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Pechalat and Bourzat, Amodio win in Strasbourg

Joubert withdraws because of flu; James, Ciprès continue to show growth; Ventard upsets Méité

Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat won their fourth French title last week in Strasbourg.
Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat won their fourth French title last week in Strasbourg. (AFP)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(12/17/2012) - The French Figure Skating Championships were held last week in Strasbourg, where Florent Amodio (men's), Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès (pairs), Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Boruzat (ice dancing) and Anaïs Ventard (ladies) won national titles.

Men's: Amodio wins

"We will all miss him" was Amodio's comment when he learned that Brian Joubert had to withdraw from French nationals because of the flu. "They are again going to say that I only win when he is not around!" he added with laughter. (Amodio won his first and only previous national title in 2009, when Joubert was away).

"Anyway, my ambition is to skate two great programs," Amodio concluded.

To be fully honest, the competition was not really strong for Amodio, as he won his second French gold medal with 230.44 points, 40 points ahead of silver medalist Chafik Besseghier (190.54 pts). Romain Ponsart was third with 184.24 points.

The main question in Strasbourg was to find out how Amodio would cope with the change of short program he had promised right after Trophée Eric Bompard, just four weeks ago. He did not disclose his new choice in Strasbourg but said he might unveil it in Zagreb, Croatia, at the 2013 European Championships.

Amodio did not skate to his flamenco routine again but instead elected to skate to a shorter version of his free program from last year. He won the short program with 78.41 points, ahead of Besseghier (65.24 points) and Ponsart (59.23 points). After the championships were over, Amodio suggested that he might skate that same program for the rest of the season.

Amodio did not skate his free program quite as brilliantly as he had at Bompard (where he won that segment), but it was close. His quadruple Salchow was downgraded, but the rest of his program was near perfect.

"Today I am a happy man," Amodio said. "I have skated two solid programs here in Strasbourg, and I have the feeling that I master my programs now. I can even catch back on some smaller mistakes, and I am confident that these programs can take me quite high this year."

Pairs: James and Ciprès are on their way

When they started to land difficult pairs maneuvers, James and Ciprès thought that it was just a result of hard work and luck. Yet competition after competition, the pair has shown obvious improvement since the start of this season.

"I think we have now found the right way to skate together," Ciprès explained prior to the event.

It was obvious in Strasbourg, as it had been one week before at the NRW Trophy in Dortmund, Germany, where the team won the silver medal. Not only were James and Ciprès strong, they were also beautiful to watch, with ample lifts and great jumps.

In their free program, which they skated to the Pearl Harbor soundtrack, their opening triple twist (a new move they added this season) proved to be a nightmare, as James could not complete her triple rotation.

"I lacked the amplitude," Ciprès explained.

"This is the first -- and it will be the last -- time [that happens]," James said with a laugh.

"We, nonetheless, proved that we could recompose quickly from such a mishap, which was good. We should now aim at a top-five finish at the upcoming European championships," Ciprès said. "Actually, we should aim at the podium and target to finish in the top five!"

James and Ciprès won their first national gold medal with 162.01 points, ahead of Daria Popova and Bruno Massot, who had more difficulties and finished second with 134.54 points. Only two pairs competed in the event.

Ladies: Another surprise, another silver medal for Méité

Who can ever dare say that Annecy is not the foremost training center for ladies skaters in France? Six of the top 10 finishers at French nationals were coming from Annecy. Among them was the surprise winner, Anaïs Ventard, only 16 years old and still a junior skater.

Everyone thought that 2012 would be Maé-Bérénice Méité's year at nationals. Méité, indeed, won the short program on Thursday night, 0.70 points ahead of Ventard, and she started her free routine rather well, but the rest of her program was a near disaster. She ended in second place behind Ventard, 154.04 to 153.48.

Only two of the four first finishers have achieved the minimum technical standards to participate in the European championships: Méité and Lenaëlle Gilleron-Gory, who took fourth place in Strasbourg.

Dance: Péchalat and Bourzat -- who else?

"We are so tired," Péchalat said after she and Bourzat won the short dance. "We did not do any major mistakes, but we need to go back home and work deeper on each detail of our program."

Their French can-can and delightful waltz got them 70.68 points.

Pernelle Carron and Lloyd Jones started their free dance in second place, with 57.27 points. The team has now relocated to Chester, a charming little town close to Wales, in Great Britain.

"We love our free program so much. That song from Jacques Brel, 'les vieux amants' [or 'the old lovers,' in French], was meant for us, but I think everyone can really feel it deep in one's heart," Carron said.

They scored 148.09 points overall, putting them almost 30 points behind Péchalat and Bourzat, who scored 177.21.

Péchalat and Bourzat's Rolling Stones medley brought the whole arena to its feet.

"I did not think that we could skate at that level here," a delighted Péchalat said.

The French team won its fourth national gold medal in Strasbourg.

There is little doubt that the holiday season will provide some welcome rest to all contestants, before the second part of the season starts.

Like in the good old days...

For the first time ever, French nationals was a gathering of five sports: figure skating, ice dancing, short track, synchronized skating and Theatre On Ice. Although these nationals will not be qualifying events beyond figure skating and ice dancing, they demonstrated that all ice sports were interesting and fun to watch. They also showed the athletes that they all belong to the same ice-sport family.

"We are usually quite lonely in our sport," a short track champion suggested.

"One year beyond Sochi, it is a good idea to meet with one another," Bourzat added.

This practice was reminiscent of how ice-sport events were organized in the 1930s. Back then, Sonja Henie, the three-time Olympic gold medalist from Norway, and her likes were skating their exhibitions in between the 20-minute periods of the most important hockey games of their time. The hockey and ice sport federations split a few years ago, but there are still enough sports under the same flag to display a brilliant and varied competition. If "boredom was born from uniformity," the initiative to gather these sports is a great one!

Happy birthday, Jacqueline!

One person certainly remembers those days when she skated in the Sports Palace in Paris, between two hockey periods, along with her good friend -- and yet rival -- on the ice, Sonja Henie. Her name is Jacqueline Vaudecrane, and she just turned 99 years old. Vaudecrane was born just one year after Henie (who died from leukemia in 1969). She coached Jacqueline du Bief, Alain Giletti and Alain Calmat to world gold medals in the 1950s and '60s.

From one Iceberg to the next

In Sochi, the 2014 Olympic rink, which welcomed the Grand Prix finalists one week ago, is called "the Iceberg." Strangely enough, the French nationals venue in Strasbourg is also called "the Iceberg." Two teams have successfully visited both: Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron (who took the silver medal in junior ice dance in Sochi) and Péchalat and Bourzat (who won the bronze medal in senior ice dance). They both won in Strasbourg.

What's "Lutz"?

Strasbourg is just one river away from Germany. In the city, a strange poster can be seen. It's an advertisement for "Lutz," and it bears such words as "openings," "solid" and also "Alsace made." Would it be meant as an announcement for French nationals themselves? Would there be a similar poster with "flip," "Salchow" or "Rittberger" (the German word for "loop," from the name of its creator, Werner Rittberger)?

In fact, "Lutz" proved to be the brand of a popular window and door maker here in the province of Alsace.