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Trust a key factor in French ice dancing

Delobel, Schoenfelder deal with pregnancy; Carron, Jost split bitterly

Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder say they are in competition form for Vancouver.
Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder say they are in competition form for Vancouver. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(05/22/2009) - Talent is not everything in ice dancing. Success depends not only on ability but also on trust. Only a few months ago, many saw French ice dancing as an endless reserve of world-class talent. After the 2009 ISU World Figure Skating Championships, three pairs were in the top 14 in icenetwork.com's World Figure Skater Rankings.

Last December, however, things began to look bleaker when 2008 world champion Isabelle Delobel injured her shoulder at the gala at the ISU Grand Prix Final, sidelining her for the rest of the season. Then, last month, with a healthy shoulder, Delobel told on-ice partner, Olivier Schoenfelder, that she would miss more time because she was pregnant (her boyfriend, Ludovic Roux, a French skier, is the proud father).

Trust came to the forefront in French elite ice dancing last week as well, when Pernelle Carron told her on-ice partner, Matthieu Jost, that she was leaving him.

The end of a dream

Carron and Jost had been regularly climbing up the world ice dancing ranks. They were considered France's third world-class couple, behind Delobel and Schoenfelder and Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who placed fifth at 2009 Worlds in L.A. Carron and Jost had medaled at an ISU Grand Prix for the first time in 2007, at Skate Canada, and finished a creditable ninth place at worlds in March.

"I have decided to change partners and skate with Lloyd Jones, an extremely talented skater from England", Carron announced. "I had a great experience with Matthieu", she added, "but I think we had reached our peak together."

Carron and Jost seemed to have more success waiting for them in seasons to come, particularly after cracking the top 10 in their first trip to the world championships.

Carron's decision may be considered a strange one, less than a year before the 2010 Olympic Games. Carron and Jost did not overestimate their chance of winning a spot on the French Olympic team, however, as France managed to gain only two spots for the ice dancing competition in Vancouver. Delobel's injury and pregnancy nonetheless opened the door for Carron and Jost again.

"Also, the year after could have been our year", Jost said. "We were on track to medal at Europeans."

As a matter of fact, Jost was stunned by Carron's announcement.

"She never gave me any sign before. She could have told me, like, 'We will skate together until the Olympics, and then we will see.' I could also have understood if we had skated poorly at worlds. It was not the case. On the contrary, we were in an ascending phase! One day she came to me and said, 'Can I talk to you? Okay, I do not want to skate with you anymore.' It could not have been more violent -- oh yes, maybe via a text message on my cellular phone," Jost said.

Carron, however, is positive about her change of partner.

"I am ready to skate for 10 more years", Carron, 22, said.

Jones, 20, is much younger than Jost, who turned 28 last January.

"It is a risk to take, but I think it is for a good cause. With Lloyd, we may have much longer term career plans," she explained.

"I was ready to skate 10 more years as well," Jost replied, "and to win many medals with Pernelle."

Carron and Jost kept their personal lives separate throughout their career together on the ice. Jost is living together with 1997 world ladies bronze medalist Vanessa Gusmeroli and should be the proud father of a little girl next July. In addition to skating, he is also a computer analyst.

"There is a day when physical shape and non-skating activities take their toll on the desire to compete," Carron mentioned.

She may have thought that such a day had come for Jost. On the other hand, some mention that Carron's move is connected to the fact that Jones is her off-ice boyfriend. In any case, the move forces Jost to find another partner, and surely a new coach and rink to train.

"I do not exclude any possibility at this stage," Jost said. "I just had a trial with a Russian skater in the U.S., and it worked quite well. It is, however, too early to talk about it yet. Where will I train and with whom? Every door remains open. Yet you can be sure that this shows my determination to keep skating and competing.

"Talent is not enough; trust is an essential part. Indeed you need to be two to make a couple. When you skate together, you have no written contract, only a tacit one. If you do not trust one another, you cannot do anything."

Delobel and Schoenfelder almost ready for next season

Trust is a critical element in every couple, be it on the ice or not. Schoenfelder also endured quite a shock when his life-long skating partner, Delobel, announced that she was pregnant.

"When you learn such news, you tend to question your own goals," Schoenfelder admitted. "Then you understand that it will make it an even greater challenge."

"We aim at winning an Olympic medal even stronger," Delobel added.

At the moment, the couple is getting organized for the Olympic season.

"Our new original dance is already choreographed," Schoenfelder stated. "We have not chosen an easy dance. We have asked Diane Ribas to transcribe to the ice the work we did on stage with a professional choreographer. We have spent lots of time building the story of our folklore dance. For now, we still want to keep it secret, of course, but you will see. The result should be glittering and full of joy."

As for their free dance, Delobel and Schoenfelder have asked their former teammates in Lyon, 2006 and 2007 world silver medalists Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, to help them choreograph their new routine.

"You do not change a winning team," Schoenfelder said, as Dubreuil and Lauzon had already helped the duo design their 2008-09 free dance. "We have chosen our theme for next year some months ago, and right now our music is almost ready. Marie-France and Patrice should be with us in Lyon early June. Research and design of such a program are really key. No mistake will be allowed in an Olympic season!"

In fact, there is another critical factor for the duo this year -- time. By June, Delobel should be entering into her sixth month of pregnancy, and it might be difficult (not to mention risky) for her to keep skating much beyond that.

Jost keeps training in Lyon, on the same ice as Carron, Jones, Delobel and Schoenfelder. Talent reserves are still there, but they have somehow broken into pieces, as mutual trust has.

"My daughter's expected birth in six weeks will bring a great happiness," Jost said. "It will do us some good!"

By then, Carron and Jones will have prepared their first programs together. Delobel and Schoenfelder will have recomposed as well. Trust may be put in jeopardy at times, yet life keeps going and talent remains. May the next seasons give tribute to those who dared to trust.