J. Barry Mittan, the Electronic Photojournalist

Hungary's Sebestyen Maximizes Opportunities by J. Barry Mittan (1999, updated 2000)

When opportunity knocked, Hungary's Julia Sebestyen was ready. After Krisztina Czako's seventh place finish at the 1997 Worlds gave Hungary two ladies' spots at the 1998 Olympics, the three-time Hungarian champion was injured and could not compete. That gave Sebestyen an opportunity to skate at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano where she finished a respectable 15th. "Japan was an interesting experience, but I was there for too long," said Sebestyen, who comes from a small town where she can walk to the rink. "I did watch the skiing since Hungary was in the chase for the medals."

Following the Olympics, Julia had a strong 1998-99 season, finishing behind Diana Poth at Hungarian Nationals, then again at Europeans where her sixth place finish was a vast improvement over the 17th place she had the previous year. She actually finished second in the free skate to jump up from 11th. She won gold at the Hungarian Trophy, silver at the Golden Spin of Zagreb, and bronze at Skate Israel. With three silvers and a bronze at Hungarian Nationals, one of Julia's major goals is "to become champion of Hungary, because there are a lot of girls competing for the top prize. I haven't thought too much about future competitions or professional skating. I will try for the Olympics again in 2002, but maybe not 2006."

Julia started slowly in her first Grand Prix season in 1999, finishing fifth at Skate America and sixth at Skate Canada, but placed third at the Vienna Cup and second at Skate Israel. But she was in great form for Europeans and Worlds. At Europeans, she finished second in the qualifiers but 13th in the short, then pulled up to fifth in the long to finish sixth overall. At Worlds, she was third in the qualifiers and seventh in the short, but only ninth in the free skate, finishing seventh overall, but far ahead of Poth, who finished 14th.

Sebestyen, who is only 19, started skating at four when her parents took her on an outing to a famous outdoor rink in Hungary where there was ice all year long. Since she had a talent for it, she began taking lessons. Because there were no pairs in Hungary, she saw only single skating and had no desire to do pairs or dance. "I like everything about skating, but especially the jumps and spins," she said. By eleven, she was landing a triple toe loop and a triple salchow. Julia had a triple salchow/double toe combination in her long program this year and hopes to upgrade to a triple salchow/triple toe for the 2000-2001 season. The triple loop is the hardest jump for her.

Julia trains for about four hours each day on ice in the summer and two hours a day in the winter. Due to lack of ice in Hungary, she often trains in Moscow or Slovakia in the summer, although last summer she trained in Chicago. This winter was particularly difficult since the ice rink in Budapest burned down in December, forcing Sebestyn to train elsewhere for Europeans and Worlds. Julia also trains another hour off ice every day doing balletics, gymnastics or running. In the summer, she swims at the beach. She started doing gymnastics at four, but for conditioning, not for competition. Her 1999 technical program was "The Man from Zuez", while her free skate was to "Csardas", a Hungarian folk melody. Her programs are choreographed by coach Gurgen Vardanjan and his wife, Ipakjan Jeranjak, a professional ballet and skating coach. Julia likes to skate to lyrical music but listens to "whatever is pleasant to hear" off ice.

To relax, Julia enjoys reading, especially action books, and likes to see the newest top movies, but said that mostly she likes to enjoy nature. She enjoys traveling but said she is away from home too much and misses her Siamese cat, Cici. Two of her favorite trips were to St. John in Canada, where she competed in Junior Worlds in 1997 and Skate Canada in 1999, and to Australia for the Junior Worlds in 1995. "I was amazed that in so small a place they could organize so fantastic an event," she said of St. John. "The people and the atmosphere were great." She explained that "Australia was very different from Europe. I liked the hot summer ad I saw kangaroos and koalas."

Since she is still in school, Julia spends much of her free time studying because she plans to go to a university and study economics. She has learned to work with computers and to use the Internet and school and said that she's working on her own home page. Julia is also studying English and understands some German as well as her native Hungarian.

Julia is a very practical young lady, who doesn't have much time for shopping. She tries to concentrate on her schoolwork and her skating. "When I'm trying to do something, I concentrate on facts, not dreams," she said. A good motto for a future economist.

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