by Anne Calder | Photos by Robin Ritoss
Juulia Turkkila & Matthias Versluis each skated singles at the international level for almost a decade and in 2016, they became ice dance partners. The couple recently won gold at the 2019 Finnish National Championships. They shared their skating thoughts and goals with IDC.
IDC: When you were younger, did you participate in other sports? What made you choose figure skating?
JT: I was dancing ballet before I started figure skating. When I was 13 years old, I had to choose which one I would like to focus on. At that point there was no possibility to do them both with full power. I really loved dancing ballet, but I kind of knew from the very beginning that figure skating was the thing I would like to do the most. The feeling when you are gliding on the ice is very unique and I love the fact that you can combine art and athleticism in skating.
MV: Sports, beside from figure skating, that I participated in when I was younger were: gymnastics, tennis, ice hockey and dancing (hip-hop). I also started taking guitar lessons when I was 8 years old. I decided to pursue figure skating because it felt like the right choice for me. I loved that I could express myself through movement the same time as performing difficult and physically demanding tricks on the ice. In a way it was like combining dancing with gymnastics. The speed was also one thing that got me. I’ve always enjoyed the feeling you get when going fast.
IDC: You were each a competitive single skater for almost 10 years. What are some of your best memories from those years?
JT: There are a lot of good memories. Overall the best memories are from competitions where you have done your best and succeeded. I really enjoyed and appreciated all the possibilities to compete in the European and World Championships. Especially, I remember my first Europeans and Worlds, when I was 16 years old. Everything was so big and new for me. I was really enjoying competing in front of a big audience.
MV: Winning the Finnish Nationals 2014 and also being the first Finnish figure skater to land a quad jump in competition, would have to be some of my best memories. Competing at Junior Worlds in Minsk and Milan are also pretty high up on the list.
IDC. Nearly three years ago, you both switched to ice dance. What made you change disciplines? How did your partnership come about?
JT: I had many injuries in my last years as single skater. They affected my training and I was not able to practice my jumps the way I would have wanted. I was following ice dance back then. I had always wanted to try it, but I was thinking that I would be too old to start a career in a whole new discipline. In the beginning of 2016, I had an injury, which kept me off ice for couple of months. I was thinking about my options as a skater and I felt that I would have much more to give as an ice dancer than as a single skater. I was in touch with Maurizio [Margaglio] and told him about my situation and feelings. He was very supportive from the very beginning. We discussed about possible partners and Matthias was our first option. Matthias was open to try ice dance with me.
MV: Ice dancing had already been something I was interested in. As a single skater, I slowly started to lose motivation and didn’t enjoy practicing as much as before. The fact that I was mostly practicing alone, with no other skaters on the ice, was pretty hard and probably one of the factors why I started to lose motivation. When Juulia contacted me to try ice dancing with her, I was very excited and eager to try. After a little time doing both disciplines, I decided to change completely to ice dance because I enjoyed it more. It was a new challenge and I saw great potential in us as a couple.
IDC: As partners and individuals, what has been your biggest ice dance challenge?
JT: To have only couple of years’ experience in ice dance, I feel the partnering skills are the biggest challenge. Of course, the ice dance technique is still new and there are a lot of things to work on in that aspect as well. In future, I want to develop myself as a skater to be more powerful in my skating and expression.
MV: Skating together, in the same direction with the same speed has been one of the biggest challenges and still something we are working hard on. In the beginning, a big challenge for me was to adapt to having someone skate so close to you.
IDC: The pattern dance this season is Tango Romantica, which has proven to be difficult for teams this eason. Tell us about how you have prepared for it? What is your overall feeling about the dance?
JT/MV: We started to work on the pattern dance early Spring already. At first, the dance felt very difficult indeed, but we really enjoyed training it. Still being pretty new to ice dance, we had some problems when we were learning the dance, because it’s very technical. The dance was a great challenge for us and has helped us reach a new level in partnering skills. Over time, we have started to enjoy the dance even more and we love to practice it.
IDC: Tell us about your free dance to music by Mozart. What is the story you are creating? Who choreographed it?
JT/MV: Juulia suggested to skate to the music by Mozart. It felt like really good music for us to show our strengths. The story for the free dance was created with Massimo Scali, who also choreographed it. The story we are trying to create is about a hummingbird falling in love with a flower.
IDC: Juulia, your skating shows off your ballet training. Tell us about your dance experiences. How have they helped in ice dancing?
JT: At the age of six, I started dancing ballet in Ballet School at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet. The school was very intensive, and I had practices five days a week since I was eight years old. Beside practices, the students had possibilities to take part in the Finnish National Opera and Ballet productions. I think the ballet school gave me a really good base for skating and dancing in general.
IDC: What was it like skating at your first Grand Prix in Helsinki in front of a home audience?
JT: I was thrilled and honored to skate our first Grand Prix in front of the supportive home audience. I felt very grateful to have that kind of opportunity. At the same time, I felt excited but calm. I was definitely enjoying every moment of it!
MV: I felt pretty nervous before the competition. The crowd was very supporting and gave great energy to us once our names were called. Overall, it was a great experience and we were very happy with our performances.
IDC: What has been your happiest skating experience?
JT: It’s really hard to pick one. Of course, I remember how happy I was when the first time I represented Finland at European and World Championships when I was single skater and how happy I was back then. But in general, I feel I have been much more relaxed and enjoyed skating after I switched to ice dance. Thinking of these past two years makes me smile. I’m really looking forward what the future will bring.
MV: I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience many happy moments through figure skating. When I was younger I absolutely loved going on summer camps. It was a time to have fun with friends abroad at the same time as pursuing my passion. Looking back, I would have to say that winning the national championships would have to be one of the happiest skating experience so far, but I think the best is yet to come.
IDC: What do you enjoy most about competing at events in other cities?
JT: It’s really interesting to see different kind of cultures. Also, always when I’m traveling to new places I like to walk around and see the city. To have the possibility to go to places you would maybe never imagine going is the best. For example, being able to have experienced Japan and Kazakhstan is incredible.
MV: Being able to see a lot of skating friends and also walking around the city and getting the chance to see and discover new places.
IDC: Susanna Rahkamo & Petri Kokko are the most well-known Finnish ice dancers. Have you watched any of their videos? Have you had an opportunity to work with them?
J/MV: Rahkamo & Kokko are a big inspiration for us. Without them, ice dancing would maybe not exist in Finland. We have of course seen many of their programs. We haven’t had the opportunity to work with them on the ice yet, but they are regularly in contact with our coach, Maurizio, giving us feedback and great tips for the future.
IDC: What current ice dance teams do you admire the most? Why?
JT: The one couple I’m looking up the most is Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron. They make every single step and movement look so easy. Their skating is so natural and the harmony between them is incredible. This season, I have also loved watching Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov’s skating. I think they have great programs.
MV: I admire many teams. Papadakis & Cizeron is one team I really admire, because of their ability to make everything look so smooth and effortless. Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin, and Sinitsina & Katsalapov are also teams I look up too. Both have great energy and are really enjoyable to watch.
IDC: What do you enjoy doing when not skating and training?
JT: There is not a lot of free time, since I’m also studying economics at Aalto University. Usually, when I’m not skating and training, I’m doing school work, but when I do have free time, I like to see my friends, go to movies, have some brunch and just relax.
MV: I study to be a physiotherapist, so a lot of the time, when I’m not on the ice goes towards studying. When I have free time, I enjoy seeing my friends and doing different activities with them. After a hard day of work, I enjoy sitting on the sofa, watching series or movies.
IDC: What goals have you set as a team?
JT/MV: Goals for this season are to compete at our first European and World Championships together, where we want to reach the finals. Long-term goals are to compete at the Olympics and fight for top spots in the world.