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Preaubert surprises Joubert at French Masters

World No. 1 loses in France for first time in four years

Alban Preaubert, always known for his silly side, was serious in Orleans, snapping Brian Joubert's winning streak in competition in France.
Alban Preaubert, always known for his silly side, was serious in Orleans, snapping Brian Joubert's winning streak in competition in France. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(10/05/2008) - No one would have ever thought it could happen. Brian Joubert was leading the pack at the French Masters after a nearly flawless short program. He had not been defeated in competition in France in the last four years. Yet the most improbable comeback happened Saturday night in Orléans, when Alban Préaubert won the free program and the overall competition.

Joubert fell on his opening quad then put a hand down on his triple Axel and had a hard time landing even his triple jumps properly. He confirmed afterwards that his blade sharpening problem had really penalized him, at least in his mind, if not on the ice. Joubert even admitted that he had considered not coming to Orléans at all when he felt he had a problem with his blades.

Meanwhile, Préaubert presented a very strong long program that included a beautiful quad. However, ecstatic about his first national victory at this level, Préaubert was quick to recognize that this was just one competition and that Joubert remained the "boss" anyway.

Last season, Préaubert had to withdraw from worlds after a bad back injury. He spent his summer resting and recovering, before creating his new programs.

"As you may remember," he said, "I had to withdraw from worlds. Then I stopped skating completely for one full month. After a month, I could start skating again, although without any jumping. I went to Lyon to train with Muriel Boucher-Zazoui and Romain Haguenauer [coaches of 2008 ice dancing world gold medalists Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder]. They helped me build my short and long programs for this season."

Préaubert chose Russian folklore for his long program. "I had this in mind for quite a long time. My first coach was Russian, so it was kind of a tribute for her. Also, I was invited to the Cup of Russia this year, so it was a good choice."

Setting up the program required a lot of time, though. "I listened to many versions of 'Kalinka' and Bateliers of the Volga, which I skate to," Préaubert explained. "No one really seemed fit for me to skate to, so I asked Maxime Rodriguez, the skating composer, to make up the proper arrangements [Maxime Rodriguez got world renown when he composed the musical theme for Philippe Candeloro's world and Olympic programs]."

Always ready to make his audience laugh, Préaubert is always willing to prove that he can skate to many more themes. "I do not want to be stuck in only one style," he said. "Also, I know that I will come back to humor at a later stage in my career, once I have proved that I can skate in every style. It should have even more impact then."

Technically and physically, Préaubert is now fit for his new ambitions. "In fact, working on my basic skating abilities during a month in Lyon gave me better edges on the ice, and I could recover my technical level really quickly. Now my goal is to get into the top five in Europe and back to the top 10 at worlds."

In fact, France will have only two skaters in Los Angeles.

"Whoever goes there with Brian [Joubert] will have to skate great so that the team can qualify three skaters for the following year, that is to the Olympic Games!"

Of course, Préaubert sees himself well in that position.

"You know, I was not able to go to the United States last summer, because of my injury. The last seasons, I went to New York to work with Nikolai Morozov, and I really missed it. In fact, I would love living in New York permanently at one point in my life. So I hope that at least I can go to Los Angeles to get my 'U.S. feel' this year!"

His victory in Orléans should confirm that he has set his ambitions straight.