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A new start for the French national champion

Ponsero employs large team to get him ready for competition

Yannick Ponsero is among the top men competing at the Coup de Nice.
Yannick Ponsero is among the top men competing at the Coup de Nice. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(01/30/2009) - Yannick Ponsero, the new French national champion, was hardly known on the international scene until this season. His performances on the 2008 Grand Prix Series, however, proved that he was no longer "Mr. One Program Only," as he had been known in the past. Ponsero had always faltered on either the short or free program in any competition he had skated in. This season, it seems he has overcome some of those issues but is not over them entirely.

At Skate Canada, Ponsero won the short program, the first time he had won any segment at a Grand Prix event, but finished fourth after a sixth-place free skate. At the NHK Trophy, he found his consistency, placing third in each segment and earning the bronze medal, his first of any color on the GP circuit. In December, he made his biggest statement, winning gold at the French championships ahead of Alban Préaubert.

Unfortunately, the 22-year-old is not completely over his old ways. A week ago at the 2009 European Championships, Ponsero finished ninth in the short program only to come back a day later to win the free skate with a flawless performance. He finished fourth overall, 0.06 points behind bronze medalist Kevin van der Perren of Belgium.

This result clearly boosted Ponsero's motivation for the weeks and months to come. He detailed his new approach to competition to icenetwork.com:

icenetwork.com: What are your goals?
Yannick Ponsero: Clearly, my ambition is to get a medal at the Olympic Games. I see every competition I take as a stage toward my goal. I now have a whole staff helping me to reach that goal, and it helps. I have a mental counselor, a physical counselor, a dietitian -- I am probably the first French skater to have gathered such a team around him. We started last summer, and, to tell you the truth, it has already led me to significant results.

ICE: What do they bring to you?
YP: You see, I am one of the only French skaters not to finish my programs down on my knees. I am not exhausted, which proves that my physical preparation is excellent. As for my mental counselor, he has allowed me to frame things, which means that now I know what to do on-ice, off-ice, and even while I am resting. It helps me to develop my self-confidence. At Skate Canada, for instance, several of my competitors skating before me had a hard time. I also had a hard time, yet I managed to hold on to my program and to stick to the quality level I wanted. I even got a +3 GOE [Grade of Execution] for my triple Axel. It showed me that I was able to do it.

ICE: How does it work?
YP: We have defined some key words, sentences and images to which I refer all the time, and which help me. For instance, "page" is one word. A quad is one page, and once it is done, I need to turn the page. So I concentrate on that. As another example, we have defined "belly button." It may sound weird, yet in our vocabulary it means that I have to think of "rising!"

ICE: With so many people around you, how do they coordinate with one another?
YP: You are right; this is a very important question. My mental counselor was instrumental in bringing the team together. He is the one who suggested that I have a dietitian, for instance. I had never thought of it before. There is a lot of communication going between us all the time, actually. Each time a proposal is made by any one of them, we all communicate in a written format, so that we can keep track of it. We have also set up a special Internet site for the team to have all reports available of what we have done, what has worked, and what has not.

ICE: How do you think this new approach has allowed you to improve the reliability of your skating in competition?
YP: Tremendously. It helps me focus on what I need to do, not on what the others do. You know, I am not naturally self-confident. I used to spend a lot of energy watching the others. Now things have been framed, so that we know what we have to do.

ICE: What about the upcoming world championships in Los Angeles, to which you are qualified?
YP: I love the American audience. They are a great people, and the stands are usually full. They show some patriotism, yet no chauvinism. They applaud everyone who deserves it, whatever his or her nationality. Also, they appreciate the level of performance of a program, not only the status of a skater. For someone like me, it is very important.

Ponsero would have loved to stand on the European podium this year, next to his countryman and gold medalist Brian Joubert and silver medalist Samuel Contesti from Italy, who used to skate for France until 2007. He and Ponsero trained in Annecy for years under the tutelage of their coach, Didier Lucine. Ponsero did not join his current teammate and forming training partner on the podium this time, but he has set up his goals high for the competitions to come.