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World champions ready for Skate America

French team questioned everything and come back stronger

Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder are aiming for Vancouver in 2010.
Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder are aiming for Vancouver in 2010. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(10/20/2008) - Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder won a surprise (yet deserved) gold medal in ice dance last March. Now, they are preparing for their first international competition of the season -- Skate America.

"We are in a great shape," Delobel said. "We are heading to the United States with a big heart, and we are eager to display our new programs. We are so happy to have made the decision to stay eligible and to be able to make this trip."

Delobel and Schoenfelder decided to keep competing after their world gold medal. Their decision was not a simple one. "Our world title was an intense personal satisfaction for us," Delobel explained. "We have believed in something, we have fought for it and we have made it happened. This is absolutely irreplaceable in one's life. Then the question was whether to keep skating competitively or not. We love what we do, we still feel fit and healthy for it, so we decided to keep going."

Yet, once their decision was made, the duo needed to be up to the task -- many wondered whether they could renew themselves enough to still be competitive on the world scene. At first glance, their new programs would tend to answer an enthusiastic "yes" to this question.

They devised their new programs with their former teammates Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, of Canada, who had just retired from competitive skating (and subsequently got married during the summer).

"They have brought us some of their style," Schoenfelder said. "And the way they create a program, which is much more open in Northern America."

"They trained together in Lyon for several seasons with Isabelle and Olivier," Muriel Boucher Zazoui, their coach, explained. "The two couples had tremendous respect for one another. So, I thought Marie-France and Patrice could bring their own way of performing to Isabelle and Olivier, which they did. You know, at their age, with their experience, the decision they made to keep competing is one of a man and a woman at the peak of their art; who really deserve to be looked at as great professionals of their sport."

"This year we tried to be innovative and do something fun," Schoenfelder added. "In the original dance, for instance, we did not want to just do a plain boogie, so we added some humor into it. Our lifts are completely innovative, to say the least."

Their original dance portrays a Red Cross nurse (Delobel) and one of her older patients (Schoenfelder), who manages to overcome his age thanks to his nurse's efforts.

"Make-up certainly makes me look older. My wife has not seen it yet!" he says with a smile.

"When you see our free dance", Delobel added, "You can see that it is a bit of our story, and I can tell you it was very moving to set it up. You will see our times of joy, our times of doubt or despair. We give a lot of ourselves to the audience during that program, and we can feel their own feelings from the ice.

"Having won the world title gave us much more serenity, and many people told us they found us transformed. It is true. We have much more complicity with Olivier now, as we have reached our life long dream."

At nearly 32 and 31, how do they cope with their physical condition?

"We try to preserve our health," Schoenfelder explained. "We adapt our training schedules accordingly. Yet, you can be sure that training has remained quite hard!"

Seeing their programs, and the maneuvers they attempt, leaves little doubt about it.

"It will be very challenging throughout the next two seasons," Delobel added. "Yet the two upcoming years will give us some bonus time of what we like most!"

Delobel and Schoenfelder will open their new season in the U.S., just like they will end it (in Los Angeles for the 2009 ISU World Championships).

"You know, Everett is in between L.A. and Vancouver," Delobel noted. "Whatever the orientation of the rink is, we will turn our looks toward the North and place our right hand on our hearts," she promised.

As if they were listening to their national anthem? For sure, they will have prepared for it.