If you didn't get to know the charismatic Tomáš Verner through sports, you probably noticed him thanks to the dance competition StarDance, where he took third place last autumn. The 2008 European figure skating champion didn’t take much time off to rest - instead, he jumped straight into the moving train of working at winter stadiums. Tomáš has his hands full, mainly because of the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, as he became the ambassador of the Olympic Festival, which takes place from 4 to 20 February in Brno. In an interview with LP-Life.com, the athlete talked not only about dancing and skating, but also about the stress that Olympic athletes are now experiencing due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s impossible to have any other memories from StarDance than emotional ones. We’ve just recently had a meet up of all the participants. Everyone who could make it, who’s not quarantined or somewhere out of the country, arrived, and it was awfully nice that we could see each other.. StarDance is still very much alive - for all of us, I think. Some may have already closed the chapter, but I think most people haven’t. And I’m one of them. Every single memory from StarDance is emotional for me.
I haven’t had an opportunity to do that yet, because the moment StarDance spat me back out, I was pulled deep into the pile of work I’d been putting off. So there’s no room for dancing now, no time and often no energy either.
Yes, my wife is American and for certain reasons, we had to change our plans at the last minute. We wanted to stay with my parents in southern Bohemia this Christmas, but we had to make some changes, so we flew to California for two weeks during the holidays.
No, while there, I didn’t feel like it at all. I really wasn’t missing dancing at that point. It was a time when I wanted to relax. Dancing is beautiful, it’s amazing… For the audience sitting behind the TV screens, it’s a beautiful thing to watch, but dancing in a show such as StarDance is very demanding, so I really needed the rest.
I’m sure that athletes have their fans and that you’ve gained some new ones thanks to Star Dance. How does your wife feel about that?
My wife and I have a deal that we’ll only be jealous of each other in moderation. Of course, StarDance is a big thing, but on the other hand, when a woman is sure of herself (same goes for men), she knows what she’s got in her partner, and she has her own magic. So there’s no need to be overly jealous. Figure skating goes hand in hand with female admirers, because not many men care about it. It’s that type of environment, there are always girls flocking around figure skating as well as around StarDance, it's nothing new for us.
Another heavy load of work. We’re at the winter stadium in Strašnice in Prague now. In our sports centre, we have six athletes competing in four different disciplines who have qualified for the Olympic Games, so they’ll fly to China, and I will keep my fingers crossed for them from over here. I’ll be with them for the entire Olympic Games experience, and from time to time, I will do a commentary on TV, I’ll be commuting between Prague and Brno as the face and ambassador of the Olympic Festival in Brno, so it's going to be pretty hectic for me if I want to perform my duties in both Prague and Brno. And I'll see if I have any time left to watch other sports, too, which I’d really like. Because the Olympics are like holidays for me. I was always literally glued to the TV screen, watching all the sports, whether it was the summer or the winter Olympics.
Don’t you regret that you can’t be there in person? That you can't physically go there, whether as support or as a competitor?
I don’t regret it. Because, since we’ve mentioned StarDance, the competition took up a lot of my time that I would have otherwise spent with my family. Or, to phrase it more accurately, it didn’t take up my time, I sacrificed it, it was my decision to give it to StarDance. So no, I don’t regret it, I’d like to spend the next few months at home.
What do you think about the quarantine measures that athletes will have to comply with during the Olympics? I’ve read that their meals will be served by a robot, that they will live in some kind of bubbles... How do you think it might affect the athletes?
Food served by robots, that’s actually quite interesting, nice and funny. It's definitely a rarity, the whole world is changing and so is the world of athletics. But I don't think athletes will be too bothered by it. The bubbles are a bit worse, but what actually is the worst thing for athletes - and some may have problems coping with it - is the daily testing and waiting for test results. These people often spend the whole Olympics cycle getting ready, and when they finally arrive at the games, they have to live in constant fear that their test might come back positive, spoiling their one chance at success. And nowadays, or maybe it’s always been this way, covid often has no visible symptoms, you can’t tell who has it, you can’t sniff it out. It can jump on you from behind any corner. Anywhere, anytime, and it’s difficult for an athlete to face the fact that a test may decide about his or her victory. Not even mental coaching can help one process this, it’s an entirely new situation. I think the athletes who returned from the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo could tell you all about it. I have no idea how one can prepare for that, so I think the athletes will worry about it. That will make the robot all the more pleasant for them.
For the public, it means that an Olympics festival has opened its gates in Brno, in the Nová Zbrojovka complex. It's a huge space, a little off the centre of Brno, and once you get there - if you choose to make the trip - you’ll have the opportunity to try out about 22 different sports. All kinds of sports, mostly Olympian disciplines, but I think there’ll be a few non-Olympian ones too. Became an ambassador because I love sports with my body and soul, in every way that counts. Another reason is that I like the idea of doing sports for fun and engaging children in athletics. At the Olympics Festival, it’s really possible to try out everything. Sometimes it happens that parents bring their children to a certain type of sport, without giving them the opportunity to choose. They’ll have that chance here and they’ll be able to give everything a go. Who knows, some dads might have played football or hockey, but their sons would rather do ski jumping or figure skating. All of this is possible at the festival.
You’ve mentioned children, that's a whole new category. Now there is talk about children growing lazy because of Covid, or after Covid - they don't want to return to their hobby groups, get back on the ice, on the playground. How do you feel about that where winter sports are concerned, right here in Icering?
The children didn’t grow lazy. But the conditions are terrible. They really had lost sports, their hobby groups and the opportunity to socialize, the opportunity to compete with someone and the opportunity to compete with themselves. There were so many restrictions that we’re still coping with the outfall. Our main problem here, in our area of sports, is that the ice rinks are empty due to preventive quarantines. Many children fall into preventive quarantines since their return to school. But thank God they could return! The measures are so limiting that doing sports is very difficult today, very challenging. And then there’s the whole energy crisis, if you don’t mind me mentioning that. Just look at the rise in energy prices, which mainly affects indoor sports. Hockey, figure skating and swimming have been affected the worst, because these sports are the most energy-intensive. So the scissors keep opening for us, fewer children get into sports, and it’s not because of their lack of interest. And the prices will only keep growing.
In fact, it depends entirely on the parents, whether they make enough money and can support the child. Because the course fees will go up too, I suppose.
In essence, this is the way things will go, unless the National Sports Agency comes up with a plan to promote sports. On the other hand, the era we live in is so trying that it would probably be a difficult task to find some extra money in the state budget to support sports to such an extent. These are complex issues that, I think, won’t be resolved for quite some time. And sadly, it really all boils down to whether you have the money for sports or not. Jogging outdoors is free, that's great, everyone can do that. But I think the main sports will suffer now.
You're a father, and I've recently read that you're expecting your second child - that’s great, congratulations! It’s going to be another boy, right? And in what direction do you, as a father who is an athlete through and through, imagine that your children should go? Will you make them pick up ice skating, or will you let them try other things?
I think I'll do it the way our parents did. I say our parents because I'm one of three siblings. It was actually our parents who brought us to sports. But not to our professional beginnings. We got to try out athletics, football, figure skating - there was a lot of it and the final choice was ours. We arrived at it over time. Training became more and more time consuming, there was no room for three sports. Only one of them remained, which was figure skating, and I’d like to do it the same way. My wife and I are of the opinion that we don't need to have a world-class athlete at home. If he decides for it on his own, so be it. But we want to give him a chance to try a variety of sports, that’s for sure. And we won't put any limits on whether it's going to be in a hall, outside, inside. Horse riding might be out, I don’t think there’s a suitable place nearby and we don’t have the funds to build a stable with a pony in the garden. But otherwise, there will really be no limitations.
Let’s move on to my last question. We have the year 2022. What do you think it will bring, what do you wish for yourself this year, what do you hope to achieve or what are you working on?
If I could selfishly wish for something in 2022, I’d wish for me to sort out my work schedule and somehow find a balance between my personal life and work. That's what I wish for.