Ice Network

Papadakis, Cizeron bubbling over with emotion

Newly crowned European ice dance champions overwhelmed by success
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Few could have foreseen the monumental improvements that Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron have made this season. -Getty Images

France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, the newly crowned European champions in ice dance, are in the midst of a meteoric rise: In just one season, they improved from 15th in Europe to first. A few hours after their victory (even fewer of which included sleep), they kindly agreed to answer icenetwork's questions, before having to fulfill another commitment with the press. They expounded on the emotions they managed to create in the rink throughout the championships, the work they've done to enhance their interpretation skills and their plans for the future.

Icenetwork: You are just getting up after this short night. How did you celebrate?

Papadakis: With quite a few cups of Champagne, I must say! I like Champagne...(she stretches) not the next morning, however! Then we went to a dancing club. Yes, we could still dance!

Icenetwork: Can you process what happened now?

Papadakis: Yesterday I decided that it was too soon to realize (what had happened) anyway. So I told myself, "This will come tomorrow." Except when I woke up this morning, I found out that it hadn't. That's strange!

Cizeron: When I woke up, I needed some time to recall what had happened. I haven't slept much. I switched my cellular phone back, wondering if it was true. Then I knew that it was for real.

Icenetwork: You had many followers at this event...

Cizeron: My parents are here. They cried, they were so moved. They were proud, I think, and that made me proud as well. They have never pushed me, but they have always been there for me; they have always helped me with my decisions and my choices. Gabriella's grandmother is here, too. Many fans have made the trip as well. It's difficult for us to imagine that so many people are following us the way they do. It's nice to see them, however, and to feel that so many people we don't even know are supporting us.

Icenetwork: Yesterday, you mentioned the last second of your program as the highlight of your evening. Why was that?

Papadakis: I skate in a bubble until the very last second of the program. I have never even thought of it at any time before. When I'm done -- but only then -- I open myself again to the outside world. When you watch the video, you can see that the audience started applauding even before the end of our music, during our last lift. It was as if they were feeling the same as we were feeling: The program was over; we were relieved; the program had been great.

Cizeron: The program was one of those unique moments in time. It lasted four minutes, but each second was unique in itself, even though we've been skating this program hundreds of times. It was a powerful moment, with a kind of a poetry to it.

Icenetwork: You have mentioned already how much you have worked on your interpretation. How do you see it now?

Cizeron: Interpreting a story does not mean forgetting about one's self. On the contrary, it means giving a part of yourself to the people. You are obliged to forget your daily attitudes, for sure, in order to dig toward deeper things.

Papadakis: We have the feeling that we strip ourselves naked as we skate, rather than forgetting ourselves. It certainly makes us more vulnerable at first, but it also gives us more strength. Once we have finished our skate, we feel really powerful. This requires us to be strong mentally, as well as a lot of training. The interpretation work we started last summer was absolutely draining. Before then, people would tell us, "Here you need to pretend that you're happy, so you have to smile, and there you need to look sad," and that was it. We have since learned how to make every feeling right, and felt for real. Nothing is fake.

Cizeron: Actually, I can't distinguish anymore between who I am and what I'm doing. That's a part of the work we are doing: Making ourselves be even more of what we are.

Papadakis: We try to find the feelings we have inside us, well anchored into us but so deeply that they do not come spontaneously to the surface. Exposing them is something that will be helpful throughout our lives. Already today I have started feeling it in my daily life. Actually, I start wondering about the why and the how all the time now, like (she laughs), "I know nothing...why?"

Icenetwork: How did you feel during your two programs here?

Papadakis: We really had a lot of fun when we were skating, both during our short and free dances. Usually when we have fun, things turn out for the better. When you take pleasure from what you do, you feel powerful, whatever may happen.

Cizeron: We know that the pleasure we experience when we skate takes the bad stress away. When we are in our bubble, we can rid ourselves of all the bad energies. Everything can then become positive and help our power. The emotion we live touches the audience, and they send it back to us. Emotions are communicative beyond words.

Icenetwork: You mentioned several times that you had many surprises this season. Do you like surprises?

Cizeron (smiling): I suppose that we like to make surprises, and also to get surprises! This whole season has been a big surprise for us. The goals we hoped for were less than what we achieved, actually. We keep being surprised ourselves, and it's a great feeling. That said, our victory yesterday was not really a surprise. Winning at Cup of China, by contrast, was. We were going there to medal at best; we were not even sure that we would be on the podium.

Papadakis: In Shanghai, we skated first in the last group, so we could follow our competitors' results one by one. Each time we were going like, "What's happening? What's happening?" Here, we knew after the short dance that we had a good chance. Nothing was done, so many things could still happen, but we were in good position.

Icenetwork: What do you think you will need to work on to keep improving?

Cizeron (smiling, his big, bright eyes wide open): Now we will rely on our coaches! They will know what we need to work on. They will surely come up with a battle plan! We are going to skate for two weeks in Switzerland with Art on Ice, and then we will have more than a month to work for worlds.

Papadakis: We are reaching a point in the season when everything we have done has found its place. I suppose there will be a lot of repetitions to enhance our mastery of...the magic. Of course, repetition includes every aspect of our skating -- the elements, but also everything we mentioned earlier about our interpretation. The goal is that we don't think of it anymore, that fully living our dance becomes a total reflex for us. That was the case for the first time here with our short dance. That's why we have worked so much on it in the last weeks: to make sure it would become automatic.

Icenetwork: Are you already thinking of next season?

Cizeron: Of course. We should not start too late. We're not searching yet, but we're thinking of it. We have a great team, with three coaches, one artistic coach and two dance teachers, and they will help us build a global vision. We may also think of the longer term until the next Olympics, and build something like a plan, when we all come to be inspired by a common project, maybe.

Papadakis: We are well aware that the more you win, the bigger the challenges you have. We understand that our competitors are not too keen to see some younger ones take their place on the podium. But we are grateful to see that they are also very happy for us.

Cizeron: Anna [Cappellini] and Luca [Lanotte] (the Italian silver medalists who warmly praised Papadakis and Cizeron at the end of their free dance on the podium, and after) are really great role models for all skaters. Medals are not all in life, even for a skater. They are showing this to all of us.

Actually, we will also have a big challenge in selecting our next programs. The emotion that this season's free dance brings is really embedded into the program itself. We will need to find music that carries us as much as this one. We did not quite feel it when we first heard it, I must admit, but we have put a lot of feelings into that program. Now, just before I skate, I play our music over and over in my earphones. And I may find tears rolling from my eyes just from listening to the music.

Icenetwork: Does this season validate your choice to have relocated to Montréal?

Cizeron: There was never any question. It was even obvious to us. We had to go, since Romain [Haguenauer] (their coach) was going. We have a huge trust in him, even though we remain quite connected with Muriel [Zazoui] (who coached the team in Lyon, after Catherine Papadakis, Gabriella's mother, assembled and coached the team for more than 10 years).

Papadakis: We really have a great team, and we are very grateful to them. Marie[-France Dubreuil], Patch (Patrice Lauzon) and Romain have had a great success at these Europeans, with all three of their teams improving their placement significantly. I suppose they will see their school develop fast in the months and years to come, with that unique blend between the best of North American skating skills and the originality of European skating! The teams they are forming may also push our sport further, as they have here.