When future meets past and present

This week's notebook from France

Brian Joubert.
Brian Joubert. (Getty Images)


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By by Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to
(01/17/2008) - When future meets past and present.

Toward the Europeans

Brian Joubert, Yannick Ponsero, Alban Préaubert in the Men; Gwendoline Didier in the Ladies; Mélodie Châtaignier and Mehdi Bouzzine in the Pairs; Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat, Pernelle Carron and in Ice Dancing: all should be heading to Zagreb, Croatia between today and tomorrow. The French Team was the best ranked national team at last year's European Championships, with Brian Joubert and Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder both winning a gold medal. The Team hopes to reiterate the feat this year, if not add one more medal in the Men's category.

A Dance for today

Delobel and Schoenfelder are considered as "regular subscribers" to fourth place (as the French nicely put it). They finished fourth at the last Olympics, fourth again at last year's world championships, Yet they know that this season might be theirs, with Albena Denkova and Maksim Staviski, current world champions, and Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, current world silver medalists, away from the competitive rinks this year.

"This is a very good opportunity for us to make a good season," Schoenfelder stated. "Still, we know that many couples are excellent, especially younger ones. These young couples are very strong, especially in technique. So we need to work if we want not to miss that opportunity." Work is just what Delobel and Schoenfelder did after the Grand Prix Final last December, in order to improve both of their programs.

"Our favorite dance is the tango," Delobel said about the original dance. "Still, we loved preparing this year's Folklore. We chose ours because we are the current European champions, so we wanted a theme that would really represent France. We did not want Cabaret or Moulin Rouge, or French can-can music. The ISU did not accept those anyway. So finally we found folklore from Brittany. It may be considered as the ancestor of dance in our country."

"We tried to find real French folklore," Schoenfelder added. "But we wanted to find a kind of a modern instrumental music. Folklore can be a little boring sometimes, but we finally managed to find a group that made powerful music."

Their free dance is based upon a completely original theme: the language of signs for deaf and mute people.

"We had thought of that idea a few years ago," Delobel explained. "But we had not tried it. Yet you know how things go: good ideas always come back. We listened to the music from the movie The Piano Lesson, and we found it perfectly suited.

"Such music does not let you aside. You realize that something is going to happen and come across."

"Our story is a love story," Schoenfelder added. "She can not speak to me, and she thinks that this is a problem. Our program is about the conversation we have with our bodies and our signs. One part of the program is sad, when things do not work out; one part is happy, when we can be together."

"Olivier and I are so different," Delobel concluded. "Yet we complement one another. We have the same goal and we pull ourselves forward. We are opened to all kinds of styles and music. We have never had a bit of difficulty to select a theme or a musical piece. We may be different, but it carries both of us along."

From European to Olympics

Future builds up also from the past. 40 years ago, the Winter Olympics were organized in Grenoble, in the French Alps. France had made it a national event, and the winners from those days are still considered as heroes today. Peggy Fleming's Olympic gold medal will be forever remembered by all those who watched her that night, as many owe her their passion for skating. Oleg and Ludmilla Protopopov won their second Olympic gold medal in Grenoble. At the time, ice dancing was still not an Olympic sport. French Alain Calmat, who had won the Men's world championship 3 years before in Colorado Springs, carried the Olympic Torch in front of the crowd, just before General De Gaulle opened the Games.

Next Jan. 31st, many skating heroes of that era should gather at the newly built ice rink in Grenoble. Peggy Fleming, Alain Calmat should be warmly celebrated. Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, Sarah Abitbol and Stéphane Bernadis, Brian Joubert, all world medalists for France in the recent years, should give an exhibition, as well as the other skaters from the French team coming back from Zagreb.

Oleg and Ludmilla Protopopov should even make up the gap between then and now, as they offered to skate a special exhibition. "2007 and 2008 are special years for us," Oleg stated. "Last December Ludmilla and I celebrated our golden wedding anniversary (50 years of marriage). I turned 75 last July. And now we will celebrate the 40th anniversary of our second Olympic gold medal in Grenoble."

The city of Grenoble might be a possible candidate for organizing the Winter Olympics in 2018. Past may never be far from future.