Huth enjoys symbiotic relationship with protégésGerman coach imparts wisdom on Kostner, Verner...and vice versa
Michael Huth, the German coach of Tomáš Verner and Carolina Kostner, has brought his perennial pupils not only to success but to fame. Kostner and Verner's longevity on the ice, and the way they both left Huth and then decided to come back to him speak for themselves. Icenetwork asked Huth what he thought of the results of his protégés here in Budapest, and what his next steps would be to take them one step further to the Olympics. Himself a pupil of Jutta Müller, who taught such greats as Katarina Witt, Anett Pötzsch and Jan Hoffman, he also gave an interesting overview of the coaching process with the Olympics in sight.
Icenetwork: What will you take from these European championships?
Huth: To be fully honest, this championship was not the most important competition of the season for us -- at least for me and for the skaters. We took it as a kind of a bridge to figure out the best way to walk to Sochi.
I come out of it with several lessons. First, for Carolina, we did a good choice with the two programs. She likes both, the judges like them, and the audience loves them, probably because there is so much contrast between the two of them.
Also, I have the feeling that judges can get a different view of the philosophy of figure skating through Carolina's programs. Let me explain: To me, figure skating is a symbiosis between art, performance and difficult elements. Achieving this symbiosis is very difficult. Carolina is one of the very few skaters in the world who is able to achieve this.
You know, she has never skated a perfect performance so far. Our hope is that she can, in Sochi.
Icenetwork: What about Tomáš Verner, whose revival we witnessed during these championships, especially in the short program, where he took third place?
Huth: Tomi (Verner's diminutive name in German) is smooth in his skating, in his flowing. He is not a cat, who would know exactly what he wants. (Incidentally, Nathalie Péchalat, who used to date Verner when he was training in North America, used to call him "Chaton," or "little cat." This is a comment from the writer... please don't repeat it!) Tomi's free program was a challenge. Let me tell you: Since he came back from his American experience, he has been very motivated and worked very hard. The great thing is that he could have two great successes right upon his return in Europe. One was his first place at the Ondrej Nepela Trophy in Bratislava, and then he won again at the Coupe de Nice. Both times he demonstrated his quads and triple Axels (three of each in each competition). It boosted his confidence. It proved also that it was not all ups and downs for him, like it was in the past.
Icenetwork: Then what happened during these European championships?
Huth: Budapest was another league of competition for him. I told him: Here you have 5,000 people watching you. In a few weeks, you will have three times as many, if not more. So while you are here, try to hear the audience and enjoy. I do not think, watching his skate, that he has fallen back into his own old system. But I am sure that he has not been able to rediscover what he has within himself yet.
Icenetwork: How do you think that he can overcome this?
Huth: The great thing with Tomáš is that he has everything you need as a skater. He does not look old-fashioned at all, and the audience loves him. What he may miss is precisely the character of a cat. A cat would think, "If you want it, then go catch it." Don't circle around. I can assure you that he is not the Tomi he was three years ago, before his American experience. Now, with what he has and what he is, he can really surprise the judges. Actually, he can also surprise himself. What I hope is that he will look forward and not backward, after his two last seasons.
Icenetwork: Now you are going back to Oberstdorf with your two star students and resuming training. One is a businessman to-be (Verner) and the other is an educated artist (Kostner). Both are exceptional sports people. How do you intend to coach each of them?
Huth: The great thing is that they understand, know and appreciate each other. They do not have the same character, as you mentioned, but they have the same way of skating. As a coach, you can't find anything more important than such a bond. When Tomi has a problem, Carolina will speak with him or he will go speak with Carolina. They are both hard workers, and you can trust them. This has dictated our rule.
Icenetwork: And yet they both left your school at one point.
Huth: Yes. But when we parted ways, we all sat together and talked about the situation. Usually, when a coach and a skater split, the worst comes afterward; this was not the case with us. We remained good friends, and it was easy for us to "find each other" again when they returned. I must say that they taught me a lot -- before as well as since they returned.
Icenetwork: Like what?
Huth: I can give you one example, which is still very true today, years later. This happened 10 years ago or so. Carolina singled each one of her double Axels. Like any other coach, I was thinking, "Oh, no…" When she came back to me after her program, she told me, "Coach, I saw you when you put your hands in front of your eyes in disbelief, and then I could not trust my own performance." From that time on, believe me, I have learned how to behave along the boards! Coaching is somewhat of a learning process, if not a learning exercise.
Icenetwork: You have two stars in your team who have been on the world scene for more than 10 years now. How are you going to proceed now? Are you going to increase Carolina's free program with jump elements?
Huth: Carolina did not have triple-triple combinations in her free program here in Budapest. But this was not our point here. Our idea was to show her programs. We knew quite well that the Russians had their selection process for the Olympics at stake, and that these championships would be extremely important and tense for them. Placement was not at stake for us as much as it was for them. We were satisfied when she finalized her short program at the end of December. Now we can be convinced that these programs are good. Our next stage may be to add some technical content; we will see. Most of all, we need to make them accept that they are top-gun skaters and to secure their confidence.
Icenetwork: What will you tell them then?
Huth: That they need to skate their programs and enjoy their preparation.
Icenetwork: Will that change your own coaching way?
Huth: I will have to be ... (he nods his head, as if he is looking for a better, or more suitable, word) to show that I am calm. For instance, if I come to the rink in Oberstdorf and put my two fists on the board, they will immediately wonder what is happening with me. I know each one of them enough to know that they take all their power from the field around them: coach, staff, etc. It is just like a flower: If it is placed in the right spot, you do not have much to do for it to grow and prosper.
My job is precisely this: to put them in the right and the best possible spot.