Sweden's Helgessons keep it all in the family

Sisters Viktoria, Joshi motivate each other under watchful eye of mother Christina

The Helgessons hang out together in the stands at 2011 Skate America.
The Helgessons hang out together in the stands at 2011 Skate America. (Lynn Rutherford)


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By Vladislav Luchianov, special to
(07/06/2012) - Skating is a sport in which the whole family can participate, and there is no better example of that than the Helgessons.

Viktoria Helgesson and her sister, Joshi, are competitive skaters, while their mother, Christina, is also their head coach. Each of them inspires the other two and, as a result, Swedish figure skating continues to make progress. talked to each member of the Helgesson family about their work together, relations inside the family and on the ice, and their future goals.

Six-time national champion Viktoria started last season at the 2011 Nebelhorn Trophy, where she finished fifth. In October, she won the bronze at 2011 Skate America, her first medal in the Grand Prix Series as well as the first by any Swedish skater. At the 2012 European Championships in Sheffield, she achieved a career-best result, finishing fifth, and at the 2012 World Championships in Nice, she finished 11th. How is your summer preparation going?

Viktoria: It's going well. I'm working a lot with my new programs and trying to increase the level of difficulty. I'm practicing three weeks in Sweden, four weeks in Chicago, and then I'm going back to another camp in Sweden. This past season was very successful for you. How do you evaluate your performances?

Viktoria: I had a great season. I didn't manage to skate two clean programs in the same competition, but still I managed to get a higher score than last year, so I feel very happy about my improvement. In your estimation, what are the reasons for your improvement?

Viktoria: I've been free of injuries, so all my hard work has been following my season plan. I have worked a lot with my programs, spins and steps, so even when I had some mistakes in my jumps, I could get higher points for the other elements. Which competition from this past season are you most happy about?

Viktoria: I'm really happy with my medal at Skate America, but I skated much better programs at Europeans. You have an athletic and, at the same time, very friendly family despite the fact that your sister, Joshi, is a competitor to you. What is the recipe for keeping harmony in such a sports-oriented family?

Viktoria: Joshi is my rock and a big part of my improvement. We always support each other, and we have a lot to learn from each other; we can also "compete" during some practices at home to get more motivation. She understands what I'm going through, and everything is much easier when we work together. How does your mother, who also is your coach, divide her attention and time between two daughters?

Viktoria: This has never been a problem. We also have Regina Jensen, our other coach, so if we are going to different competitions, we always have one coach with us. Is your mother a strict coach?

Viktoria: Well, I think we work hard by ourselves, but she can be strict sometimes when we need it. Let's talk a little about figure skating in Sweden. Your country is well known for its big social welfare programs. What about sports in general and figure skating in particular?

Viktoria: Now we have a very good support from the Swedish Olympic Committee and also from our Swedish Figure Skating Association. I think figure skating is getting bigger in Sweden, and it also gets more attention. Tell us about your new programs.

Viktoria: I really like my new programs! They are different from what I have had before, especially the short -- it's a little more playful. I have worked a lot to get a higher level of difficulty, to get my entrances to the jumps shorter and to get higher quality on both steps and spins. What are your main goals for next season?

Viktoria: My main goals are to skate clean programs at both Europeans and the world championships. And, of course, worlds are very important this year, with the qualification to the Olympics, and we wish to get two spots for the Olympics, so both Joshi and I can go. That is the biggest goal for this season.

Joshi Helgesson tries to keep up with her sister. Last season, she finished 10th at the European championships and ninth at the 2012 World Junior Championships. Joshi says her sister is constantly supporting and encouraging her to reach new heights. How did you start skating?

Joshi: I came to the rink quite often because both my mom and sister were there. I started skating when I was 2, almost 3 years old. I immediately got new friends and since I loved skating to the music and learning new things, I continued to skate. Were you inspired by your sister to join the figure skating community?

Joshi: Of course I was inspired by my sister to skate. She has always been my role model, and I'm really lucky that we can practice together. Last season you reached the top 10 at the European championships and your sister finished fifth there. Now the Helgesson family is very well known. What do you think about that?

Joshi: I think it's fun that we can share this opportunity together. It's amazing to compete with my sister because she's always there to support me. It has changed a little bit, at least for me, since I was at Europeans. I have gotten more attention at home, and people are often recognizing us. The best things about our good results are that we are able to get more sponsors, which is very important. How do you describe the role of your mother in your skating progress?

Joshi: She is my coach, and together with my other coach, Regina Jensen, she has taught me everything I know. Because she's my mother, she knows me very well, and I think that's why it works so well. She knows what I need, and she understands me better than anyone. I think that's why we make such a great team. Do you think your skating family inspired other girls in Sweden to begin skating?

Joshi: I hope it does. It would be fun if figure skating would be even bigger in Sweden than it is today. When my sister has participated in both Europeans and worlds, they have broadcasted it on Swedish television, which makes it easier for people to understand what figure skating is all about, and I think that can inspire people to start to skate.

The mother and coach of Viktoria and Joshi, Christina Helgesson is a former competitive skater for Sweden. She serves as the main inspiration and motivational figure for her daughters. The results her daughters have achieved indicate that she is successfully coping with the dual roles of mother and coach. What are your impressions of your daughters' performances this past season?

Christina: I think both of my daughters were very good and successful last season. They did a really good job. Vicky skated very well in Europeans, and she was so happy about her third place in the Grand Prix competition in the USA. She didn´t skate her best, but she skated well enough to get the bronze medal.

Joshi was satisfied with her 10th place at the European championships. She did a really good qualifying round and followed up with a clean short program. She also skated very well at the world junior championships, where she did two clean programs. Is it difficult to be a mother and coach of two competitive skaters?

Christina: I think it is challenging and very much fun. I work with another coach, Regina Jensen; we share responsibility for them. We also have the help of Mr. Alexander Vedenin, who comes to Sweden several times a year. The girls also go to the United States and train with Mr. Vedenin. Just to share the responsibility feels very good, both for me and the girls. How do you manage your time between coaching and your usual home routine?

Christina: We try to speak about figure skating only at the ice rink; when we are at home, we avoid speaking about figure skating. Sometimes, as you can understand, it is difficult, but we try as best we can. Viktoria and Joshi are both talented. How do you organize your coaching work with them?

Christina: They are not similar in the way they train or in their personalities. Sometimes, Viktoria needs more of my time than Joshi and, of course, the opposite also occurs. Both of them are very ambitious and hard working. Most of the time they are easy to coach. I think it's an advantage for me to be so involved in their development, and we can see and enjoy so much together.