Ice Network

Péchalat making most of post-retirement life

Former French ice dancer exploring new opportunities outside rink
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With more time on her hands, Nathalie Péchalat is getting to do things these days that she wasn't able to before -- like attend the French Open with actor boyfriend Jean Dujardin. -Getty Images

Some figure skaters just can't imagine life outside the ice rink. Training and competing for many years, they become accustomed to a certain way of life. In this way, they are like the inquiring minds of the Renaissance period, who pondered questions like: "Are there any other lands beyond the western borders of the European continent, or does nothing exist outside of those boundaries?'

Former French ice dancer Nathalie Péchalat, using her indescribable French charm, can assure anyone that, yes, the "land" outside the ice rink -- no matter how daunting -- does truly exist. The life without early wake-ups, exhausting workouts and endless competitions can be and, in most cases, will be filled with rich, new experiences and interesting people.

After her retirement from competition in the spring of 2014, Péchalat entered a whole new phase of life, participating in such projects as Danse Avec Les Stars (the French version of Dancing with the Stars), where she met top French actors, singers, TV hosts and more. She also opened new horizons by working as a Eurosport commentator for figure skating events. And finally, she got to enjoy some long-awaited free time, which she can fill however she wants -- like, for example, visiting the recently concluded French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros as an invited guest of her famous actor boyfriend, Jean Dujardin.

Icenetwork talked with Péchalat about her new life and experiences, the best way to transition away from competitive sports and her thoughts on those who are still "inside the rink."

Icenetwork: It's been over a year since you finished your athletic career. How do you feel being off competitive ice?

Péchalat: Only one year? I feel like it has been much more because so many things happened. My whole life has changed. I feel great. I mean, it was amazing to be a high-level athlete, but when this career stops, it's not like everything else stops. Life, the "real life," appears. Some things become simpler: I can spend time with my family, my friends, and every day is not the same.

My professional life is somehow "richer," more complete. I can have many jobs and many activities. And the best thing to me was to be back in my country, my home. On the other hand, I feel nostalgic a bit about my former routine, my coaches and teammates. But I know I will always see them, at least on TV.

Icenetwork: Do you miss ice dancing competitions? Is there something special about the sport that you miss the most?

Péchalat: Nope, I don't miss competitions. I miss the fact of skating: simple steps, just going forward, gently, on the ice. And I miss looking for a new project with my partner, Fabian [Bourzat], the times when we started to have an idea, tried to make a story and match everything together.

Icenetwork: Looking back on your career, what are some of your favorite memories?

Péchalat: Many thoughts and feelings come to my mind when I look back. The good moments: earning some medals, titles, going all over the world to skate in shows (Korea, Japan, China), living different lives in Russia and the USA, meeting some great people from skating and outside the rink, sharing emotions with the audience, with our team(s), with our families...

But I like to remember my career as a whole, the hard moments too: injuries, disappointments from people, disillusion in a performance or with results, complicated training days. All these memories are part of my career, and I don't want to have a selective memory. Everything was not "pink" (easy), but all of that came from me, from my choices, from my motivations and from my love for this sport.

Icenetwork: Last autumn, you participated in Danse Avec Les Stars and finished second overall. Can you tell us about that experience?

Péchalat: It was a fun and instructive experience, the best transition from a career as an ice dancer to a "real life" I could have dreamed of. I had to train a lot to prepare for each "competition," so it was a bit like my athletic life but without as much involvement as before. I mean, I didn't expect anything; I took it as a game and, as always, I didn't want to waste my time. I tried to do my best.

I learned a lot about ballroom dances. I was just frustrated that I wasn't able to choose anything -- music, costumes, etc. -- like I did in the past with Fabian. I was very lucky and happy to dance with a smiling partner!

Icenetwork: Is it easier or more difficult to compete at floor dancing?

Péchalat: It required a lot of technical skills, which were very hard to acquire -- the opposite of skating. It took all my focus. But, physically, it was much easier! Maybe because I wasn't at as high a level on the floor as I was on the ice. But when I got back on the ice a few days after, I definitely felt a lot of pain in my legs!

Icenetwork: You participated in the show with famous French actors and singers. What knowledge did they have of figure skating in general and, in particular, ice dancing?

Péchalat: Eh, figure skating shows up in the media in France, but it is not very well known. French people know Philippe Candeloro as a skater. The rest of us are known only to the people who follow our sport. These actors and singers didn't know a lot about ice skating, but all the dancers know our sport because there are some similarities.

Icenetwork: This spring, you've traveled across your country with Tournée de l'Équipe de France de Patinage, and in May you took part in a grandiose show, Stars 80, at the Stade de France stadium in front of about 80,000 spectators. Can you tell us about those events?

Péchalat: French Tour is always very busy. We work a lot: 20 shows in 20 days, all around the country! So it was exhausting and, at the same time, very nice, because the main goal was to promote our sport. We trained some kids before the shows. We were happy to all be back together as the French team. I think that was our last tour, so we wanted to give it our best, to leave the ice on a happy note.

The show Stars 80 was very cool! I danced one last waltz with my off-the-ice dance partner (Christophe Licata). So, April and May were my "goodbye" months.

Icenetwork: This past season you worked as a commentator for Eurosport France. What was that experience like?

Péchalat: It is fun to work as a commentator. But it's always hard to find the right balance between critiquing the technical, for the ones who know our sport very well, and explaining the basics to beginners (viewers). Depending on the ice dancers' skating, I tried to respond to their (the TV audience's) expectations.

The hard thing is commenting from a Paris studio because we don't have a full picture of how the skaters cover the ice. But for some competitions, we had the chance to comment while in the arena.

I feel like it's easier to be "fair" when we watch a competition that we're not involved in: We just have to feel the performances and be careful about the elements. I had some new feelings about each competitor.

Icenetwork: As a TV commentator, what are your thoughts on the 2014-15 skating season? Which performances and personalities did you like the most?

Péchalat: The post-Olympic season is always very interesting because we expect new champions on the podium, and new faces at Grand Prix and championships. I was impressed by Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who had a great season with a beautiful free dance.

I was impressed with the new lifts of Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and with the original programs of Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi, Sara Hurtado and Adrià Díaz, and Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier. I also was surprised by the simply beautiful and fresh couple of Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen.

Icenetwork: Do you want to coach in the future?

Péchalat: Not now, because I need a break. If I was a coach right now, my life would be the same as it was before. I would wake up at the same time, spending my day in the ice rink, leaving with my skates on and spending my weekends at competitions. So, while [skating] is still my passion, I need to do something else, while still "keeping a foot in the sport" with Eurosport.