Ice Network

Endlich! Massot passes citizenship test on third try

Native Frenchman now eligible to compete for Germany at Olympic Games
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Since he learned he was gaining his German citizenship, Bruno Massot said it feels like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders. -Getty Images

Bruno Massot and Aliona Savchenko don't celebrate the U.S. version of Thanksgiving, but they've got a lot to be thankful for as they compete at 2017 Bridgestone Skate America in Lake Placid: Massot, a native Frenchman, learned this week that he will gain his German citizenship in time to compete at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

"It is a very, very, very big weight out of my body, a very big satisfaction," Massot said, grinning ear to ear. "I am free, really free, to be focused just on my skating and the competition."

"For me, to be honest, I was quite sure everything (would) go well," Savchenko said. "I always think positive, so for me, it was not a surprise, but I was happy."

On Thursday, the German Skating Union posted a message on its website stating that Massot's naturalization ceremony -- at which the skater will get his German passport and citizenship papers -- will take place next Wednesday in the small Bavarian Alps town of Sonthofen, near the pair's's training site in Oberstdorf. The simple announcement doesn't hint at the considerable drama surrounding the event.

Like other aspirants, Massot had to pass a three-part test: spoken German, a question-and-answer section measuring his knowledge of German culture and history ("Who is the German finance minister?" "What is the highest mountain in Bavaria?") and a written portion demonstrating proper grammar. Massot passed the first two parts but failed the third section twice. When he took the test for a third time Nov. 10, it was his final chance to make the grade in time for PyeongChang in February.

"It was very, very difficult for me (to pass) the third part," he said. "The two other parts I passed easily. The (third) part was really dramatic about the language, and it was hard for me. But it went well at the end, and now I can forget how hard it was."

The grammar test ain't easy; Germany's weekly news magazine Der Spiegel estimates that nearly half of native Germans might have trouble passing it. Massot met with a language instructor, Andreas Gross, three times a week to go over irregular verbs and subject-verb-object word order.

"I was doing a lot of exercises to get ready for this test," Massot said. "I gave it my best."

The pair got the good news right before they boarded a plane for Skate America.

"We were on the way to Munich Airport when I got a phone call from a lady in the immigration office, asking where we were," the pair's coach, Alexander Koenig, said. "She drove two hours to meet us at the airport to tell us personally Bruno had passed the test. We know each other well because, of course, we have already seen her several times."

The Ukrainian-born Savchenko moved to Germany in 2003 and also had to pass a language test to gain citizenship (she aced it on her first try). She went on to win five world titles and two Olympic bronze medals with Robin Szolkowy, who retired following the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships. After sitting out a year, Savchenko and Massot began competing for Germany during the 2015-16 season and have already won two world medals.

 "(Learning) English is much easier than German," Savchenko said.  

"I would say I speak 2 1/2 languages," Massot said. "I can still work on my German, and I will keep working on it, because it is important."

The skaters attempted a throw triple axel at their first two events this season but did not try the element during practice Thursday, instead training their throw triple flip. They were undecided on whether to put the axel into their programs at Skate America.

"It is a difficult element, but figure skating is growing up everywhere, with [more difficult moves] in ladies, men's and dance as well as pairs," Massot said. "It doesn't make sense not to take a risk. When it is good, we will put it in the program."

The Germans won silver behind two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford at Skate Canada last month, and the two teams meet again in Lake Placid. The former look well on their way to qualifying for their second Grand Prix Final, an event from which they withdrew last season after Savchenko suffered an ankle injury. This season, Massot is receiving physiotherapy for an ailing back but declared it would not keep he and Savchenko from the Final.

"Every competition this season, we look at it as practice for the Olympics," Massot said. "If we go to Grand Prix Final, that's just one more practice."

A practice he can now enjoy.

"I feel really light," he said. "Everything is easier, because I don't have something else to fear now. I am really focused on what I do on the ice."