French world team still in doubt

Préaubert is questionable with back injury

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 Klaus-Reinhold Kany and Lynn Rutherford, special to
(03/10/2008) - With the 2008 World Championships in Gothenburg just a week away, France's men's contingent is in question as Alban Préaubert continues to suffer from a back injury that may force him to withdraw from the event.

The Parisian, who placed sixth at the 2007 European Championships and 11th at the 2007 World Championships but slipped to 10th place at Europeans this season, is the French bronze medalist behind champion Brian Joubert and Yannick Ponsero. (France has three men's spots for the '08 worlds, due to the high placements of Joubert and Préaubert last season.)

Préaubert, who placed fifth at Skate America and won the bronze medal at Trophée Eric Bompard last fall, was entered in the AEGON Challenge Cup at The Hague, Netherlands last week, but withdrew.

"Yes, Alban had a back injury but started to practice again ten days ago," Annick Dumont, Préaubert's coach, said.

"He had planned to go to the competition in the Netherlands to perform a new short program, but because of his injury we decided not to go there. He is still hopeful that he can compete in Sweden."

Préaubert is known for his comic antics on ice and rapport with the audience. His technique is less than classical, and his jumps can be inconsistent, but he is highly popular among fans.

"It is interesting, but French skaters like Phillippe Candeloro, Laurent Tobel and Stannick Jeannette are always different," he once said.

"I think I am not a very classical skater so I prefer to find something different. When I was young I never did ballet so it is difficult for me to skate classical programs."

According to Dumont, many judges and officials did not approve of his rather eccentric short program, choreographed last summer by Nikolai Morozov to music from the soundtrack of The Addams Family.

"He was criticized by some judges in the last couple of months," she admitted. "The new short program, by the way, is [set to] Garry Moore's "Parisian Walkways."

The French Ice Sports Federation and its president, the controversial Didier Gailhaguet, are known for Byzantine team selection processes that often appear to favour certain skaters, particularly those who train in Paris or are coached by Gailhaguet's former wife, Dumont.

(Gailhaguet is well remembered for his involvement in the 2002 Olympic scandal, in which the French judge in the pairs event, Marie-Reine Le Gougne, said she awarded first place to a Russian team under pressure from Gailhaguet, who was then president of the federation. Gailhaguet was banned from ISU events for three years and resigned as his federation's president. However, after machinations worth of a Le Carré novel, he was re-elected to that position in December 2007.)

Samuel Contesti, who was third in France last season, left the country because of being bypassed for international assignments. He now competes for Italy.

In September, a group of coaches, skaters and officials -- including Joubert and Préaubert -- wrote a petition protesting results at the annual Paris Masters event. In response, technical specialists refused to officiate at the 2008 nationals, forcing Gailhaguet to fly in qualified officials from other European countries.

Deciding the first alternate for the Gothenburg world team has been fraught with confusion. The federation told its top two juniors, Florent Amodio and Kim Lucine, that the skater that placed higher at the recent 2008 ISU World Junior Championships in Sofia would get the nod. Amodio was 10th and Lucine 11th.

That would have settled the matter, but Amodio's parents, who adopted the Brazilian-born skater as an infant, had made arrangements for their son to fly to Brazil for a reunion with his extended family. He will not return to Europe until just a few days before the men's event.

Gailhaguet then nominated Lucine as first alternate. If Lucine does compete, it will be a major victory for his father and coach, Didier Lucine, who trains his skaters in Annecy, far from the figure skating power center in Paris.

More Controversy and Confusion

Selecting the country's single ladies' entrant for Gothenburg has also proven difficult.

The federation did not nominate its champion, Gwendoline Didier, bypassing her in favour of Candice Didier, who placed only fourth at nationals (the two skaters are not related). Candice is coached by Katia Beyer, the former wife of Gilles Beyer, who has been hired by Gailhaguet as an assistant sports director.

Gwendoline Didier protested the selection process in court, and a decision is expected this week. Meanwhile, the federation is holding a test competition between the two ladies next week.

In addition, the nation's top two pairs, Adeline Canac and Maximin Coia, and Melodie Chataigner and Medhi Bouzzine, will also have a test competition next week. Canac and Coia won the most recent nationals, but did not compete at the '08 Europeans due to injury.