The world of figure skating might look glamorous, but a new documentary aims to shed light on the blood sweat and tears that goes into skating at and elite level.
Freeze: Skating on the Edge was filmed over 12 months after the first lockdown and follows a group of elite young skaters as they battle to get back to top form to try to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.
Among them is Sheffield ice skater and former British champion Peter James Hallam – known as PJ.
In episode one, aired on Saturday on BBC Three, Hallam faced the fight of his life as he competed against the biggest names in global figure skating at the World Championships.
The biggest challenge for the 26-year-old was trying to compete on a level playing field with athletes who haven’t suffered time off the ice.
“When lockdown happened in March 2020 all the ice rinks closed and ice skating wasn’t classed as a sport and so we weren’t allowed onto the ice,” says Hallam.
“It meant we missed vital time on the ice. Other countries kept their rinks open for elite athletes and that made it very difficult to complete.”
Hallam tried to keep fit and keep his skills up by roller blading around his home town of Wincobank. The documentary that is being shown in two blocks of four shows him blading around streets.
“I tired to use the roller blades to simulate the movement but it couldn’t replace being on the ice though,” says Hallam. “It was a very difficult time. The documentary starts just as we are being allowed back onto the ice after we eventually managed to get it recognised as a sport and the elite skaters were then allowed back on the ice to train.
“But obviously your body changes. I was working out during lockdown but ended up putting on weight through the increase in muscles which then made doing the tricks very difficult. When I went back on the ice everything felt so different, especially for a skater who has to be able to rotate very quickly – I felt that everything was falling out of place.
“The documentary shows clearly the struggles I’m going through at that time, trying to get ready for the Worlds in such a short space of time.”
Hallam, who trained at Ice Sheffield, took the difficult decision to retire just before Christmas.
A silver medal at the British Figure Skating Championships at IceSheffield meant he missed out on the solitary spot available to represent the UK at the 2022 European and World Championships and the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
That prompted him to retire early.
“They had to decide who to take to Beijing so quickly and without the Nationals having taken place. They ended up looking at videos of how we were doing.”
He says the camera crews were really understanding when things got too much for Hallam, who admits he is a very emotional person.
“The team became a real family – we could tell them you just needed a bit of time and they would give it to you even though it would have made good television.
“I do think it shows the real ups and downs of our sport – which is 90 per cent downs and ten per cent ups.
He says retiring, particularly
without reaching his Olympic dream, was difficult but ‘the right decision for me’.
“You can see throughout the documentary just how hard it has been for me over the last year,” he says adding that it wasn’t just down to his results.
“A lot of it was about funding,” he admits. “We don’t get any funding and so I was working as a coach at Ice Sheffield and having to fit my training in around work and going to the gym, that made it even harder.”
In the end he raised just over £1,000 of the £5,000 target which would have helped pay for coaching, travel, accommodation and other expenses that would allow him to compete against the world’s best.
“My family has been amazing, but they are not wealthy – they are real grafters and so supportive. They’ve taken me up and down the land for competitions.
He gets emotional talking about his family and his coach Dawn Peckett who also features in the BBC series.
Hallam took up skating when he was just eight years old and Peckett has coached him throughout
“I was looking for a sport and just went out on to the ice and loved it. I’d tried everything ballet, gymnastics, football but I’m not very good at team sports,” he recalls.
“I was good at figure skating, I just loved the feeling of being on the ice. Ice Sheffield has been a second home to me. All my friends are there.”
Becoming top at any sport takes dedication and sacrifice and Hallam is no stranger to either.
“My friends from school were great but its not easy when they are all starting to go out, drinking and going to nightclubs. But for me that time was make or break. It was hard, there were a lot of different sacrifices I had to make.”
He has found the last four years particularly hard, despite being named British National Champion in 2019 and he remains up beat .
“I have achieved everything I wanted to achieve. I have got some amazing memories of skating. If I drag it out another four years or so my opinion would probably change.
“I want to leave still loving the sport.”
Such was the emotion of the occasion, Hallam was unable to bid farewell Peckett. “She’s just been my rock throughout,” he said. “She’s amazing and literally brought me up throughout my skating career.”
He now coaches and hopes that he will train a future British, European and even World champion figure skater. He is also moving on from the professional ice-skating rink and pursuing other things including performing skating shows, which is a change in career paths for him.
“The one aspect I love about skating is the performing aspect of it, so I’m going to continue to do skating shows but feel like my competitive career is up.” It was his performance skills and personality that got him noticed and asked to appear on Freeze.
“The production company approached Ice Sheffield and they thought PJ is a happy chappy so put me forward.” Hallam also saw it as a chance to raise the profile of figure skating and the hurdles young British athletes have to go through into order to reach elite level – something he is very passionate about. “People see the sequins and the outfits but not all the hard work that goes into it behind the scenes.
“I think this was great opportunity to show people we are elite athletes and just what goes into trying to be the best.”