Ice Network

Pot-au-feu: Gilles, Poirier prepare to tango in Paris

Russian ladies land three-jump combos; Lauzon surprises wife Dubreuil
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Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier are bringing a touch of romance to Paris with their tango free dance. -Getty Images

Please don't imagine that the first official practice of a skating contest is just meant for skaters, judges and officials. About 3,000 school children invaded the stands as the men were practicing for the first time in the arena. Kids are great to appreciate every effort; they applaud and yell at each spin and jump. Within a few minutes, they learned to recognize what was normal and what was special, and yelled even more for quads and triple axels. "Oh, good! The kids have stayed," Team USA's Madison Hubbell exclaimed when she and partner Zachary Donohue were about to take the ice. "They are going to love our program!" That goes for kids and adults alike, to be sure!

Back to the good old draw

One of the changes implemented this season is the comeback of a complete open draw before the short program. In past years, the highest-seeded skaters would skate in the last group. Now they draw their placement and can land in any position. France's Chafik Besseghier drew Spain to draw first, so Javier Fernández drew his spot, and it was No. 6. Then Team USA's Nathan Chen drew No. 10. Adam Rippon drew No. 1. Years have passed since the last open draw, but the habit has come back instantaneously: His fellow skaters warmly applauded him. Just like in the good old days.

Bigger combos?

Two of the Russian competitors displayed their strength in the practice session: Evgenia Medvedeva landed a triple lutz-triple toe-triple toe combination, and Maria Sotskova landed a triple salchow-triple toe-triple toe. Faultless, of course. Ladies may not have quads yet, but their arsenal is far from empty.

First tango in Paris

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier have turned in one of the most beautiful tangos seen in years. They elected to warm up and rehearse in the main corridor leading from the press room to the arena. That was a true blessing for the journalists, as you can imagine. With their radio set on the floor and their coach watching them, they rehearsed their whole free tango in their tennis shoes prior to practicing it on the ice. A couple dancing a tango in a wild corridor in downtown Paris, with a violin sound filling the chilly air, and their steps and moves filling space -- who said Paris was not a romantic city anymore?

You said romantic?

Early Friday morning, as the dancers were practicing, a smiling man entered the rink, his hands in his pockets. His eyes were bright and fixed, as if he were preparing a (nice) "coup." All those who know skating recognized him instantly: It was Patrice Lauzon, the ice dance coach of so many great teams in Montreal. He just said a few "Hi's" here and there but didn't change his path. Marie-France Dubreuil, Lauzon's wife, and Romain Haguenauer, who coaches with the two of them in Montreal, were in charge of the school protégés in Paris, not Lauzon, raising the question: Why, then, was he here? He kept walking quietly around the rink to post himself behind his wife, who was focusing on Hubbell and Donohue's program, with Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron watching nearby. He whispered a word in her ear. She suddenly jumped and turned toward him to be sure she was not dreaming. "He wanted to surprise her!" explained Romain Le Gac, who also trains in Montreal. "Today is their anniversary. It's been 20 years!" Eleven has always been a special number for Dubreuil, and Lauzon proposed to her Nov. 11, 2007, for what was the 11th day of the 11th month of their 11th anniversary together. That was well worth the trip! The young couples around almost applauded the move.

German show

During practice, the two coaches of Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot sang and danced along with the music being played. "We're also here to enjoy!" Alexander König suggested. "Now the business is done. We like good music, and relating to it brings up spirit and mood, which will translate to the skaters!" German people are known to be stricter, though. "Yes, but this is a partnership," he explained. "Skaters and coaches, we all bring something to the team. So, the team transforms us all. It impacts each one of us. No doubt they changed me!"

Skaters are such great coaches!

Five-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are both in Paris, just like in the old days -- except Savchenko is skating (with Massot) and Szolkowy is coaching (Russia's Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov). "I have so much to learn," Szolkowy said with his usual humble way. "There are so many things in my head which I would like to tell skaters, but how to explain them? And as important as 'how,' when to say it? As a skater, when something bad was happening during a program, I would review it over and over in my head, finding no answer to my questions but trying to find one. It took five minutes, or sometimes one hour, to be open to receiving information. When is the best time? In the morning? Or before the program? This side of the board is so new to me!" Would Szolkowy like to go back to skating with his other colleagues, then? "Oh no, here is just enough!" he laughed.