Winter sports aren’t a natural career choice for natives of the Caribbean Islands. There’s not a lot of ice and snow on the sunny beaches of the islands or the steamy tropical hillsides. That’s one of the reasons that the Jamaican bobsled team became such an international phenomenon by competing at the Winter Olympics – the sheer incomprehensibility of such a thing.
Now another winter Olympic sport has a contender who comes from the tropics, Oscar Peter, 25, an ice dancer who was born in Santiago in the Dominican Republic and now competes internationally for Switzerland with Leonie Krail, 19. The couple won the Swiss ice dancing championship in the 2005-06 season after placing third the previous year. They also placed 14th at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany in their first international event and 22nd at the 2006 European Championships, their first major International Skating Union championship.
But Peter’s career in winter sports is even more unusual. His appearance at the European Championships was not his first. In 2000, he competed for Switzerland in the men’s division, finishing 30th overall. He also competed at the 1999 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, where he finished 21st. In Switzerland, he has three silver and three bronze medals competing in the senior men’s event. And to cap things off, he even played hockey in Switzerland for a year.
How this journey began seems more typical. A gentleman from Switzerland meets a beautiful island woman who teaches at a local school. After they marry, the couple decides that their children would have a better life in Switzerland than in the impoverished Dominican Republic so they return to his native land.
Peter related what happened next. “We moved to Switzerland when I was six. My father took me to a public ice rink and showed me how to skate. While I was skating, a coach came and asked my father how long I had been skating. When he told the coach that it was my first time, the coach said I had natural talent and should take lessons. I took some lessons, then I quit skating and played hockey. I was seven or eight years old and not sure what I wanted to do.”
“I also played tennis in a club but it was boring chasing after the balls,” he continued. “I started playing soccer but when I didn’t have the ball and was just running around, it wasn’t any fun. But then my sister started skating and I saw Worlds on television and wanted to return to skating. I was also doing athletics and qualified for the junior championships in Switzerland in the five kilometer run, but I didn’t go because there was a skating competition at the same time and I preferred skating.”
After the 2001 Swiss Nationals, where he finished third, Peter suffered a soft tissue injury in his foot. For two more years, he skated with this injury. In summer 2003 he was off the ice for five months . Then he received a message from Krail’s mother, who wanted him to try ice dancing with Leonie, who had previously competed with Marc Fausch, winning the silver medal at Swiss Nationals in 2003. “My partner quit after that and I went six months without a partner,” Krail related. “I knew that Oscar was a good skater and I saw in the Eissport magazine that he couldn’t jump because of his injury so I thought about asking him to dance with me. Other people told me that he would say No, but I decided to ask him anyway.”
“Some other girls had asked me a few times to dance, but all I wanted to do then was jump and spin,” Peter recalled. “I was unhappy with not skating because of my injury so when Leonie’s mother called, it was the perfect time to ask me. In a half an hour together, I knew it was enough for me to change. Leonie’s a girl who has her own goals and knows what she wants. She’s a strong skater with good experience. We both have the same desires in skating.” “Oscar is a great skater,” Krail stated. “He was willing to change his skating to dance with me and gives 100 percent all of the time. Skating is the most important thing in life for him.”
Krail started skating when she was five. “I went with my aunt to an ice rink and saw the skaters,” she said. “I was fascinated. I was also doing ballet and dance classes and I had been riding my family’s horses from when I was very small, but I liked skating the best. I competed in singles, but I was not a very good jumper so my coach told me to try ice dancing. I tried it and thought it was cool so I got a partner when I was 12.”
The dancers train in Frauenfeld, Switzerland with Cornelia Grisiger-Diener. They train for two to four hours a day, six days a week, depending on when they can get ice and spend another four to six hours a week in off ice training. In the summer, they go to Newark, Delaware to work with Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov. “Natalia and Gennadi were also coach of Eliane and Daniel Hugentobler,” Krail stated. “When I was 14, I went the first time to Newark because of my former coach Hanspeter Mueller. Since then, I went there mostly every summer. Now, Oscar and I go there every year. We went for two months last summer and a few weeks when there is time during the season.”
Grisiger and Linichuk choreograph the couple’s dances. For the 2005-06 season, the couple used the soundtrack of “Notre Dame de Paris” for their free dance. “I heard the music from Natalia Gudina and her partner when they were training in Delaware with us,” Krail explained. “I loved it and bought the CD. After they quit skating, we decided to use it. Our ballroom dance teachers found the music for the original dance. We used a salsa, rhumba and samba.” The original dance music included “Orihas” (salsa) and Juan Gabriel (rhumba).
“I like dramatic music, musicals and music where someone sings, but we’re open to anything,” Krail continued. “We haven’t tried everything yet. We’ll love anything that we use because we won’t skate to anything we don’t like.” Off ice, Krail, who used to play the piano, listens to anything on the radio. Peter prefers electronic music. He works as a disc jockey at music clubs and has a computer program for music production, which he uses to cut the music for their programs.
The duo has a web site, www.leonie-oscar.com, that they designed and update themselves. “I got a free computer program from school, so I thought why not use it,” Krail said. “I like to surf on the Net and play video games.” Peter enjoys going to the movies. Krail enjoys shopping, reading and painting in her spare time. “I like all kinds of painting,” she said. “I do paintings from photos and paint comic things.” She also likes to watch comedies and some action movies and collects her badges from competitions.
They are both students in the third year of a school where they learn about business practices. “We have about a year and a half to go,” Peter said, “but we don’t know what kind of job we will have, maybe coaching.” “We don’t know how long we will skate, maybe another ten years,” Krail explained. “We plan to skate the next four years for sure. This year, our goal was to win Swiss Nationals and go to Europeans. Next year, our goal is to get to Worlds.”