Sports personality is driving force of Turkish figure skating
In a long career as a figure skater, instructor and entrepreneur, Fehmi Tekelioglu has helped develop ice sports in Turkey. Turkish figure skaters are now competing in European and world championships.
By Metin Demirsar
Istanbul (Dunya) – Fehmi Tekelioglu remembers the time back in the 1970s when the social democrat mayor of Ankara threatened to close down Turkey’s sole ice rink, a tiny outdoor facility in a public park in the country’s capital city, because he deemed ice skating as an expensive "bourgeois" sport.
"We have come a long way," explained Mr. Tekelioglu, 66, vice president of the Turkish Ice Skating Federation and a businessman operating five recreational rinks in cities in western Turkey, in an interview in Istanbul during an international junior’s skating event last month.
"Turkey now has 11 Olympic ice rinks and 40 smaller recreational rinks. Our figure skaters are competing in the European and world championships, and some of our skaters are being trained abroad by the world’s best ice skating instructors," explained Mr. Tekelioglu. "We even have seven international referees who adjudicate skating events at the winter Olympics, European and world championships."
In less than a generation, he said, Turkey has caught up to countries where figure skating has existed for centuries.
"Our European rivals are showing us as an example for growth in sports," he said.
But no one in Turkey has driven the development of ice sports more effectively than Mr. Tekelioglu, a trim athletic figure who runs five km a day and walks up the staircases every day to his 20th
floor apartment flat.
He began ice skating as an 11-year old in the artificial lake in Ankara’s Genclik Park when the lake would freeze over in the winter months.
He was athletically talented, but his conservative parents disdained sports and refused to support him. His father, a typical public servant, was the special secretary of a cabinet member.
Mr. Tekelioglu also took up fencing and won several national championships and international events and continued his ice skating.
"Neither my parents nor my brothers and sisters came to watch me. I had no family support. I was on my own. But I was certain I could make money from figure skating. It was a passion," Mr. Tekelioglu reminisced.
In 1966, a French ice follies group came to Turkey and performed in various cities.
"I did not know that skating could be danced to music. I was fascinated. I left Turkey with the group and toured Europe with the skaters," he said.
He returned a year later and with a group of 17 others, including the president of the Skiing Federation, established Turkey’s first ice sports club in Ankara.
Turkey’s first ice rink was established in the late 1960s in the capital and he became its instructor, teaching basic steps to youngsters.
In 1981, he moved to Istanbul and worked as an instructor and sporting director at several ice rinks that were established in the city.
In the year 2000, he founded his own ice rink at a shopping center in the city of Bursa, in western Turkey, and established other ice rinks in Adana, Izmir and Isparta and Ankara. He runs the ice rinks with his son Yeler Tekelioglu, 36, a several time national figure skating champion, and his daughter Yeliz Tekelioglu, 28, also a professional figure skater.
As vice president of the Ice Skating Federation, he has overseen development of ice rinks throughout the country and the teaching of figure skaters, coaches and referees. Ice skating has entered the curriculum of several sports academies, and many of his former students have become university ice sports instructors.
Mr. Tekelioglu drives 10,000 km every month, crisscrossing the country, and inspecting ice sports facilities, training programs of instructors and figure skaters.
History of ice sports in Turkey
Ice skating first began in Turkey in the snow-blanketed Kars province , in northeastern Anatolia, at the end of World War One, with children and youths using ice skates abandoned by the Russian army after the emancipation of the province from 40 years of Russian rule. Using primitive skates, children in Kars even today skate from their homes to schools during the icy winters of the high-altitude city.
The Fenerbahce sports club, better known for its football and basketball teams, had a skating branch in the 1920s.
Ice sports have become highly popular in the country with new rinks opening across Turkey. The nation has Olympic-size ice rinks in the eastern city of Erzurum, Istanbul, Ankara, Izmit and Izmir, where skating and ice hockey events take place.
Several internationally famed athletes have emerged in Turkey.
Tugba Karademir was one of the leading women’s skaters in international competitions, including the European and World Figure Skating Championships. She retired two years ago at the age of 27 to pursue her university education in Canada.
Ankara skaters Alper Ucar and Aliza Agafonova won the silver medals in ice dancing at the university winter games in Erzurum in 2011. They are trained in the U.S. by Olympic and world ice dancing coach Natalia Dubova of Russia.