Interview With Michael Tyllesen
For every one skater that achieves their ultimate goals, so many more don't. One skater that did everything they set out to do and then some and grew so much in the process is Denmark's Michael Tyllesen. A 6 time National Champion of Denmark, Michael twice represented his country at the Winter Olympics. After a 13th place finish in Lillehammer, he returned in Nagano and finished in the top ten. In eight trips to the European Championships and nine to the World Championships, the longevity of his eligible career was matched by the duration and success of his professional one. For nine years, Tyllesen was a principal skater with Holiday On Ice. Now working as a skating coach in Denmark, Michael took the time to reflect on his skating career, successes, training conditions in his country, Holiday On Ice, his favourite skaters and much more:
Q: You represented Denmark at the 1994 and 1998 Winter Olympics, placing 13th in 1994 and moving into the top ten at the Nagano Games. What are your favourite memories of your Olympic experiences and what did competing at the Games mean to you?
A: It was like a dream to be at the Olympic Games and it still sometimes feels like it was only a dream thinking back on it. I'm so happy to have achieved my biggest goal in skating, the Olympics, and to have experienced it 2 times. It was a big satisfaction to skate well at the Olympics, because the Olympics is something special, and even though I didn't skate perfect then I'm still satisfied with my performances and very happy to finish in the top 10 in 1998. The best memories from the Olympics was of course to skate at the Games and to leave the Games with a good result, but also to carry the flag for Denmark at the opening ceremony was amazing. But every day in general was full of unforgettable experiences and impressions.
Q: Speaking of competition, you were able to sustain a figure skating career that lasted an entire decade (1990-2000). What were the biggest challenges and rewards during your competitive career?
A: A big challenge was to make realistic new goals and to work hard towards them. All my skating dreams has come true. When I was young I dreamed about becoming National Champion. Then Nordic Champion. Then to participate in the Europeans and Worlds and maybe the Olympic Games. To finish 4 times in top 10 at Europeans and even finish 9th at the Olympics was more then I dreamed of when I was really young. Holiday On Ice was the same. I dreamed one day to become a star in Holiday On Ice too. The biggest rewards in my skating career are all the experiences I have had with my skating. All the competitions, the international training camps, training with some of the best skaters in the world (Lake Arrowhead and Edmonton) and all the nice people I have met and things I have experienced because of my skating. My skating career has given me many great memories and experiences. These are something nice to think back on and I have travelled and seen almost the whole world. My personal three best results I am most happy about were my 6th place at Europeans, 9th place at the Olympics and 3rd place at Skate Canada and being on the podium with the 2 Olympic medal winners Elvis Stojko and Ilia Kulik.
Q: I have never been to Denmark nor have many of my readers. What can you tell us about the figure skating program in your country? How has it evolved from when you first started skating to today and what makes it unique?
A: Back in the 80's, The Danish Skating Federation had a training center for the most talented skaters in Denmark. When I was 12 years old, I got the offer from the Danish Skating Federation to Live and train at the training Center. It meant that I had to move away from my parents and live in another city in a big house with 5 of Denmark's biggest talents. A family would take care of all of us and make dinner and so on for us. They lived on the first floor and all the skaters lived in basement and all skaters had their own room. We went to normal school in the day and skated together before and after school/work. We had a national coach and a choreographer to teach us. Besides the ice time, we had to do off-ice, weight training, dancing, running and stretching. We even got massage once week, so we had everything we needed. We paid a small amount each month for living and training at the training center and the rest was paid by the Danish Federation. I lived at the skating center for 4 years then it closed down. It was very expensive to run for the Danish Skating Federation and many skating clubs didn’t like that “their” skaters were taken away from their own coach. I'm so lucky I got to live and train at the skating center and having some good skaters to look up to and train with in a professional environment. We had everything we needed to become good skaters. Some of all the best skaters we have had in Denmark ever are from the time where the Skating Center existed and I would never have achieved the results I have, if I wouldn’t have lived there. It's very difficult to make good skaters in Denmark these days. It's a small country. We do have quite a lot of ice rinks, but we have to share the ice time with ice hockey. All skaters pay a monthly fee to the club and then the trainers give group lessons, so all the skaters have to share the lessons. Not all clubs allow private lessons and the talents are spread between the different clubs instead of all the talents training together at the same place. The sport has also become very expensive, so not all the skaters/parents can afford what it requires if you want to be on a high level. The Danish Skating Federation doesn’t really support the skaters with much money anymore. In Denmark, we have something called TEAM DENMARK, which is an organization who support all the best athletes in Denmark. You need to be a "TOP ELITE" sportsman/woman and place around the top 10 at Europeans or the top 15 at Worlds to get money support from them. I was lucky that I got a lot of money and support from Team Denmark and the Danish Skating Federation from I was 12 years old until I finished my amateur career in year 2000, because my parents would never be able to pay all the money it has cost for my skating. In the 90's, when I started competing at Europeans and Worlds, I combined my training in Denmark with 4 summers in Edmonton, Canada and later 4 summers and also winters in Lake Arrowhead, California, which was great.
Q: You are quite tall for a skater (over 6 feet) yet always seemed to strike such an elegant line on the ice. Did you take a lot of off ice dance training to achieve that kind of poise on the ice or did it just come naturally?
A: I have never done ice dance, but at an early age (12) I started to work with a choreographer at the Skating Center, Lorna Brown. I learned a lot from her and while working with her she showed me many videos with John Curry and Robin Cousins which was very inspiring. I have done classical ballet in a ballet school for 1-2 years in my teenage years and later 4 years of show dance in a real dance company. It was a lot of fun. I have always liked the artistic site of skating and it has always come naturally to me. You either have it in you - how to move - or you don’t. It’s correct that I’m a tall skater. I’m lucky my body turned out to look presentable on the ice. Ballet training has helped a lot. I have been lucky to work with some really great choreographers throughout my career who have made some great programs for me and helped me to become a better artistic skater. I see myself having the same kind of style as John Curry and Robin Cousins (tall and long lines) and I have several times been compared to both Robin and John Curry. One of the nicest compliments I ever got was from the English commentators on Eurosport, Simon Reed and Chris Howarth. They once said on TV while covering Europeans, after my program, that my performance was like turning back the time to John Curry.
Q: You were always known for your creativity during your programs and worked with choreographers like Igor Bobrin, who toured with his own ice theatre and his wife Natalia Bestemianova and her partner Andrei Bukin, who were very theatrical skaters in their own rights. During the 90's when you were competing, there were many skaters showing creativity in their musical and program theme choices but there seems to be a lot of repetition in many of the skaters music choices now. Why did you enjoy going in different directions and why do you think many skaters are playing it safe now?
A: In 1998, I wanted Toller Cranston to do my programs for the Olympics. I was fascinated with his big and extreme movements. He was too expensive, so instead I luckily found out about Igor Bobrin. He had done an excellent program for Krisztina Czako from Hungary, so I really wanted to work with him and he did programs for me my last 2 amateur seasons. I loved working with Igor Bobrin. He was so creative and made it much more fun to skate the programs because he made the programs so original. I admire him and learned a lot from him. He was so great also with mime/facial expressions. I wish I would have worked much more with him. I always chose the music for my programs myself. It's important to choose music you can “feel” and like to skate to. When I skated competition in the 90's not all guys cared so much about the choreography. They were more focused on the technical part. For me, I have always enjoyed the artistic part of skating - the creativity and finding music that I loved to skate to. I had some interesting designers for costumes who made my costumes a bit different and also choreographers who were very creative. I think the last few years much more guys have become much better artistic skaters. It's nice to see. It can be really difficult to find great and new music, so it will be very interesting to see next year when all skaters can skate to music with lyrics.
Q: After turning professional in 2000, you toured with Holiday On Ice. What was this experience like and how did it grow and change your skating?
A: I joined Holiday On Ice in October 2000. I had 9 great years skating with them as a principal skater. I got to see so many places in the world and perform for more then 1 million people during the 9 years. I loved the show biz life because I got to travel even more than when I did competitions. It was great to entertain people... the spotlights, the money... and I became an even better artistic skater because I could focus more on entertaining than only on the difficult jumps from competitions. I got to work with Robin Cousins as the choreographer when I was a principal skater in his show. It was so cool to work with him because I had always admired his skating and his style and I really admire all his work creating fantastic shows. He was an amazing performer and choreographer with his unique, different details to many of the simple steps. It was also great to work with the other choreographers I worked with during the 9 years with Holiday On Ice.
Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?
A; I have more than 3! First of all, John Curry and Robin Cousins for the nice lines and amazing skating, steps and control on the ice. Everything fits perfect to the music! Brian Boitano is my favourite technical skater for his perfect jumps. I really love to watch Kurt Browning also. He is an amazing entertainer on the ice. From the newer skaters, I really like Michal Brezina and Patrick Chan. I also love to watch programs that Lori Nichol has choreographed. I really love her choreography.
Q: When was the last time you were on the ice?
A: My last performance as a professional was in 2009 with Holiday On Ice... but in December 2012 the Danish Skating Federation asked me to skate a number for their 100 Year Jubilee, so I did that.
Q: What is your current involvement in the sport and what keeps you the most busy in life these days?
A: Since January 2011, I am a head coach at a skating club in Copenhagen, so I'm on the ice 6 days a week teaching. I'm also sometimes commentating on Eurosport TV which is a lot of fun.
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