the one who took me skating, and is still there at every practice watching. But she's so critical! Sometimes I think I skated well, and my coach is satisfied, but she'll say 'Oh, you were so bad today!'"
But she was there to witness her loving grandson land his first quad in front of a large audience. "I did an exhibition in Vienna, and they called me out for a quad," he recalls. "As I was going for it and turned for the three-turn, it suddenly raced through my mind, 'What's she thinking of right now?' - I almost felt her helping me."
And laughing he continues, "She must have sent me some waves, I thought! I just pulled in and landed it. It was a first."
Sabovcik's father used to choreograph his programs at first, but quit soon after. "We always fought, and I'd go 'No, no, this goes on the stage, not the ice!"
Indeed, Sabovcik never went for the theatrics. Although his new program is more stylish, and even scattered with sporadic humor, the jumps are still his forte - and his love.
I was always late to learn a jump, but once I had it, I'd never ever lose it like other people do. That's what I love most about skating. If I couldn't jump anymore, that would be it for me. I don't like figures."
This comes as a surprise, given his consistently good showing in figures. "I can't really explain it," he shrugs, "I have so much energy, sometimes in a turn, I'll jump, go up and down. But generally I settle down until I almost fall asleep. It's so boring! Sometimes i go with it, but often I'd rather be anywhere than on the ice doing figures."
Skating for Sabovcik is mostly instinctive. "I couldn't even explain to others what I do, because I don't know how I do it. When I feel 'up' I do everything, fell like this [crossing his fingers]. But when I don't feel so good, I have to think about what I have to do, and I don't know what to think of."
This probably explains my inconsistency sometimes. It's all so natural. All I know is that I go for it, take off, pull in, open up. During off moments I'm confused, and that's when i rush it, put too much power and it comes out as doubles."
This is apparently what happened in Tokyo, Japan, this year, and it cost him a world medal. But this intrinsic feel for skating also explains Sabovcik's success in a country which lacks an established skating school.
"We don't have many good skaters." he says with a trace of sadness in his voice. "At best there are six of us on the ice, and we have short practice sessions. A lot of the kids just blow their noses and try to kill time. I'm the only senior skater in my club now."
"After Ondrej [Nepala, 1971-73 world champion] people forgot about skating. Besides, the grandmothers died out," he says, explaining how parents can't afford the time to take their kids skating at six in the morning.
During the summer, the rinks close, and Sabovcik is forced off the ice for three months. Now, after his first summer of skating, Sabovcik hopes his federation will allow him to return to Canada next year to continue the progress he has already made.
"It's been excellent for me. Everybody tells me how much I've changed." But, he chuckles, "I still feel the same."
Sabovcik's career has also been complicated by repeated injuries, particularly by his problem knee: "Everytime I had a cold or applied extra stress, it would swell up," he says. At the Olympics the knee lasted until the end, but as I finished my long program, it felt funny. An hour later I couldn't bend my knee, and had to stay out of the exhibition."
Still, that triumphant moment in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, when he accepted the Olympic medal was the highlight of his career, to be equaled only by his win at Europeans this year.
"Europeans were held in Gothenburg this time, where Robin Cousins [his first idol] won his first title. To win there in the same place was very special. Too bad he wasn't there."
Sabovcik hopes he won't have to hang up his skates for a long time to come. But should that ever be necessary, there will always be something for him to fall back on. Other than being an uncertified linguist, Sabovcik is also a college student, majoring in economics. Why economics?
"We were in the classroom having to decide what we wanted to do next. There were a lot of athletes in the class, and we just looked at each other when somebody said 'Economics'. We were all good friends and wanted to stay together, so we all went 'Economics it'll be.' But I'm glad, because I can take languages, even though I don't have to. Others complain about how difficult it is to study English," quips Sabovcik with a sneaky smile, "so I say: 'Oh well, see you later."
On top of it all, Sabovcik finds time in his busy schedule to read, play soccer and tennis, and practice gymnastics - he's working on the back flip and on-ice aerials. How does he manage to juggle them all?
"Hmmm..." he contemplates, running his fingers through his blond mop of hair. "I can't really. My father complains I don't study enough. But i just passed my first geography exam, so I'm happy."
Sabovcik has committed himself to competing through the next Olympics, where he hopes to match his country man Nepala's feat of bringing home the gold medal. Beyond that, his options are limited more than those of his western friends. The Czech federation has a contract with International Holiday on Ice, so his post-amateur-on-ice future is programmed for that show. But with his many talents, Sabovcik could also choose another career.
Still, skating is his first love; the Olympics his guiding star. Along the long, hard road to the top, Sabovcik wants to also open his eyes to the rest of the world - to stop and smell the roses. In his own way, that's what he told me on a beautiful October day.
Monica Friedlander is a recreational skater from Washington, D.C. who has reached freestyle 5 level in the ISIA system. She attended the University of California (Berkeley), where she majored in political science. She is a development director for Campaigns and Elections a non-partisan campaign management and technology magazine and is also a free lance writer whose work has also appeared in Tracings.
Behind the scenes of figure skating - Dec. 27
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The family still had a very complete holiday celebration. "Jennifer had the tree up right after Thanksgiving," says Sabovcik. "That's different from when I grew up, because we would not see the tree until the 24th." Sabovcik has lived in Salt Lake City for more than a decade and honored his adopted hometown with his performance in the Opening Ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics. He grew up in Bratislava, Slovakia (he's actually half Czech and half Slovak), where they celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve.
"My parents or my grandparents would close the door and you didn't see the tree until dinnertime," he recalls. "Then the doors would open and there would be the tree with all the presents. Then we would keep the tree until January 6, which is when the three Kings arrived (Feast of the Epiphany)."
When they are all home for the holidays, the Sabovciks have maintained the European style, and they celebrate and open their presents on Christmas Eve. One Slovak tradition Sabovcik was happy to abandon was the traditional Christmas meal. "We had carp, which is a fish, but it's really not a good fish," he says. "The tradition is in November and December the carp come up to spawn in clean waters. That is when they're being caught. The tradition in my house was you get live carp and you put it in the bathtub and it swims in there for a couple of days. Then my dad would whack it over the head and prepare it. For obvious reasons, we don't do that here. Also, carp has an unbelievable amount of tiny bones."
At age 44, Sabovcik, whose pro skating career truly took off in the mid-1900s when he began skating to the music of Bruce Springsteen, is still performing. Including the miles he puts on his car during the summer traveling back and forth between Salt Lake City and Sun Valley, Idaho, he spends about four months of the year touring.
Last year, he got to go home to Bratislava, where his parents still live, to perform on the Slovakian version of Skating with Celebrities. He passed on competing, but was asked to appear as a guest star on several shows.
"It was great, because Jennifer, Blade and Jozef went with me for two weeks," he notes of the family first. "Now they keep asking when they're going back."
Family is always a priority for Sabovcik, and both sons take after their father. They joined him on the ice for the TV special Kristi Yamaguchi Family and Friends. "We resurrected one of my old numbers and they skated with me," he says.
Little Jozef seems to show an inclination for the sport. "It looks like he would have the personality to be a skater. Whether he's going to have the talent remains to be seen," says Sabovcik. "I want him to learn how to skate." Within the next year, his parents will start giving him lessons.
Although Blade certainly knows how to move around the rink, he is more inclined to follow his father's fondness for playing guitar. "About two or three years ago, he insisted on buying a guitar," says Sabovcik. "Then he figured out that his fingers hurt really badly if he tried to play it, so he put it away. Then suddenly it was like, 'I want to learn to play guitar.' He kind of did it on his own.
"For all of junior high school, he took band, but they didn't teach any string instruments, so he was taking percussion. Now in high school, they teach guitar, so he's taking guitar. I think the first week, I played better than him and then that was that. He's learned so fast." Father and son flew to New York in December for a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert (personal friends of Sabovcik's), and Blade's working hard on learning their classically inspired compositions.
When he's not performing, Sabovcik teaches, and he tries to communicate to students the basics he learned by years of practicing school figures. "I try to explain to them things that are completely natural to me, like second nature, but they don't know the feeling," he says. "It's very difficult to explain that kind of feeling if they've never, ever done it. Like what part of the blade to be on, how to increase pressure gradually and things like that."
He says that knowledge helps him still land triple jumps at his age, and he does his best to impart that information.