Joubert opens his heart, overcomes obstacles

Skater says he is focused and prepared for new season

Brian Joubert last worked with Laurent Depouilly in 2005, when the Frenchman won his first medal -- a silver -- at the European championships.
Brian Joubert last worked with Laurent Depouilly in 2005, when the Frenchman won his first medal -- a silver -- at the European championships. (Getty Images)


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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to
(09/23/2009) - Brian Joubert has been on every world podium since 2006, even winning a gold medal in 2007. As he starts what may be his last Olympic season, he took the time to detail his new team, new program and hopes for

A much talked about program
"I have kept last year's short program," Joubert explained. "It really suits me well. I have proved it last year [Joubert won that section in Los Angeles, prior to faltering in the free to take a final third place]. My free program is completely new, however, and it is absolutely superb. It requires a huge amount of work, however, but I feel great on it."

"A program to win," was the unanimous comment judges gave when they saw Joubert's new free program to "Ancient Lands," by Irish composer Ronan Hardiman.

"As soon as I heard that music," Joubert explained, "I knew it would be for me."

Joubert's choreography was crafted by world ice dancing gold medalists Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski. Joubert says he always admired them when they were competing.

"The program they made is technically very demanding. This is normal. After all, it is an Olympic program and it can not be an easy one! Yet, I love it so much that I do not count my time," he added. "We work really hard on it." Incidentally, "Ancient Lands" was the theme of Alexei Yagudin's exhibition program in 2002 -- the year he won the Olympic gold. A reference Joubert does not deny, as he has always been a big fan of Yagudin's.

A completely renewed team
Joubert has gathered his own "Olympic team" during the summer. After splitting with his former coach Jean-Christophe Simond at the end of last season, Joubert has decided to turn again to Laurent Depouilly, his former coach who he won his European title with in 2005. Depouilly, who was coaching his own daughter south of Bordeaux, has now left his family behind to relocate near Joubert's home city of Poitiers for the season.

The idea of calling Denkova and Staviski may be credited to Nathalie Depouilly, the wife of Joubert's coach. Nathalie, a French team member in ice dancing in the 1980s, and a renowned ice dancing coach in France, saw the potential to create the free program of her husband's protégé with the Bulgarian duo.

"I only help out, that is all," Nathalie Depouilly stated simply. "It is not an easy task for ice dancers to create a figure skating program from scratch. So, I offer guidance when the team needs it. Albena and Maxim took it as a real challenge for them, and it works really well." Lucinda Ruh, the renowned Swiss spinner, has also worked with Joubert on his spins.

"Brian really has a strong team around him this year," Depouilly concluded. "We encourage him to take everything he can from us all. We are all passionate about what we do, and very generous, too. It is a big luck we all have to work together."

A permanent work on choreography
Denkova and Staviski have not simply created Joubert's free program, they have also followed Joubert's preparation closely.

"Albena and Maxim come to Poitiers every five weeks," Joubert explained. "She is coming from Bulgaria, and he, from Russia. They always come together... So, sometimes they can take advantage of being in Poitiers to meet!," he said laughingly.

"Brian has a tendency to focus on his jumps and technique," Laurent Depouilly added. "So, the first time Denkova and Staviski came back to Poitiers -- a few weeks after they had choreographed the program -- they were horrified by what they saw." he recalled.

"When your hand is one inch too low, it is one inch too low," Depouilly said. "Whatever your movement is, Albena and Maxim never accept such a compromise. Brian understands this. He sees his marks, and so he knows what he needs to work on. Maxim is the most creative of all. Albena has so much perseverance, always. And both are so rigorous, really. They share the same rigor." "Also, they come to Poitiers," added Depouilly. "This is very important for Brian. During the last seasons, Brian had to go to the U.S. to work with his choreographers. Now, they come to him and it makes a big difference. The fact that they work on a regular basis is also key, because it stimulates us and forces Brian to really stick to his choreography and be more demanding with himself on that respect." About the Vancouver Olympics
"The goal is to skate a great performance and come back with that gold medal," Joubert said. "I think of it every day. Every morning when I wake up, I am thinking of it."

"I know that if I am at my best level, I am above my competitors. The Olympics are a special competition. They require a specific state of mind. I do not work with a mental coach [he smiles]. I worked with one in 2006, and I lost more than 2000 U.S. dollars. The best mental preparation is on the ice. If I feel ready, nothing will prevent me from winning. If, on the contrary, there is a little piece of dust in the mechanics -- if I do not feel well prepared, then I know that it may cause big trouble. It is my job to be serious and rigorous, in order to be fully ready when I enter on the ice. Then I should avoid asking questions to myself. I need to just enter and let go." "Vancouver will be my third Olympics," Joubert continued. "I failed both in 2002 and 2006 [Joubert finished 14th in 2002 and sixth in 2006]. I have learned a lot from my mistakes. I am much more positive and rigorous now than I used to be. In the old days, I could not stand a poor training session, and I lost most of my means on the ice. Now, even when a session is not satisfactory, I keep my nerves and can recompose to skate at a good quality level again."

About his current preparation
"To tell you the truth, I have never taken as much pleasure training as I do now," Joubert commented. "It is a really exciting feeling for me. This may be due to the team I have around me. It is exactly the one I need. Choreographers are coming once every month, and I like it. I have a lot of pleasure to work again with Laurent And there is nothing more exciting for an athlete than to fight for an Olympic title. I really want that medal, you know."

Overcoming obstacles
"Well, I love motorcycle," said Joubert. "Yet, I said to myself that any accident could ruin my career and 20 years of my life. I have decided to be rigorous and serious. So, no more motorcycling until the end of the season. I am really concentrated!"

"If Evgeni [Plushenko] comes back as strong as he was, it is really going to be exciting -- both for me and for the audience," Joubert continued. "The more challenging the fight is, the more I overcome my own limits. I have always loved competing. I know that there will be a lot of pressure upon my shoulders this season. Again: if I feel well prepared, I will not even feel pressure or stress. It has always been so. If I do not feel ready, however, it will be much tougher."