WATCH: Skating champion Matthew Samuels receives video message from former champ Shirene Human
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It's been a busy week for South Africa's four-time men's senior figure skating champion, Matthew Samuels. The young man from Milnerton is attempting to secure a spot for next year's Winter Olympics at a qualifying event in Germany this weekend.
It's been a challenging journey for the 23-year-old, whose trip to the Nebelhorn trophy, the final Olympic qualifier, was largely bankrolled by his mother's tireless fundraising efforts. Samuels spent a week in Italy, fine-tuning his preparations, before heading out to Oberstdorf, Germany. Samuels has been the talk of the town.
The last South African to qualify for the Winter Games was Shirene Human in 1998. Samuels wasn't even born at the time. Human retired in 2005, a year before Samuels first took up the sport. But her legendary status meant, everyone in South African figure skating circles, were familiar with her career and achievements.
And Samuels did his homework on Human over the years.The Weekend Argus managed to track down the nine-time national champion. We asked Human if she'd be keen to record a surprise video for Matthew, one that would inspire him in his qualifying journey. And, like a rock star, she did.
"I know I don't show my face much, in the sport of figure skating," said Human. "However I always have my eye on the sport. I know you have overcome incredible difficulties to be where you are. And for this, I am incredibly proud of you. I know that it has made you a stronger athlete." She added: "Now it is about doing what you love, having fun and knowing that you have left the best performance that you have in you, behind on the ice. Be brave. And know that you've got the support of the country 100% behind you. Good luck! "
The video was shared with Samuels in Germany. "This is extremely special, thank you so much," was his reply. "I am extra motivated now."
Samuels is in Europe without his coach, Megan Allely Painczyk, who had to stay behind in South Africa. She will be following his progress at the qualifiers online."It’s a bitter sweet moment not being there with Matthew," she told Weekend Argus. "I have gotten to know him very well over the years and when you build that kind of relationship, you know just the right things to say to the skater to give them reassurance. I’m very proud that he has made it this far and if I was fully vaccinated I possibly could’ve been there with him. I also know that Matthew is in good hands and can manage himself. I try to chat with him everyday and he sends me voice notes and videos of his progress."
There are only six Olympic places left for the Beijing 2022 Games.
Samuels says he'll put his best foot forward to earn one of them. But he is keenly aware that he has the odds stacked against him. "I only get to compete at two events a year. Whereas most skaters get seven. It becomes mentally draining," he said. Add to that the fact that professional skaters change their boots every two to three months, whereas Matthew has had his for eight, and you just know it's going to be an almighty challenge. "If I don't get one of those (qualifying) spots, I am definitely ready to put in another four years of work to go for the Winter Olympics," he said.
He says his fellow competitors have been rather impressed with his performances during training." The coaches here and the skating community, whenever they speak to me, they ask me where I train. Do I train in Canada, America and Europe? And they are always shocked to find out that I train in South Africa. And here I am reaching the highest level, with coaches from South Africa and the skating community that's far away from the rest of the skating world. The coaches here (in Italy) tell me I have the potential to go all the way. They even say I have all the techniques to qualify for the Olympics. I have all the jumps, all the spins. I just need to put it all together and just do a lot more technique training, which we don't get a lot of in South Africa.