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London calling: Ice dancers vow to defend turf

French say Russians are no match; Weaver, Poje re-vamp free dance

Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat of France are unconcerned about losing at worlds to either of the two hard-charging Russian dance teams.
Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat of France are unconcerned about losing at worlds to either of the two hard-charging Russian dance teams. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/13/2013) - Competing in London two months after a partial tear of a right adductor muscle, Fabian Bourzat doesn't claim to have all of his powers. But he thinks that what he and partner Nathalie Péchalat have will be good enough.

"No, I am not 100 percent," Bourzat, 32, said in the mixed zone after Tuesday morning's short dance practice at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships. "But when you come to a competition, you do what you have to do, or else you don't come."

The two-time European ice dance champions, who won world bronze last season behind Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, are not competing here simply for the satisfaction, or to help France secure multiple spots for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. They said they have not changed their programs to accommodate Bourzat's injury. Their goal is simple.

"We are here to get a medal, to get closer to the Canadians and Americans," Bourzat said. "We were doing that this fall, [before] I was injured."

The French won both of their 2012 Grand Prix events and qualified for their fourth Grand Prix Final, where they took bronze behind the two top teams.

Then, Bourzat was injured during a practice session at their training home, the Detroit Skating Club (DSC), where they are coached by a team headed by Pasquale Camerlengo and Anjelika Krylova. The torn adductor kept him off ice for a month and forced them to withdraw from the 2013 European Figure Skating Championships in Zagreb, Croatia, where Russian teams Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, and Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, won gold and silver, respectively.

Asked by reporters whether either of the two Russians teams were a threat to win bronze here, the French were emphatic.

"In their dreams," Pechalat, 29, said. "We won't let them do that."

"We were far ahead of [Bobrova and Soloviev] at the beginning of the season, at Cup of China," Bourzat said. "We were also in front of both of the Russian teams at the Grand Prix Final. Since they won Europeans, when we did not go, they may think they match us, but they don't."

The French won Cup of China by some 10 points; the Russian teams placed fifth and sixth at the Grand Prix Final.

Pechalat traveled to Zagreb in her role as French team captain. There, she held a press conference announcing she and Bourzat would compete in London, Ontario.

"Emotionally, missing Europeans -- not being able to defend our title -- was sad and frustrating," she said. "Now we are back and fully motivated. A big part of the season is the world championships."

Bourzat, who was recuperating in his hometown of Lyon, watched the men's event in Zagreb but skipped watching Bobrova and Soloviev claim the ice dance title.

"I know the way they skate; I don't need to see more," he said.

Péchalat could not decide which of the Russian teams posed the greater threat.

"I'm just happy I'm not a judge or controller," she said. "They have completely different styles. It's hard to differentiate between the two of them."

For Bourzat, it doesn't matter what other teams do.

"We have the experience; our programs are great this year," he said. "We still have our skating skills; they did not go away in a month. We are ready, and we will try."

Weaver, Poje to unveil new choreography

Pechalat and Bourzat's training partners, Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, are also returning from injury. Weaver broke her left fibula (ankle) during a training session at DSC on Dec. 14. She had surgery in Toronto on Dec. 18 and returned to the ice Feb. 7.

Last week, they received confirmation from Skate Canada that they would compete here in London.

"We asked the surgeon, 'Worlds are in March -- will we be able to make it?' and she said, 'Maybe not,'" Weaver said. "That was a sad moment, but if you know anything about Andrew and me, it's that no one can tell us what we can do. We are always the underdogs. ... Making it to London, I think it's just a testament to how committed we are and how good my treatment was."

Unlike the French, the Canadians were not fully satisfied with their programs prior to their injury. Their free dance to Nathan Lanier's "Humanity in Motion," in which they portray statues coming to life, garnered mixed reviews at their Grand Prix events, and they did not qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

"There were a couple of things wrong with the program from the outset," Weaver said. "We didn't feel as connected to it as we have to past programs; something was missing. On top of that, we weren't getting the right levels, and every judge had something different to say about levels, choreography and music."

The team turned to its coach, Camerlengo, and Shae-Lynn Bourne for a new look.

"We can say this is not a remodeled version -- it is pretty much a new program," Camerlengo said. "The music is slightly different. The steps are pretty much all new. We're very happy with the result.

"I was very disappointed, because all of the work was done before her injury. I was so excited, I couldn't wait to see the program [in competition]. With a fracture, it is hard to complete the season, and I thought we probably would never perform it in front of an audience. Being at the world championships is already a victory and worth a medal."

The Canadians will sport new costumes in both their free dance and short dance. While the free dance steps are almost entirely new, the lifts remain the same.

"We've changed the order of the lifts since the first version," Weaver said. "Had the lifts [put more pressure] on my left foot, we would have had to change them."

"We sent video to our federation, for them to assess and get a feeling for the program," Poje said. "It's been quick. There hasn't been much time."

Like Pechalat and Bourzat, the Canadians -- who placed fourth at the 2012 World Championships -- are not conceding anything to their rivals.

"Of course, they want to be with the best," Camerlengo said. "The problem is, we missed two months' practice and improvement of the program. Eight weeks is a lot [to be] off of the ice. We really needed those two months, which we, unfortunately, didn't have. Right now, they look good, and I'm very proud of them."

"We feel strong enough to be in the top group and help set ourselves up for next season," Weaver said. "If we couldn't skate our programs, we would not be here. We're honest and real about it. We are in good enough shape."