Delobel, Schoenfelder talk about their world title

French champs sit down to talk to

Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder will aim for 2010 Olympics.
Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder will aim for 2010 Olympics. (Getty Images)


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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to
(03/29/2008) - Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder had never even won a medal at a world championship before. One week ago, they were standing on the top of the ice dancing podium at the 2008 worlds in Gothenburg, Sweden.

"It was a dream I had since I was a little girl," Delobel said right after her gold medal-winning performance. The duo became the third French couple to win the world championship since the discipline was added in 1952. (Paul and Isabelle Duchesnay won in 1991, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat in 2000).

Now back in France, Delobel and Schoenfelder are preparing for the French tour of champions, Stars on Ice, which is about to start. The tour will take them to 28 cities throughout the country within the month of April.

The new world champions spoke to about their victory:

Schoenfelder: We always believed that we could win. Of course, we felt so much encouraged when we came first after the compulsory dance.

Delobel: Then we had to fight! Emotion has been very intense throughout. It came right away at the end of our free program, which was certainly the best we skated this season. We did not make any error, which would have been really hurting. We had a few points more than our competitors, but a mistake could have ruined our efforts.

Then there was a lot of emotion also when we learned that we had won, that we were world champions for real. Then I felt tears in my eyes. I felt them again a while later, on the top of the podium.

Since then we have been very busy, going from telephone calls to interviews. Also, we needed to set up new exhibitions for the tour. So we did not have much time left. We have not fully realized yet [that we're world champions]. I hope that we will be able to take the time to realize soon!

Delobel and Schoenfelder have had a long history of competing together. They were first paired during a training session 18 years ago, thanks to the advice of Irina Moiseeva and Andrei Minenkov, the emblematic ice dancers from Russia. Ever since, they have climbed the world-rankings ladder one step at a time.

Delobel: You know, there are several world medals. Yet there is only one gold medalist. A world title is ... a matter of champions, really!

We were very moved when officials from the U.S. Figure Skating Association came to us at the final ceremony and gave us a golden skate with a little diamond. Several years ago, we had seen Evgeni Platov [Olympic gold medalist with Oksana Grishuk in 1994 and 1998, and world champion with Grishuk from 1994-97] wearing one on his jacket, and we had asked him what it was. He had explained to us that it is given only to world champions. It was so exclusive. Now we have one, and I will treasure it forever!

We always believed in what we were doing. When we started to skate at a high level, we were not really pushed ahead, as Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat were skating for the world and Olympic gold [Anissina and Peizerat trained in the same rink as Delobel and Schoenfelder in Lyon, and they shared the same coach, Muriel Boucher-Zazoui].

We have always been willing to experience new things and find original themes. This has not always worked, but we like to show our difference, and we try to make judges like it.

Actually, judges have always given us nice feedback, sometimes even enthusiastic one, even if it had never led us to any world medal until this year.

We have done all our choices for our own personal self realization, of course. Yet such positive feedback has always been a huge encouragement for us, and a big plus in the choices we were making.

After we won, so many people came to us to say how happy they were for us. I can not remind me of everyone, but we were really moved to see Tatiana Tarasova, with whom we have trained some years ago, or Ingo Steuer, the German pairs coach [Steuer coaches new pairs world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy]. Igor Shpilband, who coaches our direct competitors, also came to congratulate us. He recalled that our last world medal came in the junior ranks, in Brisbane, Australia. He said he was happy for us. All of them did that so spontaneously and with so much sincerity, I think that this moved us most.

What is coming next for the world champs? Are Delobel, 29, and Schoenfelder, 30, ready to keep skating competitively until 2010 and the Vancouver Olympics?

Schoenfelder: Right now, we are going to do the Stars on Ice tour. Being part of the tour is really a proof of recognition for all of us. It is coming as the result of our work. We are here to have fun and to give fun to our audience everywhere. The tour is also a great opportunity to gain experience, as we are being exposed to different situations and audiences around the country. This is quite important for us and for all the younger skaters who are in the show as well.

Talking about next season, we do not know yet. We will have to think. ... But we do not feel like thinking of what should come next at this moment! We want to stick to what we have been through and lived; we want to keep our victory alive. We have had a great season. We won two Grand Prix [the Trophée Eric Bompard and the NHK Trophy], finished third at the Grand Prix Final and second at the Europeans. This means a lot to us.

Delobel: Also, we just learned that we had won the ISU bonus for the best world ranking this season. It caps our season off, and we are so happy about it.

What about their programs for the next season? Can they still find something new?

Delobel: We really loved our free program to the "Language of Signs" for deaf and mute people. It has carried us throughout the season, just like we have carried it throughout. We have lived it deep inside us. That has made the difference, I think. Now we will have to think of something really different. Something lighter and faster, just like what we had done for our "Bonnie and Clyde" program [in 2006-07] after our "Night in Venice" [in 2005-06].
Who knows what lies ahead for Delobel and Schoenfelder. What we know for sure is that their present is bright, and that they are ready to fully enjoy it.