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Joubert hopes to peak at worlds in Sweden

Frenchman plans to reach 100% when he defends his title

Brian Joubert, the No. 1-ranked men's skater in the world, will skate at the 2008 Coupe de Nice.
Brian Joubert, the No. 1-ranked men's skater in the world, will skate at the 2008 Coupe de Nice. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford and Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icentwork.com
(03/11/2008) - Troubled by a resistant virus since winning Skate Canada in November, world champion Brian Joubert is scrambling to defend his title in Gothenburg, Sweden, next week.

The 24-year-old French heartthrob withdrew from his second Grand Prix event, the Trophee Eric Bompard, and struggled to a disappointing bronze-medal finish at the 2008 European Championships at the end of January. Afterwards, upon the advice of Didier Gailhaguet, president of the French Ice Sports Federation, Joubert visited a medical specialist in Paris, who simply advised rest.

So, after performing in a gala commemorating the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble on Feb. 1, the skater cancelled two other shows in Davos, Switzerland, and returned home to Poitiers and his mother's home cooking.

"He will rest for two weeks at home and hope the virus disappears," Raymonde Joubert said in early February. "I am preparing all of his favorite meals for him."

The chicken soup must have worked: Joubert was back on the ice at his hometown rink in mid-February, re-working his programs with coach Jean-Christophe Simond and four-time world champion Kurt Browning. And at a team meeting last week, most of his jumps looked trouble free, although he still had some problems with the triple Axel and quad Salchow.

"We changed some transitions, which I felt necessary to do, and the sequence of some elements," Joubert explained.

"Because I fell on the triple Axel [in the free] at Europeans, we put this element second instead of third. Now, I feel a lot better with it."

"We changed some steps before his jumps," Simond added. "His program [to Metallica selections] has more energy now and is more interesting to watch. And if he does make a mistake, he has a bit more time to recover."

Browning, one of the sport's great jumpers, said he restricted his advice to choreography and steps, leaving the technical refining to Simond.

"I have not really given Brian advice on his jumps at all," he said. "Mostly [my advice] is about how to get from A to B across the ice -- edges and things like that. It's taking him away from the jumps and making his mind go more to the artistic. I'm his choreographer, definitely not a technical advisor."

Still, Joubert feels his input is essential.

"Kurt Browning gives me a lot," the skater said. "He invests a lot in me and gives me more motivation to become better. And we already spoke about next season."

But before he can begin to prepare for his 2008-09 campaign, Joubert must face his rivals in Gothenburg.

"I am only 70 percent ready, but this is normal a week before a competition," he said.

"My goal is to reach 100 percent on the day of the competition. I think I will do better than at Europeans, where my preparation was difficult. I accepted my third place there, because, for me, it was not a surprise. Maybe I could have won, because the whole level [of skating] was not exceptional. But I was not ready, and I knew that."

Joubert's scores have not stacked up well against those of his top competitors. Exceptional or not, Tomas Verner's winning score at Europeans, 232.67 points, is far higher than the Frenchman's season-best 219.45, wich was also earned at Europeans. Two-time world champion Stéphane Lambiel tallied 239.10 points in winning the ISU Grand Prix Final last December.

Japanese champion Daisuke Takahashi bested all comers with a staggering score of 264.41 points at the 2008 Four Continents Championships last month, the highest total ever recorded under the International Judging System. Takahashi hit two clean quads in his free skate, something Joubert has not done this season.

In addition, both of the top Americans, Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir, outpaced Joubert this season; Lysacek earned 233.11 points at Four Continents, and Weir notched a 231.78-point overall score at the Cup of China. (At the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Saint Paul, Minn., Lysacek and Weir tied at 244.77 points each. However, national events are generally thought to award higher scores than international competitions.)

"The competition will be hard [at worlds], especially as my preparation is a bit late," Joubert admitted.

"But it is never easy. I am happy that I am not the favorite this time; it puts less pressure on me. I think the most dangerous European skater is Lambiel; like me, he wants to win the Olympics in 2010. And then there is certainly Daisuke. His score at Four Continents was outstanding. I am sure he is in good shape. He might become world champion easily."