Where's Joubert? French star MIA in 2013-14Training relocations, squabble with federation affect skater's preparation
Just like Evan Lysacek and Evgeni Plushenko, Brian Joubert is among the three veteran male skaters still competing on the international scene. And just like those two former gold medalists, Joubert's preparation toward his last competitive season has been hampered by all kinds of mishaps. As the skating world is about to gather in Paris again for the Trophée Eric Bompard, it seemed appropriate to review Joubert's position, even though he is not going to skate in Paris.
For the last two years, 2007 world gold medalist and French star Joubert has been positive about his future. After four Olympics (2002, 2006, 2010 and potentially 2014), he will conclude his extended competitive career. He has already committed to skating in exhibitions next March and April and, as a result, will not compete at worlds.
Yet, no one has seen Joubert skating on either the national or international scene this season.
The least that can be said is that Joubert has had a rough start.
Joubert had to withdraw from Skate America earlier in October. For the first time in years, he was not enlisted in his home Grand Prix lap, the Trophée Eric Bompard, which opens Friday in Paris. Joubert even had to give up the idea of becoming the first men's skater to ever win all six laps of the Grand Prix over his career (Mao Asada became the first ladies skater to do so this season), as he did not compete at the Cup of China, the only one he still had to win.
What happened to him, really, and where is he?
Joubert was seen in Japan last summer, skating in exhibitions for two weeks. He lost his passport there, which made him stay one more week. Meanwhile, he missed the training session he was scheduled to lead in the Alps as a part of his coaching degree.
Then, at the end of August, Joubert decided not to go back to Paris, where he had trained all of last season. He switched again to his perennial coach, Véronique Guyon.
"Since I did not want to go back to Paris," Joubert explained, "I decided to train in La-Roche sur Yon."
La Roche sur Yon is a renowned training center near the Atlantic Ocean, about 90 minutes drive away from his Poitiers home.
So Joubert went back to Poitiers and commuted every day to La Roche sur Yon.
"It really started to become tiring," he said after a month there.
Fortunately, his rink opened again at the end of September. There was still a lot of construction work being done, but at least the ice was there.
"I was the last one to skate on the old rink before it closed," he said. "I cried then because it was such an important building throughout my life."
Joubert was also the first one to take the ice in the new rink.
"The ice is really good," he said, "even though it is quite new."
That, however, did not make Joubert as fit as he was supposed to be.
"With all this moving around, I was quite late on my schedule, so I decided not to skate at this year's French Masters," he said.
Joubert appeared to be quite sorry for missing the first national competition of the season. Held in early October, the French Masters have become a great opportunity for skaters to gather and show their programs to international judges in attendance.
"I had two alternatives really," he said. "Either I skated there and knew it would be a poor showing -- which would be bad both for my spirits and for my image -- or I decided to concentrate on my skating here to catch time back. I decided for the latter."
Joubert took the time to reenergize, both technically and physically. By mid-October, he had recovered all his jumps, especially the much-coveted quad which had eluded him at some critical points of his career.
"The quad is like a thermometer to me," Joubert once said. "When I can't land it, I feel lost."
At the end of last summer, Joubert said he would keep his free skate program to Gladiator. Then he claimed he would go back to Inception, the beautiful program Maxim Staviski and Albena Denkova carved for him in 2012.
"I will definitely skate to Gladiator this season," he confirmed recently.
Joubert's short program will be a new one, however.
"I will skate to a tango," he said. "Actually, it is not a real tango, it is not a real dance. It is still very sensual, I think, and yet it comes very naturally to me. I like it."
Joubert was back on track when he had to endure two major disappointments. The French Olympic Committee had nominated him, among other athletes, to carry the French flag at the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony. Jason Lamy-Chappuis, already an Olympic gold medalist in Nordic combined ski in 2010, was selected instead of Joubert.
Shortly after that, Joubert learned that he would not be going to Detroit for the first of his Grand Prix assignments of the season, Skate America. Some suggested that the French federation wanted to punish him for withdrawing from the French Masters at the last minute, which the Federation strongly denied afterward.
"At least I would have liked it to be more open," Joubert said. "There was no discussion at all. The French federation could have at least called me. I tried to call them several times, as I was worried not to receive my plane tickets, but no one ever answered."
At the end of last season, it seemed obvious that both Florent Amodio and Joubert would qualify easily for the Olympics (France has won two berths for Sochi). Joubert's poor shape at the end of the summer made some wonder whether he would be selected at all.
This seems not to be a question anymore. Amodio is not in the best shape either, as he is learning all his jumps again with his new coaching team. And Chafik Besseghier, who is on the rise, had to skip the first half of his season due to an injured ankle. Besseghier withdrew from the Trophée Eric Bompard.
So for now, Joubert is training hard to catch time back. The good thing with him is that, as one of his teammates suggested, "We know that we can trust him to be ready when it matters." Joubert's next Grand Prix is supposed to be the Rostelecom Cup next week. It should provide a hint on what his real form is.
Any way you slice it, the "three grand golden" men have had a rough road to Sochi.