Nóra Hoffmann – haunted by bad luck


By Titanilla Bőd
Photos © Rita Szoboszlai

There is a Hungarian expression for wishing good luck (when you are too superstitious to say it directly): “Break your arms and legs!”

Do not ever say it to Nóra Hoffmann. She might take it literally.

This talented young ice dancer has experienced so much bad luck throughout the years that it would have been enough for many people to give up. However, she keeps on fighting. 

Injuries, injuries…

At the Worlds in 2006, Nóra suffered an injury during the warm up. The Chinese couple was doing a lift while Nóra and her partner Attila Elek were skating backwards and the skates of the Chinese lady cut Nóra’s back and elbow. As they were the first to skate in the group, they had just a short time to recover, but they still skated, throughout the pain.

At the Europeans in 2007, the couple Hoffmann/Elek did better than at any time before. They were seventh after the original dance – but on the morning practice before the free dance Attila fell, so badly that he broke his leg.

Our last memory of Nóra was her teary face in Warsaw after their withdrawal. Then the couple split up and we missed Nóra due to switching nationality issues of her new partner, Maxim Zavozin.  

A promising CD and a promising new couple

The new couple had their international debut at the Europeans in Helsinki and in the compulsories everything went well for Nóra and Max. They skated without mistakes and the judges put them in eighth place, giving them 31.13 points.

Both Nóra and Max came to the mixed zone with a big smile on their face.

For Nóra it was her first international competition for two years. “I haven’t forgotten skating, but we were still a bit reserved as this was our first performance together. But it was great, we haven’t made any mistake, so we are satisfied. We will see what placement we will get, but the important thing is to be satisfied with our own performance, and that not only the judges but also the audience get to know this new couple,” she said.

They had already been on the entry lists of some previous competitions like Karl Schaefer Memorial and Ondrej Nepela Memorial, but they didn’t compete there in the end. “Once Max was ill and then I had an bad fall and I hurt my hip. Somehow I hurt a nerve so my whole leg was aching. I had to go to physiotherapy for three weeks, because immediately after the fall I still tried to skate and forced it, which evidently didn’t do anything good to my leg. We would have loved to skate at those competitions, but we were not ready so we decided to withdraw”, Nóra explained and then she also talked about her pre-competition feelings in Helsinki:  “These feelings are always different. We skated in some shows before the Europeans and sometimes I was terribly nervous even during the shows, while other times we were absolutely relaxed. This time it was kind of mixed, I was nervous but also calm at the same time. I knew we had nothing to lose.”

It was obvious that the new couple feels very comfortable together. Nóra confirmed: We get on very well, we are friends and we love to work together. We are always asked who is the leader in the couple, because when I skated with Attila, they often said I was the more dominant member of the team. Now I can say it’s 50-50. We enjoy skating together and I think the audience can see it as well. In juniors we were rivals, and when we started skating together, it was a bit funny that we actually skate together and not against each other. But we’d never been enemies, so we didn’t have any problems.”

The couple's dream is to represent Hungary at the Olympic games, but Max has to earn the Hungarian citizenship for this. We started this process, but now it is a bit stuck. He already earned a residence permit but we haven’t applied for the citizenship yet, we will wait until the Worlds and if we qualify, we will concentrate only on this issue. We hope that the state helps as well and he will get the Hungarian citizenship”, Nóra said and she also revealed that she would never be able to switch countries. “No way. I love to skate for my country and I’m proud of it. If we ever get to the anthem on the podium, I would go crazy to see some other flag being risen for me… Moreover, we wouldn’t have much chance to qualify for the Olympics from any other country, so it was a good reason for Max to come to Hungary.”  

From Moscow through the USA to Hungary

Maxim Zavozin was born in Moscow but he used to skate for the United States. After he split up with Morgan Matthews (with whom he placed third at the junior Worlds in 2004 behind the couple Hoffmann/Elek), he moved to Hungary. We were pretty big rivals with Nóra, but I always thought of her very highly as a skater. She is really fun to skate with, she has such a lovable personality and we are having so much fun while skating. She is an excellent partner and an extremely good skater. I have only positive things to say about her. We are good friends, she is both technically and mentally a very strong partner,” he said about Nóra and he also spoke about his relationship with the US and Hungary. “I liked skating for the United States as well because the US federation has been great to me. They did a lot for my career. Now my new home is Hungary, and the Hungarian federation has been amazing to me as well, so it’s a nice transition. I feel comfortable in my new home. Our coach has to decide about our training schedule, but I spend maybe thirty percent of the year in Hungary.”

This is quite a lot of time, so Maxim improves his Hungarian quickly. When we asked if he already knew some words he answered: “Igen.” (Yes.). He even continued in Hungarian: “Beszélek kicsit magyarul. (I speak a little Hungarian) I’m trying, I’m really trying. I know quite a few words, but it’s still hard to me to put sentences together.”

A fall in the original

But after the original dance it was hard to put sentences together even in their native language. They had a lovely routine with some interesting parts using a hat, but Max fell in the step sequence, so the couple moved down three positions and placed 11th after this segment of the competition.

Max lost his balance, he caught his toepick. He was ill yesterday, so he was skating with a fever… Unfortunately, that’s what we were able to do this time”, the disappointed Nóra said. “I’m sad, because we spent so much money and energy on this and now we had such a bad luck… Though I love this original so much. I hoped we would do great, because this is one of our strongest programs. Unfortunately, we couldn’t skate it flawlessly this time…”  

Max couldn’t understand the mistake. “I have no idea what happened. It was going so well and then I just caught my toe-pick and I could not recover from it. Such a thing has never happened to me. I made a mistake on a toe step, so it wasn’t even an element…”, he told us, but he tried to focus on the upcoming part of the competition: It’s never over until it’s over, so right now just we have to hold our heads high and go to the free dance. It’s a hip-hop, because when we came to Nikolai Morozov, we saw Daisuke Takahashi skating to his hip-hop song. We thought it was very cool so we wanted to do something like that.”

A withdrawal instead of a party

However, the audience in Helsinki didn’t see what it’s like when Nóra and Max are having a party on the ice. When we met Nóra alone in the hotel lobby on the day of the free dance, we could suspect something was not right. “Maxim’s become even more ill. Now I’m going to the practice alone and we will see if he gets better in the evening”, Nóra said with not so much hope in her voice, so we were not surprised when their withdrawal was announced. Nóra was watching the free dances once again only from the audience, while her partner was lying in the bed in the hotel… “Maxim had a high fever. We waited until the last moment, we just decided to withdraw at six o’clock, one hour before we were supposed to skate. There would be no reason in forcing it. Max was hardly awake, he was so exhausted because of the fever, he might have fallen or let me fall and we might have suffered bigger injuries. It’s just a quick illness, it will be over in four days, but we had to have such bad luck to catch this virus exactly during the Europeans… On Tuesday he was fine, on Wednesday he was still okay but felt a bit weak in the evening. On Thursday he was already ill, he was so exhausted on the ice, felt dizzy after the spins… And on Friday he just wasn’t able to skate… I still can’t believe it’s happened to me again…”, Nóra shook her head.

Trying to cheer her up, we wished them all the best for the Worlds with words “let’s hope nothing will fall on your heads while skating” and Nóra reacted with a bittersweet smile: “It’s not a joke, it has almost happened. It was in our junior years, we were last to skate in the original dance and when we entered the ice, something fell from the ceiling. It took almost half an hour to clean it, and we were just skating round and round and round while waiting…  

Horrifying accident

After so much bad luck you might think there can’t be more. But it always can be worse. We’ve got horrifying news from the United States where Nóra and Max were preparing for the Worlds in Los Angeles: Nóra fell and hit her head, broke her skull bone and she is not sure she can skate at the Worlds. That describes her character a lot, even after such a big injury she still kept the hope she might skate in Los Angeles… “Unfortunately my skull bone behind my left ear was broken. I have three hematomas on my brain and I can’t skate until they are gone. I’m taking strong painkillers, I can’t hear out of my left ear and I’m dizzy all day… Nobody knows when I get better…”, she sent a short message few days after the accident. Some days later the couple made an official announcement that they wouldn’t skate at the Worlds, which is a very wise decision. For the Olympic qualification there is still the Nebelhorn Trophy in September – and let's hope that after all those troubles, the success will come as well…

Nóra Hoffmann and Maxim Zavozin at the Hungarian Nationals

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