Talking to the Hungarian Team
Series part 2


Welcome to the second part of our Hungarian special; Adastra, Helga, & Kati went to the Jégcsarnok icerink in Budapest, to talk to several members of the Hungarian team for Absolute Skating, as well as for Pixieworld.

Not only skaters will get the mike, but also some coaches. Some interviews were in-depth, others were mostly focused on fun. All interviewees filled out the same 'fluff' questions and choices at the end. Join us for the second part of this marvelous series!

2.3 Andras Szaraz


by Adastra
Text: Helga Dobor
Photos © Adastra

PhotoWould you tell us about your skating career?

I was seven or eight years old when I skated on the ice for the first time.
We were skating with our teacher, but it wasn’t figure skating at that time.
I was nine years old when I started to skate at an outdoor rink, as we had only the Small Stadium at that time.

The funny thing was that for the first six months, I did ice-dance. Then thank goodness, because of coaching issues problems, I found Lady Pusi, who is Eszter Jurek's mother. I skated in her team, and I'm not sure how long for, but it was long enough.
Then I went to Lady Tucsi and I skated there till the end. At that time it was unusual to change your coach - nowadays it's a common occurrence. So really, I only worked with one coach during my career.

My best result was eleventh place at the European Championships in Prague. My first competition was the Europeans in 1982 in Lyon, and since then I've always finished in the middle field. I think I could get better results as a coach than with my own skating career. Winks.

11th is a good placement!

PhotoBut you cannot compare it with a European Championship title. I'm more proud of my results as coach. Of course it's also important that I've got a sporting career behind me.

When and why did you finish your skating career?

I think all competitors feel the pressure, at the beginning of summer; how much work there is before them. I always tell my pupils if they feel that they aren’t able to do all the work required, it doesn’t matter why, then it is the time to leave!

Do you mean, when skating is not important for you anymore?

It’s not about priority. It's about the work. When you're not willing to undertake the work. The competitors who are at this level know what's required of them; they know that they have to run x kilometres, they have to lift x kilograms, they have to jump x triples in the summer-camp etc. These become requirements for them. If somebody thinks that less would be enough, they'd be deluded.

What are your goals as coach?

As coach you can have lots of goals for yourself.
There are totally different meanings and goals in our work with Julia Sebestyen.
Of course it’s not the same as coaching or the training of coaches etc. The work of a coach is variable - its possibilities are rich.
I work a lot abroad, both in competitor and coach training. For example, this summer I worked in summer-camps, in five different places, where I trained children and coaches too, worldwide.
There are different goals everywhere - that’s why this job is very varied. It’s interesting that in every country I've worked, I've learned valuable experiences, which I can compare and adapt to our own country.
There's only one thing which I teach the skaters and coaches there, but I also learn a lot. As there are different circumstances, they work in different ways, they see different things. It’s a continuous work in progress.


How do you see the situation of the upcoming skaters in Hungary?

I think that small countries like Hungary have to count with our clipped wings (by our size). But hopefully we'll always have some good years when we have very good skaters. Unfortunately we'll also have times when we won’t be so lucky.

Do you think figure skating is popular now or was more popular when you skated?

This sport was one of the most popular before the Second World War. This popularity lived long, and it doesn’t matter that we had socialism. After this period, skating wasn’t a "supported" sport as they said it was a "snob sport". At that time it wasn’t a good thing to be a rich. Some things were better at that time and some worse. It would be worth comparing the changes, then and now.

Would you give us some examples?

An advantage: it was better to be a coach at that time. My parents would never go to the coach and pull her up about anything. It happens more often today. Society's attitudes and expectations have changed, so this affects skating too. And there aren’t exceptions! It doesn’t matter that you brought up a good skater - but a complete dilettante can query your know-how!

It is also interesting, that in those days there was another relation between the parents, children and coaches. There was a stable state background (good or bad) but now everything is insecure. We never know what the cost of the rental fee for the rink will be, and in another rink, the prices are expensive. These children spend 12 hours on the ice in a week, then three ballet lessons and another three hours with conditioning.

PhotoIt’s not an easy situation. Is it better to be a coach or a skater?

It’s absolutely comparable. It depends on how you live your everyday life and how you live the competitions. The competitions are dire - there, you can feel totally powerless. That’s a catastrophic feeling, when you stand behind the boards and you are a wise coach. - winks
There are horrible moments! You can enhance it when you predict the worst case scenario, and it comes true - that’s the worst. Then you have to talk to your pupil without the sentence “I told you...”… because they hate it.

How can you help your skaters in these situations?

It’s not so hard with Juli in this regard as she is very intelligent. You can always exert an influence on her. We always talk about the situation and the conclusion can be a result. I usually don’t do it alone but with the team psychologist, Márta Vura.

Do the skaters consult her?

Yes, of course, Juli regularly goes to her.

What is your overall opinion of the season 2004-2005, a season after Julia won the Europeans Gold?

PhotoThe Europeans was an unfamiliar situation for us. We have never been in such a position and we couldn’t handle it as we should.

What do you think you could have done?

That we should solve that situation from the first place. Keeping your first place is different from when you are trying to improve on lower placements. Being at a lower ranking is always easier, as you can say: “I tried it, but I couldn’t do that”. But if you are at the top, you're expected to remain on top. There are strong requirements; the mental pressure is greater.

What is your opinion of the new judging system?

It looks good. I think they should keep it and work with it, or go back to the oldest system - however I don’t think that this idea would be presented by the ISU. I refer to the system when the judges stood up by name, like Zsofia Wagner, Hungary. It was responsibility and accountability for them! For years, we had secret voting when they didn’t tell us who is who.
Now when the judge is asked to stand up for introduction (prior to a competition) he or she is referred to as being from the ISU. That is daft! Everybody knows who they are, and where they came from! This is a sanctimonious.

However this current system is a well-reasoned thing. It would be good if it could be amended as soon as possible to its optimum, because these continuous changes, (although I see that it is needed and important) aren't useful for skating.
In the old system, we were enlightened, regarding achievement and possible results - but with this system, we cannot predict anything.
It makes our work more difficult - while it's a very correct and precise system.
I hope that nobody misuses it. Unfortunately I could mention bad examples, like the above-mentioned Moscow story. The judges can vary with the second points…
The judges’ opinions didn’t change. It's a fact that they work with a big technical apparatus. I know, that the ISU started to analyse the work of the judges and they are stricter now. So if they saw dubious marking, they would bring sanctions - so I really hope that it could work. At first I liked the new system, but after the bad experiences…
Judgement day for the 6.0 for us was the Worlds in Dortmund, because we never will swallow the bitter pill about her sixth place.

Some skaters say, that with the new system, the "resting" parts in the programs were lost, and the skaters just skate the elements like a machine to get the maximum points. How do you see this?

It really raises difficulties. For example you have to include CoP (code of points) spins in the programs which you never thought about doing before. It’s really like a point collecting game. Of course there were skaters before this system who just did the elements and nothing more. I don’t want to mention names - winks. But he is as close to artistry as the ice hockey player. - smiles.

What can you do about this?

I think the system won’t be able to eliminate its faults. I'm sure that the short programs will be compulsory exercises. You can hardly find differences among the individual programs and that's not a good development. But we are in the early years and I really hope that they will find resolutions for these - I always was a positive thinker - smiles.

PhotoWhat does figure skating mean for you?

It’s a sport for me, for sure. A sport that can give place to artistic acts.
I prefer the sport part. I concentrate my work on this part too, but I don’t have anything to do with the artistry.
I am the responsible for the sport in this team - smiles.
It’s strange, I never could choose between sport and artistry. Of course, I see as a coach that an advanced technically-developed skater has to have very good co-ordination skills. The movement of a well-coordinated person is easier transmissible in the direction of artistry than a weak skater’s.

You cannot separate these two parts. I think that in coaching you have to improve both parts at the same time. But it is more likely - in my experience - that the technique is more important. The skaters usually learn the more difficult jumps and later the presentation.
I have an older example for this:
Brian Boitano is a skater with very good technique. His skills are excellent, while - apologies for this - but he was a boring, stable skater. That’s why he wasn’t among the stars at first. I think it was in Genf at the Worlds, where there was huge competition between the Russians, Americans and Canadians. Nobody gave Boitano a second thought. Then he performed an incredibly technical program and he won the competition!
Next season he did something great again, and everyone was amazed!
This is a very interesting example showing a skater's artistic development. That’s why it is so important, in skating, to believe in yourself, to be sure that you can show your feelings on the ice. That’s why the technique is so important. If you are ok technically you don’t have to look to all your steps, you don’t have to think about which foot should you lift in the triple axel - and as you don’t have to think about all these, you can concentrate on the choreography, on the presentation.

How would you feel if fancy costumes were prohibited in competitions and the skaters could only wear simple sports clothes?

That would be horrible. The girls are so beautiful in their costumes. And what could the TV commentators talk about? Especially the commentators who don’t know anything about the sport - winks.

Do you agree with the "women's sport" label for figure skating, as well as other sports?

This sport is good when the women skate femininely and the men manly. You cannot say that it's a woman's sport. Of course there are extremes, but to be honest, I like the extremes! I don’t like when somebody just skates with mediocrity.
He should be extreme: extremely manly, for example Joubert. Sandhu is also extreme - quite feminine, but it is also enjoyable! I think that in a free world you have to learn to tolerate things. These skaters can be phenomenally good. I very much like, for example, Sandhu's style. He does extreme things on the ice but it highlights his grandiosity.

If you had to introduce someone to figure skating, which performances would you show him/her?

It depends on his personality. If somebody likes the sporty, manly things, I never would show the extremely feminine skaters. Nor the women skaters who aren’t very feminine. I would show programs of the most beautiful girls. I could mention a few. - smiles
But if somebody is interested in the artistry I would show programs of the skaters who are simply great in this.

Do you have favourites?

Yes of course. I very much like both as a person and skater with great technique and artistry - Viktor Petrenko. He is my idol. I was fortunate enough to work with him - with Juli and also on other occasions.

You said you like him as person too. Why?

Nina Petrenko was the Juli's choreographer for ages, and we spent lots of time together with Viktor too. They are very good people and excellent specialists.

Is he the only favourite?

Not at all. I like Michelle Kwan too. It is difficult as I am prejudiced. Among the men I liked Yagudin when he was eligible. Now I don’t know what his skating is like because I don’t see shows - I can’t gain anything technically from the shows. I prefer competitions, where you can see the venerable form of the physical strain in the production. To see artistic movements for 3 minutes is not the same - it's not exciting for me.

PhotoJuli trains in skating camps in the USA and in Sweden too. Why?

It's simple. Everybody has his workshop. There are lots of things we don’t do at home, and I also don’t want to share all my technical secrets, tricks with others. At home there is no possibility of this. Here, everybody practises together and, like it or not, they are your rivals too. You can't practice elements with smiles and cheer when you know that you can crash yourself! It isn't possible to do everything. There is a continuous work at the federation level, but there is no club work. Imagine the National Wrestling Team if they couldn’t practice alone, with their own coaches, for a whole year.

Is it typical that after retiring, the skater will be a coach?

No, I don’t think so. Usually the skater won’t be a coach, as then we would have thousands of coaches. There are coaches who didn’t skate before at a high level. I think it is better if you were a good skater, skating at a high level and then you go on to teach skating. Of course it is not a requirement. There are lots of coaches (especially among the old Russian coaches) who never jumped any triples, or doubles. But they can teach! It's not a stipulation, but it’s better when you've experienced everything on your own, and then you can empathize with your skater.

Have you relatives in skating?

Absolutely not, but they are sport-related. My wife's father is Imre Hajdu, who was the Hungarian National Wrestling Team's coach.
My sister was an ice-dancer. Her best result was 10th at Junior Worlds, but after the competition she quit. Her husband is a hockey player, Gábor Hudák. My brother-in-law is a games master and wrestling coach. We usually work together in summer camps. He compiles the physical condition programs for children. My wife and my two children don’t do any sport, however my wife took part in at least 50 sports before. My children want to have artistic careers. They both dance and are members of the Madach Musical Dance school.

And what about you and sports now?

Oh, I do sport very rarely. If I have the chance, I like skiing and jet skiing. It depends on the circumstances. If I go to a snowy place, I ski, if I go seaside then I jet ski.

Do you like watching sports?

I don’t have too much free time. But if I have time, I like to watch football matches on TV, like Champions League. Of course I like to watch the competitions of the Hungarian Olympic Team. I like water polo, handball, the rower sports, and I respect these sportsmen very much!

And do you use computers?

Yes, of course. But usually I concentrate on my work and I don’t surf too much. The internet is such a huge world. What I need - the news - I always hear from Juli. Her computer is always online.

What is the biggest treasure in your life?
My children and my family.

How could you live without skates?
It’s a strange question. I don’t think I could live without them.

Without sport?
It’s not so hard. I live without sport. As you can see on me… - winks.

Without music?
I couldn’t live without it, because I also was a musician.
Oh… what did you do?
I played bass guitar, we had a band, but I am more proud that my teacher was Soller Zsolt, who was the bass guitar player of the Korál band. (A very popular band in Hungary in the 80’s).

Without credit card?
I don’t use any card.

Without computer?
That would be difficult…

Without friends?

Without dreams?
Without dreams there is no reason for doing anything, true?

And which of the above would be the worst?
If we should live without dreams.


Please associate with one or two words…

Figure skating is my whole life.

Family is the most important part of my life.

Friends are also the most important - laughs - these things fill your life, don’t they?

Money is dreadfully important nowadays.



Sport is the success.

Love is my family.

Peace is… Without peace we are in big trouble. Peace is a natural position in the world, the problem come when it misses.

The belief…
Without belief I think we still would sit on the tree.
These are very similar words for me: belief, dream, and love - it is hard to separate them.

There are three parts to a person's life - there are family, friends and work. I would say that it’s not possible to live without the 3, as imbalance results in a peace less situation. It is the same when somebody has a bad marriage, a bad job, ill-health, disbelief or he lives without dreams. This causes shortage of balance. This is the symbol of jin-yang too, if somewhere this balance breaks, the system falls over. And it doesn’t matter why…

Julia Sebestyen and Andras Szaraz finished working together after the Olympics, because they weren't satisfied with the results and their working relationship wasn't as good as before. Julia Sebestyen is trained now by Gurgen Vardanjan, who is also Diana Poth's coach.

And this concludes the second part of this series. There are several more interviews with the Hungarians to come, so don't forget to keep an eye on Absolute Skating! :)
For 2.1 Zoltan Toth or 2.2 Zsofia Kulcsar, click on respective names.

In case you missed the first block with Viktoria Pavuk, Szabolcs Vidrai & Dejan Illes click here!

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