French skaters say 'au revoir' to long season

Silété makes strides in recovery; Joubert contemplates coaching; Péchalat, Bourzat plan ahead

Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat have already started planning their new programs.
Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat have already started planning their new programs. (Getty Images)


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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to
(04/19/2013) - Just a couple of days after coming back from the 2013 World Team Trophy in Tokyo -- where the French team finished sixth -- the French skaters gathered one more time in Paris. They met in the Sonja Henie Arena, right beside the venue where the Trophée Eric Bompard usually takes place.

The gathering gave them the opportunity to evaluate the past season and to discuss their plans for the future.

"This has been quite a lengthy and exhausting season", Maé Bérénice Méité said. "It started early October with the French Masters, and it just ended last weekend in Tokyo. At the same time, it was such an instructive season. I have learned like never before in every aspect of the sport: technical, artistic, competitive ... It was a great season!"

Most skaters are scheduled to take some vacation before preparing their new programs for next season. Two notable exceptions, however, are ice dancers Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat, who have been working on their new programs throughout their last week in Paris, prior to flying back to their training base in Detroit.

Silété slowly coming back

Nine months have passed since Yrétha Silété endured her biggest sports injury ever; while preparing her programs for the season, Silété broke one of her crossed ligaments, injured a lateral one and damaged one of her menisci in early August, as she was training in Courchevel, in the French Alps.

That injury stopped her otherwise fast-ascending career. Silété had already won the French championships twice (the first one, she was still a junior). She also landed in a promising 12th place at her first worlds in 2012, after finishing eighth in the free skate.

One season later, Silété is back on her skates.

"It is such a pleasure for me to be able to skate again," Silété said. "I can see that I keep progressing, really, but it takes so much time. Now I am able to land a triple toe, but not more for the time being.

"In fact," she continued, "I think I am still a bit frightened that it might happen again. This slows me down, at least unconsciously."

Yet, her comeback requires her to be on the ice every day.

"I study every morning and I skate every afternoon", Silété said. "Next June, I should graduate from high school."

For next season, she intends to keep the two programs she was preparing for when she injured herself.

"I really love them both, so we will keep polishing them!" she said laughingly. "I will have had two years to work on them!"

Joubert should stay in Paris for Olympic season

Earlier in the season, Brian Joubert had hoped that his home rink of Poitiers, which was undergoing heavy work, would reopen before the Olympic season. It is now known that it will not be the case.

"Now, we know that if all goes well, it will open again in October and November at the earliest," Joubert said. "This is not so good for the Olympic season, yet I have found a good balance here in Paris, between the National Institute of Sports where I live and the rink in Bercy. I train well with my coaches (Katia Krier and Claude Péri when Katia is not available).

"Also, it is not good to change skating practice in the middle of the season, so I plan to stay here until the Games," he continued. "What matters most, as a matter of fact, is that my rink in Poitiers opens when I start my training center."

Joubert has never hidden his hopes of starting a coaching career after his lengthy competitive career is over.

"Actually, I will start coaching this summer during a one-month training session in the newly built rink in Vaujany, higher in the Alps. This is a requirement for me to pass my coaching degree."

"After that coaching session, I will start training myself," Joubert added. "To be fully honest, I was still three kilos heavier than my competition weight when I took the ice in London[, Ontario] for worlds. If I skate well at the beginning of the summer, it will be good for me!"

Joubert is still quite happy about his performance in London, although he left Canada with a disappointing ninth-place finish.

"I had two good programs, and I do not focus too much on the ranking," Joubert said. "Those things happen."

He intends to keep his free skate (to the Gladiator soundtrack) and change his short.

"I have never changed my two programs in the same season," Joubert explained. "This short program has worked two seasons, though, so it is time to change it!"

Péchalat and Bourzat build their new programs

Péchalat and Bourzat took a disappointing sixth-place finish at worlds, and could not skate in Tokyo for the World Team Trophy.

"We were not ready to compete there," Péchalat confirmed.

Bourzat's injury (a detached abductor muscle) in early January forced the duo to withdraw from the 2013 European Figure Skating Championships. Worlds proved to be too early for Bourzat to get enough practice, but he and Péchalat wanted to skate at worlds to secure two spots for the French team at the Olympics.

"It is now coming back steadily," Bourzat said. "The whole muscle seems to be all right. It is just very sensitive at the moment, so we try not to push too much on it."

"Actually, we have taken the time we had to prepare for the Olympic season earlier than usual," Péchalat said. "It was so frustrating for us to be forced not to skate that we figured that we needed to think ahead to avoid being depressed. We had finalized our concept at the Cup of China, in the fall of 2012, and we made our music choices last February."

"We are skating all day long now," Bourzat explained. "We have one week to create our two programs, and that should work."

The duo has elected to create their programs with their longtime choreographer, Laurie May, and renowned comedian and clown Julien Cottereau, with whom they created their "Circus" and "Charlie Chaplin" routines.

"For us, this is the best time of the season," both Péchalat and Bourzat emphasized. "We love creating new programs, building new characters, devising a storyline."

"We should announce our programs at the end of June," Péchalat said. "Right after we come back from our gala tour in Switzerland, Japan and China."

"Then in July and August, we will be working full speed in Detroit again," Bourzat added. "We will be ready for our first Grand Prix, you can believe me. We will make sure that we can skate with our closest rivals, just to show what we are capable of!

"Spending four months without competing made us eager to come back," he continued. "Our motivation has become quite acute these last months. We are at the top of our technique and maturity now, and we will be ready for the Olympics."

Preparing for the Olympic Team Trophy

The French team is also eager to fight for the Olympic Team Trophy.

"At the World Team Trophy in Tokyo, we missed some of our best team members," Méité said. "We finished last, but next year, in Sochi, we will aim for much higher!"

"The rules for the Olympic Team Trophy will not be the same as the ones which prevailed in Tokyo," Joubert explained. "In Tokyo, each national team had two skaters in men and two in ladies, which helped some of the stronger singles teams. In Sochi, it will be one only, and this could help our team."

"We are a real team now," team member Lenaëlle Gilleroy-Gory said. "Also, most of us train here, so we get to know one another quite well."

This should not change next season, as Joubert explained earlier. He, Florent Amodio, the three top girls, and French pairs champions Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès should still be skating in the Paris area next September.

"Actually we are more than a team", Méité said. "Now we are a real family. When someone is down, everyone is around him or her."

"The problem is," Joubert said with laughter, "when you make a mistake in singles, you put yourself in trouble. When you make a mistake in the team event, you put the whole team in trouble!"