Monday, 22 September 2014

Interview With Anuschka Gläser and Axel Rauschenbach


If you want to talk about German pairs skating, two names that you definitely want to be bringing up are Anuschka Gläser and Axel Rauschenbach. With his former partner Mandy Wötzel (who went on to win the 1997 World title with Ingo Steuer), Axel won the silver medal at the 1989 European Championships, two East German titles and a unified German title and represented Germany at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. In 1992, after a year away from skating Rauschenbach teamed up with Anuschka Gläser, who had won two West German titles herself. Together, the duo from East and West Germany won the 1994 German pairs title and went on to represent Germany at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer and enjoy success as professional pairs skaters during the boom of professional competitive and show skating opportunities following those 1994 Games. Unifying the two again after so many years apart, I spoke to both Anuschka and Axel about their respective skating careers and past, present and future in this must read interview! Genießen Sie!:

Q: You teamed up in 1992 and only ended up competing together for one season as "amateur" skaters, but in that remarkably short amount of time won the 1994 German title (ahead of former German Champions and veteran skaters Peggy Schwarz and Alexander König) and went on to compete at the European Championships, Winter Olympics in Lillehammer and World Championships in Japan. What are you proudest moments from your competitive career as a pairs team? What memories are the most special?

A from Anuschka: We already teamed up in September of 1992 but we started only in the following season. This was hard to understand and very disappointing for me. I couldn't get along with the Eastern mentality where long preparation times are expected. I have quite an impatient character. I'd like to have competed in the season of 1992/1993. When I teamed up with Stefan Pfrengle, we had only six and a half weeks until Nationals. I was also a roller skater and just returned from Worlds in New Zealand in October 1987. In the Nationals, we came second. And after ten weeks, we got ninth at Europeans. This is what I'm proud of. Also for the fifth place at Europeans in 1990 in Leningrad (also with Stefan). When I teamed up with Axel, I'm not so proud of my performances. He was a great partner but somehow I couldn't give my best! This still hurts sometimes but I enjoyed to skate with Axel more. That was the way I wanted to skate! The proudest moment with Axel was at the Team Worlds 1994 in Amherst. We skated to "Schindler's List" and this program was created by ourselves without any help from a choreographer. It just flowed out of us. Ekaterina Gordeeva came to me after practice and said that she really, really liked that program. For me, that was the most valuable compliment I had ever received. Amherst and our short trip to New York afterwards where we also spent time with Katarina Witt and Scott Hamilton is one of my best memories.

A from Axel: When I finished my career as a figure skater in 1992 with Mandy Wötzel, Anuschka came up to me and asked me if I could imagine trying to start with her for the next Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer 1994. For me it was a great honor and also a great challenge. She was also a superb figure skater and German Champion with a good figure skating style. The chance to participate in two Olympic Games within two years was unmissable and I was proud to have this done with Anuschka. To participate in Olympic Games is something special. Only few athletes in the world manage to participate during their sporting careers. I am grateful that in 1992 Anuschka convinced me to train for the special moments we shared in Lillehammer 1994.


Q: Anuschka, I find it interesting that both you and Katarina Witt chose to skate to music from "Schindler's List" during your professional careers. You studied politics and sociology at the university of Stuttgart. What was the message behind this program and how do you feel that people perceive or react to German skaters tackling this music and story on the ice?

A from Anuschka: To be honest, we chose that music because it's wonderful music. We didn't want to make a statement but we wanted to tell a story. Our story was one of a Jewish couple who survived the Holocaust because they didn't lose their faith in love and humanity. The reaction of the program? I was only aware of the skating at the time. I was very surprised when I heard the commentary on a record many years later. The commentator spoke about a controversial choice of music for a German skater. But it wasn't at all controversial for me. Why emphasize that we are Germans? What would be the difference if a Canadian or American or Russian skater would have chosen this music? There was no reservation in choosing this theme and music. I don’t feel guilty for the Holocaust because I’m a German, not a Nazi! I would have fought against the Nazis. This is the way all German people feel except for a tiny number of idiots and there are idiots everywhere. I have courage to say things even if they are not popular and I'm a skeptical person. This is why I started to study politics and sociology in 2002. I don’t believe so much to the information of the media and I like to look behind the scenes. I think I'm kind of resistant to propaganda. But in 1994, I wasn't political. Axel and I we were artists.


Q: Very, very well said! As we have already touched on, you turned professional in 1994 and skated in competitions together like the World Team Championships as we've talked about as well as the Rowenta Masters On Ice in Germany and other shows. How difficult was the transition from "amateur" to professional skating and what did you enjoy the most about the freedom of not skating under ISU rules?

A from Anuschka: The difficulty for me was to accept that we wouldn't compete in the "real" competitions anymore but the transition wasn't difficult at all! You cannot compare ISU from 1994 rules with today's! The big difference was that I was only responsible for me and there was no federation with any expectations. This made me "psychologically free". What I enjoyed most was that we could concentrate much more on the performance than on the elements.


Q: Anuschka, you had a very similar experience, winning two West German titles with Stefan Pfrengle in 1989 in 1990, which were actually the last two pairs titles in West Germany before the unification and tearing down of Berlin Wall). You and Stefan competed against Axel and Mandy for a spot on the 1992 Olympic team. Did you all always get along or was there any rivalry there?

A from Anuschka: There was disappointment that we couldn't get the place in the Olympic team but not such a strong rivalry. There is a certain rivalry but it's marginal. I really think that pair skaters are different to other skaters. There is such a long way behind you until you become a successful pair skater and you also need a couple of attributes that makes you more hail-fellow-well-met. Maybe the reason was much easier. Maybe it's only because in the past pair skaters were always the first who finished competitions and started first with partying. Maybe we just did too much partying to be rivals.

Q: How are you both currently connected to Germany's figure skating community?

A from Anuschka: I'm a coach. Not full time because I'm also mother of three daughters but I'm still in direct connection to Germany’s figure skating community.

A from Axel: Today I have friendly relationships with many former skaters. Sometimes we meet, talk and laugh about the old days and the many wonderful experiences we had. From 1995 to 2012, every year I have participated in a skating exhibition in my hometown, Dresden. I also played various roles in German fairy tale performances on the ice as a solo performer there. I don’t have any other connections to figure skating, for example as a coach or judge. Professionally I work as a patent attorney at my parents' offices in Dresden.

Q: Pairs figure skating in Germany has again enjoyed success in recent years, with skaters like Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy having so much success internationally. Aliona has since teamed up with a new partner, Bruno Massot. Both having gone through partner changes, what do you think are the keys to making this new partnership a smooth transition and a fast success?

A from Anuschka: The key for their success will be the indispensable and absolute will of Aliona Savchenko and their coach Ingo Steuer... and there will be no smooth transition.

Q: Axel, you married 1980 Olympic Gold Medallist Anett Pötzsch. How did the two of you meet?

A from Axel: This is a difficult question to answer, because Anett and I have since parted and gone our separate ways.

Q: I'm sorry to hear that! The next question I wanted to ask either of you would be regarding your thoughts on the way pair figure skating is judged these days versus when you were competing. Do you think the right qualities are being rewarded and what are your thoughts on anonymous judging?

Anuschka today with her family
A from Anuschka: This is a very complex question and I try to make it short. My thoughts regarding the IJS versus 6.0: I prefer the 6.0, even if I’m not saying anything new. It was clear to the audience! You knew what a 4.5 meant or a 5.3 and it was an emotional moment for the audience (and also for the skater) to get a 6.0. You can easily grasp marks and numbers up to ten but it is hard to grasp two hundred points. You just know that if you reached two hundred you’d be on top of the world! You cannot even compare the highest score from one year to the next because each year they change rules, points for elements or the number of elements. To give a current example, next season there will not be the factor 1.1 for the second half of the program in pair skating. There is no message in the points for the audience! Regarding the quality of pair skating, we see more varieties in lifts, death spirals, spins and steps than we saw ten years before! But we see many of the same varieties done by each couple because of the need to collect points. We see a lot of very similar programs and year after year each pair only change their music but keep the order of elements and the transitions. But it's really amazing what pairs are able to do today! What they do need is an enormous level of concentration but too much concentration is also the death of emotion, so we lost emotions in two parts: in the scoring system and in the programs. Unfortunately, the IJS does not prevent bad or politically motivated judging. If judging is anonymous or not doesn't make any difference in the IJS. Understanding the judging doesn't improve if you know them personally. Also, it is hard for the judges themselves to get a feedback with regards to their own performance. If the judge gives the highest or lowest mark it will get out of the score and if you are always out of average you risk a disciplinary sanction. But what I think is critical is that they can make or unmake a champion and it is too heavily influenced by the components. On the other hand, there are the technical specialists - confusingly named in my opinion, because they are not specialists for technique but they define elements on basis of certain rules. They are not anonymous and make the decisions in one team. This team's position is also critical and the technical specialists have a hard job. To summarize, there is more quality but less emotion. Why can't we come up with a system that maintains emotion AND improves quality? The IJS is inscrutable and not transparent. It produces montony and conformity, penalizing uniqueness. The IJS doesn't solve the problem of illegal arrangements. How can we create a fair system? This will always be a problem. It is probably an illusion that biases can be removed from the system entirely.


Q: When is the last time the two of you skated together and would it ever happen again?

A from Anuschka: December 1996 at Rowenta Masters was the last time and I don't think that it will happen again because I moved back to Stuttgart and Axel lives in Dresden. I still really like skating and would love to skate again with Axel.

A from Axel: The time with Anuschka as a pair skater was totally different to the career with Mandy. We trained hard every day in addition to my job but we also had a lot of fun and took part in a lot of great competitions. Should it arise, I would love to skate again with Anuschka too.

Axel today
Q: Axel, prior to teaming up with Anuschka, your partner was Mandy Wötzel, with whom you won two East German national titles, a German title, the 1989 European silver medal and competed at the 1992 Winter Olympic Games. Why did you and Mandy decide to split up and what was the experience of having to compete against your former partner like?

A from Axel: After winning the silver medal at the European Championships in 1989 in Birmingham, we had a serious accident just before leaving for the World Championships in Paris 1989. Mandy had a serious head injury after a collision with my skate. This accident threw us back. We never again reached the form we had before the accident. Added to this, our opinions with regard to training began to diverge. After the Olympic Games in Albertville in 1992, I decided to take a job in banking rather that to pursue the sport further. I was definitely a little impatient and had set expectations and goals that were too high. Today, after many years, I might have decided otherwise. But the decision also had a good side. Anuschka and I had an additional incentive with our training partners Mandy and Ingo. Mandy was fortunate enough to win some great titles and we have all achieved our goal to participate in the Olympic Games in Lillehammer 1994.

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

A from Axel: Brian Boitano is one. I love his kind of skating, his lightness and ability to present any jump. His performances remain a fond memory. Ekaterina Gordeeva/Sergei Grinkov also. They are my ideal pair skaters. Difficult elements together with a perfect sliding on the ice and the peerless grace of Ekaterina. I have watched in amazement and always with admiration during training and competition. Finally, Kurt Browning. For me he is a perfect skater, justifiably known for his excellent footwork. In 1988, he jumped the first error-free quadruple jump - a quadruple toe loop- in a competition. His choreography and extravagant programs have always inspired me. I always look forward to his show programs with joy.

A from Anuschka: Toller Cranston! When he was at the top, I was really young. I was touched by his way of skating and being different and I was impressed by the story that he threw his compulsory figure skates into a river after his last competition as an amateur even if I don’t know if the story is true. I didn't like the compulsory figures as well and I was thinking more than once to follow his example! Ekaterina Gordeeva is the embodiment for lightness, grace and beauty. She is a skating fairy. Katarina Witt was never an ice princess and she couldn't be one. She was always a queen. My favourite couple (even if that wasn't the question) is Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. They are outstanding! There are no more words than outstanding!

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

A from Anuschka: I don’t kill spiders and I give names to the ones who come into our apartment. Since our spiders have names they are not scary anymore to my children and sometimes also bees get a name.

A from Axel: I love Canada and hate elevators.

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