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Parisian ratatouille: Day Four at Trophée Bompard

Dance coaches amuse with reactions; Wagner too happy for Juliet?
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Caydee Denney and John Coughlin were shocked to hear their music blasted around the Bercy Arena before appearing in the exhibition. -Getty Images

Jean-Christophe Berlot checks in with news and notes from Day Four of 2013 Trophée Eric Bompard.

A new rock star

Saturday night, the stands were roaring loud as French ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron entered onto the ice. All of a sudden, an even bigger yell emerged as if a rock star started to climb the stairs to reach his throne somewhere higher in the stands: Jason Brown had entered into the stands. He was congratulated and personally applauded from one row to the next, bending politely as the Pope or a president would have done. Audience appreciation will never lie when identifying where true talent is.

Rock around the clock

Watching coaches acting behind the boards as their pupils are delivering their programs is always a treat. Ice dancing coaches are particularly good at that game. While Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpilband remain as fixed as statues, Nikoli Morozov bends to the boards as if he were ready to jump on an invisible mouse. Muriel Zazoui lets her blond hair beat the tempo all throughout the program.

Czech-born master coach of Germany, Martin Skotnicky, could be seen … with a stopwatch in his left hand while his team, Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi, was skating. Each time his pupils started a lift, he started the clock and watched it carefully after they landed it. That will not prevent all deductions (his pupils got one), but at least it helps them work to avoid them. A trick for Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who regularly lift for too long?

Russia's new secret weapon

Ice dance was long considered like Russian "private property," at least after the British started the sport. Then the International Judging System came in, and North America prevailed. These last years, one has wondered (especially in Russia, actually) who could be the Russians' master card in Sochi. Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev have long been presented as the main favorites to endorse such a role. Saturday night, Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov may have changed the cards for good.

Ilinykh and Katsalapov's Swan Lake performance renewed Russia's great tradition of ballet theatre and was wonderfully executed with class, modernity and creativity. The audience acknowledged that right away, and the judges did, too. When you look at the Russian's marks, their result is stunning. They got the best total for their technical elements, even higher than 2010 Olympic gold medalists Virtue and Moir, who were (rightfully) quite pleased with their own performance. The Russians' spectacular opening lifts (curve + rotational) garnered 2.86 GOEs (grades of execution), far more than than that of their competitors. Their components were still 5.5 points behind the Canadians, but components can evolve so fast in ice dancing life. Watch out, you who are favorites to win. The Russian team may have found their new masters.

Morning team photo

This Sunday morning, the best skaters of each category were due to arrive early at the rink to rehearse for the closing exhibitions. Saturday night, after competition was finally over, Patrick Chan, Michal Březina, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford could be seen sitting together at a nearby Parisian café eating French fries. Night might have been short for them.

The press room is empty with people, yet full of Jason Brown's big, enthusiastic laugh, as he shares one of his funny stories with a couple of journalists, who soon become as enthusiastic as he is. The 15,000 red seats of the arena are teeming with a commanding emptiness. "This is big," Italian pairs skater Matteo Guarise said on the first evening.

One can hear only the compressors and climate control quiet blows. Sitting on two chairs in what was the warm-up area, Caydee Denney and John Coughlin are talking like brother and sister. They are the first to have arrived.

"We're going to make a team photo," they say.

No one else is here. American discipline vs. Southern Europe discipline, as usual. All of a sudden, a piece of music tears the reigning silence.

"Oh, this is us!" Coughlin laughs. "They are testing the sound with our music. It's funny to play it and be sitting here!"

"I hope we have a good audience today," Denney adds. She should be reassured: The arena is usually sold out for the final exhibitions. Denney and Coughlin should find huge success -- again!


Never had the author of these lines heard Mr. Arutunian be called by a nickname, so big is his prestige in the skating community. Never, until Ashley Wagner started talking of her new coach that way.

"Oh no?" Wagner asked in her usual candid way, all eyes wide open. Then she started laughing: "This should be credited to Adam [Rippon] (who is also coached by "Raf")! He started!"

Seeking Juliet, somewhat desperately

Sandra Stevenson, who has been one of the most respected journalists figure skating has produced since "Captain" Tyke Richardson in the 1920s (who was a British citizen like her and loved Shakespeare, by the way), was so mad with disbelief Saturday night. As the closing ladies press conference was about to end, her little soprano voice emerged to ask in her usual polite way:

"So, Ashley: Happy Juliet?"

Everyone in attendance laughed.

"No and no," Sandra said afterward, "this is just impossible: Any credible Juliet has to die! That's the whole point! She can't be smiling!"

May Ashley smile and laugh for a very long time. In Boston, then in Sochi, and at much later times in her life, too.

One poetic moment

Skaters finally woke up for practice before their final exhibition. The ice sheet was covered with those who made us all "come, live and vibrate," as the roof banner of the Paris-Bercy arena invited us to. They all stopped skating at once. Something special was taking place.

On an aerial ring over the ice, former Olympian Marie-Pierre Leray rehearsed her number. With her skates on, she delivered like a poem of form and light in the air, using the third dimension to defy gravity and figure never-ending lifts, going back from the ice to the sky and back to glide in all three dimensions. She ended in an incredible spin around her neck (thanks to a wire hooked to the ring), raising from the ice surface to way above.

Brown was ecstatic, and his fellow skaters gave her a warm round of applause. How could they know? Some 15 years ago, Leray was one of them!

And another one

There was another time in the practice when fellow skaters stopped to watch: when Nathalie Péchalat ad Fabian Bourzat started their (rather intellectual) exhibition program. With those two, there is always something more to find. It's just like good wine: You need more than one sip to get the full wealth of it.

Merci beaucoup!

To all of you who have followed us through this unique event, I am grateful to have been able to share with you that special passion we have in common. Thank you so much. No passion can be complete, if it can't be shared.

And a special "bravo" to the skaters who, from Europe to China and Japan, from the United States and Canada, have made that Grand Prix so special. Paris will remain as a milestone on their road to the Sochi Olympics. All the best to each one of you! In your life as athletes and as human beings. What would be life without skating!