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Pechalat, Bourzat turn to Shpilband for final run

Gailhaguet suggested move, but skaters 'trust Igor 100 percent'

Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat chat with their former coach, Pasquale Camerlengo.
Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat chat with their former coach, Pasquale Camerlengo. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(05/28/2013) - Seeking to regain momentum for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat made a bold and painful move, leaving their Detroit Skating Club (DSC) coaches to join Igor Shpilband's camp in nearby Novi, Mich.

"Actually, the French federation pushed us this way," Bourzat said last week. "It was hard to leave. We have a good relationship and friendship with Pasquale Camerlengo and everyone else in Detroit. They were all really great.

"It was a decision we had to make, and I think, so far, it will be the best for us. We have about eight months left in our career and we want to work with Igor to improve our technical elements. I think we are already strong when it comes to style and choreography."

The French approached Shpilband, whose camp at Novi Ice Arena is about a 30-40 minute drive from DSC, shortly before they announced the move earlier this month.

"It was kind of a surprise for me," Shpilband said. "Usually, teams make changes like this right after worlds, but for some reason they waited.

"My first impression of them is they are very sophisticated, they know exactly what they want. They work very well together. They're very determined, very mature. It's a pleasure to work with them."

Camerlengo and his wife, two-time world ice dance champion Anjelika Krylova, had coached the French since May 2011, leading them to the 2012 European title and 2012 world bronze medal.

He was taken aback by the change.

"It was unexpected, a surprise for us," Camerlengo said. "Of course, when you say, 'the French federation,' that means [federation president] Didier Gailhaguet. He makes the decisions, and he said he wouldn't help Nathalie and Fabian economically unless they decided to switch.

"It is really disappointing he put them in this situation. They were used to working with us; they were enjoying working with us. [Didier] thought it wasn't working; sometimes, when everybody thinks one way, he likes to think the other way. I don't know any other reason, but the choice was made."

Péchalat and Bourzat, 29 and 32 respectively, began last season strong, winning their two Grand Prix events as well as bronze at the 2012 Grand Prix Final in Sochi in December.

Then, Bourzat suffered a groin injury in training, preventing them from defending their European title in January. With limited training time, they placed sixth at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships.

"We needed to [compete at the world championships] to get two ice dance spots for France [at the Olympics]," Bourzat said. "We got the spots, and then we could relax until [the injury] got much better."

"Our goal is to be the best we can be, to do the best we can for the sport and learn everything we can from great coaches," Péchalat said. "We learned so much from [former coach] Muriel Zazoui in Lyon, from [Alexander] Zhulin in Russia and from Pasquale in Detroit. Now, we have a few months to get what we need from Igor, to get as good as we can [for Sochi]."

The French face a tough battle for the Olympic podium. Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, have dominated ice dance since 2010, with each team winning the world title twice. Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia won the European title and world bronze last season. Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte and Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, placed fourth and fifth, respectively, at the 2013 World Championships.

"Nathalie and Fabian are very strong skaters; they just need consistency. Like everyone else, they need to be trained, they need good material," Shpilband said. "They have a very strong base, they have -- how to say it -- their own face.

"They have already left their mark as ice dancers. They are very different than everyone else; they have their own personalities, their own style. That has to be recognized by the judges."

Shpilband, who often selects music and creates choreography for his teams, will work with programs the team created in France.

"Since it's already May, they came with their programs choreographed," Shpilband said. "Of course, they have asked for my opinion, what I think of the choreography. We are already working to make slight changes to the free dance, to the footwork. Programs always develop over time. They are at a good point for this time of the year."

Shpilband thinks this season's short dance rhythms, including the Finnstep (a quickstep) pattern, suit Péchalat and Bourzat to a tee.

"It's a fun dance. Very light, very energetic and uplifting," he said. "It's a good dance for them; they can do a good quickstep. The key points of the dance are pretty difficult, but it is all doable. The rules are pretty clear and make sense to me."

The skaters agree with their new coach.

"The short dance is very fun, entertaining and cute," Péchalat said. "It's a dance we like a lot. We are very confident. We trust Igor 100 percent. We will find a way to get the key points."

In the year since Shpilband moved his training base to Novi, he has assembled a top-notch group of ice dance teams. They include U.S. silver medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, as well as Cappellini and Lanotte, who also train under Paola Mezzadri and Valter Rizzo; Russians Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko, whom Shpilband trains with Alexei Gorshkov; Lithuanians Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniūnas; and others.

"Some teams are here all of the time, some teams come and go, some are here for technical help, some just for the summer -- the numbers are always changing," he said. "Novi is a great place to train, and there is plenty of ice time."

Like other ice dance camps, several of the Novi teams are close in world standings and may battle the French for the 2014 European title and, perhaps, an Olympic medal.

Shpilband doesn't think that will be an issue.

"I give all of the skaters my best," he said. "There are a lot of teams close to each other. That's what competition is for. On a given day, one team may be better than another. Of course, I give all of them my experience, knowledge and time.

"So far, everybody is happy, it's a very good atmosphere, everyone is working together. They have all known each other for many years. They are very respectful skaters from all over the world."

From DSC, where he coaches Weaver and Poje and other teams, Camerlengo sends his best to his former pupils.

"We are OK; we love Nathalie and Fabian and wish them well for their career for the eight months remaining," he said.

Reporter's notebook: Cappellini and Lanotte are not currently in Novi but plan to return. "Anna and Luca will be here as often as they can; they were here after worlds and they are coming back," Shpilband said ... Shpilband hopes to bring many of his teams to the 2013 Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships in August. As of last week, he had not discussed Lake Placid with Péchalat and Bourzat.