Lausanne, Switzerland

#FigureSkating      #UpAgain

Italian Pair Skaters Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise have been competing at the World level for nine years and have three-top eight finished under their belts. The multiple Italian Champions are coming off a challenging year, but they finished on a high note, placing 8th at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships and fourth with the team at the ISU World Team Trophy 2021.

But the challenges this past season have been so tough that the Italians had thought about retiring from competing more than once. “I think in the end we managed the challenges very well, even if it was really hard because, we were thinking many times to quit, to not keep going because it was really hard physically and mentally,” Nicole Della Monica shared. Together with some team members, the Pair Skaters had travelled to Montreal (CAN) last March for final preparations for the ISU World Figure Skating Championships and felt at the top of their game. Then the event was cancelled just a few days before it was going to start. “As soon as we got back home, we were in quarantine, we tried to practice at home, but it's not the same thing of course”, the 31-year-old continued. When they were able to resume on-ice training, they had a hard time getting back into it. “It was really weird for me, it was harder to start jumping again, to feel the things that we were doing.”

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Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise (ITA) at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2021©International Skating Union (ISU)

“It was difficult to start again for the body, especially after we went to Worlds in Canada and we were very ready,” Guarise agreed. “Then we came back and we stopped completely. It's normally not like that. You come back, maybe you go on vacation, you go swimming, you do something. But as we stopped completely something happened to our bodies going from very good shape to the couch. It was crazy.”

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Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise (ITA) at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating NHK 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

In addition to this, Guarise lost his mother, who was 55, to cancer last October. “During the last six months (before her death) I was skating only part of the week and then went to my home town Rimini to take turns with my brother (taking care of my mom),” he said. 

Their ten-year-partnership on the ice and their friendship has helped the Italians to keep going. “We just were talking a lot and then one day we just said ‘okay just take one day at a time and then we will see what's going on’,” Nicole noted. “And actually, from that day, it was easier because we were not thinking about competitions. From that day, we just went to the ice rink every day, practiced, and then we were happy about what we were able to do day by day,” she added.

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Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise (ITA) at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating (FIN) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

“We went out from this dark moment by making a plan”, Guarise said. “We just said, like, OK, this day we do the Short Program. If there is a competition or not, it doesn't matter, we're doing the Short Program. Nicole and I are experienced. We don't need to learn new death spirals, we don't need to learn many things. For young couples it is stimulating, because when you have time, you are working on new stuff, new elements, and everything is exciting, for us, it's just getting in shape and do it, because basically all elements work. And if you don't have this need for weeks to get in shape, it is I would say boring because you don't know what to do and it is very hard to keep the motivation.”

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Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise (ITA) at the ISU European Figure Skating Championships 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)

Nevertheless, the skaters felt lucky in their situation as they, after all, had the chance to continue training during the summer and fall when still many parts of the country were in lockdown. “We are happy that we have the chance to skate every day, to practice every day because it is not the same for everybody of course. We feel very lucky with what we have because other people cannot do the same. My boyfriend, for example, has a different situation for his work. We are more conscious about what we have and what we do,” Della Monica explained.

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Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise (ITA) at the ISU World Team Trophy 2021©International Skating Union (ISU)

Her partner feels now different about competitions. “I don't care so much about the results anymore,” he shared. “I just feel lucky to be here and to skate as well as I can do in this moment because I see a lot of hard reality now - especially in the world of restaurants and hotels. I am from Rimini, it is a touristic city. About 80% of the people I know there have either a hotel or a restaurant. I talked to them, they have to wait for money from the state, and it is not coming. There is no work. We have our club that supports us, our Federation that supports us. We can go to the ice rink every day. We can work. Not everybody can go somewhere every day, because there is a lockdown. This situation gave us the chance to appreciate what we have. Without that stop, without missing competing we kind of forget why we skate, why we like to do that. To be at the World Championships (in Stockholm) and to be at the World Team Trophy was the best way to finish this season.”

Now the Olympic season is to come and it might be the last one for the Pair Skaters. They might keep the Short Program, but they change the Free Skating for sure and are working on it with former top-level Italian Ice Dancer Massimo Scali. “We want to have a good preparation during the summer, so that during the season, we can just go and practice as we did before the World Championships. So hopefully, no more stops, no more hard times. We really want to give what we have left for this probably last season,” Della Monica said.  

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Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise (ITA) at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating NHK 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

“The plan is to get in good shape and try to do something more than what we used to do. To do that, we need to be at a 100%,” Guarise explained. “The elements will be probably the same, maybe the (jump) combo will be a triple-double-double, because lately the Toeloop which used to be a big issue for us is going well. We also have to do a very good preparation off ice for the same reason, because we will push more. So all muscles will be sore. We need to prepare the right way, because if you have to stop because of an injury or because of pain, it kills all the plans.”

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Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise (ITA) at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2021©International Skating Union (ISU)

There is a life after skating, and Nicole, 31 and Matteo, 32, obviously have been thinking about their future. “We have actually many options,” she said. “The first option would be to stay in Figure Skating as coaches. The second option would be to go work as regular policemen because if we want, this can be our job forever or we can leave the police and just do something different.”

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Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise (ITA) at the ISU World Team Trophy 2021©International Skating Union (ISU)

Guarise’s dream is to build skating in Italy. “In Italy we have 2 500 skaters. In Canada, there are 2 00 000. In Russia I don't even know. If we can increase this number, the level of Italian skaters will get higher,” he said. “If we are number four in the team event (ISU World Team Trophy) with 2 500 skaters, imagine what we will do with 15 000 skaters and with 150 000 skaters. I will do what I can to help this movement. I want to stay in this world to improve Figure Skating but also roller (skating),” he said. Before switching to the ice, Guarise competed in Roller Pair Skating and won the World title in 2008 with his partner at the time. “I would like to have a project to give all kids the possibility to skate. With what on your feet, it doesn't matter, but you have to skate, because then we can choose what to do, and it is not only soccer. This is my big plan - to help the young generation, to give Italians the passion of Figure Skating, roller skating, whatever skating - important is skating,” he concluded.