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Five-time World pairs champion Robin Szolkowy will form a coaching alliance with Jenni Meno and Todd Sand at a new skating venue — primarily focused on pairs — in Irvine, California.
Szolkowy, who represented Germany during his career, but currently lives in Switzerland with his wife Romy and son Henry, will move the U.S. in the spring.
“For professional reasons our family will move to America and work there with not only American, but also international skaters, mostly in pairs skating, obviously,” Szolkowy said.
“I am 39 years old. I’ve tested myself in coaching for four years now and I see myself building new teams and new skaters. I think that I can have a positive and goal-oriented influence on the kids — maybe also on older skaters — and that I can teach them something.”
Meno and Sand are preparing their teams for the 2019 U.S. nationals at the new venue, Great Park Ice and Sports Complex, which opened earlier this week. “When the new facility was announced, we were contacted as to our interest in establishing a pair training program,” Sand explained. “Great Park is like no other skating facility that I have seen in the U. S. It includes four sheets of ice, one that is a small arena. Everything is done with the idea of making it a top training and entertainment destination for the community. It includes many amenities that I’ve never seen in a training facility. Along with a spacious off-ice training facility, with gym and locker rooms, there are recovery rooms for elite athletes to use in conjunction with their training, ballet rooms, and even a music room.”
In addition to the pairs coaches, Rafael Arutyunyan, his team and their skaters have also made the move to this venue.
Szolkowy, who won five World titles and two Olympic bronze medals with Aljona Savchenko, retired in 2014. Later that year, he joined the coaching staff of Russia′s Nina Mozer and began working with her pairs teams, most notably with Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov. Mozer had coached Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov (Savchenko and Szolkowy’s rivals) to Olympic gold in 2014.
“To me, it was clear that I would be part of the Russian team until March 2018. Tarasova and Morozov then chose Maxim as their new head coach, which is totally understandable,” Szolkowy said, adding that he had never planned to coach them full-time.
Szolkowy said he and U.S. Figure Skating (USFS) began talking about the pairs concept at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games and later at the World Championships. “I have been in quite close contact with the USFS for almost one and a half years, based on my collaboration with the Mozer team,” he explained.
In the summer of 2018, he visited various training centers in Colorado Springs, Florida and California. Szolkowy and his wife decided they would go to Irvine. “An important point in the decision was that we had an impressive guided tour through the new training center they were building. I’ll have the opportunity to be part of it as a coach from the very beginning, and to introduce my own ideas,” Szolkowy said. “Jenni Meno, Todd Sand and myself want to get together as a pairs coaching team and build something from scratch.”
Meno and Sand, who won three World medals between 1995 and 1998, have been coaching in California for many years. Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim are currently their most prominent students.
“We are thrilled that Robin has decided to come to Irvine,” Sand said. “He came for a visit last fall and we have had several meetings. In the time spent with Robin, we feel that our philosophy on life and skating are very well matched and will make a great team. Our team includes Robin, myself, Jenni Meno and Christine Binder. While we will all have the same goals, we all bring something different and unique to the team. Robin is in the process of arranging his move and we are so looking forward to his arrival soon.”
The new center aims to be international, Szolkowy said. “We want to be healthy competition to other places. We don’t want to grab other teams from other places, but to be an option for those who are looking for new orientation. The whole idea is not only to work with American pairs, but also international. I think it is an advantage to get input from different cultures.”
Sand said the main goal of the coaching team will be to introduce pairs skating “to more young skaters in the U.S. and to create an elite training program that produces elite pairs at all levels. We intend to create a culture of excellence in our facility where the skaters want to be there everyday, and work hard to be the best athletes they can be.”
Szolkowy plans to stay at least until the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, but intends to keep his connection to Europe. “We’ll go to Europe for training camps or maybe the Europeans will come to the U.S.,” he said.