Williams puts Brazil on Olympic skating mapSouth American athlete expects more of herself in lead-up to Sochi
While attention to sports in Brazil has almost exclusively been focused on the soccer pitch, 17-year-old Isadora Williams has the potential to draw attention to her country's athletic prowess in a more wintry setting.
Her first successes came last year, when she finished fifth at the 2012 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City and third at 2012 Golden Spin in Zagreb, Croatia. But that was only a prelude of what was to come.
Last month, at the 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, Williams won the right to represent her country at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. She finished 12th there and, as a result, Brazil received one of the six remaining spots for countries which had not previously qualified a ladies entry for Sochi.
Brazil came close to earning an Olympic spot at the 2013 World Championships, where Williams had to place in the top 24; she just missed, finishing 25th. Williams continued to work hard and move forward toward her Olympic dream under the guidance of long-time coach Andrei Krukov, a former pairs skater.
At Nebelhorn, Williams gave everything she had to try and win the spot. She performed both programs -- "Dark Eyes" and Memoirs of a Geisha -- at a high technical and artistic level, putting Brazil on the map of Olympic figure skating.
Icenetwork talked with Williams about her feelings on making history, her love of skating and her thoughts on the coming Sochi Olympics.
Icenetwork: With your 12th-place finish at Nebelhorn, you earned the right to become Brazil's first-ever Olympic figure skater. How do you feel about this achievement, and what does it mean to you?
Williams: I can't express how honored I feel to be Brazil's first Olympic figure skater. I still have to pinch myself to be sure that it's not a part of a dream.
Icenetwork: Despite the fact that Brazil isn't a country known for its winter sports, I've heard that there was a big reaction from Brazilian media to your success. Did they and your country's sport officials expect such a result in Oberstdorf?
Williams: I think they knew that there was a possibility of me qualifying for the Olympics, and Brazil gave me so much love and support before and after competing in Oberstdorf.
Icenetwork: When people think about sport in Brazil, the first thing that comes to mind is, of course, soccer. How did figure skating come into your life?
Williams: Figure skating is such a wonderful sport, and it's something I've enjoyed doing since I was a little girl. I'm hoping that my qualifying increases the popularity of figure skating in Brazil because I feel that if more Brazilians watched it, then they'd fall in love with the sport. I also hope that in addition to football, Brazil will someday be known and respected by the world for figure skating as well.
Icenetwork: You were born in Atlanta and raised in the U.S. What is your connection with Brazil, and why did you choose to compete for this country?
Williams: My mother is from Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais, Brazil, and I also have a very large family that lives in Brazil. Brazil is absolutely beautiful, and we try to visit as often as we can. My mother always talked to me about representing her country in figure skating, but I don't think either of us ever expected it to go this far. For me, the idea of representing a sport that had little tradition in Brazil seemed really intriguing.
Icenetwork: You work with Andrei Krukov, a former pairs skater who competed internationally for both Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Could you tell us about your collaboration?
Williams: Because of him and his efforts, I am skating for Brazil today. He guided me and my family through the process of becoming an international-level skater.
Icenetwork: At the Nebelhorn Trophy, many noted your artistry and musicality. What do you think about this part of your skating and how it combines with the technical side?
Williams: Musicality is in my heritage. Brazilians are well known for their love of music and dance, and I try my best to bring it out in my skating. I think presentation and connecting with the audience is so important in skating, and I try my best to balance artistry and technicality in both of my programs.
Icenetwork: Do you expect more from yourself in Sochi?
Williams: I do expect more of myself before the Games in Sochi. I'm going to be training harder than I ever have before. Also, my coach and I plan on adding harder jumps into my long program. I'm very motivated, and I'm looking forward to preparing for this incredible opportunity.
Icenetwork: Do you have favorites in ladies skating, in past or present times? Is there someone who inspires you to move forward?
Williams: Yu-Na Kim has to be one of my favorite skaters of all time. Her elegance, incredible technical abilities and consistency are all so inspiring to me as a skater.
Icenetwork: How do you see figure skating developing in your country? Are there young girls who already follow your example?
Williams: Yes, but Brazil lacks the programs and facilities to really promote figure skating. We have yet to build an Olympic- or NHL-sized rink. I recently went to Rio de Janeiro for a presentation at a half-sized rink called Barra on Ice and was able to meet many young, aspiring skaters. They were so supportive of my skating, and I was very impressed by their ambition and enthusiasm toward the sport.
I would love for there to be a full-sized rink for them and future Brazilian figure skaters to train in.