Zoe Jones: It is never too late to fulfill your dreams and be happy
Interview with British skater Zoe Jones, who didn’t go to the Nagano Olympics due to injury, then left sports, got married and gave birth to three children, but 13 years later returned – this time to pair skating.
by Marina Tchernysheva-Melnik for matchtv.ru dd. 24th February 2020
Zoe, when and why did you get engaged in figure skating?
– Parents brought me to the rink, which opened next to the house. The first and so far the only skating rink in my native Swindon (a city in Wiltshire. – ed). I was about six years old. At the same time I was engaged in rhythmic gymnastics, participated in local competitions. Every day I went to trainings early in the morning, then to school and again to trainings. At the age of 10, I realized that I love figure skating and it’s better to focus on it. Doing two sports was very expensive for my family.
How popular is figure skating in the UK? I recall the dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, Sinead and John Kerr.
– We also have other famous skaters: Jeanette Altwegg (Olympic champion), Robin and Steven Cousins, Stacey Kemp and David King, Jenna McCorkell. Recently, dancers Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland completed their careers. Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson are great at international competitions. But I can’t say that figure skating is popular in my country. The competitions are mainly watched by the friends and relatives of the skaters. There are people who are interested, they even travel to neighboring countries to watch competitions and shows. But not as many as in Russia and Japan. And since childhood I have been a fan: I watched all the championships and the Olympics. I remember my brother was even angry, because I occupied the TV for many evenings.
Tell us about your first coach, Leslie Norfolk.
– Mrs. Norfolk also performed in pairs with her husband John Petch. We met at the rink, and I worked with her until the age of 17. With her, I won my first junior competitions, national championships. Mrs. Norfolk still works as a coach at our home ice rink.
In the 90s you competed as a single skater. How successful?
– I participated in various competitions – both local and international. I went to the Grand Prix, qualified for the European Championships and twice for the World championships. I am also a two-time national champion. I didn’t get this title easily, I’ve been going for it for several years.
Many athletes talk about the special responsibility of knowing that they represent the country’s flag at the international arena.
– Oh, I was very proud! But I always put too much pressure on myself, was upset because of poor results, because I knew that I was able to perform on equals with other girls. I gained inner confidence only for a couple of months – when I qualified for the Olympics (1998. – ed). But soon I got injured, recovery took a long time … And depression came again. I recovered, then fell ill again. Like walking in a circle. But now everything is different: my life is settled, and I just skate for pleasure. After so many years, I got what young Zoe desired so much.
What injury prevented you from participating in the Olympics?
– Before Nagano, I had to compete at the national championship to confirm my place in the national team. Just then, I had problems with my hamstring, and the doctor injected cortisol so I could skate. But it didn’t help and the pain did not go away. The trip was canceled, and I also missed the next season. A year later, I returned with a new coach, won the UK nationals in 2000 and 2001. Then new injuries tortured me, I could not train for months. Because of stress, I began to lose weight, and a serious health threat arose. Therefore, in 2001, I left the sport.
What was the happiest moment of the first part of your career?
– At the UK Nationals in 2000, I performed the entire free program without mistakes. I remember I was very nervous until the last second. The same emotions were in October 1997, when I found out that I was going to the Olympics. Specific medals and competitions are not so important in my career. Happiness is in the moments.
As far as I know, after leaving sports you became a coach in Canada.
– Yes, I went overseas with my husband. We met in Scotland, where I temporarily moved in the late 90’s for the best training conditions. My future husband played for the local hockey team. He is Canadian, he was invited to work as a foreigner. In general, many Canadians play in British hockey clubs today. We got married, and after a while he suggested returning to his homeland. So in 2002, I moved to another continent, got a job there by profession. Then I gave birth and devoted myself to the family. When my husband and I divorced, I returned home to Swindon.
Tell us about your children.
– I have two twin daughters, Zarah and Zinia (12 years old) and son Zkai (7 years old). All of them are also skating, daughters have already qualified for the national competition of the Novice level. They are coached by Christopher, my partner, and I do the choreography. We decided with the children that I would not be their personal coach. Family is not the best combination on ice.
Why did you decide to return after so many years?
– After the birth of my son in 2012, I started to skate a little to get back in shape. I had the ice because I worked as a coach at my hometown ice rink, and in my spare minutes I tried to make elements myself. First, occasionally, then more and more. I wanted to strive for something. I was inspired by the example of Midori Ito, who was the first to perform several difficult jumps and combinations in competitions and returned to amateur sports after a long break and skated on the same ice with young rivals. When I found out that Midori is competing in ISU adult competitions in Oberstdorf, I realized that I also want to. All the years while I was engaged in children, I felt that I shouldn’t have finished with figure skating. I knew that I was capable of more.
And at the age of 34, you decided to take a chance …
– Of course, the easiest way was to return to the ice and skate for pleasure. But in my youth I was a competitive athlete, so I longed for achievements. In May 2014, I went to competitions for adult skaters in Oberstdorf and showed two programs: the usual one (with jumps and spins) and the artistic one, where the emphasis is on artistry, interpretation of music. I won and continued to train harder, trying triple jumps. Soon, I posted a video on my social network page where I land a complete set of triple jumps. Friends said, “Why don’t you return to sports?” This was the final incentive to resume my career. In early 2016, I performed at the UK Nationals and took second place. Perhaps this was the most nervous competition in my life. I didn’t want to look stupid, I was afraid that people would laugh if I skated badly. But I showed two great programs and was very happy to return after a 14-year pause and finally prove to myself that I can do it!
Wasn’t afraid to compete with skaters who were half your age?
– No, I did not think about age and rivals. It was scary only to take the decisive step – to return to sport after many years, overcoming internal barriers and stereotypes. But after a small achievement, I thought about the prospects. The level of ladies single skating is very high now, and I realized that I did not belong in the highest international level.
How did you decide to do pairs? This is the most traumatic kind of figure skating.
– As a girl, I dreamed of pair skating, I loved to watch the lifts and throws. However, there were no suitable partner in the country. I tried to skate with one guy, the champion of Great Britain. But the federation had plans for me as a single skater, so we were not allowed. Four years ago, I was scared to learn new positions, to rebuild my body. But I am a brave girl and trust my partner.
Tell us how you met the Frenchman Christopher Boyadji?
– The first time I met Chris in Oberstdorf: he trained there with a previous partner. We crossed paths again in 2015 when I returned to the sport. Soon after, I saw a post on Facebook that Christopher parted with his partner and was looking for a new one. I gathered all my courage and texted him. Explained that I understand my age and marital status, but I want to skate and I can be a good partner. Chris replied that he needed time to think. I took it for a polite refusal.
A few months later I receive a message asking: am I still interested? Of course, I agreed and agreed on a trip to London. The try-out went great, but I still was shocked when I was offered a skate with Christopher. I could not believe that someone would want to skate with me. I told Chris that I could not leave Swindon, my children and their established lifestyle. Partner agreed to settle in my city. My dream has come true, and since then, along with Boyadji we have been moving towards common goals.
Who is coaching your pair?
– Basically, we do everything ourselves. This is very difficult, because we skate on the same ice with a lot of adult skaters. Every day we train children and manage to do it ourselves while my children are at school. It’s hard to keep motivation, but we try. Sometimes Katerina Papadakis comes (mother of the world champion and silver medalist of the Olympic Games 2018 in ice dancing. – ad), helps us to work on programs.
We train from 6 to 8 in the morning, then we hurry to take the children to the school. We return to the rink and work from 9:30 to 11:30. We practice outside the ice, and then again on ice for 45 minutes. Then I return to school for the children, take them to the ice rink where they do homework. Next, Chris and I train students, and then we do athletics with my children. As a result, everyone returns home at about 8 pm where we quickly have dinner and go to bed. But I do not complain, everything is fine.
What competitions have you took part in this season?
– Grand Prix in USA, UK Nationals, Bavarian Open in Oberstdorf. This is my lucky city: I skated there in childhood, then won the first competitions after a long break.
Olympic champion Aliona Savchenko lives in Oberstdorf. Are you in touch with each other?
– We communicate well with Aliona, many things unite us. Her husband Liam is also British, and her partner Bruno is Christopher’s best friend. We were very worried about them at the Olympics, did not sleep at night, watched the live broadcast. Aliona and Bruno deserved this victory like no one else! During the competitions in Oberstdorf we stayed in their house, this year we were glad to meet their daughter.
How do your relatives and friends react to all this news?
– They cry with happiness for my success. And I react emotionally, rejoice each performance. I get a lot of good comments from compatriots and figure skating fans from around the world. People write that I inspire them with my example. Adult women see that a career does not end with the birth of children. It is never too late to fulfill your dreams and be happy. Sport can be combined with motherhood if you believe in yourself.
It seems to me that you are so happy in sports that you are ready to skate your whole life.
– Oh, I don’t know. The ice does not let me go. Last season, when there were injuries, Christopher and I were thinking of retirement. Training conditions are also too difficult. But I didn’t want to leave on a bad note. We agreed to go to the World championships in Saitama, and it turned out to be the best competition in my life. Now we are preparing for Montreal. Although it’s already difficult for me to jump due to age, my back is weak, but I want to continue to skate.
What will you do after saying goodbye to sports?
– Christopher and I will devote ourselves to coaching. We want to develop pair skating in the UK, raise champions. Now we are looking for a partner for my daughter, although this is difficult, because the British skaters are not particularly interested in pair skating. And my son is unlikely to become a pair skater – he isn’t tall enough, but he jumps quickly and high. Let him succeed in single skating. I hope that I will be a worthy example for my children and make them happy. But do not rush to see Chris and I retire, wait us at competitions!