Szewczenko rediscovers her love of skating

Soap opera role leads her back to the sport

Working together on a German soap opera led Tanja Szewczenko and Norman Jeschke to become partners on and off the ice.
Working together on a German soap opera led Tanja Szewczenko and Norman Jeschke to become partners on and off the ice. (courtesy of Tanja Szewczenko)


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By Lois Elfman, special to
(01/28/2010) - When former German ladies champion, world bronze medalist and Olympian Tanja Szewczenko stopped skating in 2000, she felt she was done with the sport. Although there had been some incredible high points -- coming back from a serious illness to win two Grand Prix events in the fall of 1997 and placing second to Tara Lipinski in the Grand Prix Final -- there were also disappointments.

"I never forgot the feeling of ice skating or my love for skating, but after a difficult period before I stopped skating I had to get away from the sport," said Szewczenko, 32. "I needed some distance from the sport to forget the pain. Then I had to concentrate on new projects and a new way of life."

That new way of life included an acting career that was pretty successful right from the start. In 2002, she landed a part on the German soap opera "Unter Uns" playing the role of Kati Ritter, which lasted for over three years. In 2006, she signed with another soap opera, "Alles was zählt," in which her character, Diana Sommer, an inline courier, was given the chance to train as a figure skater.

In 2008, German pair skater Norman Jeschke was brought on the show to play himself and do some pair skating with Szewczenko's character. The two wound up forming a partnership both on and off the ice.

"We did the TV show and then I started my new career as a pair skater," said Szewczenko with a laugh, admittedly still a bit amazed at the turn her life has taken.

"It was spontaneous because of the show," said Jeschke, 30, who in addition to a competitive skating career appeared on two seasons of "Stars auf Eis," the German version "Skating with Celebrities." "She said to me it was like coming home."

After the couple had skated together for less than two months, they were invited to perform with Holiday on Ice as guest artists. Next month, they will do a two-week stint in Munich.

"It was random that skating came back to me because of the daily soap opera," Szewczenko said.

Jeschke describes his time on "Alles was zählt" as his best experience in skating. He also loved performing in shows produced by two-time Olympic ladies gold medalist Katarina Witt, but the opportunity to act and find an unexpected new partner made the soap opera special.

Having seen Szewczenko perform during her competitive career, he sees a different performance quality after nearly 10 years as an actress.

"I can see when I skate with her that there is more emotion," Jeschke noted. "When we prepare the choreography, it's not only skating from one element to another. There's always a connection between the elements because we want to tell a story. This experience from acting really helped her express the programs."

Szewczenko left "Alles was zählt" last year, exhausted by the non-stop workload of a daily soap. She plans to continue acting, but hopes to shift the focus to films.

"I love acting," she said. "When I worked in the theater, it was a very good time. For TV it was great. It was a chance to be somebody else, a different character. You can be anything and do everything, but nothing happens to you really. That's good."

Almost every day she is pleasantly surprised by how many people remember her skating. She receives messages via her Web site or through Facebook. She's amazed when messages arrive from Canada, the U.S. or even Japan.

Szewczenko and Jeschke would love an opportunity to perform in the U.S.

In addition to guest spots with Holiday on Ice, Szewczenko has been busy promoting a children's book she wrote last year. It's not about figure skating, but it does involve ice. It's a fairy tale about a little girl who lives in a world of ice and always has her skates on. She and Jeschke appeared at numerous ice rinks to talk about the book with kids.

"I love to tell stories," she said. "The kids really liked it. I will try to do more writing."