OGDEN — Kai Kovar and his parents sat in an event room at The Ice Sheet discussing Kai’s life of figure skating and his upcoming appearance in January’s U.S. Figure Skating Nationals in Michigan.
It was the sport and the Olympics that brought parents Amanda and Karel Kovar together, after all.
“Maybe someday our son will be in the Olympics. Is that your goal, to be in the Olympics someday?” Amanda asked Kai.
“Yeah, it is,” came the simple reply.
“It’s a rough path there. There’s a lot of good skaters out there,” Kai eventually continued. “So it’s going to be hard and challenging to get there. But I can also represent his country from Slovakia, so if things don’t work out here, we can go there.”
“That’s an option in the future,” said Karel, the ‘his’ in ‘his country.’
“So you are thinking about it,” Amanda laughed. “That’s good to know.”
Kai, a 12-year-old in the seventh grade at St. Joseph Catholic School, is growing into an accomplished figure skater. Through Wasatch Figure Skating Club, he has ascended to a place only a handful of skaters go.
After placing third at U.S. Figure Skating Nationals in the juvenile division at the age of 10, Kai has advanced this season to nationals in the intermediate men division — usually comprised of skaters 13 to 16 years old.
That hard Olympic work he mentioned? That already exists for young skaters like Kai. To prepare for competition, he runs through his programs twice a day — one day his short program, the next day his long program. That also requires stretching and rolling out his body before and after the runs.
Away from the ice, it means playing basketball and doing crossfit to train physically. It also means practicing jumps in sneakers on a flat surface.
“You don’t get the momentum off ice, so it’s harder to rotate,” Kai said. “I usually just do jumps that are in my program, but sometimes I’ll do other jumps I’m not doing on the ice yet but that I will want to do someday.”
Jumping. That’s what hooked him to the sport of figure skating in the first place.
His parents say Kai began skating at 2 1/2 years old. About when he was 5, Amanda would bring a football to The Ice Sheet and throw passes to him — football is his other sports passion — which he liked diving to catch while in skates.
It was also at 5 when he landed his first axel jump.
“Once I started getting my first jumps down, I knew I really liked it,” Kai said. “Once I landed my first axel, I felt like I could be good and would feel good doing it.”
Jumping is difficult but he finds it fun to practice every day off ice, imagining the stunning jumps he can land one day.
“It’s challenging,” Karel said. “The challenge on the ice, he feels like when he learns something and moves onto the next level, that’s what he really likes.”
“And he’s a really good performer under pressure,” Amanda adds.
Kai pulls a face.
“You don’t think you are? I think you are,” she said.
The sport was hard to avoid for Kai. Amanda was born in Minnesota and comes from a skating family. Karel was born in the part of Czechoslovakia that is now Slovakia and was a skater, too.
The two met while skating in Disney On Ice. In 2000, they were hired to skate as a pair in the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Amanda also served on a committee overseeing the flower-sweepers and Karel was an attache for the Slovakian Olympic and Paralympic teams.
They’re excited at the prospects of the games returning to Utah in 2030.
“It’s really accessible to get to every venue in the games. It was really well-run,” Amanda said.
But the Olympics was only 17 days in February 2002.
“We didn’t plan on staying here, but we did,” she said.
Karel was hired as the skating director for Weber County, which operates The Ice Sheet, and Ogden roots were planted.
The two aren’t just parents and former skaters. They coach Kai, too.
“I’m proud of his accomplishments and everything he does,” Karel said. “However, as a parent-slash-coach, sometimes I look at what he does in a more precise way or critical way. It’s not always easy on me or on him when I say something or he says something to me. But we’re trying our hardest.”
The Kovars previously helped train Salt Lake City native Nathan Chen, the 2018 World Champion and bronze medalist at the 2018 Olympics.
It’s not always just his parents, though. For the last year, Olympic medalist Jozef Sabovcik has coached Kai and others in the club — including younger sister Milada, 9, who is also placing in regional competitions — as well as young skaters in the county’s Learn To Skate program. Sabovcik skated to bronze in the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics for Czechoslovakia. He now resides in Bountiful.
“There’s a balance being a parent and a coach, and the most important thing to us that we’ve discussed is that it doesn’t affect our relationship with our children,” Amanda said. “I still want to be a mother they can depend on and not have that strain of the coaching side of it. So having that balance with another strong coach who is really supportive helps us and helps the kids, too. It keeps a positive balance in our relationship so it doesn’t feel strained.”
Outside of skating, Kai enjoys math and geography at school where his mom says he’s an honor roll student consistently earning or flirting with 4.0 GPAs. He’s a Minnesota Vikings fan, thanks to his mom. The two flew to Minneapolis for a Vikings game when U.S. Bank Stadium opened in 2016.
But make no mistake, he’s a figure skater. His best jump is a triple toe-double toe combination, and he’s trying to polish a triple loop and a triple Lutz to use in competition later.
As nationals approach Jan. 18-19 in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Kai simply wants to show his best.
“Even if I don’t win, I’d come away feeling happy that I made it all the way to nationals,” he said. “What I’d like to do is skate two clean programs and put everything I have into it.”