Daša Grm: “If I’m Improving, I’m Not Going to Stop”

Daša Grm: “If I’m Improving, I’m Not Going to Stop”

The day before the competition began at her tenth European Championship, Daša Grm was wrestling with her nerves. “I’ve done it so many times but it is always difficult,” the Slovenian skater shared. “I have to get used to the ice rink. First I want to do good practices so I have a good feeling, and then I’m stressing out because of that.”

Daša’s first trip to Europeans was the 2011 championships in Bern, when she was 19 years old. At age 31 in Espoo, she was the oldest competitor in the women’s event. She remembered how different it was to not have any expectations for herself. “I was new to everything, and I was not that good back then, but I knew that I could do my best. And then, in the end, I was in the finals. I was surprised and then I got a call from our Slovenian journalist who’s working in figure skating. And I was like, ‘Oh, so it is a big deal if you get into the finals, someone notices it.’ It was an interesting experience for me. So yeah, I’m pretty proud of it.” 

What else was notable about Bern? “I remember everyone was complaining about how freezing cold the ice rink was…[but] every rink I’d been to was really cold. It’s winter, of course, it’s supposed to be cold. So it was normal for me!”

Daša is motivated by the progress that she has been able to make at an age when many skaters have already retired from elite competition. “I always said to myself that if I’m improving, I’m not going to stop. I really feel that every year I’m improving. Okay, I don’t show it every time at these big competitions, but I feel like my jumps are getting better, my choreography is getting better, and it’s a pity not to continue when you’re still getting better.”

Daša is also remarkable because she coaches and choreographs for herself, and she cited that as another reason for her longevity in the sport. “When I started to train by myself, it was something I wanted to prove to myself that I can do. Every year was like a challenge for me because I planned everything and I got myself ready for those big competitions, and I’ve succeeded. I have to thank Anej, my boyfriend, and my strength conditioning coach, for everything he’s done for me. He’s with me at training, and he is filming me all the time so I can correct myself without the coach. It’s something that we do together, and he’s so into it. And I’m so into it, so it’s our life. I don’t think I would be here if he wasn’t there for me, at every practice and every competition. Being here, it’s like a reward for us. And we take it like that and we enjoy the experience. We have so many friends already, from all over the world because you know, we are here for so long already, and we just want to experience it, as long as we can.”

Although Daša enjoys the process of training, this was a hard season initially. “It was physically and mentally tough for me to get myself ready. I was questioning myself, why am I still doing it, what’s my goal? Is it really so important for me to do another Europeans, another Worlds? There are difficult times when you think about those things. It’s not an easy sport, and to get ready to the level that it is now, it’s hard. Sometimes you don’t give up, but you know, it’s really hard to continue when it doesn’t go as planned. But as I said, with Anej’s support, and actually my family and everyone around, my Federation as well, I managed to get myself ready for this competition. I’m proud that I’m ready, and now I’m enjoying this process of competing and appreciating when I go on the ice. I can do all my elements, and I’m pretty confident.”

Daša Grm after her short program at the 2023 European Championships

For the 2022-2023 season, Daša choreographed both of her programs, as she has done for many years. The short program combines music from Ólafur Arnalds and Sia. She shared, “It’s always really a long process for me to choose the right music. For the short program, I always choose..something with a little bit of a beat, because then I get more into the choreography, and I get a rhythm from the music for my jumps. And of course, I want to be really expressive and emotional, so I try to find music that makes me do it.” 

“For the free this year, I actually decided to combine my music from the past, from nice memories, and my best programs until now.”

The program starts off with “Human” from Christina Perri, which was Daša’s FS music from the 2016-2018 seasons. “Because we all fall down and we get back up. I remember I had a really good free program with this music in Moscow at the Europeans.” 

The program finishes with “I Was Here” by Beyoncé, which she used in the 2018-19 season. That season ended with a trip to the World Championships in Japan, and her personal best free skate score of 103.58. “I really felt that I was there and I was leaving some footprints, already back then,” she recalled. “But now for this tenth Europeans and my tenth Worlds, I really felt this is the music I have to skate to. Because I really feel that I left some good impressions on so many skaters and not just from Slovenia. Even here people are saying to me that it’s amazing what I’m still doing. At 31, I’m still here, and the level of skating is still progressing and I’m still in the game.”

While the music may be a kind of “greatest hits” mix from Daša’s career, the choreography itself is new for this season. “I really like to explore and express what I’m feeling in the moment, and everything is different.” For example, the last time she skated to Beyoncé, “it was not as emotional for me as it is now.”

This kind of evolution is one reason that Daša likes doing her own choreography. It also helps that she knows her own skating so well. “I really like using the music in between the jumps to do choreography that I really feel good in, not something weird or turning to the other side that I don’t feel as comfortable with.”

She also keeps changing and improving the choreography over the season. “Like now, it’s not how I did it in May. I’ve changed it so many times already…At the start, I always think ‘Oh no, it’s terrible. I don’t like it!’ Then Anej films me, and I’m like, ‘oh, it looks pretty good. I just have to add some more to this moment,’ or ‘I didn’t hear that beat when I was on the ice. But now in the video, I see it, I hear it. I know what I can do in that moment’… I’m always listening to the music and I hear some new beats or some new voices that I could use in the choreography.”

 Daša also choreographs for younger skaters, which can be a very different process. “I think every skater is different. And first, you have to know their level of skating and how they feel before their elements…I really like when they allow me to place the step sequence or the spins wherever I hear it on the music. But sometimes that’s not the case. It’s funny when you know what you did in the summer as a choreographer, and then when you see it in the season the program has changed! But I really enjoy doing it.”

Embracing a Roller Coaster Career

What kind of advice would Daša give to those young skaters, or perhaps to a competitor who is in their first major championships? They shouldn’t put themselves down, whatever place they take,” she responded. “It’s not like, if you fell from the finals, you’re bad. No, there’s still so much more that you can do in your career than that one competition. Even if you are in the top ten! Very good! I admire that, congratulations, good job – but you have so much more in front of you. You have to enjoy the journey, and enjoy everything. I think figure skating made me who I am today, and this is something really precious to me.”

She pointed out that her own successes have been spread across her career. “My first Europeans was when I was 19, and, you know, it was not that early. I wouldn’t change my path, because I wasn’t ready before.”

After making the Free Skate at her first Europeans, it took another seven years before she was able to achieve that again, but in the meantime, she had other successes, like making the free skate at Worlds in 2015. “It was such a roller coaster for me that I just think, you have time, you have so many years ahead. You just have to enjoy it, and do it as long as possible.”

This approach is especially important for skaters in small federations like Slovenia, who may not have as many opportunities while they are young teenagers. “A lot of our skaters quit earlier, because even if you’re good in Slovenia, then you go to those big competitions, and you see where you are. We’ve had those cases at the Junior Grand Prix already. It’s difficult because we don’t have a lot of competition in Slovenia internally, and then there’s another shock when you go out and see what [other skaters] are doing at their ages. But as I said, you can still do it, but maybe a little bit later. Maybe my career started to be good later because I didn’t spend three hours every day on the ice, more like one hour a day on the ice for six days, and those hours I had to make up for in later years.”

Another challenge for Slovenian skaters is the lack of ice during the summer. “For three months, we have to go abroad, and it’s expensive,” Daša noted. “Until I was 12 or 13, we didn’t even do that, so we lost all three months in the summer. Then you have to start putting everything back together when everyone else improved during the summer, you know? And that’s why I think we are following up after other countries, because of the conditions.”

Skaters from small federations can sometimes be limited by the challenge of securing technical minimum scores for the ISU championships. In 2020, Daša wrote about her frustration that the ISU decided to raise the technical minimums for Worlds. She was able to secure those scores but reflected: “For me, what was most disturbing was that they changed in the middle of the season, and I had all the season planned out already…It was supposed to be my easier season. You have to keep up with the level but you don’t need the best results, because you still have two years to go for the Olympics. I’m a person who likes to stick to the schedule [and the decision] threw me off my path.” 

The stress of chasing the minimum score also took away from her enjoyment of the sport. “You’re not thinking about skating anymore,” she said. “I was just thinking about the elements. I remember that in Japan in 2014, I needed the technical points then as well, and in my free program, I left all my choreography out. I was just going from jump to jump because it was physically easier, and I just needed to get the first score, not the second one. It’s questionable, is [the sport] really just about technical elements or…? I’m just really glad I have done that [already], I don’t need to reach them, and I’m so relieved. But I know how stressful it is if you need them.”

Daša earned her world minimum score for the Free Skate at 2022 Skate Helena. 

Daša was frustrated with her skating at Europeans, where she placed 21st. But with her experience of the “roller coaster” of skating, we hope that she will be able to come back strong at her 10th Worlds. And who knows, maybe skating to Beyoncé in Saitama will once again be the key to a personal best!

Daša and Anej enjoy the travel that skating allows them to do. “For Japan, we are already planning, maybe we will stay a little bit more time after the competition. Maybe visit Sapporo. The last time we were there, we went first to Kyoto and then we flew to Okinawa, and it was a really nice experience. So maybe some warmer place after the competition, just to relax a little bit!”

Daša with boyfriend and physical trainer Anej Wagner

Like this article? Share it!

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In Conversation with Dr Valtter Virtanen

At 36, Valtter Virtanen, was the oldest skater competing in men’s singles at the 2024 World Championships. He is a fully-qualified medical doctor, and the father of a three-year-old daughter. And at a time when most of his contemporaries are long retired, he is enjoying skating and competing more than ever.

Read More »

In Conversation with Dr Valtter Virtanen

At 36, Valtter Virtanen, was the oldest skater competing in men’s singles at the 2024 World Championships. He is a fully-qualified medical doctor, and the father of a three-year-old daughter. And at a time when most of his contemporaries are long retired, he is enjoying skating and competing more than ever.

Read More »