Olga Best√§ndigov√° and Ilhan Mansiz - a crazy dream about Sochi
October 9, 2011
By Titanilla Bőd
Photo © Tibor Somogyi / Új Szó, Olga Beständigová
A former soccer player teams up with a figure skater and they try to qualify for the Olympics together. This is not the plot of a new movie, this is the reality for Olga Beständigová and Ilhan Mansiz. Olga, who used to skate with her brother and made it to the Salt Lake City Olympics and Ilhan, who won the bronze medal with the Turkish national football team at the 2002 World Cup met at the Turkish Dance on Ice show. After winning the show together and becoming a couple also off-ice they got this crazy idea: why not to try it together even on a higher level?
“Everybody skates with a skater, and it’s easy, but I like to do the things hard”
How much have you been practicing together?
Olga: Ilhan has been practicing for a year and a half. The show where we skated together was three years ago, but there were some pauses. And I think he has done a great part of work through this time. Of course we know there is a lot of work ahead us, but he has improved a lot. If only he talked a little bit less on the ice (laughs). But he is working incredibly hard.
So you enjoy this adventure, don’t you?
Olga: Sure we do. Of course there are moments when we ask ourselves why we do this, what it is good for. But it happens to everyone. There can’t be always good moments, otherwise it would be boring and we couldn’t cherish the good things.
Was Ilhan’s talent obvious at the very first time when you skated together?
Olga: I had a very bad opinion on the fact that I will skate with a soccer player. As far as I know, they are dumb as a candy and they don’t know anything apart from kicking the ball and running around the pitch. But he was completely different. He is very intelligent and skilled. One of the most talented men in general. Not only in sports, but overall. If he decides something, then he will do it no matter what. He has a fantastic character also in a way that he is not ashamed to try new moves, even if he might look awkward during them. He doesn’t care what the others think. And he is able to laugh at himself, which is great.
How do you remember your first time on the ice with Ilhan?
Olga: It was such a great fun. It was very interesting and funny, and we got on well from the very first time. He was learning new things extremely quickly. The choreographs of the show were shocked, many times they thought they are giving him some very difficult tasks, but he went out on the ice and did it. We sometimes spent six or eight hours on the ice and had a great fun.
Don’t you feel like in a movie, a soccer player turning into a figure skater?
Ilhan: For me it started a bit forced by the destiny, because I was not able to play soccer any more for a couple of years. That time I got an offer from a production in Turkey to do Dance on Ice and also to shoot in a soap opera. I said why not, because I thought it might be fun and it was a new challenge for me. When I stepped on the ice for the first time, it was funny, but then I recognized that my knees were reacting again. They got swollen and as I had some cartilage problems and I don’t have a meniscus any more, I said to the production, that I can’t do it. But they tried to convince me: “You can do it, don’t give up, you don’t have to practice that much as the others, you have an advantage compared to the other celebrities, because you are an athlete.
So you decided to give it a try.
Ilhan: I joined the show later. I was four times on ice, while the other celebrities were practising for six weeks. When Oli came, I was not able to do backward crossovers! But we had a lot of fun, we started to enjoy it. Of course, as a former athlete I had kind of empathy to Oli’s situation and I was asking her why she is not competing. When I saw her on the ice, she wasn’t skating, she was flying on her own. Then she told me that she is looking for a partner and that’s hard to find a new one. At that moment I got the idea, but I was just five-six times on the ice, so it would be insane to tell: “Hey, let’s do it together, here is your new partner!” And I didn’t understand why is it hard to find a new partner because I had no clue about figure skating. Then we suddenly won the show and that idea developed from time to time. Then we said OK, we will go for it. Meanwhile I found a new therapist, who did kind of manipulation which takes couple of years and after one and a half year I had no more problems with my knees. So I got another idea… to go back to soccer.
Ilhan: That time when we started to skate, I couldn’t think of soccer, but then I suddenly had the chance again to go back to soccer. So those were those breaks in our practice – we had a six-months break, then we skated for three months, then we had another six-months break, because I wanted to play soccer again. That time I was not able to finish my career based on my own will, because I was forced by injuries. When my knee got better, I trained with 1860 Munich, I got a bit in shape, because I haven’t been playing soccer for years, and I was able to decide: yes, I want it, or no, I don’t want it. I could make my own decision and that helped me a lot. I was close to get a new contract, but I decided to go on skating, so I told the coach I won’t play soccer. After that I feel a bit freer, but still, sometimes, when I watch the soccer games, I compare myself to the guys on the pitch and I say: “Hey, you are 35, but you can still do it. Let’s go back!” There are times, when I am a little bit confused, but then I realize I put a lot of energy into this skating project and in some ways we got too far to just say it’s enough. We are still far away from our aim, but we really made a big development. We started practicing a year ago without any breaks, regularly, day by day and it would be not wise if I said I will stop now. Now we are focusing on our goal and putting all our energy into it.
So your main reason to stay with skating was that you already made a big step forward and it would be a pity to “waste” it?
Ilhan: Yes, because I had the opportunity to decide on my own, I wasn’t forced by the circumstances. That’s what I needed to go on with this project. It’s like you cannot start a new book when you haven’t finished the previous one.
Olga: When we got to this point that Ilhan wanted to go back to soccer, he was always asking me: “Why do you want to skate with me? There are a lot of skaters and you can do it straight away, while this way you are just wasting your time with me.” It was hard to convince him, that I do it with him because it’s also a big challenge for me to teach him. Of course I’m not any more in a position of a coach as I was during the show, because we are now partners, but still it’s a challenge to introduce this world to a soccer player and teach him how to skate. I was always crazy enough to do something which is not on the straight road everybody uses. Everybody skates with a skater and it’s let’s say easy, but I like to do the things hard!
Ilhan: We are the same. I also don’t like when things are easy. Instead of going straight I’m always going around, so it takes more time. It was the same also with my soccer career. I got pro when I was nineteen, but I quit and got back to amateur status. I started again from the lowest, as an amateur player in Germany, but I got pro again and I got into the national team. It wasn’t the easiest way, but it was my own way.
Olga: Probably it would be easier if I skated with a skater and he played soccer. But it would be nothing special. I would never imagine I will skate with a soccer player, but I always wanted to do something different. I guess this is crazy enough.
Ilhan: It is also like a message for other people. If we reach our aim, it will have a clear message: no matter how old you are, you can do whatever you want. You just have to believe in it and work for it.
Olga: If you are not going for something, if you just say it is not possible, straight away from the beginning, you will never know if it works. You have to have courage to try and we have this courage. Somewhere deep inside I feel and know that it will happen. We really want it, but that road is really hard.
So basically it is the challenge that motivates you. Not that – for example – you are amazed how nice a spiral is, but the challenge itself.
Olga: I love figure skating but if I had to choose a sport now, maybe I would never decide for it, because of all the things around it, which are not the nicest ones. But now we are where we are and even for me it is more the challenge than just loving figure skating.
Ilhan: I think for her it’s more the love for figure skating.
Olga: No, no, no, no (laughs). I’m doing figure skating almost thirty years and of course during that time you got a passion for it, but at this time it’s more about challenge and about the story, the courage and the determination. If I was doing it with some skater, it would be just the same skating. We would make it to the Europeans, the Worlds, the Olympics, it would be cool of course, but this is more interesting. This way it would be more a personal victory. If I reached it with a skater, it wouldn’t mean that much.