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Behind the scenes of figure skating - April 24

Philippe Candeloro savors the long goodbye

Philippe Candeloro performs his famous "Wild Wild West" routine.
Philippe Candeloro performs his famous "Wild Wild West" routine. (courtesy of J. Barry Mittan)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(04/24/2008) - At age 36, it seems young for two-time Olympic bronze medalist Philippe Candeloro to be talking retirement, but he says he's just making good on a decade-old promise.

"Ten years ago I announced that I will do my farewell tour in 2008," said Candeloro, who stood on the podium at the 1994 and '98 Winter Olympics, as well as the '94 and '95 world championships.

"This year, we arrive on the date, and I say it's a good time to do it," said Candeloro, known for his character programs, like The Godfather, D'Artagnan, Conan the Barbarian and Napoleon. "I'm in good shape. I'm still young, but that's why I want to stop when it's a good time. I don't want to see myself on the ice doing only double jumps."

Candeloro began his Hello & Goodbye tour, produced by Gliss Productions, in his native France this past February. They performed 19 shows and will resume in September with 55 shows, finishing in Paris in December. He sees the tour as an opportunity to tell a story about the many characters he's brought to life. He is on the ice for over an hour each show and also performs routines he made famous in his pro career, such as Wild Wild West, Saturday Night Fever and Braveheart, as well as new programs, The Matrix and Samurai.

There are 42 artists in the show, including non-skating stunt men, dancers and skaters. The show is playing in buildings with 3,000 to 6,000 seats, and they bring in their own tank ice. He feels smaller shows like this are the next wave in skating.

"I've always been on the right time of the skating world, like the great years I spent with Tom Collins and Champions on Ice," he said.

For several years Candeloro has done skating commentary for French television, at times stirring controversy. He is disappointed that no one seems to be filling his shoes as a showman and athlete. "I don't see many stars," he noted. "I see a lot of great champions, but showmen or entertaining people I don't see.

"There is no more time, no more space to make something like that anymore in the new judging system. That's why I say I lived on the best moments of figure skating.

"It's best to close my career with this show. I really enjoy what I'm doing. If you decide to stop, you decide to close the door. That's my feeling about my life and my skating life. I'm always thinking it's better to decide for yourself what you want to do than your life decides for you."

Candeloro hopes he can bring Hello & Goodbye to the United States, where he loved touring. "The best time in my life was when I was in Champions on Ice," he said. "For me, it was kind of a dream. I spent a great time doing what I really want. When I was on the ice, I skated for the audience."

During his final Champions on Ice tour in 2004, Candeloro skated to the song, "Proud to Be an American," to express his gratitude for the incredible opportunities he'd enjoyed. "Audiences gave me standing ovations, the little French guy. What could be more exciting?"

Over the past few years, he's accepted a few invitations to skate in shows in the U.S., but he's mostly performed in Europe to be close to his family: wife Olivia, a former dancer who works with her husband's show as a director and choreographer, and daughters Luna, 8, Maya, 6, and Thalia, 2. The girls skate a little, but Candeloro isn't pushing.

"Luna is a more artistic-minded girl," he said. "She loves painting and music. She loves to direct, like her mom. Maya is more the sports girl. She does gymnastics. Thalia is too young to have a favorite thing."

It looks like Candeloro won't quite make that 2008 deadline for his career, as it is likely he'll perform some shows in Japan, where he's always had rabid fans, in 2009. "That's my focus to complete this farewell tour," he said. "The Japanese fans really want me to go over there and skate for them one more time on the ice and see all the characters I have done in my career. If I do not go there, I will not complete what I started."

Candeloro hopes Hello & Goodbye will also mark the beginning of future work as a producer. "We try to prove ourselves and show what we can do," he said. "Hopefully in two or three years, we'll make a Broadway show on ice, with singing and acting."