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Not 'finis' yet! Péchalat, Bourzat head for worlds

Popular French dance duo decides to compete one last time, in Saitama
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Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat were disappointed to finish fourth at the Olympics, but they still have a chance to close out their careers on a high note. -Getty Images

"We have only one last chance to medal, and it will be at the Olympics," Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat, the popular French ice dance team, told icenetwork at the beginning of the Olympic season. They confirmed their decision again throughout the season: The Sochi Olympics would be their final competition in the eligible ranks. Although they skated exquisitely in Sochi, the two programs they carved with their team were rewarded with only a fourth-place result. Two weeks ago, however, the team announced that they would take part in the upcoming world championships, which start next week in Saitama, near Tokyo, in Japan. Péchalat, who often serves as a spokesperson for the team, agreed to tell icenetwork what made the team change its mind and with what ambition they are going to Japan.

Icenetwork: One month has passed since you skated in Sochi. How are you both?

Péchalat: We feel very well. We are happy to be back on the ice with Igor [Shpilband] and his team. Actually, I must say that it feels good to come back to the mood of competition! We came out quite disappointed from the Sochi Olympics, but our disappointment is now by far gone. We are very motivated at present, and we enjoy every moment we have on the ice.

Icenetwork: At the beginning and throughout the season, you stated clearly that you would not go to Saitama and would end your career right away after Sochi. What made you and Fabian change your minds?

Péchalat: That's right. We changed our mind because Igor told us that we were ready to go and that it would be a nice way for us to end our career with an additional world medal. (Péchalat and Bourzat won the bronze medal at the world championships in Nice in 2012.) The fact that these Championships are held in Japan has motivated us tremendously. We have always felt warmly supported by the Japanese audience. We have been many times to Japan to skate shows. We felt that skating in Saitama would be a great way for us to thank our Japanese skating fans and wish them goodbye -- at least on competitive ice.

Icenetwork: One thing you mentioned as a reason not to go to worlds was that you felt that you would not be able to motivate yourselves again after the climax of the Olympics, whatever the outcome. How did you manage to then re-motivate and resume training?

Péchalat: After we ended our own competition in Sochi, we stayed in Sochi and let ourselves go through the end of the Games in a rather festive atmosphere. We spent a lot of time and energy to support the other French Olympians who were still competing. Right after the Games, we left directly for the Art on Ice tour (which played between Feb. 27 and March 13 in Switzerland, Finland and Sweden). The tour has become a skating "must" in Europe, with a unique blend of live music and skating. Skating there has been a lot of fun for us. Also, we have been able to skate our short dance every evening!

Actually, we never really stopped practicing after the Games. I must admit, however, that we were still wondering whether we would go to worlds or not while we were in Sochi. So, just in case we would change our minds, we decided to keep practicing. When you're not sure about which decision to make, you need to keep all your options open. That's what we did.

Icenetwork: Did you have to give up participating in some shows, then, in order to be ready for Saitama?

Péchalat: No, not at all. The Art on Ice tour was over anyway, so we were available. Also, during the tour, we were [in] a small team of skaters to practice for Saitama. Florent Amodio, our friend from the French team, and the German pairs skaters (Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy), were doing the same. We skated some extra sessions on the ice to prepare ourselves while performing in the evenings.

We feel that we need to always go ahead. You give yourself heart and soul to a given competition. It may end up well, it may end up bad. In any case, once it is over, another day comes next and you need to think about the future.  

Icenetwork: So, you changed your minds once. Can your fans hope to see you compete again next year, then?

Péchalat: (She laughs.) Pardon me? No. Whatever happens, we will definitely leave competition after these worlds. This is said, and this is for good now!

Icenetwork: You know Japan quite well, as you mentioned. You should have skated worlds in Tokyo in 2011. You told icenetwork right away back then, when the tsunami hit the country so badly, how bad you felt for the Japanese people. How do you think you are going to like these Championships?

Péchalat: Well, I think it will just be sheer happiness this time. For us, it will just be like a bonus to our whole career! We are going to enjoy it, and at the same time [operate at] full speed. We love to skate in Japan. We just love the Japanese audience. Also, it will be the last time for us to compete as members of the French team and to skate with some competitors we have shared the ice with for so many years. So, I think that we will be completely relaxed, assured and, at the same time, completely motivated.

Icenetwork: No fear for placement?

Péchalat: I must say that the rest is not under our own control at all, so we'd better not think of it, and we don't. (She smiles.)

Icenetwork: You have carved your program to "Le Petit Prince et sa Rose," based upon the story written by Antoine de St Exupéry some 71 years ago. How do you think the Japanese audience will react to such a program?

Péchalat: From what we have seen, the Japanese people have a special feel for everything that deals with imagination. They love the world of childhood, colors, dreams, fantasy. I think -- and I hope -- this program will please them. We are going to do our best for this!

Icenetwork: What will be your ambition in Saitama?

Péchalat: Go for the gold, of course!

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