Interview With Alex Johnson

Photograph of American figure skater Alex Johnson
Photo courtesy Jacque Tiegs

In Calgary, Alberta, the world watched and cheered when Liz Manley gave the performance of her career and won the free skate at the 1988 Winter Olympics. In San Jose, California 8 years later, Rudy Galindo pulled a showstopper of his own, winning the 1996 U.S. National title with a career best performance. This year at the 2013 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, Nebraska, a young skater gave a thrilling career best performance of his own. With a breakout performance to his "Eleanor Rigby" free skate, 23 year old Alexander Johnson thrilled the audience and judges alike with a stellar performance and proved that he is among the best, a true contender within the current deep pool of U.S. men in the hunt for world and Olympic berths this season. A former medallist on the novice and junior levels at U.S. Nationals and a silver medallist at the 2013 Challenge Cup in Holland (beating World Champion Brian Joubert in the free skate), Alex has proved that he's a skater to watch closely this season. In this interview, he talked about his performance at 2013 Nationals, work with Tom Dickson, Catarina Lindgren and Sebastien Britten, new programs, goals and much more:

Q: You have competed at the U.S Championships on the novice and junior levels - winning medals in both - before you started competing on the senior level. What did you learn most or take from from these experiences? 

A: The U.S. Championships is always such a fun event and I think being able to go as a novice and junior was such a treat. We were able to go and compete with the best in the U.S. at our level, hang out with kids who shared the same goals and dreams we did, and then stay and watch the Senior events. I can't tell you how many great friends I have made over the years and kept in contact with since. Those experiences definitely motivated me to train as hard as possible so I could be back there year after year. I also think having competed in novice and junior in previous years, eased the transition to senior a little bit as I had a better idea of what to expect when I finally reached the senior level.

Q: Your breakout performance at this year's US National Championships in the free skate was considered by many to be "the skate of the night". Reflecting on that performance, what made it that special to you?

A: As everyone knows, my first three years competing in senior were quite unimpressive both skating and result wise. My long program in 2012 was a step in the right direction, but I never was truly able to put out what I've been capable of. To have the free skate that I did this year at nationals was such a special moment. It was the first time in my life that everything really came together on the big stage and words cannot even begin to describe how surreal it felt. My coaches and I really put in a lot of hard work last season and I think it showed. My Eleanor Rigby free skate will forever have a place in my heart.

Q: Having competed in singles AND pairs, which do you think is your true 'calling'? What do you love both about each discipline?

A: While I loved every minute I skated pairs, I think my true calling is in singles. I truly enjoy the connection pairs skating allows for, and I would love to further explore that aspect of pairs skating someday, whether it be in shows, choreographing, or just for fun. As far as singles goes, I love the personal challenge that it sets forth both physically and mentally.

Photograph of American figure skater Alex Johnson
Photo courtesy Scott Cushman

Q: You've worked with greats like Catarina Lindgren, Tom Dickson and Sebastien Britten. What have each of these people brought to your skating?

A: Sebastien Britten was the first true choreographer I ever worked with. Up until then, my former coach Joan Orvis and I had put together all of my programs. I think my coach and I did a great job developing the artistic side of my skating, but working with Sebastien really exposed me to a broader spectrum of skating styles and movement. It was a great experience! Tom Dickson and his wife Catarina Lindgren were the next choreographers I decided to work with. I originally only worked with Tom for the first year, but then began working with Catarina as I transitioned to them as my head coaches . Not only are they wonderful people, but they are unbelievably gifted at what they do.They both bring unique and fresh approaches to their work, while staying true to the pure essence of skating. I can't even tell you how much I have learned from them about every aspect of skating. The details in which they can describe the simplest of things as well as their knowledge of proper skating technique is something I believe that has really helped take my skating to the next level. They both have extensive skating and dance backgrounds and constantly integrate other forms of art into their work. They have also encouraged me to take dance classes and I've been lucky enough to take classes with various teachers from all over the world. I'm so grateful to work with them!

Q: If you look at skaters like yourself, Jeremy Abbott, Adam Rippon and many others in the men's field and then other skaters who deliver programs that are watered down on the PCS/performance side, there seems to be a bit of a divide between the jumpers and the skaters. Do you think that the PCS is judged in such a way that it truly reflects the quality of a skater's expression and artistry on the ice?

A: I think when the IJS was first implemented, it was hard to really understand a judges PCS marks. As i've learned more and more about how PCS scores are given and what judges are looking for, I do believe that they've become somewhat justifiable and reflective of a skaters expression and artistry on the ice. As well, the judges have become more educated on what to look for collectively as a panel and that helps bring clarity to an otherwise controversial mark. I sometimes do feel though that judges are afraid to truly separate great skating from poor skating. A skater might have awesome skating skills, but a program with no choreography and garner marks of 7.25 for skating skills and 6.5 for choreography. if there is no choreography in the program, then the marks should reflect that. That being said, as the system continues to develop and everyone becomes further educated, I think we will see more appropriate PCS scores.

Q: What can you tell us about your goals for the 2013/2014 season and your programs for this season?

A: For this upcoming season, I would like to continue to develop my skating and really grow even more as a person. I think last season was a great step in the direction that I would like to take my skating. I am working very hard on adding the quad toe to my arsenal as well. My short program this year is to the famous Led Zeppelin song "Stairway to Heaven". It's performed by Rodrigo y Gabriela and it has a flamenco feel to it. I absolutely love it. My free skate is to a variety of film soundtracks, but has a very dark feeling to it. It opens briefly with the beginning of a remix of the "Nightmare On Elm Street" theme song and then goes immediately into two different waltzes. The ending piece is titled "Bernini's Angels".

Photograph of American figure skater Alex Johnson
Photo courtesy Scott Cushman

Q: When you're not on the ice, how do you most love spending your free time?

A: Being from the land of 10,000 lakes, I love spending time on the lake. We don't have many of them here in Colorado so I don't get to water ski, tube, or jet ski very often. Ever since moving to Colorado though, I've fallen in love with Dance and try to get to as many classes as possible. As crazy as our schedules can get, I always enjoy a laid back night hanging out with friends.

Q: Who do you think are the three greatest men's skaters of all time and why?

A: John Curry for his ability to seamlessly combine technical skating with untouchable finesse and artistry. Patrick Chan for his unbelievable skating skills and technical strength. Evgeni Plushenko for his ability to stay at the top of the sport for such a long period of time.

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

A: I have an older sister Shannon, age 25, who used to figure skate as well. She primarily competed in synchronized skating.

Photograph of American figure skater Alex Johnson with coach Tom Dickson
Photo courtesy Scott Cushman

Q: What movies are your all time favorites?

A: I have a tendency to fall asleep during movies, so I don't really have a favorite. I did really enjoy the "Kill Bill" series though.

Q: If you could go back in time and relive any moment in your life again, what would that moment be?

A: I'll be honest, I'd have to say my free skate from the U.S. Championships this year. I'd probably leave out the crying part though, haha.

Q: Why do you love figure skating?

A: I love figure skating as it gives you a sense of freedom when you are out on the ice - a feeling that is difficult to replicate anywhere else.

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