In June 2020, after months of lockdown due to the pandemic, sports started to resume in England. Football and cricket were being played ‘behind closed doors,’ the snooker World Championships were held at the end of July, and yet the government had grouped ice skating (including Olympic sports such as figure skating and ice hockey) as a ‘leisure activity’— alongside casinos and beauty parlours.
It wasn’t until July when Team GB’s ‘Performance Squad’ were finally allowed access to ice. From all over the UK they travelled to a rink in Bradford where training resumed until a month later local rinks started to open again under local restrictions. Although Peter James “PJ” Hallam was finally able to train again in his home rink in Sheffield, the months of forced time-off had hit him hard.
“Last year was brutal, I actually thought I was going to quit,” he recounted. “At one point, just when I was getting back on the ice, I was like, why am I doing this? I’ve already been British champion. That’s what I wanted and then to get to Worlds as well, I felt like oh, my career’s been good already. I don’t feel like I need to do any more. But I know that I could. And if I don’t try, then I’m going to regret it.”
Roller Skating company Off Ice Skates generously sent him a pair of skates, which he used to simulate the feeling of skating. “For fitness, what I was doing was putting my boots on at the bottom of the hill, and skating up the hill to the top and I would take them off at the top, run back down and then [skate] back up,” Hallam explained. “The only issue with obviously not being on the ice is, that nothing replicates ice skating. You use completely different muscles.”
Favourite competition you’ve been to?
Lake Bled, when I was in junior. [JGP Slovenia from 2012-13]
After trying his hand at ballet, gymnastics, and swimming, PJ Hallam discovered his love for skating when he was eight. From there, he was picked up by Dawn Peckett, as well as, David Hartley, and Peter Morrissey, both of whom are former board members at NISA (National Ice Skating Association).
Peckett eventually became his sole coach, and PJ describes her as the “GOAT of all coaches,” and credits her as his rock. “I put everything that I’ve ever done down to her. I couldn’t do without her.”
Eight years into his international career, the Sheffield born skater finally made his ISU Championship debut at the 2019 World Championships in Saitama, Japan. However, the qualifying journey wasn’t easy. Just weeks before Worlds both he and his domestic rivals Graham Newberry and Harry Mattick still needed to achieve the free skate technical minimum score of 64. They battled it out at Challenge Cup and PJ prevailed by earning a technical score of 64.66.
“When I got off the ice, and I found out [that] I got the score to go to worlds, yeah, it was emotional,” he said. “I had to tell the reporters there ‘Guys, you can’t talk to me right now, just give me a second’ and I just ran into the bathrooms, cried my eyes out for like 10 minutes, dried them, and I just walked back in like ‘Yeah, guys, I’m ready for an interview now.’ It was emotional but it’s good, though. I never expected to be able to do that. I always wanted to become British champion, but I never expected Worlds ever.”
Favourite program from any skater or skaters?
Rika Kihira – The Fire Within, Yuzuru Hanyu – Parisienne Walkways
In December 2019 Hallam went on to win his first senior National Championship title in front of the supportive and loud crowd at his hometown rink of iceSheffield, which he calls the highlight of his career and still gets emotional thinking about. “That just means the world to me. I guess Worlds is great, but I just wanted to become British champion. I didn’t even know that I could do that.
“I remember when I was in junior, and I landed, like I don’t know, a triple Lutz for the first time. I was like, oh my God. I could- I could probably do it. Then I landed a triple axel and I was like crying in the middle of the ice, like yeah, I could be British Champion.”
Who are your skating idols?
Nathan Chen, Yuzuru Hanyu and Evgeni Plushenko
Going into the 2021 World Championships in Stockholm, Hallam hadn’t competed all season.
“It was hard. It’s not nice to prepare yourself for something like that. Part of me was going, well, people can’t really expect that much. They can’t expect a top 10, that’s just never going to happen. It’s completely unrealistic. But I tried adding as much pressure as I could, without sending me over the top, without making me want to get to that stage again, that I kind of got to towards the end of lockdown, which was okay, I kind of wanted to quit, this is too much. I just added the correct amount of pressure that would work for me around that point.
“At the time, I was going through a really tough time as well, because of COVID. I wasn’t able to get hold of the boots that I required. I wasn’t able to do quite a lot of different things. For instance, my PT still wasn’t open, I couldn’t go to the gym, I was having to do online zoom calls to do fitness. My entire structure of training that I got used to had changed. I spent most of my time training in Nottingham pre-Worlds and then I only got two weeks at my home rink to be able to actually be with my coach. I only really started running clean programmes probably like a week before I left.
“I wasn’t in high spirits about going, but I know that Great Britain had no other option, there was no one else who had the score to go. And I knew that there was a chance that we could potentially get a spot for the Olympics and no one will have to go and risk it at Nebelhorn so I wanted to go. I wanted to go and just put something down and then just come away and say ‘I tried my best,’ which I did.”
All of these achievements don’t come cheap for most British skaters, who had their funding cut completely from the government just after the 2018 Olympics, citing a lack of medal potential. Hallam has to work between 20 and 30 hours per week, mostly coaching, but also doing various other jobs here and there.
Breaking down his own skating expenses he emphasises that these are the sort of yearly costs skaters have to face during their career.
“For instance, for international competitions, we would normally do about three international competitions a year, sometimes pushing £1100, roughly, to pay for your coach, for their expenses, the hotels, flights to get there, your entry fee, and so on. It’s expensive, right? So £1100 times three, that’s £3300. When I went over to Worlds, you’ve got to pay for your coach and that was £1600. To pay for a patch alone, just to skate on the ice without anything else, just to get on the ice would cost around £3840 a year, just to skate. Then you’ve got your costumes on top of that, if you’re in a season, it’s two costumes per season, £1500 a year for my PT, and then for my main coach it’s around £2000, it’s quite expensive. And then choreographer, programs, blade sharpening, skates, and entry fees. I added it all up, and it’s well into the £17,000s.”
Hallam speaks very passionately about the lack of funding and exposure figure skaters receive compared to other athletes and sports in the UK. His ice rink is across the road from the grant funded English Institute Of Sport, where a team of medical and sports professionals helps elite athletes like boxer Anthony Joshua and Jessica Ennis-Hill, 2012 Olympic Champion in Heptathlon, reach their full potential.
“The fact that the figure skaters of Great Britain get nothing is… it’s just ridiculous. And I just feel like we deserve [funding] with all of the effort that we put in. It’s just putting us at such a disadvantage. We have really good coaches in Great Britain, we just don’t have the facilities, and the money, and the drive to be able to produce something with it.”-
Despite no government funding and not being considered a sport during the pandemic, British skaters have been successful on the international stage. Ladies skater Natasha McKay secured a spot for the Olympics at Worlds in Stockholm with her performance and Ice Dancers Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson have repeatedly placed in the top 7 at big competitions.
But even participating at any of these events in 2020 and 2021 was difficult. Only performance squad athletes could request entry to challenger or grand prix events, and they had to pay British Ice Skating £300 for a COVID risk assessment for each event.
“I am scared of [figure skating] drying up,” PJ admits. “I feel like we’re still rolling on the Torvill and Dean train from all of the Dancing on Ice stuff, and that’s keeping skating going. Like that’s ridiculous.”
A fun fact people might not know about you?
I work on a high ropes course sometimes
“Robin Cousins came over, and he did a lot of work with me. We looked into changing the short program to something actually slow, just to slow me down for once and honestly, I was worried because this is the last year before the Olympics and if I try something new and it doesn’t work, then I don’t really get a second chance at it. So we decided to keep everything the same.”
The only main change has been to the step sequence. “Statistically, over the last few competitions that has been my downfall. At this level, this standard, I should be getting a level four-step sequence. So it’s all been changed. It’s slowed down, but still works with the music.”
The decision to keep the free skate was easier, as he hasn’t yet been able to show the Charlie Chaplin program at either Europeans or Worlds. “Mark Naylor is the one who put together my free program. He just did such a good job and he understands my skating style.” Hallam compares the process to putting together “a massive jigsaw puzzle and all the pieces fit correctly.”
Favourite show to binge-watch?
His goals for next season are to become British champion again, and if Great Britain qualifies an Olympic spot for the men at Nebelhorn in September, he, of course, wants to go. A skate-off will take place towards the end of July to decide on who will represent the men at Nebelhorn. And after that?
“That’s it, I think I’m done. I think I’m retiring at the end of next season. I’ve been doing this for a long time now, we’re close to 20 years by the end of next season. I just haven’t got it in me. And you know what, the only reason why I’ll carry on is if we get sponsorship, so I don’t have to work as hard. I literally feel like I’m just working myself so hard.
“I want to think about my life now, I can’t keep relying on my parents, as great as they are. So I think that’s next for me, which is exciting. It’s a good thing. It’s sad that it’s coming to an end, but it’s a good thing.”