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Joubert, Preaubert head to Moscow in different spirits

Frenchmen take to the ice in back-to-back weeks

Alban Preaubert was thrilled with his performance at the Trophee Eric Bompard.
Alban Preaubert was thrilled with his performance at the Trophee Eric Bompard. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(11/20/2008) - Alban Préaubert and Brian Joubert may be fierce competitors on the ice, but they remain best friends off of it. The two are often seen together, joking during off-ice warm-up sessions before entering the ice or after leaving it.

"Brian may lose here or there; he is still French number 1," Préaubert often says.

The two now head to their second Grand Prix in as many weeks, the Cup of Russia, but they are in very different spirits after the Trophée Eric Bompard in Paris. Préaubert may be the happiest man on earth, while Joubert is left with many difficult questions to solve.

Joubert's mea culpa

"I have been looking a lot for what was going wrong," Joubert said after his disappointing fourth-place finish at the Trophée Bompard last week, "but maybe I have not looked in the right direction. In fact, these five weeks have been a real catastrophe."

The 2007 world champion and 2008 world silver medalist had entered this new season with renewed ambition and determination. In the last week of September, however, he did not feel as good on the ice, especially regarding his quadruple jumps.

He first thought that his blade sharpening was the cause of his difficulties. When he lost to Préaubert at the French Masters in early October, he thought things would get better rapidly. They did not.

Joubert tried to sharpen his blades in different ways, even asking his mother to help him with them. His numerous tries did not work out, just as Alain Giletti's efforts to help him were never satisfactory in the French champion's eyes (Giletti, the 1960 world champion, has developed a unique skill at sharpening blades).

"For reasons that are proper to Brian," the president of the French Federation said after the Bompard failure, "he has simply not trained enough."

It was clear on the Parisian ice that Joubert arrived unready to compete.

"I do not worry so much for my free program," Joubert said afterwards. "In fact, I am very disappointed for my short program, which I know I can skate clean."

Indeed, never had Joubert skipped a jump as he did in his short program with his intended quad-triple combination. His "go for it" attitude has even been one of his strongest qualities. In the autobiography he wrote two years ago, he even recalled that he landed his first quad during an exhibition, when one of his teammates had simply said to him, "Let's try one together." He had never even tried one. Ten seconds later, he had landed a quad toe without even knowing he could achieve such a feat. Since then, he landed many on his bottom, with a hand or a foot down, yet never had he skipped one.

"My left foot got stuck, and I could not do even a triple jump," he tried to explain after his short program.

Ever since, Joubert's fluke has been the hot topic in Paris, commented on by the officials, judges and press alike. Many observers even noted that Joubert's short program was absolutely fascinating and skated with power and energy after the skipped combination. His step sequences were fast and his skating exhilarating, as if he felt relieved about skipping the major difficulty of his program. He even got the highest program components score in the segment.

"This should be called a psychological block," an expert stated. "Unfortunately, the French have never been too good at coping with such problems in the past. Brian will have to handle this rapidly, because it could severely damage the rest of his career if nothing is done. You never know when those things come back, but they usually do come back."

After much discussion with his coach and Federation officials, Joubert was scheduled to go to Moscow for the next stage of the Grand Prix.

"I will head to Moscow with nothing to lose," Joubert said. "We will try to stick to our objectives."

But will three days be enough time to regroup and find his bearings?

Préaubert's tribute

Préaubert was ecstatic after his bronze medal at the Trophée Bompard, finishing behind Patrick Chan of Canada and Takahiko Kozuka of Japan but ahead of Joubert.

"I am very happy," he said. "I have competed twice this season, and twice I have skated clean programs both in the short and in the free."

Even his quadruple toe loop, which had given him some worries during his practice sessions, was a success.

"I have decided to keep it in spite of the difficulties I had," Préaubert explained. "I landed it correctly, which means that I was right. It was not an easy decision to make, though, because the results prove again that you do not need a quad to succeed." (Chan and Kozuka did not land a quad during their free programs)

Préaubert was excited to go to Russia, especially given his program this year. He has elected to skate to two Russian favorites, "Kalinka" and the "Volga River Boatmen."

"This is a tribute to my first coach, Elena Issachenko," Préaubert explained. "She was Russian, and she has always taught me about these songs. So my program is a tribute to her. She passed away two years ago."

His home city of Charleville Mézières, near the Belgian boarder, even named the rink where Issachenko coached after her, mainly on Préaubert's insistence.

"In fact," Préaubert added with emotion, "my plan was to skate to these themes for the Olympic season. I think I was just not patient enough, and I am using them this year. I feel great with them."

In a strange coincidence, Préaubert was selected to skate in the Russian stage of the Grand Prix.

"It shows I was right in my choice!" he said with a smile.