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Lambiel talks of blades and "crashy" ice

Two-time world champion says he is confident despite triple Axel woes

Stephane Lambiel's sudden retirement four months ago stunned the figure skating world.
Stephane Lambiel's sudden retirement four months ago stunned the figure skating world. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/19/2008) - As of this morning, after three practice sessions in Gothenburg, Stephane Lambiel has yet to land what he considers a perfect triple Axel.

"I came here to Gothenburg three days ago," the Swiss star said. "The organization is great; the hotel and the ice rink are close together, which is a great point."

And the ice? Well, not so great.

"I had three practices, and it was kind of weird, because ice is crashy," Lambiel said.

"I don't feel my edges and I had to sharpen my skates today. For the triple loop and triple Axel, the problem is bigger, because they are edge jumps. I have to try [those jumps] in the practice tonight. I am more confident on the quad [toe loop], that is for sure."

It is difficult to know precisely what Lambiel, a native French speaker, meant by "crashy." Swiss reporters interpreted that he was having difficulty getting his blades down into the ice.

The skater's longtime coach, Peter Grütter, revealed that his student's blades have been sharpened twice since he arrived here.

"We have a problem, because he changed blades between the 2008 European Championships [in January] and worlds," Grütter said.

"This is the first time in my [decades long] coaching career I have had a skater's blades sharpened by a person I don't know. I never did it before, but he wanted it so much, I found a wonderful Swedish coach to do it. Unfortunately, [Lambiel] was still unhappy, so we did it again."

Lambiel himself downplayed any concerns with the ice.

"Some ice dancers [who competed yesterday], they told me the ice is a little bit difficult, but actually I will not complain any further," he said. "So far, I have it only one practice on the main rink."

The men, who compete on Friday and Saturday, will not practice in the main arena again until Saturday morning.

Whatever the conditions, triple Axel problems have plagued Lambiel for years. In his short program at Europeans in January, he fell on a triple Axel and executed just a triple toe-double toe combination; his free program at the event included two double, but no triple, Axel. With his superb artistry and high program component scores - as well as mistakes from other skaters - he still won the silver medal behind Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic.

"At home, I had good practices without this problem, so I think all will be okay," Lambiel said. "I have to say the confidence is here. It is just a question of timing; I think I will be ready."

Grütter suggested that if Lambiel's triple Axel does not improve, the skater may instead perform both counter-clockwise and clockwise double Axels in his free program.

"He usually jumps to the left, but he can also jump [to the right]," said the coach. "The judging system is supposed to reward two points for highlight elements that have not been done [in competition] before, so I am asking the referee if two different double Axels will count.

"Of course, we still have some practices before the event, and the goal is to do the triple Axel [in both programs]. But if that is not possible, our strategy will be to skate clean."

The Swiss star is famous throughout Europe and Asia (he performs less frequently in North America) for his dramatic flamenco routines, including his free program to Vicente Amigo's "Poeta," choreographed with dancer Antonio Najarro.

In Gothenburg, the skater said his main objective was not placement, but rather to do this program justice.

"It is the last time I will present the flamenco in a competition, and I expect it to be as clean as possible; that is my biggest goal," said Lambiel. "I have never skated this program clean and this is my last chance."

With the men skating last at worlds for the first time in over a decade, dozens of Lambiel's most loyal supporters are making the trip to Gothenburg to watch both of their hero's programs.

"It is really a pleasure for me, because for the first time my fan club from my home town [Saxon] in Switzerland is coming for both my short and long," Lambiel said. "Because [the competition] is on a weekend, it is possible for them. These 41 persons will be ringing their cowbells and waving their flags, like always."