Q & A with Justyna Plutowska & Peter Gerber

PLUT-GER-FT-JK6361Photos by Julia Komarova

Poland’s Justyna Plutowska & Peter Gerber will finish their second season together at this week’s World Championships. This season has been successful for the Polish duo with a gold medal at the Bavarian Open and a 16th-place finish at the European Championships. Justyna & Peter took a few minutes to sit down with ice-dance.com to discuss their partnership and their season.

IDC: Tell us how your started your skating career.
JP: My figure skating journey started when I was 3 or 4 years old, and when my dad (and later also my coach) took me to the skating arena. He wanted to see how will I manage on the ice. I don’t remember that first time, because I was so young, but I’m pretty sure that it was amazing to be there, to watch those great skaters and to be with them. I’m so grateful for the opportunity that my parents gave me. They made the best decision.

PG: I started skating because my mom had two little boys at home and we were a handful I guess; she wanted to keep us busy after school. One year I got plastic rollerblades for Christmas, I didn’t want to take them off.  Then winter came, so she thought I may like skating as well. I loved it from the first moment I stepped on the ice. I was 6 or 7.

IDC: How did you form your partnership?

PG: I skated with another partner for 12 years, (last two of those representing Poland – I have dual citizenship); when my partner quit, I had to find someone else.

Justyna just parted ways with her former partner in Poland with whom she was training for about 6 years. When I called the Polish Skating Association with the news of my own split-up, they said, “Give us few days and call us back.”

They approached Justyna with this idea of skating with a guy from Canada. I guess she didn’t think about it long, because when I called back few days later, I was told to start packing; they wanted me to move to Poland to train with her. I never met her before; she may have seen me at a JGP in Gdansk with Baily. Justyna trained there all her life – her dad is a coach at the club we represent. This truly was the best thing that could have happened. Three months later, I was on my way to Poland. Believe me… I had to “polish” my Polish fast.

JP: During the last two years, Peter and I have spent a lot more time together than we did with our families. We have the same goals and dreams, and we work together to achieve those goals. I’m very happy that Peter and I found each other; it’s great to have a partner I can count on.

PLUTGER-14FTJK6504IDC: Training in Novi (Michigan) allows you to train with one of the top coaches in the world, Igor Shpilband, as well as train with other top teams. What is the environment like and do you motivate each other?

JP: We spend most of the season in Novi, in the United States. We have a great opportunity to train with the top coaches along with Igor Shpilband, the best in the world. Being there in Novi, we train with teams from all over the world; that in itself is an inspiration and gives us strength to better ourselves. It’s an incredible feeling to be a part of the Novi team.

At the Novi Ice Arena, in Michigan, off-ice conditioning facilities are right next door, and our apartment is just a short walk away. It feels like a “base camp” to us. The other teams also live in the same area, so we try to get together on the weekends in the summer as often as we can. 

The training environment is so different than what I was used to at Mariposa. It’s intense in a very positive way. We all come from and represent different countries, and we all compete against one another. But training together with Igor and (Barbara Fusar Poli – in the summer) we are all just: “Novi Team.” It’s like family. Igor truly is an amazing coach; strict but also supportive and positive; and having other teams there, we all learn from each other. 

It’s a great opportunity for relatively new team like us to train with some of the best teams in the world. When we skated at Worlds in London last year, there were 6 other teams from Novi. We stepped on that ice, and the first thing we saw was this huge poster: GO NOVI TEAM! It was for us, too; we were part of the great group of people, great team from day one.

IDC:  Tell us about this season. 

JP: This was our second season together, and it was very positive. We were very happy about our 16th place at the Europeans last month. We now know that our hard work does not go unnoticed. We were thrilled to stand on the podium with Tessa [Virtue] & Scott [Moir] and Madison [Chock] & Evan [Bates], at the Finlandia Trophy in Espoo. It was an exceptional distinction for both of us, as was our first international gold at the Bavarian Open in Oberstdorf a few weeks ago. It’s the most wonderful feeling to stand on that podium and hear your own national anthem.

This season, our main goal was to qualify for the Olympics in Oberstdorf, Germany; we came close, but unfortunately, two of the judges felt that we were not ready yet. We are still committed to finish this season strong. It was an amazing feeling to stand there on the podium in Espoo, next to Tessa & Scott and Madison & Evan; we were very happy about that.

Finishing 16th at Europeans with Justyna felt great! And this gold we got two weeks later in Oberstdorf at the Bavarian Open… that was even better! Justyna was happy about going home to Poland right after that, so we were excited. I guess that excitement helped us focus and get season’s best scores. I stood there listening to the Polish anthem that was played at this type of an event for the first time in 19 year. I couldn’t help but think back to the time we first started skating together in 2012, and realize how far we’ve come. 

Our relationship on and off the ice has improved so much, our work ethic and all those same goals. Last season, we got the technical scores and got to skate at the World Championships in London, Ontario, but we didn’t make it to the final. It was our first big event, just a few months into training with Igor. We were a brand new team, with a new coach. This was a great experience for us, but let’s be honest, we really didn’t do that well. Looking back, we know now that it was just a starting point.

IDC: Who came up with the music/theme concepts for your programs this season?

JP: It took us awhile to find just the right music for our Short Dance this season; we didn’t want this to be just any piece of music. My music collection is growing, so when I came across “Le Jazz Hot” and Bubble’s “Fever,” I suggested that combination to Peter and Coach Igor; they both liked it. Then we tried it out on the ice to see if it will in fact suit our characters. We loved the feel of it, so it stayed. Our “Artist” Free Dance stayed the same from the previous season. Last year, when we started in seniors, we never had a chance to showcase it at the Worlds or Europeans. So this being the Olympic year, we decided to keep it, just tweaking it a bit to make it better. 

IDC: What are the greatest lessons that skating has taught you?
JP: Skating has taught me discipline and organization most of all. It made me brave and shaped my character. It’s thanks to skating I am the way I am. 

I’ve learned that sometimes things happen for a reason, that we need to know what we want, be focused and have faith. One of the most difficult moments of my life was when Baily quit skating. For the first time in 12 years I was without a partner; I had no idea what to do next. Today, looking back, I realize that someone else’s decision gave me this incredible opportunity to move on and start new. Today I’m in Novi with a great partner, training with the best coach in the world, and enjoying every moment on that ice.

IDC: What are your goals for the remainder of the season and next season?
JP: The last event of this season for us will be the World Championships in Japan. Of course our goal is the best possible outcome and, most of all, we want to get into the top 20 to skate the free program. As for our next seasons, the goals and focus remains the same. We want to climb that “world rankings” ladder as far up as we can go.

PG:  Our job this year was to get out there and get noticed by the judges; I hope we did just that.

We’re going to the World Championships in Japan and we want to be in the final. We know what it takes to get there, we’ve done it at Europeans, so we want to keep the momentum going and have the best season we’ve ever had in our skating careers (both together and separately). It’s been a long year for us; counting Worlds, we would have 10 competitions under our belt this season. We are also looking forward to working on our new programs for next season. (Our FD has been skated enough). I’m sure Igor will have some interesting suggestions for us. Our goal is to improve and progress in our skills and abilities with every competition that we enter next season.

IDC: What has been your favorite skating memory so far?
JP: There are so many beautiful memories; it’s tough to choose just one! Every day, every month, each new season creates new adventures and new memories.

PG: I have to elaborate on this a bit more than Justyna. I have one cool memory but is has nothing to do with being on the ice, but rather a great encounter with one person in the skating world. At the end of the World Championships in London last year, we went out to a club with most of the ice dancers. It was my 21st birthday, and I was so happy to be competing at Worlds. We were all talking, dancing, and just having FUN. I started dancing with anyone who was willing! I walked over to this beautiful blonde woman and asked her to dance… it wasn’t until after I got her into the middle of the floor that I realized, “OMG, I’m dancing with Joannie Rochette!” Of course I didn’t say that out loud, but WOW. I was at a loss for words, if only for a moment though. I collected myself, and tried my best not to screw up. Joannie Rochette! I was star struck! That made my season. No. My year! And the next. 😉

IDC: How do you spend your time off the ice?
JP: I love to spend free time with my family and friends; they are most important people in my life. That’s why when I’m home I try to spend as much time with them as possible. I also love to travel, explore new places, and discover the beauty I haven’t seen before; but when that’s not possible, I enjoy a good book or an interesting movie.

PG: In the summer months, even thou we still train; I love to be outside, spending time with my girl Kaley and her family (my family is back in Canada); I enjoy running or mountain biking down trails in Michigan with my training mate Deivis Stagniunas (LUT). I’m learning how to play the guitar, and I’ve recently been dipping my toes (carefully) into the stock market.

IDC: Post skating career what are your plans
JP: Looking back, I think that my entire life was focused on figure skating and it looks like it will not change. My education is also important, that’s why in the next few months, I hope to finalize my sports management undergraduate studies at the Gdansk University. I don’t know if that will be my profession some day; but I know for sure that sport will always be in my future one way or the other. I have a lot of plans, furthering my education in the psychology field, perhaps sport development and nutrition… all I need is time.

PG: For now I would like to focus a bit on school again; I’m working towards a career in the field of Police Computer Forensics – I started out in the Computer Networking & Security program at Georgian Collage back in Barrie, but schooling has been put on hold for the past 2 years… I am hoping to pick it back up this year, perhaps enroll in a school in Michigan, just like other skaters from Canada. I’ve been skating since I was 7 years old. The things I’ve learned from my coaches, parents, and myself over the years have stacked up. I would like to share this with others who have the same kind of passion for skating as I do. After everything is said and done, I would like to coach skating like I used to back home, maybe not exclusively, just as a side order on my plate of possibilities.