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France to crown national champions

French Nationals to take place this weekend

Brian Joubert recovered from a flu-like virus just in time to claim his sixth title at French Nationals.
Brian Joubert recovered from a flu-like virus just in time to claim his sixth title at French Nationals. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(12/06/2007) - National championships are always a tough competition for all participants, whether they are held in the U.S., Canada, Japan or France. This is the competition where National titles are awarded. This is where international selections are usually made, when politics do not interfere too much. For most participants, National Championships also mean the end of their competitive season; while for some they mean the start of it. You can feel the pressure, both on the ice and off. Corridors are the place where you have to be. Skating halls are big enough for anyone to meet with anyone else and discuss. Sometimes you watch and sometimes you listen. Everywhere in the village, from restaurants to hotels, to the rink and along the streets in between, people talk skating. There is no way to escape it. On the ice and off, skaters have to deal with the pressure and skate their best.

Welcome to Megève!

The French National Championships should start tomorrow in Megève, a famous ski resort in the French Alps. Would you let me take you for just a short trip in time and space for a few seconds? Close your eyes and imagine. It is chilly. It is windy. You are right under the top of the Mount Blanc, not so far from Chamonix, the French capital of mountaineering. Today it is slightly raining, but you can imagine: snow flakes caress your face and start covering your hair. You can hear the sound of jingle bells around the neck of horses riding in the snow.

All this started in 1920, just after World War I. Baroness Noémie de Rothschild was embarrassed to see that the most glamorous winter resorts in Europe, St Moritz and Davos, in Switzerland, were located in a German-speaking land. So she decided to create a resort just as glamorous. A place where the rich and famous could luxuriate. Megève was born, along with its prestigious Mount d'Arbois hotel. Figure Skating was brought to Megève at the same time as downhill skiing. For decades, the glamorous guests of Megève had the slopes of the highest top of Europe to take advantage of sun and snow.

Here you are now: You can still hear horses trotting in the streets. Megève has welcomed numerous figure skating events. It was the first venue for the Junior World Championships, back in 1978. Minutes away from Megève is the village of Saint Gervais, where the then called "Grand Prix" competition has been the international skating "must" of the summer for more than 30 years. St Gervais saw the blossoming of many a champion, from Brian Orser to Denise Biellmann to Debi Thomas.

Who is coming?

Who should skate in the next 3 days still remains a big question.

In the Men's category, everyone is wondering if Brian Joubert has recovered from the virus that forced him to withdraw from the Trophee Eric Bompard Cachemire. And if he does come, what shape he will be in to skate. Alban Préaubert should be here, as well as Yannick Ponséro. 2005 silver medalist Samuel Contesti will not come, however, as he has elected to skate for Italy now (for those who remember, Samuel was denied his qualification for the Turin Olympic Games, even though he was clearly the second best skater in France at the time).

The Ladies category is having much trouble to find a successor to Surya Bonaly. Anne-Sophie Calvez, the 2006 national champion, is injured and will not skate. Favored to win may be Gwendoline Didier, who just finished eighth at the Eric Bompard Trophy. The Pairs category is trying to find its way back as well. Marylin Pla and Yannick Bonheur, the 2005 and 2006 French national champions, have called it quits. Yannick Bonheur has just started to skate again, but his new partner is not ready to compete yet. Jérôme Blanchard, who was once the big hope for French pairs skating, will not be here either; he is skating for Russia now. Adeline Canac and Maxime Coia should have a chance to win.

The ice dancing category is certainly the strongest France has ever had. Not less than three pairs have medaled in the Grand Prix events this season: Pernelle Caron and Matthieu Jost (third at Skate America), Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat (second at Skate Canada), and European gold medalists Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder (gold medalists at the Eric Bompard and NHK Trophy). Sadly, Péchalat and Bourzat just announced that they have withdrawn, due to an injured meniscus in Fabian's knee. The duo said they wanted to save forces for the Grand Prix Final, for which they have qualified for the first time in their career.

Yet for once, politics may not be around the ice

The Fédération Française des Sports de Glace (French Federation) has organized its General Council to elect its new President just one week after the conclusion of the French National Championships.

Eight applications have been received. Three of them were made famous during the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City - yet some for quite different reasons. Didier Gailhaguet was suspended for three years from the ISU after the 2002 Games. Marie-Reine Legougne, the judge who single-handedly sparked the pairs misjudging scandal, will also run for President. Eugène Peizerat, former General Secretary of the Federation, will also be a candidate. Other candidates include Marc Faujanet, a skating friend and sponsor.

Several of the main candidates should be campaigning in Megève this weekend. For once, the main discussions around the rink may not deal with the battle for the titles.