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Detroit coaching team brings out 'pep' in Marchei

Italian skater enjoying working with Sato, Dungjen

Yuka Sato (pictured here) and Jason Dungjen have been critical to Valentina Marchei's development as a skater.
Yuka Sato (pictured here) and Jason Dungjen have been critical to Valentina Marchei's development as a skater. (Brenna Greely)

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By Vladislav Luchianov, special to icenetwork.com
(02/19/2013) - Italy's Valentina Marchei is still in the shadow of her countrywoman and reigning world champion, Carolina Kostner. In less than a year, however, she could be referred to as "the first lady" of Italian ladies singles skating, as Kostner has decided to retire after the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

Marchei is not waiting idly for that moment. The hard work she has put in off the ice has begun to show in her results. This season she took a career-best fourth at the European championships in Zagreb, showing technically and artistically strong performances on the Croatian ice.

Almost two years ago, Marchei moved to Detroit to begin working with the coaching duo of Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen, who not only improved her skating skills but also helped bring out her personality on the ice.

Icenetwork.com talked with Marchei about her breakthrough performance at Europeans, her coaches and her thoughts on the upcoming world championships.

Icenetwork.com: In Zagreb, you finished fourth, the best for you at the European championships. Tell us how this competition went for you.

Marchei: I'm really happy with the overall experience. This has been so far a very important and beautiful season for me and my team -- I couldn't be happier about it. I did my best, and it all came out in a perfect moment!

Icenetwork.com: How would you evaluate your performances in Zagreb?

Marchei: I'm very proud of them. We had been working very hard to get me to skate like that in Zagreb. My goal was to skate [my programs] as [I do] in practice -- nothing more than what I do every day -- and getting back home with two strong performances, and more difficulty as compared to the beginning of the season. It was a big win for me!

Icenetwork.com: It looks like you are very passionate about your programs this year.

Marchei: I really love my programs this year. They grew with me and improved me as a skater and as a performer. I'm in love with my long program character, Peppy. It was pretty hard to get into the story and find a personal way that shows my feelings. (Marchei's free skate is to music from The Artist.) I studied the character with Yuka, and she helps me day by day to become "Peppy" every time the music is on. We are still working on it in order to get the best out of it for worlds.

The flamenco of the short program shows my "passionate" character. I choreographed it with a flamenco dancer, a close friend of my mom, and with Massimo Scali. They helped me to perform with fire and passion in every movement and in the expression of my face, to show my feelings and, of course, to have proper clean movements close to what a flamenco dancer would do.

There is a story I'm telling in this short program, but it's very personal, and I would like to keep it to myself.

Icenetwork.com: Can you talk about the rising level of competition among ladies in Europe?

Marchei: It's becoming more and more challenging, a very high level, but it is very exciting, too. Keeping up with a strong field can be very helpful. It pushes you to do more and more every day.

Icenetwork.com: In 2011, you changed coaches to Jason Dungjen and Yuka Sato, and began to train in Detroit. Talk about your two years of collaboration with them.

Marchei: They changed my life. With them, I grew up as an athlete, and that made me a better skater. I trust them and their work; they know what is good for me and how far I can go. They made me feel more confident, and as I've always been a big dreamer, it's very good to be a team that dreams together.

Icenetwork.com: What separates them from other coaches?

Marchei: They are the perfect match for the type of athlete I am. We work as a team. Franca Bianconi is in this team, too, as well as Britta Ottoboni, my physio and off-ice coach. First of all, they help the athlete to feel good on the ice. They push you to go past your limit, if they are sure you're ready to do it. So, every time they show me that, my goals aren't done.

Icenetwork.com: How will you prepare for the world championships? Will you change or improve anything in your programs for worlds?

Marchei: As you know, "the perfect performance" comes after working long and hard during the whole season, so I don't think I'll change much in my programs. Every day in practice we try to improve the quality of every element, even small details, in order to get the best out of it.

Icenetwork.com: Last year you finished eighth at worlds in Nice. What are your plans for London?

Marchei: After my eighth place last year (which came after knee and ankle injuries affected her preparation at the beginning of the season), I realized I could become a better skater if I kept working the same way I have been.

I've really worked hard since then. Taking everything step by step, we were able to have a good season with strong performances. My only plan for London is to skate clean and enjoy my last two performances of the season even more!

I performed last week at "Rock the Ice IV" in Peterborough (Ontario), and the public was amazing. I know London will be an awesome experience!