Ice Network

Lambiel cherishes time on other side of boards

Two-time world gold medalist discusses coaching, progression of Vasiljevs
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Stéphane Lambiel, who won an Olympic silver medal in 2006, has taken his professional competition experiences and shared them with Latvia's Deniss Vasiljevs, with whom he has spent recent time with as coach and choreographer. -Getty Images

Stéphane Lambiel, the 2005 and 2006 world champion from Switzerland, has remained one of the most popular figure skaters among fans from the United States to Japan and, of course, Europe. Seven years after exiting the competitive arena, Lambiel arrived at the 2017 European Figure Skating Championships, this time as the coach and choreographer of Latvia's Deniss Vasiljevs. Between two practice sessions, Lambiel discussed with icenetwork his views on coaching and the evolution of skating.

Icenetwork: How does it feel to be on the other side of the boards?

Stéphane Lambiel: I feel so good in this position and role. I most admire what those skaters are doing, but quite sincerely, there isn't anything that would make me want to swap places with them.

Icenetwork: When you see skaters having a difficult time on the ice, does it make you want to put your skates back on?

Lambiel: For sure, but a coach has the most important role behind the boards. At the same time, there isn't much you can do once your skater has embarked into his program. The most important thing is not to live while he is living, or skate while he is skating. It's most important for me to remain as calm as possible. At this time of the year, especially, the technical part of the season is behind us, so you can't really give technical advice during a competition.

The best you can do, really, is to create a peaceful environment, so that your skater has the opportunity to express himself completely. I'm here to support my pupil, to set up the best conditions for him to display his prowess and talent.

Icenetwork: At the end of Deniss' last practice session, you made him skate for five minutes at high speed and with maximum body amplitude. What was the reason for this?

Lambiel: The end of that practice session was a way for him to feel his body as a whole after a superlative practice. I want him to feel his lightness on the ice and to fill space around him. I love to watch him, actually. He has such a strong presence on the ice, and it's fascinating to see his evolution. He's also rarely in energy-save mode. He is always willing to do his job, and to do it at the highest of levels.

Deniss and I have developed a strong relationship now, and a mutual trust. Trusting one another is always great.

Icenetwork: How did you feel switching from the life of a champion figure skater to that of a coach?

Lambiel: It's been a gradual one. I started coaching six years ago, choreographed many programs along the way, and I've held many seminars. I love seminars, as they provide you with a great opportunity to share and exchange. I've even held one seminar here, in Ostrava, as several federations bonded together to organize it. It was a treat for me, as it's always a great pleasure to share my knowledge.

During my years as a competitor, I was quite involved with choreography, alongside my choreographer, Salomé Brunner. Altogether, the transition was a rather smooth one, and I take more and more pleasure from coaching.

As a coach, you always need to find new ways to make your pupils feel things. Some have more of a visual memory, while others are more sensitive to rhythm, and yet others will be more into feelings. It's a coach's job to find the best way to transmit your experience.

Icenetwork: You not only coach Deniss but also serve as his choreographer. How has this been for the both of you?

Lambiel: I devised both of his programs this year. Deniss has very beautiful bodylines, and his long body segments play to his advantage.

He has improved a lot this season, especially on the muscular side. He is now much more conscious about the axis of his body and about the way he moves. He also possesses a great musical and artistic feel.

Icenetwork: How do you, as a true artist, manage to cope with the constraints imposed by the rules?

Lambiel: Rules have always existed, and it was certainly no different during my time on the ice. I consider it my job to be creative. It's my job to go beyond the rules sometimes as a coach -- while also abiding by them. Take Gabriella [Papadakis] and Guillaume [Cizeron], for example. Look at Tessa [Virtue] and Scott [Moir] in ice dance. You can't see the rules as they are skating; it's just pure art. With talent, one can always manage to surpass the rigidity of rules.

At the same time, I recognize that it's more difficult to add some personality into a program, when you have to add points at every step. I watched the U.S. championships earlier this week, and they did something really smart with this event, as they displayed a green or red flag after each element, to show if it had been executed well or not. That was very interesting on one hand, but on the other, I don't feel like watching a program just to focus on technical elements.

Icenetwork: Outside of coaching Deniss, what additional activities take up your personal time?

Lambiel: I am also coaching the junior national champions of Switzerland, in both the men's and ladies disciplines. Following these emerging talents full time is a huge responsibility for me, but at the same time, I must say that it is an enormous pleasure.

Besides that, I keep up with skating exhibitions. Next week, I'll be taking the ice for the Arts on Ice tour, then at the end of April I'll have my own show, Ice Legends, in Geneva. After that, I'll leave for a tour in Japan. I also hold a summer camp in Champéry every year.

Icenetwork: How do you manage to squeeze all these activities into your tight schedule?

Lambiel: I take one hour a day for myself, and the rest gets distributed to those deserving of the time. I mean, my pupils, of course. My time doesn't really count. I always tell them that every minute of their time is a precious one.

Icenetwork: You just mentioned that you watched Nathan Chen's historic five-quad free program. In your opinion, in what direction is figure skating headed?

Lambiel: Nathan did a super program. That was just superb as a performance. He landed the most difficult elements and executed each one to perfection. It was fantastic.

Now the goal will be to bond all these elements into one. Let me ask this question: If Chen were fully involved in his performance from an artistry perspective, would he still be able to land all these incredible elements in such a perfect way?

There is absolutely no doubt that he is going to make it happen and add the emotion on top of it. He has all it takes to succeed, and what he's already accomplished is nothing short of amazing.

The human body has limitless resources and capacities. When it comes with discipline, work, intelligence, motivation and will, I am sure that things will keep going further, as they have always done. People who are precise and concentrated manage to keep going forward. This is what makes skating -- and sport -- so beautiful.

You know, I strongly encourage every skater to follow the youngsters. They are true role models for skating but also for society as a whole. They are incredibly inspiring. They inspire me and push us all to keep moving forward.