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Interview With John Hamer

Photograph of British Figure Skating Champion John Hamer
Nigel Sutton photo

Making the transition from competitor to show skater to coach isn't always easy for every skater, but 3 time British Champion John Hamer is one skater that was able to do it with ease. I can certainly relate with John Hamer starting his skating career at age 11 (which is relatively late in the skating world), having started later than most skaters myself. Success was at every turn for this determined skater, transitioning from winning the British junior men's title in 2003 to moving from 9th in his senior debut at British Nationals the following year to winning the British National Championships the following three years and represeting his country in 2 World Championships, 3 European Championships and other international competitions. After retiring in 2007, John Hamer went on to skate professionally, touring with the Russian All Stars for 3 years and skating in Kyran Bracken's Ice Party. Now in his 3rd year of coaching at Alexandra Palace in North London, England, Hamer's passion for the sport is certainly as much there as it ever was. I was fortunate enough to organize this interview with him:

Q: You are a 3 time British National Champion (2005-2007). What was your favourite and least favourite part about competing?

A: Looking back, my favourite part about competing would probably be the times when you know in your head that you're ready to go on that day. Sometimes you have to compete before you feel ready but that's sport. Those times you stand the there just before your music comes on, you have a complete moment of clarity about the next few minutes. Sometimes elements work - and sometimes they don't. But that calm when you're standing there is a great feeling that you only have a few times in your career. My least favourite thing would be when you can't compete - when you're injured or when you're ill. I made the mistake of competing when injured because I couldn't stand to not be out there. Because of that, I now have a few recurring injuries. Skaters must listen to their bodies - if they are injured, they must rest. Skating and competing is only a small part of your life and to cause a problem for yourself when you stop competing is just not worth it.

Q: Great Britain is rich in figure skating tradition, producing such skating stars as Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, John Curry and Robin Cousins. Who is your favourite British skater?

A: It has to be Steve Cousins - he was British Champion when I started skating in 96/97. He was - and still is - a great ambassador for the Sport and a great competitor too! He competed at Olympic Games, which is a massive achievement for a British male skater! I was fortunate enough to be able to work with Steve in a show a few years back and he is one of the nicest guys in the sport. And, of course, an excellent skater!

Q: You twice represented Britain at the World Figure Skating Championships. What was the experience of skating at Worlds like for you?

A: The experience of competing at Worlds and Europeans is unlike no other. At the time, it was a whirlwind of practice ice and competition with more lights, people and TV cameras than I had ever seen before. I was fortunate enough to compete - and share practice ice - with World and European Champions such as Brian Joubert and Evgeni Plushenko. You learn so much from just being around skaters of that calibre. My first two Senior International competitions were actually Europeans and Worlds, both in 2005. Many people forget that I was not given an International competition in the 2004 season and left to my own devices. I believe this hindered my ability somewhat, as I was an unknown skater to the International judges. I did qualify at both of my World Championships but didn't skate brilliantly in the short programs, meaning I never made it to the final day. Watching worlds on TV since I stopped competing, I now understand how well I actually performed. At the time, though, it was extremely disappointing to not make finals day and you feel like you've let a lot of people down - parents, coaches, friends and family...

Q: You are now involved in coaching other skaters. What was the transition from competing to coaching other skaters like for you? What advice would you give people interested in getting involved in coaching?

A: I made the transition from skating to shows and then to coaching, so the transition is quite easy. Shows helped me understand more about performance quality and I feel I am able to better choreograph programs. The best thing for any good skater who thinks they would like to coach later in life is to complete their mentoring early and keep up with the eligibility paperwork. That way, when the time comes to stop competing (and it does happen to everyone despite what you think when you are a competitor!) you should be good to go immediately. Try to keep a record of your skating achievements and show them to the rink managers when you apply for jobs. If you've succeeded as an athlete, I feel it makes you better equipped to help skaters with a good potential. Also, don't lose sight of how difficult things can be (and actually were!) for you when you were learning. Very often you see that coaches don't appreciate the difficulty of some skating moves and lose patience with skaters. Be patient with students, too - anyone who thinks it's natural to lace thick leather boots with sharpened knives on the bottom is a little crazy! Let people try different styles of skating. Finally if, as a coach, you're unsure of the answer to a question or a problem, don't be afraid to ask for help! I work with four or five different coaches at Alexandra Palace, which also helps me learn more - resulting in my skaters improving quicker.

Q: Professional figure skating enjoyed a huge boom in the 1990's but the world of professional figure skating competitions and shows have waned in popularity. What are your thoughts on this and would you ever compete if professional competitions made a resurgence?

A: I think that professional competitions are very interesting and could make a comeback but unfortunately, Joe Bloggs is more interested in reality TV stars rather than sporting stars... If there was enough funding (sponsorship/advertising) I think it could find a place on TV. If there were ever such an event, I would be tempted by it. I'm actually tempted by the British Adult Championships but now, my job is to train others to achieve the highest level in their skating possible…

Q: How can the judging of figure skating be improved?

A: The judging in figure skating is better than ever with the IJS system. Skating is - and always will be - subjective, so you can never change a person's point of view. But so long as things continue to evolve from year to year, the scoring and judging can only get better.

Q: Dancing On Ice is huge in Britain and has really brought figure skating into the forefront like never before. What do you think makes the show so successful and which celebrity would you love to see compete someday who hasn't yet?

A: Dancing on Ice is a big success solely because of Jayne and Chris. Without their Olympic success and Chris's ingenuity and choreography, the show would not be as successful. I think we as a country are obsessed with celebrity and a lot of these shows are now just regurgitating reality TV personalities from one show to another. I'd like to see proper celebrities who have become successful through an actual skill rather than just being on Big Brother or The Only Way is Essex taking part instead.

Q: You toured with the Russian All Stars. Tell us a bit about this show and what makes it so unique.

A: Russian Ice Stars was a very unique experience, in that I was the only British performer to work with them. I even had to learn basic Russian to communicate, which was fun! They had a number of performers with special talents - one of which was to jump on a very small pad of ice. It took a while for me to get used to jumping under spotlights and on a theatre stage but after a few performances, I was able to jump triples on ice as small as 8x8 metres. Cirque de Glacé was a brilliant show put on by the company mixing circus performers with ice skaters and live music. I was very fortunate to be with that show from the very first day of rehearsals - and to go on to become one of the only original performers.

Q: Where is one place you would love to travel someday?

A: I'm planning on venturing to base camp at Mount Everest for my 30th birthday. This is quite a big excursion, so I am saving money now and trying to acquire the correct kit as I go, since some of the clothing required is quite expensive.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":