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The world travels to Paris for Bompard

Chan, last year's men's champ, looks to defend crown

Patrick Chan, who recently took gold at Skate Canada, looks to defend his Trophée Eric Bompard crown.
Patrick Chan, who recently took gold at Skate Canada, looks to defend his Trophée Eric Bompard crown. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(11/11/2008) - The Trophée Eric Bompard has always been a glamorous event of the skating scene. This year's fourth stage of the 2008-09 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series should be just as brilliant, with one former or current world gold medalist in each category.

Ladies
In the ladies event, Caroline Zhang, who recently placed fifth at Skate Canada, will skate along with teammates Bebe Liang, who finished sixth at Ottawa, and Emily Hughes. Liang has already competed in Paris, and will open the doors for Hughes and Zhang, who will make their debuts on the Parisian stage. They will face strong competition, with Mao Asada, the 2008 world gold medalist and a two-time winner in Paris, and Joannie Rochette, fresh from her Skate Canada victory.

Men
In the men's event, Brian Joubert would have skated against Stéphane Lambiel, if Lambiel had not decided to end his competitive career. Patrick Chan, recent winner of Skate Canada, won the Bompard Trophy last season and will certainly battle to retain the crown. Takahiko Kozuka, a surprise winner at Skate America, should also be a strong contender. Ryan Bradley of the United States is another top competitor and finished second at Skate Canada. Fellow American Brandon Mroz will participate for the Trophy for the first time.

Ice Dancing
2008 world champions Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder lead the pack in ice dancing after their win at Skate America. The brother-and-sister team of Sinead Kerr and John Kerr, who finished third in Everett, will give Delobel and Schoenfelder strong competition, as will Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali of Italy. Jennifer Wester and Daniil Barantsev hope to make a splash for the Americans.

Pairs
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany, the current world pairs gold medalists, will compete in Paris just two weeks after their victory at Skate America. They will go up against Russians Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov and Meagan Duhamel and Craig Buntin of Canada, who took third and fourth place in Everett, respectively. The skate of Americans Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent is much anticipated, as they landed the first ever quadruple throw Salchow recognized by the ISU in 2007.

The French are ready to welcome their international skating mates
Skating in one's country is always a challenge, yet it bears its own opportunities. Icenetwork.com asked some of the French national champions about skating on their home turf and how their season is shaping up so far.

The third-ranked French ice dancing pair, Pernelle Carron and Mathieu Jost won their first Grand Prix medal last season when they took bronze at Skate America, but they're looking to raise the bar even higher this season.

"Both our programs have a huge potential," Jost explained. "We can even hardly perform them up to where we have designed them so far."

Their programs consist of intricate steps and lifts and incredible tempo throughout, especially in the original dance, which make these programs very difficult. "So, we have to push ourselves throughout the season to master them [the programs]. This is very demanding, but it is also quite exciting and it motivates us a lot."

Pushing themselves seems to have paid off, as Caron and Jost won the Karl Schäfer Memorial in Vienna earlier this year and finished fifth at Skate America.

Gwendoline Didier's renewed inspiration
The ladies' field in France has not seen an international standard since four-time world silver medalist Surya Bonaly, 1997 bronze medalist Vanessa Gusmeroli and Laetitia Hubert all retired. However, current French national champion Gwendoline Didier worked hard throughout the summer and is stepping into the spotlight with her consistent jumping abilities.

"First I worked with Michael Huth in Oberstdorf, and it was great for me to be on the ice with Carolina Kostner (2007 and 2008 European gold medalist) and Tomas Verner (2008 European gold medalist)," Didier said. "Then we went to Finland, where I worked to improve the quality of my skating. Finally, I worked with Salomé Brunner in Switzerland."

Brunner was Lambiel's acclaimed choreographer. "Salome taught me a lot about who I am," Didier revealed. "She never judged me, but she tried to emphasize my strong points."

Brunner and Didier came up with a contemporary program. "This way I can transmit that lively side of me. Salomé made me gain confidence. What I skate is far more consistent with whom I am than before".

Even with all the practice, Didier's new free program is quite a challenge for her. "It is an extremely difficult program, very demanding. So, I need to work off-ice on my physical condition, and I need to go through my program extensively on the ice." "I am exhausted," she laughed. Didier also studies full time at a management school near Paris after she graduated with a degree in psychology last year.

A newfound motivation for Candice Didier?
Didier's younger sister, Candice Didier, began her summer with a bad fall. Her Parisian teammates, Vanessa James and Yannick Bonheur, fell on her at practice.

"They fell on me one day, and I had to stop skating for three weeks," Candice Didier said. "Actually that allowed me to study and graduate from high school, so it was not too bad!"

A solid skater in training, Candice Didier has yet to translate her success to competition. "When you are training, everything is planned, and you are always taken care of at every step or jump," she said. "Competition is completely different. You are alone on the ice, completely by yourself. I have had a hard time finding my references there. The first day I arrived in Paris, Katia [Beyer, her coach] said to me, 'Please do what you want.' That was strange for me!"

Candice Didier hopes the new season will provide her with a clean slate and renewed motivation.

"I have always loved skating, maybe too much. Now I skate for me, not under constraint as before. In Paris, where I train now, I am being trusted and that allows me to feel more confident. I feel that I have a whole team with me, who trusts me. It is a real family for me. I like it."

James and Bonheur are eager to improve
Vanessa James' French is still frail, yet she can hold a conversation in her new language. The Anglo-Canadian skater, who paired up with Yannick Bonheur last December, is now trying to find her way in France. Always open and joyful, James is considered everyone's best friend in her skating club in Paris.

"We spent three weeks in Montreal last summer, and we worked with Patrice Archetto," James said. "We have tried to innovate a lot with our lifts and spirals."

The team had promised to include higher technical difficulties in their program this season. "Actually, we have preferred to build a more competitive program, rather than putting the emphasis on one single element," Bonheur explained. "This way it is more rounded up, and we want to skate it clean. We will add jumps a little later."

"Now we are really living our programs," James added. "This is a great stage to reach."

Bonheur forms a completely different pair with James than the one he formed with Marilyn Pla, his former partner, with whom he won three French national titles and finished sixth in Europe in 2006.

"I have worked a lot on my line," he explained. "Now, you can really see the connection between the two of us. That, hopefully, may make the difference at the international level."

"Our goal is to be the best," James said excitedly. "And quickly!"

Adeline Canac and Maxime Coia find inspiration in Canada
Summer meant a big change for Adeline Canac and Maximin Coia, the current national pairs champions. After spending a month in Contrecoeur, Québec last summer, they decided to stay.

"We have improved a lot there," Canac explained. "We really feel in sync with our coach, Anne Baravé. The fit has been perfect right away. We have left Paris with much regret after all these years, yet we know that we have made the right choice".

"We have worked a lot on our relationship on the ice and the image we project," Coia described. "We try to express what we feel for one another. We look at one another much more. Anne really insists on how skaters relate to one another. She has transformed us. This is what we want: Keep improving. Adeline has worked very hard to find the line of a pair skater. I have worked a lot myself to develop my upper body. And Annie is watching carefully every detail: Your toes, your wrists, your fingers, your shoulders. All those little details that will make one say, 'It's beautiful,' without even knowing why."

Canac and Coia, who finished seventh at Skate America, enjoy working in North America. "Our choreographer, Line Haddad, lives in New York permanently," Canac said. "So, we have good reasons to go there. We learn a lot with the American mentality, which is always geared toward success and self-trust. It will help us tremendously."