Born to Filipino parents, California's Christopher Caluza took up skating at age seven and after finding success as a national competitor within the U.S. made the difficult decision to represent the country of his parent's birth in international competition. It has paid off in dividends! Christopher has represented The Philippines at three World Championships and three Four Continents Championships and found success in international competition around the world. It was my pleasure to talk to him at length about his competitive career, plans going forward, his thoughts on the importance of the short program and much, much more in this must read interview:
Q: You have represented The Philippines at three World Championships as well as three Four Continents Championships and won medals internationally in events like the Bavarian Open and Lombardia Trophy in Italy. What are your proudest moments or most special memories from competition?
A: I believe my proudest moment was being in the process of competing for the Philippines. I always wanted to do it for a long time, even before I was a national competitor in the U.S.A. but I didn't want to unless I was a U.S. national competitor. After three years, it has definitely helped me grow as a skater and as a person. To me growing up as an athlete and a person at the international level in this sport is my proudest moment. My special memories competing were my first Philippine Nationals and my first three international competitions in the 2011-2012 season. It was my first year competing for the Philippines. Coming into the Philippines, I had to prove to the people and the federation that I'm here and ready. Before I competed, I knew about how some of the people felt about Filipino Americans "dropping into competition and leaving". My coach Natalia Bobrina talked about it and she told me that it shouldn't matter. So no matter what, I was there to set a good example and do my best. After winning the Nationals, I knew I had a commitment. I stopped going to school and focused on my training. My first international competition was in Oberstdorf, Germany. I didn't want to compete because I had school at the time. And not only that... I was kind of scared. My coach said that it shouldn't matter and every competition should be treated equally. I decided to go to Bavarian Open a week before 2012 ISU Four Continents. I was excited as well because I never skated internationally before. That week, I earned the first Senior B international medal for the Philippines and it was my first time. I never expected a medal, but mainly focused on my points. After that week, I qualified to 2012 ISU Four Continents the next week so it was a lot of traveling from the U.S. to Germany for three days, then back home in San Diego one day, then the next day, fly to Colorado. It was a crazy two weeks. I had competed in high altitude before so I was familiar on how to acclimate. Four Continents is where the federation determines who earned the right to go to the Worlds. I have friends who came to watch and it was an amazing feeling getting support from the U.S. crowd since I was from here. The long program was the hardest I've done. I had to focus on getting the energy back up and fight and especially showing fierceness and elegance. The crowd being behind me was an amazing feeling. When I finished my program, I saw some people standing and that was a good feeling. I over analyzed my program with my coach and I actually had mixed feelings towards how it went. When I saw my scores, I was like "not good" but when I saw myself on top of the board in my group, I was like "no way! what just happened?!" Everything was unexpected. Placing in the top twelve was one of the best things that has happened; not only for myself, but the Philippines. I earned my rights and spot for Worlds. I dropped out of school to focus on my training the next month. That week, I can remember how my practices went. When I came to Nice, France I was just in awe with the atmosphere. Practices for the Preliminary Round were amazing but I was lucky to have made it through because I was nervous for my first Worlds. Then in the next days, practices were crazy bad leading into the short program. The day of the short, I knew it wasn't going to go as I thought. I tried to stay focused on what I could do. Unexpectedly, I did well. When I competed my jump elements I knew it was time to sell it even more. I had fun because the tango was another way to show a side of me. I wanted to show that I can be sexy and intense. Afterwards, the feeling was amazing and intense. I didn't even hold my pose, I just fist pumped so aggressively with excitement. When my scores came in, I was very happy that not only I qualified but my components scores were high. Coming into the long. I knew it was my last skate. I had to get it together and do the best I could do. I told myself, "you qualified to the final round. You deserved to be here, and now show it". I did everything I could and executed most of the elements leading into my last axel at the end. I touched down but I smiled and so did the audience. That was the skate of my life. My first Worlds and I was the unexpected person to make the finals. That was something I will never forget. Coming into the Olympic year, the previous season was a disaster in some parts but I came back a stronger competitor. I had to prove to my federation and the world I deserved to go to the Olympics. Even though I wasn't chosen to go, this past season was the strongest I've ever skated. I proved it five times fairly on how I deserved respect and I earned a lot of it during the season.
Q: You face a lot of competition right 'at home' from fellow Filipino men's skater Michael Christian Martinez. Comparing yourself with Martinez, what do you see as your strengths and weaknesses?
A. I wouldn't want to compare myself to Mr. Michael Martinez since he has his own strengths and weaknesses, as well as I myself have my own. Usually in my feelings, my own strength is mental usually. I try to stay positive and not think about winning but tell myself, "you are stronger than you think you are." In this sport my greatest competition is mainly myself. In this sport, the greatest competitor is in the athlete.
Q: Prior to deciding to represent The Philippines in 2011, you competed within the U.S. on the junior and senior level. Was this a decision an easy or a difficult one and what were the most challenging aspects of the whole process of representing a different country in competition?
A: The decision to switch countries was difficult and easy, in different ways, but it didn't mean I had to go compete for the Philippines right away. I had to earn my rights to compete for the Philippines. I didn't want to be one who just represents another country by just coming in. I knew that before I switched, I would have a huge responsibility and that responsibility is hard to come by. Therefore, it is very much a privilege to compete for another country... especially the Philippines. So I had to make a good impression my first Philippine Nationals. All three season I had to do my best. I also had to show my federation who is the strongest skater. No matter what competition, I always have a lot to prove. That was my greatest challenge. I also knew how some people from the Philippines would feel about an American coming in but I didn't let that affect what I do best because it just makes me feel even better about myself and motivated me.
Q: You mentioned that people from the Philippines may have taken issue to an 'outsider' coming in. How were/are you received within the Filipino skating community?
A: I have heard things from other people about what they think about Americans. Even before I was coming, I knew how some people from the Philippines would feel. When it comes to the Philippines. I am knowledgeable about the country's government and what the social statuses are like. I had to educate myself on what kind of country I'm representing so I know how to handle situations professionally. It is a normal feeling from what I can see. When I arrived, I was welcomed by coaches I've met on Facebook and YouTube. When I was there I didn't know anyone but a few of the coaches and they were happy to have me. From what I was told from parents and coaches from there, I have set a good example there from the beginning up to now. It was like a learning experience for the skaters and it was greatly for me as well. I never thought I was looked up to because it's just how I do my job everyday.
Q: What are your goals for the 2014/2015 season and going forward? Have you given thought to new programs and what have been your main focuses in training recently?
A: So far, I'm still in deciding whether or not to continue competing. Nevertheless, I'm still listening to different programs to which I can connect to and so will any audience. I am choreographing them as well because I love to express myself and I believe that when you skate, you are there to do your best but also have people talk about your performance more. It's like building a memory. My main focus is still practicing my triple axel. I am focusing on getting it clean and consistent because without this jump, I believe I'm not going to be taken seriously in this sport as it was shown in 2014 ISU Worlds in Saitama. I was very disappointed in my components scores especially. If I land my triple axel clean and consistent, that one jump can change everything I'm sure.
Q: What three songs could you listen to on a loop all day long?
A: "Freak Out" by Avril Lavigne, "Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2" by Chopin and "Waterfalls" by TLC.
Q: How important is having both a short program and free skate?
A: Very important. Both programs are a good way to show how a skater can be versatile or show how they can connect to the audience differently. Even though short is like a technical program it's still a program/performance. I treat every program the same no matter how much the rules change. I love expressing myself in both programs so I can separate myself from one genre to a different genre.
Q: Do you agree with bonuses being rewarded late in free skate programs for difficult jumps landed or do you feel backloading programs with difficult jumps when a skater is most tired is just asking for injuries?
A: For me, I believe it's very strategic and is very good. My programs from last season was a way of working strategy. There is a certain line to when the program doesn't look well balanced. I did notice how that it's backloaded with different skaters, and it's hard to find choreography. It always depends on the music and how the skaters find time to execute every element, which is why it is important to plan the program and train it properly. When it comes to injury, it also depends in how a skater trains their program. High level athletes can get hurt anywhere at any time, mainly off the ice. It would not matter. It always depends on how the second half is being trained. When I choreograph a program, I have to know my program well enough so I can execute more difficult elements at the right time. It's all about strategy and training.
Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time?
A:: There are too many to pick from but from the start it was Tara Lipinski, then Michelle Kwan, and Alexei Yagudin.
Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?
A: I was born with one kidney. I have a learning disability so it was difficult for me in school but no athlete is perfect, you know. I have choreographed my own programs the past four years and during my time competing internationally. I usually provide movements then the coach looks and approves or not. I'm dating and I have another thing I want to say but shouldn't.
Q: What do you love the absolute most about figure skating?
A: I love figure skating because it taught me how anything is possible. I love how it taught me discipline and how loving what you are doing is very important. It has taught me professionalism, RESPECT mainly... self- respect, standing on my own feet, humility, and having good sportsmanship. I have met great people from around the world who know who I am which is one of the best things. It is a life learning tool that I want to use for my future endeavors.
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