Interview With Trixi Schuba


If you look at the documented history of figure skating (especially here in North America), it's fascinating to me how much we really know about so many of the sport's great Olympic gold medal winners but how comparatively little we know about others. Skaters like John Curry, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Scott Hamilton, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean and Katarina Witt for instance have all been the subjects of books and documentaries. Their journeys both on and off the ice are ones we know well. Sadly, the story of Trixi Schuba, the two time European and World Champion and 1972 Olympic Gold Medallist is one that has never really been fully known to many. She was the queen of compulsory figures, often overlooked by skating fans and storytellers alike because her strength as a skater was in those school figures at a time when they counted for so much. The fact of the matter is that Schuba was so dominant and unstoppable in those figures that she won most competitions before the free skating even started. There's something to really be said for that, especially considering that she balanced her skating career with work during much of her career. I had the opportunity to finally catch up with Trixi while she was in Italy vacationing in late May and again after she returned to Austria. We actually first connected on my birthday and I can't think of a better birthday present than to have spoken with her. Prior to speaking on the telephone, we'd never actually talked before aside from via e-mail and she was one of the sweetest, most down to earth people I have had the good fortune of interviewing. We spoke about everything from her "amateur" and professional careers to her thoughts on the elimination of school figures and the ISU judging system, her involvement in figure skating today, an amazing and long overdue reunion of sorts and much more in this wonderful interview I guarantee will leave a smile on your face:

Q: You had such an amazing career in figure skating: six Austrian titles, two European titles, two World titles and the Olympic gold medal at the 1972 Winter Olympic Games in Sapporo, Japan. What are the proudest moments from your skating career?

A: Of course, the greatest accomplishment was the gold medal at the 1972 Olympics. When I became the 1971 and 1972 European Champion, it was looking very good that I could win also gold at the Olympics but I also knew that I would have a lot of competition from both Karen Magnussen and Janet Lynn. They were both competitors. Because of the school figures, I had so many points that it was obvious to me that I would win at that point. Nothing could top the Olympic win.


Q: After winning the 1972 World title, you retired from competitive skating and toured with Holiday On Ice and Ice Follies for several years before turning to a career in the insurance industry. Where did your decision to turn professional come from and why didn't you continue with professional skating or return to it?

A: I knew at the beginning of the season, that it will be my last year and also the ISU changed the regulations cutting it down from six to three school figures and adding the short program so I went into professional skating. I also knew 1972 would be my last year anyway even if I won the Olympics or not and it's always better to end on the top. First I had Ice Follies from 1972 to 1973, then from 1973 to 1974 the Holiday On Ice in the United States and then I returned to skate with the European Holiday On Ice from 1974 to 1978. Already winning the European, World and Olympic titles, there was really no more for me to reach; it was the time to quit.


Q: An interesting question that was posed to me by Frazer Ormondroyd to ask you was that you performed the double Axel in practice but didn't include it in your competitive programs. Why was this?

A: First of all, I really didn't like the double Axel jump very much. I had so many bad falls on it in practices and I was a little afraid to put it in my program and do it there. It was also really not necessarily for me, being so far ahead in the school figures.

Q: You have been very active in supporting figure skating and sport in general in Austria. You're currently on the board of the Graz Skating Club and have previously served as president of the Austrian Ice Skating Association and have sat on the boards of both the Austrian Olympic and Paralympic Committees as well. What are some of the most inspiring things you've seen through your involvement in these organizations?

A: Well, I was for quite a long time not involved in skating. In 2002, they asked me to become President of the Austrian Ice Skating Association but that didn't last for a very long time. I often felt I was fighting against other officials. After 2006, I was not welcome anymore as the President of the Austrian Figure Skating Association. I saw too much of the sport. I also became a controller in the Austrian Olympic Committee until 2009. These positions allowed me to become a little more involved again. The Grazer Skating Club, where I am the Vice President, is wonderful. They really appreciate and want me involved and are thankful for what I do. I'm from Vienna, and not even my ex-Viennese club Wiener Eislaufverein has really shown any appreciation. I'm happy to support the people in Graz and I do have some skaters in Graz I help behind the curtains that come to me for advice and help. That makes me so proud. Now I am on the board of the Paralympic Committee in Austria and also help at the Special Olympics in Austria and internationally. On another note, I am very passionate about school figures and would love to maybe work with more skaters and talk to them about why they are important to improving your skating.

Q: Earlier in your career, you were coached by 1952 Olympic Silver Medallist Helmut Seibt, an accomplished skater in his own right. What was working with Helmut Seibt like and what influence did your coaches have on your career?

A: Helmut Seibt was my first coach and was very good. He taught me the love of compulsory figures but he left Austria in 1962. I then worked with Inge Solar for one year and then changed to Hilde Appeltauer from 1964 to 1970. After the Worlds in 1970, I didn't feel very comfortable with her anymore. She was never optimistic or positive and always made me feel down. It wasn't psychologically a good experience. Then in the spring of 1970, things changed and I worked with Leopold Linhart for the final two years and it was amazing that I was able to reach all of my gold medals with him in this short time.

Q: What is your favourite book, your favourite song and your favourite meal to eat?

A: I don't know if I have a favourite book, but I read a lot nowadays. I am trying to develop myself a little more and have an opinion that the whole body exists in mind, body and soul and am always trying to improve these sides of myself and learn. It's been interesting for me to develop in this way. When I'm not reading books like these, I might also read a crime book or something. I enjoy classical music. That's more for me than the new sounds. That's not my music. As for food, I was eating almost everything, but I have changed now to a more vegan diet. I feel now much better and it was the right time to improve my way of life.

Q: When was the last time you skated and would you ever get out and perform for an audience again?

A: No, no, never! I am sixty three and I am only on the ice skating once a year now. We have every year a very big competition in Graz, the Icechallenge, which is also in the ISU calendar and at the ice gala I announce the show. NO jumps, NO spins because I don't want to end up going in the hospital!

Q: What is one thing most people don't know about you?

A: I have no idea what they know and don't know! I suppose sometimes it's necessary for you to have some secrets in your life. I have a dog (Cosima) and she's here vacationing with me in Grado, Italy, which isn't far from Venice. I stayed at this same hotel when I was here at age four with my parents. It's beautiful, a family friendly hotel; very old fashioned and nice.

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?

A: I can just say my favourite. My mother and I watched Sjoukje Dijkstra skate at the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck and I thought that it would be fantastic if I once competed at the Olympics after watching her skate there. I was lucky enough to get to do it twice - finishing fifth in 1968 in Grenoble and four years later, winning gold in Sapporo. What I thought was wonderful is that after all these years, I was able to meet Sjoukje Dijkstra and she was a hero to me. She's just a normal person like you or I and it is just fantastic to become a friend of your hero.

Q: You've been hailed by many as the greatest 'compulsory figures' skater of all time. What were your feelings when compulsory figures were eliminated from international competition in 1990 and what are your thoughts on how skating (and the way it is judged) have changed over the years?

A: Well, I felt really sorry when they were eliminated because in my opinion, school figures are the basis for being a good skater. You have to learn strong edges on both sides and perfect those skills. I was sad when they removed the figures from world competition and also sad when they changed the judging system in 2002 after the Salt Lake City Olympics because of the scandal between Russia and France. Don't ask me how the new system works. Its is not so easy to understand. Last year Doug Wilson wrote a book "The World Was Our Stage" and did a chapter on Janet Lynn and I. It was really, really a nice chapter. Janet Lynn also read it and said it was fantastic. What's really an interesting story is that after Doug wrote this book, Janet Lynn, Karen Magnussen and I all reconnected after forty years. We are all in touch and all have the exact same opinions about the changes in skating today; we all feel the same way. The three of us reconnecting is all because of Doug's book.

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