Pechalat, Bourzat start fresh in Moscow

French couple leaves home to work with Alexander Zhulin

So far, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat are happy with their move to Moscow.
So far, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat are happy with their move to Moscow. (Getty Images)


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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to
(10/11/2008) - Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat are one of the fast-rising duos on the ice dancing planet. In just two seasons, they have climbed from 15th in the world (2006) to 12th (2007) to seventh in the current World Figure Skater Rankings. One of their highlights from last season was qualifying for the Grand Prix Final for the first time in their careers. But, after the season, they were still looking to improve.

In the middle of this past summer, after skating some exhibitions in France and Japan, Pechalat and Bourzat announced that they were moving to the next stage of their skating life. After years of training with Muriel Boucher-Zazoui in Lyon, France, they decided to relocate permanently to Moscow in order to train with former world gold medalist Alexander Zhulin. How do they feel about their choice two months later?

"Nathalie and I like to renew ourselves regularly," Bourzat explained. "I have always moved every eight years or so. It was time for us to start again. In Moscow, we are completely focused on our skating. We are on the ice non-stop from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and that helps to concentrate. Of course, it is much more demanding physically, and it is not easy to skate your whole free dance after four hours of intensive training. We may be completely exhausted. It is like, 'If ever you want to die in the middle of your program, please do it beautifully.' This is quite good for us, and we like it. We can already feel the difference."

"It is really nice to work with them," Zhulin confirmed. "They are hard workers; they do what I ask."

During the summer, for instance, a hockey team needed to train from morning to night on their rink, so there was no ice time left for them except between midnight and 5 a.m. Zhulin did not hesitate one second. He took it, and Pechalat and Bourzat adapted well.

"One other good thing is that our coaches teach each ice dancing team separately," Pechalat explained. "We are four senior pairs on the ice every morning, but each one gets its own teaching. There is no comparison between us, no lift or figure put in common, no mixing between us. Each one's personality is fully respected."

The French couple has also been very happy with what they've received from their new coaches. "We had built both our original and free dances prior to going to Moscow,", Pechalat recalled. "Sasha took it very nicely. He knows what we are looking for artistically and technically, which is great."

"He understands us and does not want to control everything," Bourzat added. "He does not want to make us look like him or turn into robots."

"They always do choreographic work with different choreographers. It is their style," Zhulin admitted. "They prepare it on the floor, but putting it on the ice is a different story. They listen to my advice. Actually, I really appreciate it. If they bring me ideas and music I like, I'll be more than happy. And yet, at the end, you will see my style anyway. This is a good process, because they look different. They are not just like Sasha Zhulin. I like this couple's style. They are very different from the others. I really think they are great skaters."

What Zhulin brings the couple is obvious at first glance. "He brings us the bases of ice dancing," Bourzat expressed right away.

"They are very strong in the original and free dance," Zhulin confirmed, "but they need to work on the basics."

What are those "basics" then? "Hold position, skate parallel, look the same way, push nice and smooth, increase speed, do exercise with parallel legs ... All those things," Zhulin explained. "Once they have them, their compulsories will improve for sure."

Setting up in Moscow was certainly not the easiest part. "Moscow's climate is cold, it is difficult to live there. Yet we are getting used to it," Bourzat said. "Also, we had one good surprise every day, and things are setting up into place little by little," Pechalat added. "We both have our apartment. Fabian shares an apartment with a German skater who can speak Russian."

"Yeah! He cooks every day, and I do the dishes, so it is cool!" Bourzat said.

Pechalat shares an apartment with a Russian jazz player. Both recognize it is good to be with someone who can speak Russian.

"This helps us a lot. Actually, Nathalie is learning Russian; she can already read some," Bourzat added.

A student at the Management School of Lyon, Pechalat has found some exchange students from her alma matter in Moscow. She is also doing an internship in marketing in a pharmaceutical laboratory two afternoons a week.

"I definitely need to see people," she said. "I can go out visiting with my friends and learn new things, like making a business plan through my job. Also, we have a motto: 'every weekend, one visit'. I must admit that we already know every shopping corner in the city!"

"Which is very important," Bourzat confirmed with laughter. "This way, when the weather is really cold, we know exactly where we need to go shopping for what we need!"

The collaboration with Zhulin might be a long one. "We work closely, and we trust each other," the coach said. "I really hope I can help them improve."

Actually, Zhulin is quick to point out that he likes to work with French skaters. "I worked with Laurent Tobel and Frederic Dambier before, now Nathalie and Fabian. They are all hard workers, so it is easy for me to work with them. Also, they always have nice creativity, and I enjoy that so much." He quickly added, "If I see creativity going a different way than I like, however, I will let them know, you can be sure!"

Pechalat and Bourzat have always aimed at improving in the sport they both love. Learning better edges will surely make them glide faster. It could also make them improve even faster.