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Delobel, Schoenfelder withdraw from worlds

Persistent injury forces French dance team to sit out L.A.

Isabelle Delobel and on-ice partner Olivier Schoenfelder say her pregnancy will not deter them from competing in Vancouver next February.
Isabelle Delobel and on-ice partner Olivier Schoenfelder say her pregnancy will not deter them from competing in Vancouver next February. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(03/13/2009) - Friday Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, who won the world title in 2008, officially announced that they would have to let their teammates go to the 2009 worlds without them after learning Delobel's recovery will require more time.

"We had given ourselves a deadline for participating in the world championships in Los Angeles," Delobel stated. "If I could have resumed training by March 1, it would have left three weeks for training. Given my physical condition, which is excellent, it would have been enough.

"The amplitude of my shoulder is not at its peak yet."

Delobel's rehabilitation process has been a long one, since she started it six weeks ago.

"At the beginning," she explained, "I could not cut my steaks or lettuce with my right arm. Now, I can."

She can actually lift her arm up to the horizontal position, but not beyond yet.

"And, I can not pull it backward either," she explained with a grin. "You know, I have two metal screws in the front of my shoulder, and four smaller ones in the rear, as well as eight Kevlar knots in there, all of which I am going to keep all my life."

The plan for Delobel now is to go back to her rehabilitation center in Cap Breton, by the Atlantic Ocean. "They plan to keep me there until the end of March," she said. "The doctors are very optimistic, however. I should recover my shoulder 100%, and even more!" she added in laughter.

"There, it is really hard work, you know, just like a real training. Some days I make 30 degree amplitude moves, some other days I make only 10 degrees. It is just like on the ice, when you try to acquire a technical move."

The duo will have to skip the rest of the season. "It will allow us to start our Olympic season earlier," Schoenfelder said.

"Actually, announcing our decision is really a relief," Delobel added.

"We have several new ideas," Schoenfelder said. "And we are very motivated. We have absolutely no doubt that we can go further, since we have dominated the first half of this season [the duo won every competition they participated in this season, prior to Delobel's injury]. We certainly are eager to go for the Olympic gold in Vancouver. And guess what, we will skate the Olympic free dance on my saint day!"

French team ready to leave

The French team is scheduled to leave Sunday, March 15, to San Diego, where they should recover from the jet lag before the world championships start. Former Olympian Eric Millot, bronze medalist of the European Championship in 1993 and of the first ISU Final in 1996, will be the team leader. Millot, who gave up competitive skating in 1997, is now a successful coach in San Diego and has organized the French training base there one week before the official training starts.

Even though Delobel and Schoenfelder will be greatly missed, the French ice dancing contingent will be chasing a three pair quota for the 2010 Olympic Games, with Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who finished fourth in the last European Championships, and Pernelle Carron and Mathieu Jost, who finished sixth.

Péchalat and Bourzat, who have relocated in Moscow to train with Alexander Zhulin, have worked extensively on their compulsory dances, which cost them a medal at the Europeans. The duo finished second in the free program. They hope that the work they have done in the last eight months will be visible. Their natural charisma, audience appeal and empathy should make their programs a hit with the American audience, which they love.

Carron and Jost, who won a bronze medal at Skate Canada last season, have made a major change since the European Championships, six weeks ago: right after they left the ice in Helsinki, where they could not do better than a disappointing sixth place, Caron and Jost decided to change their free dance.

They will skate to the soundtrack of Edith Piaf, some of which they had used two years ago. They changed most elements, however, and skate it with far more maturity now than then. Their skate will be a tribute to French singer Edith Piaf and to Marion Cotillard, who won an Academy award in 2008 for best actress... in Los Angeles.

The men's team will also try to get a three skater quota for Vancouver. It will be led by Brian Joubert, who won world gold in 2007 and silver in 2006 and 2008. Joubert has been rehearsing his programs in his home rink of Poitiers for the last weeks.

"Brian is very motivated, he is in top form at this moment," an expert said. "Both physically, mentally and technically."

As for Yannick Ponsero, who missed the bronze medal at the last European championships by six-hundredths of a point, he participated in the Aegon Cup in the Hague at the end of last week, but he failed to even medal after fatal errors in both his short and free programs. Joubert was scheduled to skate in the Hague as well, but he had to withdraw due to problems in his back.

Vanessa James and Yannick Bonheur have finally managed to get approval from the French Federation to represent French pair skating in Los Angeles.

Candice Didier will be the only French lady on the Los Angeles ice. She also competed in the Hague, where she took a solid fifth place.

Even without some of its main leaders, the French team is eager to demonstrate its strength in Los Angeles. "Isabelle's injury has certainly increased the solidarity of the team," Schoenfelder concluded.