Interview Olga Beständigova/Ilhan Mansiz

September 2013, Oberstdorf

Q: Who of you first had the idea to continue with pair skating following your victory at the show “Skating with the stars”?

Oli: It was I think coming along together, we both had a kind of idea  that he would be helping me and I had a dream still to compete at Olympics.. So it was not my (idea) and it was not his (idea), it was just coming together.

Ilhan:  First of all of course I know how hard skating was after the show, after the experience in the show. I thought maybe I can find (her) a partner and support them as a sponsor. But later on we figured out that I was doing big improvements in a short time. And to tell Oli like  “eh  I’m 32 so let’s try, I want be your partner, wouldn’t be a little akward, but she had the trust in me and saw potential in me and said so let’s try how far we can get. So we developed the idea together.

Q: Did you aim right away for the Olympic Games or when did you think about this goal?

Oli: The first and the most important idea was (to get to) the Olympics of course. I think that for this season we are open for other competitions as well. But there was the first idea to get to the Olympics.

Ilhan: Of course as an athlete you always want to reach the highest level, no matter what you are doing. Otherwise if she would ask me for adult skating, I would say …

Oli: I wouldn’t go for that either.

Ilhan: No offense to adult skaters, I appreciate what there are doing for their age and that they like what they do it and their commitment.

Oli: But we are a little bit more competitive.

Ilhan: We are competitive in our personal attitude, that’s why we said let’s try to get the Olympics.

Q: You first trained in Germany, then you went to the USA. Why? What was and is there better for you? What are the differences on practice on and off ice compared to your former coaches?

Ilhan: We had a lot of moves in the past three years. We started in Oberstdorf …

Oli: With Alex König.

Ilhan: Then it was kind of still the baby steps. It was the first time for us to try to work with a coach as a pair.

Oli: We were doing a little step before that with me, but I cannot see what we were doing together, although we started doing crossovers together and maybe some death spirals, but you need someone to lead you.

Ilhan: Then we moved to Garmisch. We were travelling like nomads, living like gypsies. We were not happy with the living situation here in Oberstdorf, that’s why we went to Garmisch. There we had Stefan Zins, another former pair skater, and we made another big step forward in our development like in basic skating. Meanwhile I had a job in Turkey as a commentator. I was working for a TV sports network. So I had to fly back and forth every weekend. I was leaving on Friday, coming (back) on Monday. I had like two hours of sleep. So of course the quality of our practices got worse, because of the job. But it was for the full soccer season. End of January we decided to move to Istanbul because of the travelling. But when we moved to Istanbul, we didn’t have enough ice time. So we weren’t on the ice for almost six, seven months. We were a couple of times on the ice, max two weeks in Istanbul, because the rink was already occupied. We had maybe once or two times a week a session at night.

Oli: In the Olympic (size) ice rink. They also have small ones.

Ilhan: We were able to use the small one, but on the small one, after two pushes you were done. So we weren’t able to do anything. Anyway, at the end of the season, that was last year, we decided we have to get far away to focus on our project, because we had a lot of distractions – the work, the travelling. That was basically the reason why we moved to the States. We went for our off-season preparation to Phoenix where I used to go when I was playing soccer, seven or six years ago. We had our skates with us and on our off-days we would go on the ice and we skated around. We met Doug Ladret, the former Canadian pair skater. He kind of knew us and knew the story, but we introduced ourselves when we got on to the ice.

Oli: After the session we basically just went to him and asked how does it look like with ice times, with coaching and everything. He said plenty of ice time, me – the coach, you’re all set. So we decided all together and we stayed there for a year and I think it was very difficult, but very productive. In the States, you have a different system of coaching. You have those 15 or 30 minutes lessons and the rest of the time you work alone. But we were not in the position to skate alone, we always had to fix something with someone, so we basically were working with more coaches. By the time the season was coming to the end the coaches that we have right now and here with us, Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin, they were still skating at U.S. Nationals that season. After that they quit and we had a chance to work with them.

Ilhan: So to compare the States and Germany, of course I like the environment and the coaching system in Germany much better than in the States, but at the end we moved to the States. It was not wrong, it was hard, but in the end it was really productive.

Oli: It was worth it.

Q: Why did you choose the Nebelhorn Trophy as your very first competition and did not go to any other smaller event for a test?

Ilhan: We always prepared for competing at Nebelhorn. We didn’t want to rush to make it to another competition, because we already missed half a year on the ice. When we were in Turkey, we had not enough time to prepare. We could have done another competition in the States one week before we came to Germany, but we also had to move out of our place.

Oli: It (the competition) was not one week before, it was actually one day before. So with the packing and everything it was really rushed. We wouldn’t have been able to move out. So we decided not to go there.

Ilhan: It was like five or six hours away by car. Most of the people are asking – you never competed before, why you are choosing this one.

Oli: It’s not a choice, it’s the thing we want to do.

Ilhan: It doesn’t matter how many competitions I would do, because I’m just skating for two and a half years. I have always the same feeling to any other competition as well. I don’t even see it as a competition. We’ll just try our best to do the program and we will see what happens.

Q: It is the first time ever that a former soccer star became a figure skater - how did soccer fans and other players react?

Ilhan: Actually, when we started, a lot of people were asking if we were crazy. A lot of fans were complaining if I put that much energy into to making a comeback in soccer, I would play (soccer) again. The challenge was so big for Oli to skate with a non-skater, with a former soccer player, to trust him, and to do all the hard work, being patient and waiting that he can finally do something. For me, even when I was playing soccer, I said to myself, I want to do another sport. Of course, I was not thinking about figure skating. After I retired (from soccer) I wanted to start something else, but not figure skating. But it was destiny. We met in the show, we won the show, we had a lot of fun and then we got this crazy idea. So we started to work on it and committed to it. We don’t care what other people think about it.

Q: What fascinates you about skating?

 Ilhan: What I like about it – it’s a big challenge. Even if you know you can do the elements, it doesn’t matter what, if it’s a jump, if it’s a spin – it can happen that you cannot do it on the second session on the day because of the coordination. It’s a really high-level sport. You have to be athletic, you have to be balanced…

Oli: Gracecul.

Ilhan: I’m not graceful. I skip being graceful, but you need strength, you need flexibility, so you need everything. That is a big challenge. And as I said, you come on the ice, you do your jumps, you go, you’re thinking, ok, I got it. Two hours later you have the next session and the whole feeling is gone. That makes it fascinating for me.

Oli: Not for me that much, because if something is not working, then sometimes it’s getting really mad. He is not used to being in a sport where coordination is very fragile and you have to work with that. You have to keep yourself calm even if it’s not working and it’s not always working. That’s what is amazing, like one day you feel like total crap, you think you cannot do anything, you cannot skate and the next day you’re coming not even thinking and bam, bam, you’re doing everything the best you can. That’s the amazing part about figure skating. I’m not saying I like those bad times, but then you’re appreciating those good times even more.

Q: What was and what is the most difficult part for you about figure skating?

Oli: To do your stuff when you’re tired, when your legs are getting a little tight.

Ilhan: The most difficult part is actually…

Oli: to work together (laughs). Sometimes it is not working.

Ilhan: Sometimes, yes. The coaches are forgetting that I’m not a figure skater. I don’t have the knowledge of a figure skater. So when they try to explain, what is natural for a figure skater…

Oli: He doesn’t have that stuff that… if you say, you can just show the arm or you say, “your arm”, a skater knows what to do with the arm, but he doesn’t. You have to explain to him everything in detail.

Ilhan: From the beginning, when we started doing spins, of course you start doing the forward scratch… and then we got to the back scratch. Because I was turning on the left inside, I was trying to do the back scratch on the right inside and I got always stuck. I was like, why can’t I do it?

Oli: And then we figured you, you have to go on the outside edge.

Ilhan: I was on the inside edge, so they had to tell me, if you go to the back scratch, you have to do it on the outside edge. If you say left or right in soccer, I keep the ball left or I keep it right, but in this case, I tried to push with left and standing on the right, but it was the other way.

Oli: There were plenty of things where we had to really explain the stuff from the very, very beginning. Not even kids think that way. They just go and do it.

Ilhan: When they said, do a three-turn…

Oli: He wasn’t doing a three-turn, he was turning three times in a row.

Ilhan: I turned three times and I was like why do I have to turn three times?

Oli: It’s called three-turns, because it is in the shape of the number three, so you have to do that. It was a funny thing.

Ilhan: This is the hardest part, because I don’t have the knowledge, nothing is natural for me.

Oli: And then you need trust when I make a mistake that when the coach is saying ‘try to do it this way’. I know I can do that, but he is not trusting that I can fix it. When he is doing stuff on his own and he’s been told like you have to fix this, he knows he can fix it. But he has difficulty to trust me in that way. You’re getting a little more intense. You said it.

Ilhan: No.

Oli: Yes, you did. He said it to Doug (Ladret, coach) that he doesn’t really have too much trust, but you feel better about fixing it yourself, because you feel responsible for yourself and then it’s hard for you that you are not in charge when I fix something. That’s what I mean – I have to be in charge, not you.

Ilhan: You have been skating for 30 years, how can I not trust you to fix some stuff.

Oli: Everybody does mistakes and you can be Olympic Champion, that’s fascinating about figure skating. You can be as good as everything and then you come to the ice and smack yourself, from nothing.

Q: Oli, how much courage did you need especially in the beginning to be lifted by Ilhan who had not much experience?

Oli: When we started the lifts in the show, of course we started off the ice. Ilhan had no problem to lift me. He is very athletic. That is the biggest advantage that we have. He is very, very strong. Sometimes the strength is overtaking the technique, but the technique now is getting where it needs to be. So there is a balance. But of course, when we started real skating and we started to learn to do the turns… of course, I trusted him always. I’m not saying I didn’t have the respect or I wasn’t afraid… I wasn’t afraid that he’s going to drop me or anything. I just knew he has no experience and there is nothing I can blame him for. But I can say I never was afraid, because even in the show he was very protective and he never let me fall. Until now, we never fell from a lift. I have to knock on my head. I was trusting him, even if sometimes when he was kind of off balance, he put me down as safe as he could have. It is really amazing. It kind of got from the point where we are very conscious or going very slowly into the lift, being careful, okay, we have to get through. And we got to the faster speed and everything and smoothness pretty easy. We were not forcing ourselves, it just got there. We used to do always like a row up, as a warm up, for the steps. We stopped doing it basically kind of naturally. Now I can say I’m not even thinking about being afraid or going into the lift having fear what’s going to happen. Now or already for some time I just concentrate on what I do. I’m not concentrating on what he is doing, because I know he is doing his job. Not an easy thing for both of us, but …

Ilhan: At the beginning, because I wasn’t able to see her, because she was overhead, but I heard from the coach…

Oli: I was like a potato bag and my eyes were dropping all the way down to the ice, like do not drop me, do not drop me.

Ilhan: That made the lift also harder, because if she was in a nice position already it would make it easier for me, but she was tense and not letting herself get in a normal position. She was giving me a hard time, basically.

Oli: It wasn’t easy for me either. I was afraid, but I trusted him. That was the most important thing. If I wouldn’t trust him, I wouldn’t even let him do that.

Q: How would you describe your character as a pair on the ice?

Oli: He is not allowing anybody, and this includes me, mostly to do anything.

Ilhan: Because I have the credit to do all the mistakes, not you.

Oli: He is a hard worker. He can get mad about things but at some point it just comes from his perfectionist part of the personality. We both have a temper but over the years as a pair skater I learned to control myself, because I used to be very explosive as well. I used to scream, yell and kick the boards, throwing the (skate) guards and things like that. When I yell, my voice is very high and it is not very beautiful. I can say that you cannot find a more patient and calm person in the entire universe right now. I’m just kidding. Sometimes it is boiling inside but it is ok. We both have our roles, we cannot both fight. I think it works that way. We just became better that way.

Q: Can you tell us about your programs? Which music did you choose? Who had the idea?

Oli: In the case of the music, I am the boss, yes! Of course, we were discussing the music, but we knew the long program from ever since we’ve started this project. The second show was “The Last Samurai”, the music from the movie, and it was basically our best performance from every single point of it. We had a (good) feeling with that music and we thought this is it. This is our story, this is how we started and we are together until now. And even the choreography in the beginning is exactly the same what we had in the show. As for the short program, it has been a little longer journey to choose the right music. We pretty much got three or four option until we settled. We already had a short program done with another music before we changed it to this one. We changed in March, because we had a pretty fast music. I think the judges would have been standing in their chairs. It was from Greyhound. And then we were watching the movie “Step Up Revolution “ and at the end of the movie is one song and those two people are dancing and it is a contemporary dance and we said, this is it. This is the music we should skate to. The other music was amazing, but we are not there yet to skate to something like this. With this one we are going to be a little more calm and settled. Judges like those love stories. It’s “To build a home” by Cinematic Orchestra. It’s kind of a slow, contemporary music and we chose maybe a little different kind of costume especially for Ilhan. It is not a typical figure skater’s (costume). He wears something like jeans pants, it’s not real jeans, there were made for skating. And he has something like a cardigan or pullover. I have pretty much a skating costume. Let’s see what people will say about it. I think we go pretty well with the music. They suit us and we can express ourselves with them much better.

Q: How did your training go, how satisfied are you with your progress and how do you rate your chances to get to the Olympic Games?


Ilhan: Of course, there are more pair teams than expected. Spain has a pair, North Korea, Sweden, Japan, Israel changed the partner, he has an American partner right now. They improved a lot. We saw him at Nebelhorn Trophy two years ago and now he has a better partner. It’s going to be a tough one. Our aim is to skate our best and get less deductions.

Oli: (Our aim is) to do what we can do, get less minuses and keep the GOE on a base level or where we are better, because we have some strong elements, to get the plusses on those and keep those elements strong not get the minuses.

Ilhan: So that we get at least the points (technical minimum score) for the European or World Championships, if we don’t qualify for the Olympic Games so we would kind of continue this season and finish it with a highlight.

Oli: Yes, because I think no matter if we make it or not – if we make it’s going to be amazing. If we don’t make it’s amazing anyway. As Ilhan said, we already won. We are pretty unique in what we are doing. There is no one else and that is what makes me proud of Ilhan and us. I’m not saying that pair skating is easy, it’s very hard, but nobody had the guts to get into it and try to do it a little differently. The way to get there was very, very long and I just saw a little, little light at the end of the freaking long tunnel. I knew that it can work. This is what makes this thing very interesting and challenging. For me it is to go out there and to do our best and the people are going to be blown away anyway.

Q: Do you want to compete at other events this season?

Ilhan: Yes, we are going to go to Bratislava, to Ondrej Nepala. Of course, it’s Oli’s hometown so it would be nice to skate there after the long work.

Oli: After the long time! I haven’t been competing in a long time, not only at home.

Ilhan: According to the results, we’ll see, we might go to Golden Spin in Zagreb. Of course we’ll do the Nationals.

Oli: Maybe even Bavarian Open if necessary.

Ilhan: So I can get the title as a National soccer champion and pair figure skating champion.

And Oli can get to be Slovak and Turkish National Champion.

Oli: I want to be Slovak and Turkish National Champion! I hope we get to Europeans and Worlds to get as much as we can out of it. It was a long –term project.

Ilhan: The last six, eight weeks we were not working on developing the elements, but to make them better. I don’t mean making them better as if we are going for a triple jump. We were keeping it on one level.

Oli: Not to make it at a higher level but improving the level we have, because in this system it is sometimes more important to go for the GOE, to go for plusses than to go for a higher level. Sometimes if you have a level four for something and get the minuses you’re getting even lower than the base value.

Ilhan: After these two competitions we’ll have time to develop the jumps.

Oli: Now we have no time to change anything. We’re trying to do the best we can with what we have. You’re always get to the points when you get closer to the competition you are thinking, ah, I wish we’d have another month or two months more. We should have worked here a little more, we shouldn’t have had this break. It’s always like this and you have what you have. This is what we have right now. We just have to do it. It is very easy. Just go and do it (laughs).

Q: When will you receive Turkish citizenship?

Oli: We were talking about this question with the Turkish Federation. It is a very difficult thing for me to talk about right now, because first we have to get the job done. We did the first paperwork to be able to skate for Turkey.

Ilhan: She got the clearance.

Oli: From the ISU. This was also big paperwork. And then we can do more paperwork.

Ilhan: The citizenship is only an issue if we qualify for the Olympics. She can represent Turkey without becoming Turkish in other competitions.

Oli: So even the lady that works for the Federation said one step at a time. Now we did this, the other paperwork will come in case you qualify. I’m not an official in Turkey, but it’s doable. The most important thing is to get out there and do our job.

Q: What are your plans for the future in general?

 Ilhan: As we said we want to finish the season with at least one big event. If we don’t make it to the Olympics, we want to go to the Europeans and or Worlds. Then of course I am in an age…

Oli: We are in the age…

Ilhan: We were teasing ourselves about the next Olympics in four years. I like the life of being an athlete and I have another project, but first we want to finish this one before we think about the next step.

Oli: Also what we’re going to do depends on the result and the interest of the people. I think it is interesting, nobody ever saw that and they couldn’t believe in it. You never know what might come out of this and what kind of offers we get. It’s hard to plan the future right now. We might be a little smarter next week at this time.

Ilhan: We’ll be pretty much finished with competitive skating after this season. I turned 38 a month ago.

Oli: I’m 34.

Ilhan: My body is crying every day.

Oli: My body is also crying every day and I’m a skater.

Ilhan: I had a lot of injuries form soccer. Competitive skating will be over after this season for sure.

Oli: We might do some shows if it goes well and we get offers. In the shows you’ll do one to maybe three programs, but you don’t have to kill yourselves in the lifts. You can go maybe three, four times on the ice easy, maybe some throws, maybe some show lifts, but it’s not like you have to come to the ice three, four times a day. You can start maybe a normal life, because this is a kind of dedication and you are sacrificing basically your own life. For me, I was always in a different country, where I was not at home. I was stuck with Ilhan and we never had our own air to breathe. Being together 24/7, that’s tough. I am in this case an easier person than Ilhan and I’m also sometimes freaking out from being together all the time. I cannot go somewhere alone and basically still have nothing in Germany that I can fix on my own. When I am in Slovakia I do everything myself. There a still things that I have to do. So this was the hard part of it to be pretty much all the time together and be stuck on a conversation. We have nothing to say and we told each other it is interesting to meet someone else because then you finally can tell our stories to them. It’s really hard to pull out some stories for ourselves.


Q: How popular are you in Turkey? What are the reactions in Turkey that they now have a pair skating team and how do you think you can promote the development of figure skating in Turkey?

Oli: The Turkish fans, I have to say, I never saw fans as silly and crazy. When you see some celebrity or a famous person, you are excited, you go to the person, you take a picture, you are asking, how it is going, but they are literally peeing in their pants, they are like huuuh. In Turkey he has almost no privacy.

Ilhan: It’s been a long time, but of course it was hard to be there. On the one hand it’s nice to be famous, that means you’re doing a good job or you’re good in your job. On the other hand it’s pretty hard, because you don’t have a private life. You are always at the center of the attention. You cannot be yourself sometimes, and that’s pretty hard. That’s one of the reasons why I’m living abroad. I was born here (in Germany), it is more my home. I’m at home more here than in Turkey.

Oli: I think if we would do this in Turkey, it wouldn’t work. It would be very distracting.

Ilhan: I think most Turkish people still don’t know that Turkey has a pair team. Some of them heard about it and they were like, yes, sure, you want to go to the Olympics in pair skating, that’s ok.

Oli: But we have Turkish fans that are pretty cool.

Ilhan: If you go on the Turkish Federation webpage even they don’t announce the competitors, they don’t even say, at Nebelhorn in single skating he is trying, she is trying, dance, pairs. There is no announcement on our page. It’s not a strong country in figure skating or winter sports in general. Oli had already a couple of years ago before we started an offer to build up a Turkish pair team. The mentality in Turkey is pretty difficult. They want everything pretty much done right now. They don’t realize if you build up something you need time, money and invest in it. They want to get it now. If they get it now, they’re willing to pay, but if they have to wait and build up, they always back away. Maybe this will show them that you can do it, if you work hard, if you are patient, if you believe in it and invest in it. Maybe in that case, it can help. Afterward they can come and use us to advise them in the sport, because most of the people, the board members, they don’t even have a clue about skating or about the sport in general. It’s hard to deal with people that don’t know the sport. They maybe know economics and advertising.

Oli: It’s a general problem in sport, not only in skating.

Ilhan: It’s the same in soccer.

Oli: They’re expecting the results, but they are not willing to invest and pay to develop that. You have to first pay everything on your own. We are a totally different, but that might give a clue that …

Ilhan: … it might change.

Oli: The first thing is to believe in what you are doing and then work hard. You cannot say ‘this is not going to work’, because that’s the worst thing in general. I can’t do and this is not possible. If you want to do it, you go and do it. And if you have a little bit of potential it can happen. I’m not saying in our case that we are going to win Worlds or Olympics or anything but it’s just going to show that everybody is saying, even the kids – we’re calling them kids, everybody is kids for us – we are older, yes we are. But when you are saying, ah, I’m getting too old, my body… what? Don’t complain, just work. Maybe we work more. We have to work more for ourselves. We have a great athletic potential, but I can’t even image how Ilhan is feeling not being flexible from the very beginning, not even now. He got 50 million times better. I’ve always been flexible, but I have to work harder to keep me where I am at or to make me better. It’s not anymore so soft. It is still natural, but I have to care about myself way much more. The only thing we do for the Federation and which is maybe going to help is to show them in a different way how you can do it.

Q: Thank you very much for the interview and good luck!