Olivia Smart and Tim Dieck made their competitive debut at the 2023 Autumn Classic event in Montreal in September. The new Spanish ice dance team placed third in the Rhythm Dance, and fifth in the Free Dance to end up fourth overall. I caught up with the team to learn more about what it’s like for two seasoned competitors and Olympians to be starting out again with a new partner.
After your former partners retired, how did you each come to the decision that you wanted to continue skating? How did your partnership come about?
Olivia: For me, when Adrian [Diaz] retired I went through a phase of wanting to try new things and see what my interests are. But in the back of my mind [I knew I] definitely wasn’t ready to be retired. At 26 years old, I still had a fire in my belly, and I had just gained this new wave of confidence from the Olympic season, from actually reaching a peak. But also knowing that it is rather difficult to find a partner in the senior circuit whose levels match up – and not even just that, it’s the connection, can’t be just anybody…. We tried out due to Marie France (Dubreil, Olivia’s coach), actually, telling me to do it, to have no regrets. It felt really good, and from the eyes of other people, they said it looked really good and natural, and it was the first time they ever saw me with a taller partner as well. They liked what they saw, and right off the bat, it was positive.
I looked at this like: ‘This is the universe giving me what I want. If I want to continue this is my option, this is the way forward.’ Tim was in the exact same boat. Both our partners retired and yes, we accepted that, but we both had it in us to continue a bit more. We still are young, we still have a fire in our belly. Because we both shared the same situation and passion we put that together and we said, look, let’s just do this. Let’s be the new fresh senior team coming in.
We’re two skaters who just love what we do, and we’re not ready to say goodbye to it just yet. We want to make the most of our career while we can, while we’re young and at our peak, and see how it goes long term.
Tim: There’s nothing to add, really. After the Olympics, my previous partner and I didn’t go to the World Championships. So I had a long time to think about everything and ask what am I doing. I knew I wasn’t done yet. I wanted to achieve more in our sport.
Olivia was the first one I wrote to after I found out that she and Adrian stopped skating together. It was back in the summer and after a long thinking moment, I came to Montreal for different tryouts. When I was here like she said, it was Marie France who pushed her a little bit, ‘Olivia before you go to the TV show, at least try’. Which I was really happy about!
I remember that I had the tryout and then during the week, I got a text from Olivia: ‘Hey, let’s just skate tomorrow.’ I was super happy, of course. And it felt very natural to skate together, which is very rare. Especially at the point in our career where we are now, where we have lots of years of skating, lots of different coaches, to feel this from the first moment when you skate together, to be very natural, it was great.
While Olivia was doing Dancing on Ice, what did you do during that year?
Tim: I tried to keep myself busy. Of course, it was planned that I was going to visit her there, but then she was very busy with the TV show. We knew we would have one year of no competition because of the one-year break you have to do when you change your country, so we knew [the delay] was okay. But we didn’t really know how busy she would be.
Olivia: Yeah it started and just got crazy. Our goal was to train a little bit in the UK while I was doing the show. But the schedule of the show and the demands actually ended up being way more than I expected. So I did have to turn around at some point to Tim and say, ‘I don’t think I can train like I’d like to.’ Luckily, we took a little bit of time before Christmas and then we did some shows together in Germany, so we did get some time together.
Then from January onwards, when the show got more high demand, I was just focusing on the show and realizing, ‘This is kind of important, I could win this.’ Tim came and helped Nile (Wilson, Olivia’s Dancing on Ice partner, a former gymnast) and me out a bit on the ice and as it became more about the show I said, ‘I’ll give it everything. I’ll have a break after the show and then it’s dive right into training once we get back to Montreal.’
It was a long process for Tim to wait but I’m very grateful. He’s very patient. I did thank him multiple times because I knew he was eager and he wanted to start and I was galavanting off on television. So it was long but I’m grateful I did it. I got to meet certain people through the process and maybe Tim and I can be a guest on the show one day. Maybe it’s an opportunity for us because he came and met everybody on the show and everybody knows we’re coming back to competing. Everyone’s super happy and is following our journey as well.
Also, I think the fans from Dancing on Ice are more reality TV show fans, and from social media, etc., are learning that I am an Olympic athlete as well. Them being able to watch my journey as I go back into the sport, I’m hoping it brings more new people into watching this and being interested in it. It’s not just the reality TV show, the whole sport, in general, is super entertaining. So I hope it will widen the variety of fans and people that watch our sport.
Is there anything you learned through the Dancing on Ice experience you can bring into your competitive career?
Olivia: There were nights on the show where I was terrified to go out and perform because we’d only had three or four days to practice the routine, that I’d just taught to somebody that didn’t know how to skate. So even for me, I was going out to skate on live TV and knowing this could go really wrong.
I did take those lessons into my professional career, knowing that no matter how you feel, you have to trust your training and take that into each performance. It’s something I took from past seasons competing, and then after Dancing on Ice, where the turnover is so fast each week, I believe that Tim and I can show up on the spot and put out a performance no matter what if we really put our minds to it.
And at least you’re starting with someone who actually knows how to skate now!
I appreciate it so much!
Was it challenging to get back into the routine of regular training after that break, or were you just so eager to have it happen?
Tim: Well, we were both very eager of course, but it’s still a long journey. This is our first competition and it’s about getting the normal routine and the training. Of course, it’s already more normal but before back in April, it was like ‘Oh, my body feels sore now! I haven’t done this for a long time.’
Then with more and more weeks, and run-throughs started and yeah, it’s gotten better. It was a hard journey, or it still is, but it’s also a very grateful journey, for me personally, and I’m guessing Olivia shares that with me. It’s a fun journey. We have fun on the ice. It’s great to be around our coaches, and it’s just a nice environment to have this new partnership.
What do you think makes you special as a team?
Tim: I think, even with our previous partnerships, we both loved to play with characters. We chose different storylines with characters because we both are skaters who like to entertain everybody who’s watching. That’s a big plus, I would say, in our partnership, because we both like to get really into the story and develop it throughout the time with our coaches. The interesting aspect of our partnership is that we both had our careers before and now in our mid-20s, we came together as a new partnership. We’re already experienced and now it’s about bringing those styles together and combining them and creating a new partnership. I’m not really sure if it has been done before, to have two Olympians who just competed in 2022 and [have us] skate together. That’s what makes it special.
How easy was it to figure out that you wanted to skate for Spain rather than Germany? Was that a process?
Olivia: That was more of a challenging process. It did take us a very long time to evaluate factors in both countries to make a decision so we were a little delayed on that process. Both countries were super supportive and both wanted us to represent them, but it came down to logistics long term, and funding, honestly. It’s an expensive sport. It was sad to hear [the Germans are struggling with funding] because their team and Federation are so kind and so supportive.
It ended up coming down to really what we needed to continue our journey and compete. In the past, Spain has been unbelievably supportive and really helped Adrian and me and their skaters and they were able to start helping Tim and me a little bit from the beginning. It was what we needed just to start off and we know it’s a long process to build more and more but it really just came down to long-term logistics for us and thinking about the passport as well for the Olympics as well.
We wanted it to not come across as too personal to the country and it took us a while. I know for Tim it was a very big decision to leave Germany because he also had to leave the army and that’s a massive deal. But we both have dreams. Tim has a dream to skate. And we had the opportunity to do that with Spain more than Germany.
So we respectfully sat with them and told them. Everyone’s been so supportive and nice, but it was really hard to step away from them and do that because they were welcoming me with open arms. Both countries were. So honestly, we’re both just very grateful that we have a country that we can skate for. I’m a British citizen and I’m luckily a Spanish citizen now, but it’s a very rare opportunity to get a passport for the country that you’re not from originally so I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity and that’s now opened the door for Tim and I to skate.
For me, representing Spain again, is a big part of why I’m doing this again, to give back to the country. And say thank you to Spain. As Adrian and I finished our career we finally gained two spots for Spain and then both top Spanish teams retired. It was all the Spanish fans and Federation were waiting for, we could feel that was what they wanted. And then both teams just dropped off and there was a lot of disappointment there.
I wanted to fill that and give back to the country and have that be my thank you as well. They’ve taken me in with open arms and are now taking him in with open arms. So yeah, do it for the country and hopefully open up a second spot again for the other Spanish team.
The country is growing more and more as a skating community and to be the person that’s a part of that movement is very special. I think I was so drilled into the competition side of things over the past years. I never actually fully took in the support that we were getting from the country. It wasn’t until last year I sat down and really said ‘Wow, thank you for everything that you guys have done,’ because now that I’ve taken a step away from it, it’s made me realize how much we gained from their support.
This past year with Tim, I’ve gained a really really big soft spot for the team and Federation and I thank them dearly for everything they’re doing for us. I think Tim does as well.
Tim: Definitely. It’s very rare that from our first call with the Spanish Federation, and my first meeting with them, I already felt like they welcomed me with open arms and I think it’s very rare to have such a position and have the opportunity. I’m already very grateful and I hope we can thank them with our skating and be a part of the movement.
Olivia: Thank them with our skating, and learn a bit more of the language as well!
Tim: I’m trying. I used to speak Spanish, I had it in school but that was 10 years ago. I brought my Spanish schoolbooks with me to Montreal. It’s exciting to get them out and study.
You are now in Montreal, so you have French, English, German – and also Spanish!
Tim: It’s a lot but I’m usually pretty good with languages.
Olivia: The first thing our team leader said when we got here was, ‘How’s your Spanish going guys.’ We’re just like, “Uh, we’re gonna go skate now.” We want to keep practicing and show up as a Spanish team.
In terms of becoming a team and matching your skating together, obviously, that’s a lot of on-ice work. I’m also curious if you use mirrors or other techniques to work on matching lines.
Olivia: We do a lot of video work. We don’t have mirrors on the ice. We do work off the ice a little bit but it doesn’t translate as well on the ice. Yeah. So for basic skating stuff, we do 50 minutes of basic skating almost every day. And then some on our own as well. We do a lot of video work for those things where you can see the lines and the matching and stuff. But we’re not so nitpicky. I know other skaters and other schools are a little bit more on those things, actually.
As a new partnership at the beginning usually you spend more time on those things, but when we first started training, it was April so we had to say that yes, all these fundamentals are a priority, but also, let’s start making programs. Luckily a lot of these things have happened quite naturally for us. And with Tim being taller, I have long legs, he has long legs, and a lot of things do show up naturally. But even after this competition, we’ll watch the video back, and we’ll be nitpicky on certain things throughout the season.
What were you expecting in terms of placement here?
Olivia: This season we’re just trying to find our feet and see where we fit into the senior circuit. Especially [in the rhythm dance] with the samba, the new element. Nobody can predict what the scores are gonna be like because it’s such a wide-ranging element. Everybody’s doing so many different things. And it’s a big scoring element, but it’s a brand new concept, so we wing it. At the beginning of the season, you’ll see a lot of fluctuation in scores, genuinely because of that element. Twizzles, steps, lifts, everybody has their thing. But with choreo elements, it all comes down to GOE. The Samba is a lot like a choreo step but with required steps (Olivia and Tim tied winners Eva Pate and Logan Bye for the highest score on this element, 6.20 – AGOE).
Was it easy for you to figure out how you wanted to approach that element, with so many options?
Tim: We tried it a lot of different ways, but also we didn’t really know what they were asking for.
Olivia: The requirements kind of aren’t clear. It’s only become a little bit more clear recently because the US teams went to their Champs Camp, and Canada had their camp, so they’re getting feedback that we’re hearing from, like ‘We want your samba to be exactly on these beats.’ And we didn’t know that. So then everyone’s adjusting. So now I’d say we had our time working with it.
But it’s especially challenging for the coaches because they have to choreograph God-knows-how-many sambas, which are samba steps but original, even though the samba steps don’t allow you to do that much originality. So to say they’ve made all the sambas for the IAM teams, I am gobsmacked, genuinely, because if somebody asked me to choreograph one I’d have no clue. That’s been interesting this year, to see what everybody did…
Also, it’s brand new for the ISU. They’re still learning about it, and the judges are looking at it and wondering what they are looking for. So yeah, I think that will be the deciding point in the rhythm dance. It will fluctuate a lot because GOEs in our sport are money points, and the samba is just GOEs because it’s technically a choreo step.
Are there places in either of the programs that you particularly love and you want people to keep an eye out for?
Tim: For the rhythm dance, I love the beginning a lot. It’s nice to open up the program by just dancing it out. That’s a special part for me, I would say, because while of course there is dancing inside the elements, there’s not much room for transitions. It’s element, element, element. So it feels nice to at least open up the program with a little dancing.
In the free, it’s the idea of the Elvis movie, and definitely the beginning of the choreo step, and throughout the choreo step. It feels like an exhibition in the last part of the program and I always think back to the movie and see him dancing in front of the crowd. It’s just amazing. I love it so much and I feel the character a lot. It’s even better than the rhythm dance for me, more fun, and it’s a great program.
Olivia, are you also playing a character? If Tim’s Elvis, who are you?
Olivia: That was a bit of a challenging one. But it’s funny because the music and the concept was my idea. I was like ‘Let’s do Elvis! But wait, who am I?’ Never in my life, would I have expected to be skating to Elvis. It’s been done a lot in the big skating world. It’s sometimes a little cliche, but I remember watching the movie and just being like this music is classic. There’s a feeling that I got watching the movie that made me think we need to do this as a program. It’s so entertaining. It gave me a mood. So we did some off-ice with it. And it just clicked for us like right away.
Character-wise, in the movie itself, you learn how Elvis’ career was developed and supported by the women in his life. That being Priscilla, his wife, his mother, and the female fans, were all female figures that were supporting him and lifting him up. So for me in this movie, and this program, it’s the support of Elvis and his different women. Even when it came down to the costume and the idea of how it would look as well. We didn’t want it to be one specific character.
So if you look at the soundtrack of the movie on Spotify, there’s an embellishment on the songs and it looks like the middle of Elvis’s belt. And it’s like moving and stuff and we just love this image and we wanted to turn it into what could be the background of Elvis, and then Elvis being the main character. Throughout the program, I go through different emotions, roles, and moods. I’m able to play a well-rounded group of strong women so yeah, I like it.
I feel like there’s often this, maybe old-fashioned idea, that a woman is playing the main character in a program and the guy is sort of there to support and show her off, and it’s kind of fun in some ways that you’re playing with that.
Olivia: Yeah, switching roles, exactly. Even for the rhythm dance, I remember first we wanted to do Bon Jovi, more rock, and Marie liked the idea, but with the free dance already being chosen, she was like, ‘if you do Bon Jovi and Elvis, it’s two male roles.’ So that’s where the balance came in. I’m doing Blondie and Elvis and a little bit of a mix of both.
But I really enjoy the free dance because I’m used to playing characters, and this is very new for me. And also the role of Elvis fits Tim way too well, and it’s really cool to see him shine in those moments. The movie itself, if you haven’t seen it, please watch it. It’s fantastic. Elvis in general is generic, I get it, but the Elvis movie will change your mind. You go from the white Elvis suit to a full pink Elvis suit. It’s an upgrade and it’s the reason why we wanted to take this movie and put it into a program.
Olivia and Tim competed in their second Challenger Series event at Finlandia last week, placing 4th, and will be heading to their Grand Prix assignment at Skate America this week. We wish them all the best for the season!