By Hiro Yoshida
As the skating world mourns the loss of Denis Ten, he will forever be remembered as a class act both on and off the ice.
The last time I talked to Denis was at the Internationaux de France in Grenoble last November. I had spoken briefly with him several times previously in mixed zones when we had crossed paths, but never at length. One of my objectives at last season’s Grand Prix in France was to get his thoughts as an ethnic Korean about competing at the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics with a view to possibly writing an article about him for this website.
The compact schedules of Grand Prix events can be challenging if you are a figure skating journalist. Beforehand you create a wish list of skaters and coaches you would like to interview. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they do not. It can all depend on which press officer is managing the event or having a responsive team leader.
I sensed that there might be an opportunity to have a few words with Denis after his short programme as he had been drawn to skate quite early. I made my way to the mixed zone in the depths of the Patinoire Polesud in the hope of being able to catch him after he had finished.
Denis was on the road to recovery following a serious injury that had almost derailed his Olympic season and you could see he was not quite back at his peak yet. He had fallen on an opening quadruple Salchow, but otherwise he had skated well all things considered. I waited for him to appear in the mixed zone. I thought I was out of luck, but fortunately a member of the French federation’s press team was at hand. I asked her if she could find Denis for me.
Shortly afterwards Denis arrived. I was the only journalist in the mixed zone at the time and it would have been easy and understandable for him to answer a question or two and move on, so he could get some rest. Despite being tired and probably in pain, he patiently and thoughtfully answered my questions at length and in detail. I had anticipated that he would be an interesting person to interview. I had not expected how gracious he would be. Twenty minutes later we concluded our chat and I wished him the best of luck for the rest of the season. It was the last time I spoke to him in person.
When the interview was published shortly before the PyeongChang Olympics, he was kind enough to share the article I had written to his followers on one of his social media accounts. Thanks to that small connection we made we kept in touch online. When I posted about the serious illness a close family member of mine is experiencing, Denis offered me his support which I truly appreciated. I have no doubt he was like that with every person that he met. It was just the kind of man he was.
Denis was a pioneer for figure skating in his native Kazakhstan. He took his responsibility as an ambassador for the sport and his country seriously. He realised that for those watching him around the world it was a chance to put Kazakhstan on the skating map and an opportunity to raise the profile of skating in Kazakhstan. As evidenced by the reaction to the news of his death, he succeeded on both counts.
I cannot remember an outpouring of grief in the skating community on this scale since the death of Sergei Grinkov in November 1995. The difference this time was that a member of our skating community was taken from us not because of an underlying medical condition, but through an act of senseless violence. The idea that Denis is no longer living among us fills me with anger and sadness. He had so much left to give. He was taken from us much too soon. The loss to his family, his many friends, his country and figure skating is immense.
You will always live on in our hearts, Denis.