FIGURE SKATING: In Ice Dancing, a perfectly constructed performance is one that looks effortless. But an effortless performance is the results of tireless hours on the ice over countless weeks, months and years.
The vibrant duo of Danielle O’Brien and Greg Merriman will see the fruits of their labour when they compete for Australia in the Ice Dancing in the second week of the Games. And working just as hard behind the scenes is their coach, Massimo Scali.
Growing up in the small town of Monterotondo on the outskirts of Rome, Scali took up skating as a 10-year-old and loved it from the moment he stepped out onto the ice.
He went on to have a long 22-year career skating for Italy, and qualified for their first Olympics just months after pairing up with partner Federica Faiella in 2001. They went on to compete at home in Torino in 2006 and then in Vancouver in 2010 where they recorded their best result of fifth.
The pair also won two silver medals at the European Championships and bronze at the 2010 World Championships, at home in Torino.
A series of injuries to both Scali and Faiella saw their careers come to a close in 2011 and it was time to look ahead to new opportunities.
“I decided after my career to stay in the US where I was training at the Detroit Skating Club in Michigan and start coaching,” Scali said.
“It has been a pretty amazing experience for me. I started just three years ago and everything is pretty new for me but it is so exciting but I love it. I didn’t know if I would, but I love it.
Scali said that at first he found the transition from athlete to coach a tough one.
“It was a little hard at the beginning,” the 34-year-old said. “It was hard to not be focused just on myself. It took a little bit to find my way. I loved the coaching side from the beginning but I think that my personal journey was a little longer to really find myself again. I’m still in skating and surrounded by skaters, but my life changed a lot.”
One of the highlights in Scali’s short coaching career so far has been working with the Aussie duo of O’Brien and Merriman.
The pair secured their spot at the Games at the final qualification event in Germany last September.
“Oh my god, I don’t even know if I can describe that competition,” Scali said with excitement. “I actually am usually pretty good in competition when they skate. I am not really stressed out. But at the competition I was really stressed. I knew that they could make it. In the last few years they improved so much, not just on their technique but their confidence. But they did a great job. I was probably more happy for them than when I qualified for the Olympics.”
Scali has an obvious rapport with his athletes which translates into their performances on the ice. He says that having a good relationship is one of the most important things about coaching.
“They know that I am their coach and they are my students,” he said.
“But I think it is really important to create this really strong relationship because you get to know them and they know you. I understand Dani by just looking in her eyes and I can tell if she is nervous or if she is fine or confident and I think that is a very important side of coaching.
“My career was pretty long and there were many moments where we were struggling. Supporting the athlete and making sure they are happy is so important. Plus I know that if Dani is happy, Greg is happy and that makes me happy!”
On Day 9, Sunday 16 February, when the Ice Dancing competition gets underway, you can be sure that there will be a huge Aussie support and one very happy Italian watching it all unfold.
“This is my fourth Games but first as a coach and first representing Australia. It’s really cool.”