Janse Van Rensburg & Steffan embrace new opportunities

by Matteo Morelli | Photos by Yoriko Suzuki

Germany’s Jennifer Janse Van Rensburg and Benjamin Steffan are enjoying a season that is giving them a lot of new opportunities to show their potential. We sat down with the two time German National Champions after they competed at their first European Championships in Espoo, Finland, where they shared what this season means to them and what they are focusing on towards their future.

Jennifer and Benjamin, thanks for spending some time with us. You competed at your first European Championships, ending in ninth place. What do you take away with you from this competition?

Benjamin Steffan (BS): We feel very good about this, it has been quite a journey to get here for us. This is our first big championship together and reaching that top ten placement means a lot to us. We are very thrilled.

What does this result mean for you in relation to your objectives? 

Jennifer Janse Van Rensburg (JJ): We are quite happy that with the top ten we got two spots for Germany at next year’s European Championships. This year we still have the upcoming World Championships in Japan, a competition that I think is most skaters’ dream and that is also coming true for us. We are quite excited.

Looking at this season, you have taken part in several challenger competitions, you went to the Skate America Grand Prix, and secured a second consecutive title at the German National Championships.

BS: This season has been a big step up for us. We have been able to secure a second national title which meant a lot to us and we have had two medals at challenger competitions (silver at both Denis Ten Memorial and Warsaw Cup), which is a big deal. It gives us the feeling that what we are doing is the right thing and we are not at our limit yet but we can push our abilities to get better and better.

Your free programme is on “Prelude (Age of Heroes)” by Balázs Havasi, a music that includes a choir at the start, followed by a piano and solo voice in the middle, to end with a crescendo. How did you come up with it?

JJ: Our coach (Natalia Karamysheva) heard the music and immediately thought of us. She played it and we instantly loved it! 

BS: That is how we decided on the music, we could really see us performing to that and as team we decided to use it.

Although this is the post-Olympic year, the next Milano-Cortina Olympic Games are not that far. Have you got any ambitions in relation to that?

BS: Yes, we have sat together and talked about the future, and we have decided that we want to go for the Olympic Games in 2026. This is our big goal: we are taking every step that is necessary and that we can take towards it. 

We looked at the present and the future, let’s now go back to the past. You have been skating together since 2016, but before getting there you both had different experiences. Starting with you, Jennifer: you were a single skater for some years until 2014, when you decided to change.

JJ: I changed very late to ice dance. Quite a lot of people said it was too late, but I took that as a challenge. In the last couple of years we came to a point where we finally reached what we were aiming for. It took us a while, I had to commit a lot.

And Benjamin, what is your background?

BS: I have been an ice dancer for quite a long time. I never did solo skating, however I did play ice hockey before that! But that was a long time ago. I started ice dancing when I was ten years old, I have had several partners up until I partnered up with Jenny. I really appreciate every aspect of every partnership that I have had so far. Everything that I have done has taken me closer to where I am, and where we are, right now.

How did you find each other and decided to skate together?

JJ: Actually, we have known each other for quite a long time! We have been friends outside the ice rink too. We have found each other in our basic army course and sport education: our educator knew we were both looking for partners and suggested we tried out. 

While you focus on your competitive career, you are also doing a coaching qualification course. 

BS: Our federation has given us the ability to take a little shortcut, so to say, to that entire education process. Since we are pro athletes, we have to do the same exams, but as far as the educational part goes we don’t have to attend every seminar, which gives us the ability to do the course while we are skating. It is a really good opportunity to do something that we can use later and get a coaching licence while we are skating.

Is this a future aspiration of yours and something you definitely want to do after your competitive career, or is it something you want to have in case you want to take that direction?

BS: I think I speak for the both of us by saying that it is an option, but there has been nothing decided yet. It is definitely a good thing to have because we both share such a big passion for this sport and ice dancing in particular. I could definitely see myself coaching in the future, but it will depend on circumstances.

JJ: It would be nice of course, we are having this experience and we would love to share this with the younger generations.

What are your best memories as a team?

BS: There is not one memory in particular, but one thing I really appreciate about our partnership is that it is not just a work relationship, but also a good friendship. We have managed to go through so many ups and downs together and that means a lot to me.

JJ: I agree with that! This is the most valuable thing to have, if you are outside of the rink you can also do stuff together and not avoiding or fighting each other. I really appreciate our relationship!