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Preaubert balanced on and off ice

French skater takes skating seriously but always has fun

Alban Préaubert draws comparisons to French greats like Philippe Candeloro for his showmanship and flair.
Alban Préaubert draws comparisons to French greats like Philippe Candeloro for his showmanship and flair. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(02/29/2008) - Three French male skaters will be heading to Göthenburg, Sweden, in less than three weeks, for the World Figure Skating Championships. Brian Joubert should again be one of the main contenders. In addition, Yannick Ponséro and Alban Préaubert hope to confirm their world-class standard.

Sixth in Europe and 10th in the world in 2007, Préaubert has been one of France's strongest hopes for the past two seasons. He learned skating in Charleville Mézières, a former industrial city close to Belgium, in the northeast of France.

"My parents took me to the rink one day, and my passion was born right away. Around the same time, I saw a skating competition on TV. Philippe Candeloro was skating to Conan then. When I watched him, I knew that I wanted to do the same."

Indeed, like Candeloro, the 22-year-old Préaubert tries to show different skating formats, tell stories, invent new moves and make audiences laugh or cry. He is widely considered a notable successor to the likes of the two-time Olympic bronze-medalist Candeloro, who skated to The Godfather, and other French greats like Laurent Tobel, who entertained fans around the world with his Pink Panther program.

"French skaters have always looked for originality," Préaubert said. "We try to bring something different, a new approach to skating programs. When I went to prepare my program with Nikolai Morozov last summer, he brought me to his home and showed me some video tapes from Laurent Tobel. He told me how important it was to have a true personality on the ice. Judges and audience notice personality right away, and it pays off."

Préaubert's innovative skating is successful with audiences everywhere he skates. A year and a half ago, he won his first ISU Grand Prix medal at Skate America.

"I have always loved skating in the United States," he said. "The American audience is really great. I did not medal last fall, but the audience was very supportive again."

Préaubert is not only a world-class skater, he is also a student at one of the most renowned business schools in Paris.

"I am currently enrolled in a Master's program," Préaubert said. "I need studying [aside from] skating for my personal balance. Strangely enough, studying takes off the pressure for results. I have professional ambitions, and it helps me to understand that I do not gamble my whole life on one competition. Studying helps me enjoy every minute I have on the ice."

Even with his professional ambitions, Préaubert plans to continue in the skating world.

"I love skating so much that I think I will always keep a foot in it," he explained. "I may do some event management one day. Skating is really successful in Japan and even in China at the moment. It may be a bit less so in the United States. Here in France it is difficult, too, yet we are lucky enough to have champions like Brian Joubert, Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder to push skating ahead in terms of audience. Skating as a show is very attractive. It still has a huge potential. If I may help to grow the sport, I will. Skating has been through some scandals lately, and we need to conquer our audience again. We need to show that objectiveness does exist in judging, and that skating is indeed a beautiful and moving sport."

Préaubert learned skating from former European champion Elena Issatchenko, who coached him for 12 years. Issatchenko passed away last year, causing Préaubert to seek out a way to honor his mentor.

"When she passed away last year," he said, "I asked to meet with the Mayor of the city to have the rink renamed after her. It took one year, but I am really grateful that the city council did accept. We had a ceremony earlier this year for it".

Préaubert struggled until this season to land a quadruple jump, but is improving his consistency. He failed to land a quad during his short program in the last month's European championships, in Zagreb, Croatia.

"Quadruple jumps are such traps," Préaubert explained that day. "You need to do one, but if you miss it, you fall behind those who do not attempt one."

That day, Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic won the short program with a triple-to-triple combination, while Préaubert dropped out of contention after he fell on his planned quad.

"I was very disappointed with my showing in Zagreb," Préaubert said. "I had really good training sessions there. I am expecting much more from myself and from my programs. And I will definitely keep my quadruple in my short program."

Préaubert has always put huge amounts of energy into his skating. It may also be one of his downfalls, as one can never tell him to stop and go home. The fact is that the young Frenchman never wants to stop skating.

"He is such a worker," his current coach Annick Dumont said.

This year, Préaubert has chosen the theme of Dracula for his free skate. He is skating to the music of The Addams Family.

"This program creates a heavier atmosphere," he explained. "Actors state that drama is easier than comedy. This may also be true in skating. It may be easier to make people cry than to make them laugh, butI will come back to comedy one day. The audience loves it, and I love it too."

Be it comedy or drama, Préaubert always takes the same approach to skating: give it his all and have fun with it. Time will tell how world judges love his program, and how he manages to skate through his technically difficult jumps and spins. Whatever results he gets, there is little doubt that the worldwide audience will love watching him!