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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Valentina Marchei deserves a medal

At the beginning of the Olympic season, I wrote a post about all the long-time skaters who would still retire, and most of them really have (Pang and Tong will probably still be making comebacks when they are in a retirement home). Among these skaters, I also listed Valentina Marchei – she had been competing forever and would be 28 following the season. What possible reason would she have to stick around?

Sorry about that, Valentina.

Some skaters are unlucky with their international assignments, and I think Marchei was one of them. Though she won Italian Nationals several times, she was not at any point in her career Italy’s top lady. She missed out on the 2006 Olympics in Italy when Silvia Fontana staged a successful comeback, then again in 2010 when Italy had only one ladies’ spot for Vancouver and for Worlds – another major event in Italy in which Marchei could not compete, though she did take part in the gala.

There are skaters who might have become frustrated and called it a day. Valentina Marchei is not such a skater. She kept going, and in 2014, she finally made it to the Olympics, becoming a second-generation Olympian. I enjoyed seeing her skate in Sochi (her programs were pretty cool, too).

Marchei, the singles version

The first time I remember seeing Marchei was several years into her career, when she came in third in the LP at the 2007 Europeans, finishing fifth overall. “That was me attacking”, she later said about her performance – or at least, that’s how recall it. Her attack and enthusiasm are what I've always associated with Marchei’s skating. While she got a small medal at the 2007 Europeans, Marchei has never finished on the podium at an ISU event, only in smaller competitions. With the 2014 season drawing to a close and her goal of being an Olympian achieved, the expected thing would have been to call it a career.

But why be obvious? Last summer, reports surfaced that Marchei had decided to turn to pairs skating and had teamed up with Ondrej Hotarek. Now, Hotarek is pretty awesome. But switching to pairs with no prior experience at the age of 28 has to be pretty freaking hard.

Marchei and Hotarek have made it look easy. Why did nobody realize earlier that Marchei could be amazing as a pairs skater? The programs may not be as hard as some of the other pairs, and some elements still need refining, but Marchei/Hotarek are wonderful together, and seem to be having a great time, too. It was especially nice to see Marchei so clearly thrilled with their performance and marks at the 2015 Europeans. The fourth place showing matched Marchei’s best result as a singles skater.

Marchei (and Hotarek), the pairs version

Can they improve on that placement? I for one hope that Marchei and Hotarek can continue their progress at Worlds and in the coming seasons. And a podium finish or two would not go amiss, either.

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