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Lambiel savors first Canadian Stars tour

Swiss two-time world champion embraces life as a performer

Stephane Lambiel racked up 232.36 points overall to win men's gold at the Nebelhorn Trophy.
Stephane Lambiel racked up 232.36 points overall to win men's gold at the Nebelhorn Trophy. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(05/07/2009) - Wednesday in Winnipeg, Canada, while touring mate Sasha Cohen was busy announcing -- unofficially -- her 2010 Olympic aspirations, Switzerland's Stéphane Lambiel told icenetwork.com he was definitely not contemplating his own return to competition.

"I'm really happy with the decision [to retire from competition]. I could really enjoy performing without the pressure. It's so different to skate when you don't have the competition in your mind. You just go to the practice and do your programs," said the 2006 Olympic silver medalist, whose intentions to compete last season were derailed by a groin injury.

"I couldn't do all the elements I had to for the competition because of the injury. I couldn't practice the Axel, because the take-off is on the left side and that was very painful. A lot of spins were also painful," the native French speaker explained in flawless English.

"The performance, for me, is really important. I enjoy it. I don't regret [my decision]," added Lambiel, the 2005 and '06 world champion.

Lambiel's decision to leave the amateur ranks came on the heels of 2008 world champion Jeffrey Buttle's own surprise retirement announcement last fall, but the Swiss said he has never discussed the topic with his fellow Stars on Ice performer.

"I'm very happy to be performing here in Canada. I'm very excited about the [Stars on Ice] show. I've been touring in Japan [last winter] with the cast, and I already know the skaters," said Lambiel, who made his Stars Canada debut Wednesday night, much to the delight of the Winnipeg audience.

"I was always dreaming of performing with Stars on Ice when I was a kid. It was, for me, one of the most famous skating tours. ... After doing the tour in Japan, I could see the atmosphere among the skaters was great," said Lambiel, who has guest-star status for the final five of 12 shows that Stars performs across Canada.

Lambiel, now 24, has fond memories of competing in Canada. He won both competitions he entered in Canada -- the post-Olympics world championships in 2006 in Calgary, where he will perform tonight, and Skate Canada International later that fall in Victoria.

"Both of my experiences in Canada were great, so I really wanted to come back here to perform in front of the Canadian crowd," recalled Lambiel, who cast a spell over the audience Wednesday with his masterful performance to Romeo and Juliet.

"It's one of my favorite programs. It's the program where I can really feel skating is my life," said Lambiel, who weaves movement with a single white rose into that routine.

Besides shows in Japan, Lambiel has also performed in Europe and Korea since announcing his retirement. In June, he heads back to Japan for two weeks of shows and expects to return to Korea in August for more performances.

Lambiel still wakes up with pain every day due to his injury. Massage, physiotherapy and strength training allow him to keep going while he works at strengthening his upper body to help heal the injury.

Planning ahead, in terms of his professional skating career, is not something Lambiel has done. In fact, he said, he is a spontaneous person who does not like to organize things.

"I enjoy my life. I'm really lucky to travel to skate, because it's my passion. I really love going on the ice to express myself, and I don't make plans for the future. I know one day I'll have to retire from skating, do something for my life, but, right now, I just take one show after another and do the best I can and share the emotions with the audience.

"Skating took so much time in my life and, you know, you don't count the hours you work when you have a passion like that. After that, you have to find a new passion. After a skating career, you can't do something you don't like 100 percent," he philosophized.

Lambiel considers winning the silver medal in Turin to be the highlight of his career -- "the best day of my life" -- and thinks the Vivaldi "Four Seasons" program that helped him onto the Olympic podium and to a second world title was probably his favorite. Although he expressed fondness for many of his routines, Lambiel conceded the zebra-like stripes on his "Four Seasons" costume, which earned him the nickname "Little Zebra," probably made that program the most memorable.

"If you remember something from my career, it is likely that costume. What I was thinking when I imagined this program was a story around this zebra who is looking at snow for the first time in his life. And he's kind of in another world, kind of lost and trying to find his way. It was kind of a fairytale," Lambiel explained.

Asked about Russian Evgeni Plushenko's musings about returning to compete in the upcoming Olympic season after taking the gold in 2006, Lambiel said, "I think if he can come back, it is very good for him and very good for figure skating, because he has a very strong personality and he is a very good character for skating. I really hope he can practice as much as he needs to come back because it's not easy to make a comeback. I wish him all the best and good luck."

As for predictions about which men are most likely to succeed Plushenko, Buttle and himself as Olympic medalists next February, Lambiel said there are many possibilities. However, his top four picks would be Plushenko, if he does come back, Canadian Patrick Chan, Frenchman Brian Joubert and American Evan Lysacek, the reigning world champion.

As yet, Lambiel has no official role for the Vancouver Games, although he would love to be involved. He will get a taste of the Olympic city when Stars on Ice lands there for its final Canadian performance next Tuesday.