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Lambiel will miss Grand Prix assignments

Injury forces withdrawal of two-time world champion

Stephane Lambiel's sudden retirement four months ago stunned the figure skating world.
Stephane Lambiel's sudden retirement four months ago stunned the figure skating world. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/10/2008) - At the Ice Vault Arena in Wayne, N.J., last week, Galina Zmievskaya shook her head.

"This is our first week of real practice," the coach of Olympic champions Viktor Petrenko and Oksana Baiul said. "He has been in Switzerland; he has been in Germany. Back and forth."

For Stéphane Lambiel, time is growing short. The two-time world champion (2005 and 2006) is battling a left abductor (groin) injury, hoping to recover in time to compete at the 2008 HomeSense Skate Canada in Ottawa, Oct. 30 to Nov. 2.

"I'm doing what I have to do to get ready," the 23-year-old skater said. "I know if I don't do Skate Canada, I'm not going to compete at the [ISU] Grand Prix Final, and for me, the final is very important. I already won it twice [in 2005 and 2007], and I really want to win it again."

According to Lambiel, the injury has troubled him since the 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Gothenburg this March, where he finished fifth.

"My doctors tell me abductor problems are very hard to heal, because the muscle is very complicated," he said, icing his injury as he spoke.

"It takes time. I had to stop [training] for some weeks. I saw a lot of doctors to do the maximum to heal as fast as possible, because the season is starting and I need to get ready. If I continue to get better, I will do Skate Canada."

Since Gothenburg, Lambiel's training schedule has been stop-and-start. He took several weeks off after worlds before traveling to Saitama to compete at the Japan Open on Apr. 20. In May, he left his home in Lausanne, and long-time coach Peter Grütter, to try out with Zmievskaya and her son-in-law Petrenko. After 10 days in New Jersey, he returned to Switzerland for medical treatment.

"By the end of June, I thought it was fine, so I came back [to Wayne] and trained for about five weeks," Lambiel remembered. "After that, I almost couldn't walk, so I went back home."

On his Swiss doctor's advice, Lambiel consulted a specialist in Munich, who also works with that city's Bayern soccer team. He returned to New Jersey in late September to resume work on his competitive programs.

"Now I am practicing again, but I am still taking a lot of time to take care of my injury," he said. "I have to tape it before practicing; I have to skate with support pants to get the muscle tight; and I need to ice it after the practice."

Despite his injury, Lambiel performed in several shows in Japan last month and has exhibitions scheduled in Italy.

"The last show I did was in Japan a few weeks ago; that was the first step to see if [the abductor] was healing or not," he said. "Before I went to Japan, I went to my doctor in Munich. He said he thought I was doing well, that I might have some pain but not a dangerous pain."

With Skate Canada and his second event, the Trophée Eric Bompard, fast approaching, the skater must perfect two new routines: a short program set to George Gershwin's "Summertime" and a long, to Astor Piazzolla's dramatic "Otoño Porteño" tango.

"Of course, I picked out these [selections] myself," the Swiss said. "I like this tango because it is very aggressive. I feel its energy; I feel the power in the music. I needed something like [the tango] to balance with my short program, which is more jazzy and relaxed."

After Zmievskaya laid out the elements, Lambiel sought out dancer Antonio Najarro, who created the famous flamenco program he has performed the past two years.

"Antonio worked on the tango steps and movements," he said. "He also worked for one day on my 'Summertime' program, and I worked on it for a few hours with [longtime choreographer] Salome Brunner as well. But the short still needs a little bit more work, I think. Right now, Galina and I are going step-by-step, trying to get all of the jumps."

Lambiel's most problematic element is the triple Axel, a jump he failed to land cleanly at either the European or world championships earlier this year. His inconsistency with the move was a big factor in his coaching change.

"I was looking for people who could help me to improve my skating, and there were not so many possibilities," he said. "My first choice was to skate with Viktor and Galina, because Viktor had a great triple Axel and Galina taught it to him.

"Also, the way they work is very good for me right now. I need someone very strict, who will tell me exactly what I have to do."

Zmievskaya spent the first week of October examining her pupil's double Axel, unwilling to let him try triples until she sees the lift and rotation she wants.

"Once I do the double Axel [correctly], we will add the third revolution, because she knows I will land it," Lambiel reasoned. "She doesn't want me to try it and fall and fall. That only teaches you to fail. There is no reason the Axel will not be back. I will do it, and the quad [toe], at my competitions."

Lambiel's arrival raised eyebrows in the skating world, because reigning world bronze medalist Johnny Weir, the three-time U.S. champion, trains with Zmievskaya and Petrenko as well. Although the skaters practiced together when the Swiss first arrived, these days the two barely cross paths.

"They've separated us now, because it's so close to competition," Weir said. "Viktor is away doing shows, so Galina and Nina [Petrenko] are taking care of both of us right now. In the morning, I practice from 9:30 to 10:30, and then he gets on just as I'm finishing. Same thing in the afternoon.

"[Training together] doesn't affect me the way it would if we were 16 or 17. I'm 24. I have two more seasons, and then maybe I'm done competing. At this point, I'm not thinking about what anyone else is doing."

Lambiel agreed, but said there were benefits sharing the ice with another elite contender.

"It's good to have competition during the practices; that way, you're not scared when you actually get to the events," he said.

"Viktor is not here, and it's hard for Galina to have eyes for two people. When Viktor is here, it is going to be another story. I need a lot of attention because I'm very late in my preparation. Johnny needs a lot of attention because he is competing in a few weeks [at Skate America]."

Away from the ice, Lambiel leads a low-key life in Wayne. Unable to find an apartment to his liking, he is staying at the Petrenko home, where he spends evenings sending e-mails and watching television with the Petrenko's 11-year-old daughter Viktoria.

"It's nice to spend time with her; she is like my American little sister," he said. "And American television shows, like Desperate Housewives, are so good. I love them. You can't stop watching. you want to know what will happen next. And it's good for my English, too.

"On the weekends, I like to go to [Manhattan]. It's only a 40-minute drive. I walk around Central Park; I shop. I'm not bored, when I'm tired I can rest, and when I need to do something, the city is there. It's a perfect situation, actually."

Update: On Oct. 14, Lambiel withdrew from his 2008 Grand Prix assignments. It is unclear when he will make his return to competition.