Ice Network

Rajičová 'feeling good' about state of her skating

Competing for Slovakia allows former U.S. skater to reconnect with roots
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Nicole Rajičová is excited for her second hometown of Bratislava to be hosting the European championships later this month. -Getty Images

Nicole Rajičová may have been a newcomer to the Grand Prix Series this season, but she carried herself like a seasoned veteran whenever she took the ice.

The 20-year-old Slovak completely justified her inclusion in the series by finishing a respectable seventh at both of her events, Skate America and Cup of China. Last month in Budapest, she won the gold at the Four Nationals Championships, where skaters from Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland competed together and the results were split at the end of the competition to form national podiums. She finished 20 points ahead of the field en route to clinching her third national crown.

Rajičová (pronounced rah-YEE-suh-vuh) was born and raised in the United States, and even competed at two U.S. championships early in her career. But when Slovak skating officials made her an offer she couldn't refuse, she decided to compete for her country of origin.

Icenetwork talked with Rajičová about her recent achievements, her programs, the technical improvements she's made and her goals for the second part of the season.

Icenetwork: This season you made your debut on the Grand Prix circuit. How do you feel you performed at Skate America and Cup of China?

Rajičová: I was extremely proud of and happy with my performances at both Skate America and Cup of China. This was the first season I was invited to partake in the Grand Prix circuit, so I did not have any expectations for my results. I trained very hard before the events, so I wanted to just skate as well as I could, and I did. I made some small mistakes at both events, so there is still room to grow and improve for the rest of the season.

Icenetwork: You appeared to really be having fun and enjoying yourself at those events. How do you manage to keep such a positive attitude during competitions?

Rajičová: I did not have any expectations with regard to results, so I wanted to enjoy the competition and make the best of the experience. I was very well prepared, so I just wanted to skate as well as I could and enjoy the moments I had on the ice.

Icenetwork: Does your "Feeling Good" short program help you in that regard?     

Rajičová: You could definitely say that! After skating that program well, I certainly did feel pretty good. This season, my coaches and I decided I wanted to try a different style of music. My choreographer, Nikoli Morozov, proposed this music, and I thought it would certainly be interesting and fun. When we were choreographing the program, it felt more as though I was just dancing, so it was a fun experience and turned into a fun program overall.

Icenetwork: What feelings were behind the creation of your free skate to Maurice Jarre's Doctor Zhivago?

Rajičová: Doctor Zhivago is a fairly common and well-known piece of music, especially in the skating world. Considering my short program choice was very unique, we decided to use more typical music for my long. It is also slower, so it is more of what I was used to skating to. The music is from a movie, and it portrays a nice story, so I can connect to it when I am performing it.

Icenetwork: You seem quite confident in your technical elements. Can you tell us about the improvements you've made in that part of your skating?

Rajičová: This season we worked on improving the difficulty as well as the consistency of my jumps. I also worked on being able to execute my elements while tired, so that I wouldn't have as many issues landing jumps toward the end of my programs. In terms of difficulty, I worked really hard to get the triple-triple into my repertoire of jumps, and I did: It's a planned element in my short program. 

Icenetwork: You were born in the United States and competed in the U.S. in the beginning of your career. How did you decide to continue your career for Slovakia?

Rajičová: During a family trip to Slovakia many years ago, I was approached by two different clubs, both of which offered me the opportunity to skate for Slovakia. I was initially very reluctant to do so, but after a lot of thought and consideration, I decided that it would be best to skate for Slovakia.

Honestly, though, although I live in the United States, I'm a Slovak girl at heart. I was raised under Slovak traditions, and we predominantly speak Slovak at home. Also, except for my immediate family (my parents and younger sister), my entire family lives in Slovakia. I'm really happy that skating has enabled me to reconnect with my Slovak roots.

Icenetwork: The 2016 European Figure Skating Championships will be held later this month in Slovakia. What does that mean to you?

Rajičová: I'm so excited that I'll have the chance to compete at a major event in my second hometown of Bratislava! Hopefully, there will be a big crowd supporting me. I do know that my family will come watch, so that's going to be nice. I'm really looking forward to the event, and I know that it will be a great experience.

Icenetwork: What is the development of the sport of figure skating like in Slovakia?

Rajičová: In Slovakia, there are far fewer skaters than there are in the United States. There are neither as many coaches nor as many opportunities to really develop into an elite figure skater there. I wish the interest in figure skating was larger back in Slovakia, because that would enhance the possibilities for training and development of the sport.

Icenetwork: What are some things international skaters and fans should try while in Bratislava?

Rajičová: I would definitely recommend visiting the Old Town, or "Stare Mesto," as well as Bratislava Castle. Also, if the weather is nice, taking a trip to the UFO restaurant during the day for lunch or coffee would be a good idea. You get a beautiful view of the city from there, and the experience and food at the restaurant are both great.

With regard to food, skaters should definitely try the traditional Slovak dish of "halušky." It's really tasty!

Icenetwork: What goals have you set for yourself for the European championships?

Rajičová: I just want to skate the best I possibly can while enjoying the whole experience. I am training very hard for the competition, so performing two great programs would be amazing. I am only in control of my own performance, so I'm just focusing on making sure I do the best I can.