Lambiel announces retirement from competition

Two-time world champion succumbs to persistent groin injury

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
(10/16/2008) - Stéphane Lambiel, the two-time Swiss world champion renowned for his masterful spins and dynamic musical interpretation, announced his retirement from competitive skating on Thursday.

Lambiel said his decision was prompted by a persistent left abductor (groin) injury that has troubled him since the 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden this March.

"I have not been in the position to train at 100 percent," the 23-year-old told assembled reporters in Bern. "You can only win when you are fully fit, but my body does not allow that any more."

Lambiel added that the requirements of the International Judging System (IJS) contributed to his decision, saying it put great stress on skaters' bodies.

"My injury hurts not only when I do certain jumps, but also in some of my spin positions," the skater, who also won the silver medal at the 2006 Olympics, explained.

Lambiel has withdrawn from his two fall ISU Grand Prix events, Skate Canada and Trophée Eric Bompard. He will continue to perform in shows.

While Lambiel's retirement -- like world champion Jeffrey Buttle's in September -- took the skating world off-guard, it comes as no great surprise to anyone who has watched his recent practice sessions at Wayne, New Jersey's Ice Vault Arena.

Training with coach Galina Zmievskaya, the skater's step sequences and on-ice charisma were intact, but his jumps were missing.

"The rotation is there but my legs feel weak. I am doing what I can do; I cannot rush things, because of my injury," he said at the time.

Since placing fifth in Gothenburg, Lambiel has been unable to fully train his competitive programs, including a new free skate set to Astor Piazzolla's dramatic "Otoño Porteño" tango. After Gothenburg, he took several weeks off before competing at the Japan Open in April. In May, he left long-time mentor Peter Grütter to train with Zmievskaya and 1992 Olympic champion Petrenko for 10 days, then returned to Switzerland for more therapy.

At the end of June, he re-joined Zmievskaya in Wayne, only to leave five weeks later when his injury flared up again. At times, he could hardly walk.

"It is a very old injury, I had it at worlds," he said. "My doctors told me I had to stop skating for some weeks and do a lot of physiotherapy.

"Right now, I am practicing, but I take a lot of time to take care of my injury. I tape it up before practicing; I skate with support pants to get the muscle tight. I ice it after practice and I use an electro machine to relax it. It's a big process."

Lambiel sought help from a specialist in Munich, who prescribed homeopathic shots to relax the muscle. The skater also consulted a chiropractor and had regular massage treatments. Curiously, none of this affected his performing schedule, including shows in Japan in September and a gala event in Italy earlier this month.

"I always consult my doctor before I do shows and get the green light," Lambiel explained. "He says, 'Do only the things that don't hurt you.' I know what the problem is and I know what jumps hurt the abductor. But a competition program is much harder; you can't just skate with two feet on the ice and move your arms."

In January 2007, there were already signs that Lambiel may have had enough. He shocked members of his inner circle by withdrawing from the European Championships -- an event he has never won -- citing burnout and fatigue.

"I must stand back; the inner fire is not there," he said at the time. "I need time to rebound and have new experiences. I rule nothing out."

Two months later, Lambiel returned to competition at the world championships, winning the bronze medal with a free program that included two quadruple toe loops.

Just two weeks ago, at the training session in Wayne, he denied he was once again considering retirement: "The desire is here. If I had no desire, I would definitely not be here, because there are a lot of things I can do at home."

Evidently, careful consideration of his injury made the skater change his mind yet again.