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Six is the key number at French nationals

Joubert earns sixth consecutive national title

Brian Joubert returned to action just in time to win his sixth straight national title.
Brian Joubert returned to action just in time to win his sixth straight national title. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(12/09/2007) - Six has always been a key number in figure skating. It was certainly so at this year's French National Championships in Megève, where Brian Joubert and ice dancers Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder all claimed their sixth French national title.

Men

Everyone wondered if Joubert would be up to the task after a severe virus had prevented him from competing at the Trophee Eric Bompard in November. Joubert admitted afterwards that he had not even rehearsed his free program completely once since he had to stop and rest to recover.

The competition would reassure his fans, his team, and himself. Joubert pulled off one of his best short programs ever, including a flawless quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, triple Axel and triple Lutz. His free program was not nearly as perfect, however, with an over-rotated quadruple toe loop and an aborted quadruple Salchow.

"This was such a long program," Joubert said afterwards. He nonetheless managed to skate clean through the end. In the process, he preserved his lead and won his sixth consecutive French national title.

Yannick Ponséro finally managed to skate two solid performances, a first for him in a competition of such level. He successfully landed a quad-triple combination, a triple Axel and a triple Lutz in his short program, just like Joubert, and skated an excellent free program as well.

Alban Préaubert's free skate was much more dramatic. He had started this championship rather poorly. He did not try his quad and doubled his planned triple Lutz in the short program, leaving him in third after that performance. The worst was yet to come, as he had to endure three falls in the free skate. He was very fortunate to still finish on the podium, taking the bronze medal.

The crowd in Megève could be sure of one thing: The men's competition was of a high quality and deserved a 6.0 by itself!

Ice Dancing

Surprise in ice dancing seldom comes from rankings, but more from program content. It was obvious that Delobel and Schoenfelder were going to win their sixth national title, especially since Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat, the second-best ranked pair in France, had decided to withdraw before the competition started due to injury.

Delobel and Schoenfelder did win the French crown again (they won all three sections of the competition), but they also displayed much improvement in their free dance. Their performance was much more convincing than it was at the Trophee Eric Bompard. The work they have put in since then has paid off. Their steps and sequences were much cleaner and precise, and they could express and convey their message to their "language of signs" routine much more effectively.

Pernelle Carron and Mathieu Jost are now clearly considered the "rising team" in France. They took a well deserved second place.

Ladies and Pairs

The pairs and the ladies titles were meant for newcomers this year, as last year's national champions did not skate. Anne Sophie Calvez is still injured and Maryline Pla and Yannick Bonheur split up a few months ago.

Adeline Canac and Maxime Coia, who finished second last year, had to endure a heavy fall on their spin at the beginning of their free program, but the second half of their program was, in their own words, their "best ever." They won their first French national title. Only three pairs competed here. Mélodie Châtaignier and Medhi Bouzzine finished second; Camille Foucher and Bruno Massot came in third.

Gwendoline Didier also won her first title this weekend. She had won the short program and felt the pressure before taking the ice for the free program. She had to struggle throughout her four minutes of skating, but she managed to land a non-planned triple Lutz in the second half, "to compensate for all the jumps [she] had missed earlier", she explained.

Chloé Depouilly, who is coached by her father Laurent, who used to coach Joubert, came in second. Many had hoped that Candice Didier (no relation to Gwendoline), the French national champ in 2004 and 2005, could claim her title back. Her disastrous short program, in which she finished ninth, prevented her from even finishing on the podium. Candice won the free program, but had to settle for fourth place overall.

These national championships were a great chance to see where French skating stands. The ladies and pairs appear to still be quite fragile, but at least they seem to be getting back on track. The men and ice dancers will provide the best chances of medaling for French skating in this season's upcoming international competitions to come. Joubert, Ponséro, Préaubert, Delobel and Schoenfelder, Péchalat and Bourzat, and Carron and Jost will be the six to watch.