Full steam ahead towards PyeongChang 2018 for Coomes and Buckland
Figure Skating

Full steam ahead towards PyeongChang 2018 for Coomes and Buckland

04 October 2017 / 09:04

Named after the nearby mountain, the Nebelhorn Trophy may be little known among the wider sporting world.

But this year’s figure skating competition in the German town of Oberstdorf proved to be of crucial significance to British ice dance duo Penny Coomes and Nick Buckland last weekend.

A personal-best winning performance at the very last opportunity to secure qualification to next year’s Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang only told half the story – a tale which saw the figure skaters face yet another personal mountain to climb in their careers.

“The Nebelhorn Trophy is one of the most prestigious competitions and there is a live stream with people wanting to see what the top teams are doing,” explained Coomes, on the day their place at next February’s Games was officially confirmed by the British Olympic Association.

“This time last year I was stuck in bed, being sick every day, just feeling awful, not being able to walk and looking at those same four walls.

“I remember Nick talking about who had done what and I just didn’t want to know.

“I fell out of skating for a little bit and I didn’t want to watch it and I didn’t even want to think about it.”

The despair Coomes was suffering was the direct result of a training accident at the end of June 2016 where she fell off the back of Buckland’s shoulders during a lift and landed directly onto her knee.

“My knee cap sprung open, I had bones above where your knee cap is meant to be and bones below where it should be. The surgeon said it was in about eight pieces,” describes Coomes bluntly.

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Despite three months of serious bed rest after her knee was wired back together and then plenty of rehab, Coomes could sense her body was still not right and she ended up having a second operation in January 2017 to have the wires removed after they were discovered to be aggravating her patella tendon.

There were tears immediately afterwards for Coomes – but not because of another setback, rather due to the relief of being able to sleep for the first time in seven months without any pain.

The two then set about returning to their primary aim of qualifying for their third Olympic Winter Games.

“We had a plan and our plan has always been the 2018 Winter Games and that’s what we have always strived for. We’ve always talked about being there and aiming for a medal,” continues Coomes.

“A year and a half ago if you’d asked me if I was on track I think I would have burst into tears and said it’s all gone wrong.”

Of course, Britain’s leading ice dance duo were already well versed in being faced with challenges of mountainous proportions though.

In the run up to Sochi 2014, Buckland underwent life-saving heart surgery after suffering from tachycardia, a form of arrhythmia, where the heart beats faster than normal, and which was first diagnosed in the aftermath of his Olympic debut in Vancouver four years previous.

And then there was the strand of pneumonia Coomes picked up, which left her hospitalized and the pair out of the 2015 World Championships.

With Coomes’ knee forcing them out of the 2017 edition of the Worlds in spring, that left just one chance to secure Olympic qualification at the Nebelhorn Trophy, with six ice dance spots up for grabs to 16 countries yet to qualify.

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But the true British grit and determination – which Coomes openly admits to originally hindering her injury comeback when she tried to force the issue too quickly – came to the fore and they skated to top spot, in a new personal-best score of 177.13 no less.

More encouragingly still, both skaters confidently believe that total can be bettered again.

“I don’t even think we skated anywhere near what we can do. I feel like there are still points left on the board for us to get,” says Buckland.

“It’s still early season. We beat our personal best score which we achieved at the last competition we were at in the World Championships in 2016. That’s a huge thing for us to do first time back.

“Falling and accidents happen all the time. It’s hard as a partner though, you do replay what you could have done differently but at the same time, we both have to accept as athletes that it has happened. Dwelling on the past can be really hard mentally.”

Now Coomes and Buckland, European bronze medallists in 2014, are only looking firmly forwards and at bettering their two previous Olympic finishes of 20th and 10th.

“One of the things we said to each other throughout the process is not only do we want to come back, we want to come back and be better,” adds Coomes.

“Everything happens for a reason. I feel like we’ve grown so much from this experience and I feel like our hunger and our thirst and passion is even bigger because something that we love so much and worked so hard for our whole lives was taken away.

“We’ve got that back now and so we’re not going to come back and just be happy with top ten. We’re going all guns blazing, we want that medal.”

Suddenly the summit for Coomes and Buckland seems a whole lot closer.

By Pippa Field, Sportsbeat 

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