Ice Network

Smart, Diaz pursue deep emotions through skating

Second-year dance team credits coaching staff for swift rise through ranks
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Despite being in just their second season together, Spain's Olivia Smart and Adriá Diaz have quickly become audience favorites. -Getty Images

Just two years into their partnership, the Spanish duo of Olivia Smart and Adriá Diaz has risen quickly through the ice dance ranks. And that should not be a surprise given that they train in the Montreal-based ice dance school of Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer.

Icenetwork talked with the skaters about their programs this season, their coaching team and the mutual understanding they have on the ice.

Icenetwork: How do you feel things went at your first Grand Prix, 2017 Skate Canada?

Olivia Smart and Adrià Diaz: We thoroughly enjoyed Skate Canada. We thought it was an awesome event. It was so exciting to be with some of the other top teams that train in Montreal (Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue also competed there) as well as those from other countries. It was especially exciting, and motivating for us, to be in the last group for the free dance. It was a completely different experience than any senior B event or worlds or Europeans, as it was such a small competition with fewer athletes but still felt so big at the same time!

Icenetwork: Did you meet your expectations at Skate Canada?

Smart and Diaz: We went into the competition with no expectations -- we wanted to just enjoy the two performances and trust our training -- but after the short dance, it was a really nice surprise to be in fourth place. We were with some amazingly talented teams, to which we were super close in score, so to keep the placement, we knew we had to skate clean and just enjoy and perform.

Icenetwork: Your programs this season are challenging, both technically and emotionally. How did you choose them?

Smart and Diaz: We were both so excited for the Latin/rumba short dance this year, way more than (we would be for) waltzes and flowy dances; we feel like this is a really strong genre of dance for us. We obviously wanted something strong and fun for both the audience and ourselves to get into. We struggled to find a rumba piece that wasn't too slow, something that didn't drop too much and was still exciting, and we think we did a pretty good job with it. Thanks to our coaches, we came up with a pretty fun short dance to perform.

As for our other program, we wanted something really special to us and to the crowd. We love being able to tell a story on the ice or prove a point. Marie [Dubreuil] played the piece "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" by Seal, and of course it drew everybody's attention in. It's such a demanding piece of music.

But then we got stuck in the situation of, "What should we mix it with, to balance out the music and the program?" A few days later, after looking for so long and trying different mixes and cuts, Pascal [Denis] and Marie showed us the song "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" by Aretha Franklin, and we weren't 100 percent sure because we had never heard the song before. And then we found the same song but with a more modern voice to match Seal's style, and it clicked! We were very lucky that the story really started evolving on its own the more we worked on it, and we can't wait to perform this story over and over again for a crowd.

Icenetwork: What's it like working with such a distinguished coaching staff?

Smart and Diaz: All three coaches have their own style of coaching -- the way they address things, the way they want something to look -- but they all have our best interests at heart. They are an amazing balance of people and personalities. We are so lucky to be here training under their wings, and feeling and knowing that we are with the best.

Icenetwork: Your coaches work with many different teams, and yet there seems to be a friendly and good-natured atmosphere in the rink. How are they able to foster this harmonious environment?

Smart and Diaz: All the teams have their own work to do, and they are focused on what they have to do. We are altogether a really hard-working team, but we also have fun, as we get to do this together, working with a team that inspires you and motivates you to do your best. Overall, we are all great friends and and off the ice and always find a way to make each other laugh -- or wake each other up for 7:30 practices!

Icenetwork: You seem to have a deep understanding of each other while you're performing. How did you achieve this?

Smart and Diaz: From both of our past careers, we have discovered that both our personalities embody "fire" and "compassion," and that's what really made us click. Working more off the ice and getting to know each other more, our feelings, our lives, our past lives before we got together -- those all really helped us understand each other's deep feelings and how we can pursue our emotions on the ice together.

Icenetwork: Spain is a country that embraces such things as emotion, creativity and artistry. How do you combine those things with the high technical demands of modern ice dance?

Smart and Diaz: We love knowing that the audience really can feel what we feel on the ice, or what we want to pursue. We didn't start this partnership hoping to be different; we really went with what felt best for us as a team and not thinking about anything else around us.

Last year, we were able to show our free dance as a personal story and the start of our journey, and this year we want to show the different meanings of life, not just the clichés. The emotions, creativity and artistry come pretty naturally for us while we're training our programs. Of course, we focus on the technical side too, but most of all, we want to show a performance, not just a technical skate.

Icenetwork: Adrià, in 2014 you told me that, as a skater, it's very hard to get media attention in Spain. Today, we see your country's top media outlets highlighting skating events. How has this happened?

Diaz: I would say the main reason has been our teammate, Javier Fernández. Because of his results, there is more coverage from newspapers, TV, social media.

There is more exposure for skating now. Before, we would hear about skating only during big competitions like the European championships or worlds; now we get a bit more attention, even during small competitions, and not only because of Javi but also because of the rest of the Spanish team. We hope figure skating keeps growing in Spain. All we can do is keep working hard to get better results, and the rest will come.

Icenetwork: Tell us about the preparation for your next few competitions.

Smart and Diaz: Our next two competitions will be the ones that decide the Spanish team for Europeans and the Olympics. First is Golden Spin in Zagreb, and the other is Spanish nationals. Our preparation is really the same as it has been all the season -- staying consistent in what we do, on and off the ice.

We have focused more on our off-ice work. We want to really find the story of our programs and find a deeper meaning, personally, for us as a team, and this has only made us more confident on the ice as a couple, and made us really enjoy telling and skating our stories. We are working hard and are very excited about what's to come! Every day we're a step closer to what we want to achieve.