Ice Network

'Le chat Chafik' steps out of countrymen's shadows

With Joubert out of picture, Besseghier looks forward to taking on Amodio
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Chafik Besseghier earned France two spots at next season's world championships with his unexpected ninth-place finish in Saitama, Japan. -Getty Images

When Chafik Besseghier was younger, Mrs. Joubert, Brian's mom, who has become quite a figure around the ice rinks in France and beyond, used to call him "Le chat Chafik" (or "Chafik the cat" in English), playing an alliterative pun around the up-and-coming skater's first name. As a matter of fact, Besseghier had made himself known for falling back on his feet after a jump, however rough his jump might have been.

Quite humble and always very polite and respectful, Besseghier has long lived in the shadow of Joubert and Florent Amodio, his fellow team members. At the last world championships in Saitama, Japan, however, Besseghier was the only skater from France in the men's category. He finished seventh in the free program and ninth overall. Now in the middle of the French skating tour, he kindly answered icenetwork's questions.

Icenetwork: Saitama was your first trip to the world championships. How did you feel?

Besseghier: I am very happy. I skated two solid performances. Honestly, I did not expect to reach such a level at once. Can you believe that I came out as the third European skater, behind Javier Fernández (who finished third) and Maxim Kovtun (who finished fourth)? No one expected that I could make it to the top 10. The French federation thought that since this was my first trip to worlds, it would be more of a learning experience. I knew within myself that I had the potential to skate among the best, but I just wanted to do my job. Now the result is there, and I am quite proud of it. It will be a milestone in my career, as it showed me that I was able to do it! My free program was solid, I gave as much as I could, and I had so much emotion at the end!

Icenetwork: You had skated to 10th in the short program. Did that add some pressure?

Besseghier: A bit, yes! Actually, there was a second quota for France at stake, so I really wanted to get it. Also, finishing 10th, I told myself that I could stay there if I skated well in the free. That's what I did.

Icenetwork: You did not qualify for the Olympics, but your result at worlds concluded your season quite well!

Besseghier: I was disappointed not to qualify for the Olympics. I had put all my energy into qualifying. Going to the Games was my main motivation to move from Grenoble, where I grew up and trained until two seasons ago, to Paris, where I now practice. I also worked all of last summer for that purpose.

I had to watch the Games on TV. I felt that I belonged there, but what could I do? After the injury I had last October (Besseghier injured his ankle during a warm-up session just prior to the free skate at the French Masters, where he was leading after the short, ahead of Joubert and Amodio), it took really long for me to come back. Even at nationals, two months later, I was not able to land a quad. At the Europeans, my programs were still lacking consistency. I managed to land one quad during practice, but that was far from enough. I need to land seven or eight every day to have a good chance of success in competition. Without this injury, my season would have been completely different. Maybe it was meant to be this way. In any case, now I have to look forward.

Icenetwork: Your long program, which you skated to Peter Gabriel's The Last Temptation of Christ, looked incredibly dense to skate to. How did you manage to master it?

Besseghier: This program is physically exhausting. It goes really fast, and many jumps are in the second part to take bonus points. Luckily, I love the music. I really felt good the first second I listened to it. Music is the most important [thing] for me. If I like it, if I feel like going to practice morning after morning, if I take pleasure in doing it, it can change everything in the program.

Also, this type of music, which dervies somewhat from the Orient, suits me well. The origin of my family is close to Oran, in Algeria, where 1957 Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus was born 100 years ago.

Icenetwork: How have you worked on this program?

Besseghier: Artistically, I work every day with a former ice dancer and a great professional, Catherine Glaize, who teaches me what I am missing most -- my components. She has really been excellent with me, and has willingly spent a lot of time to make me improve. It showed this year, as my marks blossomed. 

Physically, I worked on my conditioning throughout the year, especially when I was injured. It helped me a lot to skate that program.

Allen Schramm, in the U.S., created both programs, and then former French skater Stanick Jeannette fine-tuned them.

Icenetwork: Are you going back to the U.S. to work on your programs for next season?

Besseghier: I think next year I will change both programs. I have some ideas about the music, but I prefer to wait and see what proposals the choreographer will have for me. Anyway, I think we are going to wait for later in June to devise our programs. Actually, we do not know yet if we will have to skate one or two programs. It will depend on the outcome of the ISU Congress.

Icenetwork: What do you think of such potential evolutions in the sport?

Besseghier: We speak a lot of it among skaters. I would be surprised if such changes were agreed upon, but you never know. As a skater, working on one program only and skating it perfectly would be ideal, but it would take away the soul of the competition as a whole. Also, four minutes and 30 seconds make free programs very difficult to skate, but we are used to working on them anyway. What I would like to avoid, though, is that we devise two programs, and one (the short program) is then taken away.

Icenetwork: You mentioned that you had grown up in Grenoble. Your ISU datasheet says that your hobbies are "music, soccer, skiing, cars, motorcycle" and … "girls"! Is that connected to Grenoble?

Besseghier: I love Grenoble, and I go there whenever I have a break. Or to Annecy (two hours north), where my girlfriend lives. When I was injured, I came back to my parents' home, which does not happen so often nowadays. I will go back there after the tour is over. I will also be able to see my sister and brother. They were watching me on TV when I was in Saitama, and they said they had lots of emotions seeing me skate there. I also have many good friends in Grenoble. Well, they are now very much into skating!

After two years in Paris, I have turned the page of my life there, of course. It was rather harsh when I arrived in Paris, but now everyone can see how much my skating has improved, and many people in Grenoble rejoice to see me skate the way I skate. I must say that the president of my former club, Gérard Balthazard, really supports me 100 percent. He is very proud of my results. In Paris, we have the structures to go beyond. Now, I sometimes wish I had left earlier; I would have improved faster. Also, I have three aunts in Paris, and they really helped me when I arrived. Each time I would feel like it, I could go visit them, and it felt just like at home.

Icenetwork: What do you miss most in Paris?

Besseghier: The Alps! I have no mountains in Paris. I love being in nature. Often, I used to go skiing in Vaujany, a small resort about 40 minutes away. I could not ski at all this season, but it's one of my hobbies. I learned to ski when I was a child. I always had good feelings and good balance in skiing. This has helped me be more stable on the ice, I suppose, even though the muscles you use in skating are different than those you use in skiing.

Icenetwork: Grenoble is also the city of the 1968 Olympics, where American icon Peggy Fleming won her gold medal.

Besseghier: Yes! I got to meet her when she came for the 40th anniversary of her Olympic gold medal. She is such a classy person. She is still a great champion, 40 years later.

Icenetwork: And yourself, what do you plan to do afterward?

Besseghier: After skating, maybe I will coach for a while. I would love to start a business, maybe in sports retail. I have always loved selling stuff. Right now I am taking some English classes in order to become fluent.

Icenetwork: Do you like the U.S.?

Besseghier: A lot! I love the American way of life. I have been there to train, and also to tour around the country. I have been to Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, among others. I am even wondering if I would not like to move there afterward! It is such a beautiful country. I have been to Dallas to train with Schramm and to Detroit one summer to train with Jason Dungjen and Yuka Sato. Their center is just amazing; you get everything you need there, from ballet to physical preparation. The number of talents on the ice was just impressive, especially in the men's category. I used to skate with Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon at the time. I also noted how great and respectful the atmosphere was, both on and off the ice. It was an unforgettable experience for me.

I have always loved being on the same ice as other champions. When Brian Joubert came to train in Paris, while his rink was being restored, we would strive at being the best day after day, hour after hour! Brian has put me on the right track, and I was able to maintain my shape after he went back to his home rink. In any competition, you want to put yourself up against others. Skating with the very best pushes you forward. Brian was also a big fan of such confrontations!

I have remained friends with Jeremy ever since. His free skate in Saitama was gorgeous. We watched the last ladies group together. He congratulated me, and I congratulated him. He ended his competitive career on a superb program, and I am thrilled for him. He will have had a great career, too. (Editor's note: Abbott has since said he is unsure if he will retire.)

Icenetwork: So your following weeks should be quite busy as well, even though the season is over?

Besseghier: We skate in the tour until the end of April. I will then take a one-week vacation, and we will go back to work to improve our technical level. I am now far more consistent on my quad toe, but I still need some work to get my quad Salchow back. I used to skate both in one program last summer, but the injury forced me out of it. Now my ankle is feeling much better, so I can start again. We will create our new programs, and then a new season will start.

Icenetwork: How is the atmosphere around the French team?

Besseghier: Excellent, really. It was not the best in Budapest, during the Europeans, and there were some tensions. All this is gone now. Brian is giving some advice to all of us. He has taken me under his wing, I think. Even after he left Paris, he always kept in touch, which I really appreciate. For the rest, we will see when the next season starts. Many think that I can fight with Florent. We should be in direct confrontation now, at each competition! It should push us upward, and it will be great to have some tough competition among us. And the best will win!