Ice Network

Latvian Vasiljevs wants to put home country on map

With new coach Lambiel in his corner, skater looks to improve creativity
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Latvia's Deniss Vasiljevs turned heads with his performances at the 2016 World Championships, and an off-season coaching change to Stéphane Lambiel has many believing that bigger and better things are in his future. -Getty Images

Deniss Vasiljevs represents a country that is rarely associated with figure skating and has had almost no significant success in the sport. A former student of Alexei Urmanov who now works with Stéphane Lambiel in his Skating School of Switzerland in Champéry, Vasiljevs is working to raise the skating profile of his native Latvia.

"I met him, and I was very touched by his personality and his passion for skating. And also from watching his skating, I could feel he is a very special skater," Lambiel said. "I also found out that we have a lot in common and that I could support him with my own experience."

The 17-year-old Vasiljevs took the silver medal at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games and won silver at both of his Junior Grand Prix (JGP) assginments, thus becoming the first Latvian to medal in the series. Later, at the 2016 World Junior Championships in Hungary, he won a small bronze medal for the short program and finished eighth overall. Competing at the 2016 World Championships in Boston, Vasiljevs qualified for the free skate by finishing 10th in the short and went on to finish 14th overall.

"I think as a coach I can bring him stability, technical development and keep his creativity alive," Lambiel said. "He has many great ideas and sometimes I feel I just need to be there to give him the confidence that this creativity can develop into a great performance."

Vasiljevs hurt his left adductor muscle in July, an injury that affected his jumps and forced him to cut back his training workload. The time he spent off the ice allowed him to reflect on his career and aided him in making the decision to move to Champéry.

His new coach believes the skater has what it takes to make it to the top.

"Deniss is still young and has a lot of great energy and power," Lambiel stressed. "This means he still has a lot of room for progress and (can) use these abilities to improve his interpretation and his skating." 

Icenetwork spoke with Vasiljevs about his recent coaching change, training in Champéry, improvements he's made in his skating and expectations for the season.

Icenetwork: You had some impressive performances and results last season. Which one was the most memorable for you and why?

Vasiljevs: I can say without hesitation that it was my short program at the 2016 World Championships in Boston. It was my first performance at senior worlds, and in front of so many people! At the end of my program, people stood up for me. It is such a great feeling when people enjoy your skating. I was very happy and satisfied with my skating, and on top of that, it was my season's best in the short program!

Icenetwork: Your skating has improved a lot in the last couple of years. To what do you attribute this progress?

Vasiljevs: A lot of things have changed! I grew up a bit physically and mentally, which allowed me to improve my skating in all aspects. I also learned new jumps and found better ways to do my spins using less energy than before. Having different experiences with different coaches has helped me a lot too.

Icenetwork: What did it mean to you to be the first Latvian skater to medal in the JGP Series?

Vasiljevs: I am happy that I was the first to do it, but it does not make me feel special. I am proud of my accomplishments, but I still could be better. I have a lot of work to do to improve myself and achieve some really great international results.

Icenetwork: You recently switched coaches and moved to Switzerland to work with Stéphane Lambiel. Tell us the reasons for this decision.

Vasiljevs: Thanks to Alexei Urmanov and his team in Sochi, I had a great season, highlighted by a silver medal at the Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer. I was happy, but I knew at the end of the season that I needed something new.

During the spring, I had the pleasure of working on my programs with Stéphane Lambiel at his school in Champéry. It was a great experience, and I found the training conditions there were ideal and corresponded to what I was looking for. Then I asked Stéphane, and he agreed. It's that simple.

Icenetwork: What is it like to be a student of Stéphane Lambiel?

Vasiljevs: I am happy to skate with the first figure skater that I started to follow when I was a kid. We work a lot together, and thanks to him I found new details in my skating that make everything better, from my performance to my jumps.

Icenetwork: What is different about his approach from that of some other coaches you've worked with?

Vasiljevs: Stéphane is one of the best skaters for me. The most interesting thing about Stéphane is that he does everything perfectly -- all details, everything; even his show programs are amazing and really special, full of nice choreography, complex steps and a perfect feel for the music. He is good technically, and he is a real artist! He is a real master of figure skating.

Icenetwork: What are some improvements you've made under his tutelage?

Vasiljevs: Since I started training with Stéphane, I am more focused on my program choreography and step transitions. With my jumps, I try to make all of them as precise as I can.

Icenetwork: Tell us about your new programs.

Vasiljevs: I've been working a lot, trying to take care of every moment and move to make it perfect. I hope you will enjoy my performances in competition, and that you will be surprised about my music and the ideas I try to convey through my skating.

Icenetwork: This season you will make your Grand Prix debut at the 2016 Rostelecom Cup. What are your expectations for this new challenge?

Vasiljevs: It is the first competition after my recovery from the injury, so I want to be perfectly ready and do my best. It is very hard, but I'll try to be back in shape!

Icenetwork: What are your main goals for the season?

Vasiljevs: I want to qualify for the 2018 Olympic Games in Korea, and I want to learn at least one quad. And most importantly, of course, I want to make you all enjoy and love my skating performances!