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Delobel, Schoenfelder out of Grand Prix Series

French team sets sights on Vancouver

Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder say they are in competition form for Vancouver.
Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder say they are in competition form for Vancouver. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/17/2009) - Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder are out of Skate America, but in for the European Championships and, hopefully, the Vancouver Olympics next February.

The 2008 world ice dance champions, who won that title after skating together nearly 20 years, aren't ready to call it quits. They'll train on, despite Delobel having given birth to a son, Loïs, on Oct. 1.

"We're impatient to get back to competition, and this will happen very soon," Schoenfelder said.

"I am doing very well," added Delobel, who is married to skier Ludovic Roux.

"All is well with my shoulder [after surgery in 2008]. A medical check-up is scheduled for two weeks from now, and I am in very good shape. We will start practicing again very soon [on October 26]. The baby is doing fine."

The ice dancers explained they would not be ready for their scheduled Grand Prix events, Skate America or Skate Canada, and would make a decision about the French Championships closer to the event.

When Delobel announced her pregnancy, many thought the veteran team (both are 31) would retire. But the couple's longtime coach, Muriel Boucher-Zazoui, and associate coach Romain Hagenauer, who train their dancers in Lyon, urged them forward.

"With Isabelle and Olivier, we plan the return [to competition] very carefully and take it step by step," Boucher-Zazoui said.

"Isabelle was skating until she was seven months pregnant. We already did the OD and free dance. It is not like the season is just starting now; the season started back in April."

The coach, who also trained Olympic champions Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat; world silver medalists Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon; and many other top teams, said Delobel and Schoenfelder will delay working on lifts.

"First we will focus on technical elements, like footwork and all the choreography, and build up endurance," she said.

Both skaters are excited about their new programs.

"For the OD we have chosen to skate a French Can-Can," Schoenfelder said. "It is very important for us to present well the French culture. Everyone comes to Paris to see this dance.

"For the free program, we decided to skate to music by Jacques Brel, "La Quete de Brel." We don't want to say everything about this program, but it is a very personal, a conclusion to our career. We put all our souls into it. We try to be very earnest and try to show what we are and skate the best we can."

"The free dance, it gave me goose bumps even when we began working on it this summer," Delobel added.

The new mother reasons returning to the ice after having Lois will be easier than recovering from shoulder surgery.

"The shoulder injury was difficult," she said. "After the surgery, it was a long recovery. Luckily I had a pregnancy with no problems. The baby will be an asset because now, going to Vancouver, I am also trying to get a medal for the baby."

The skater is consulting with other athlete mothers who have returned to training, including a fencing and biathlon champion, to get advice.

While Delobel was off the ice, Schoenfelder continued training on his own, without a stand-in.

"I did not have a replacement partner," he said. "I worked on the program and choreography by myself and also off ice physically to increase my endurance."

Schoenfelder, a married father himself, admitted news of Delobel's pregnancy came as a shock.

"Of course, it was a big surprise for me," he said. "At first, it was difficult. In one way I was very happy for Isabelle because I am a father, and I know how important having a baby is. But it was difficult at that first moment because I knew how hard it would be to prepare for the Olympic Games.

"When we decided to go forward, I just focused on what we had to do and trained and after 20 years together all the experience we had made it okay."