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Amodio wins French Nationals, ticket to Vancouver

French team for Olympics shaping up

Florent Amodio will accompany Brian Joubert to Vancouver.
Florent Amodio will accompany Brian Joubert to Vancouver. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(12/19/2009) - National championships have always been a major challenge for skaters all around the globe, especially in traditionally big skating countries. France was no exception this weekend. Nationals were held in the newly opened rink of Marseille, in the deep south of France, close to the Mediterranean Sea, with one major target at stake: a ticket for Vancouver for the men and the pairs. While Florent Amodio has won both the title and his selection for the Games, the selection process remains open in the pairs.

Men
Brian Joubert withdrew from the French National Championships as expected, but he was nonetheless present in the stands, to watch the fierce battle to determine who would accompany him to Vancouver next February.

With three world class skaters vying for one single spot in the Olympic team, many thought that the short program would play a determining role. It was not the case, however, as all three main contenders skated a nearly flawless program. Yannick Ponsero came out in first place, thanks to the only clean quad of the field. Ponsero landed a magnificent quadruple toe to double toe combination, as well as a perfect triple Axel, which owed him a unanimous +2 GOE. He faltered however at the beginning of his circular step sequence.

Florent Amodio, fresh from the junior ranks (Amodio won the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final in 2009), skated a very artistic program, and successfully landed his triple Salchow to triple toe and triple Axel to take the second place. Alban Préaubert also skated flawless and landed his triple flip to triple toe and triple Axel.

The free program concentrated all hopes -- and energies. Amodio emerged first tonight, more than 7 points ahead of Ponsero and Préaubert, thanks to a faultless free program.

No Olympian in ice dancing
There was not nearly as much at stake in the ice dancing event, as both quotas for Vancouver had already been allotted. Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, the 2008 World gold medalists, are still in the "ramp up" process after Delobel welcomed her 1st child early October. The duo did not expect to participate in those nationals, as they are currently working hard in their home rink in Lyon to get ready in time for the European Championships. The French Federation had qualified them for Vancouver much earlier in the season anyway.

The French Federation had also decided to qualify Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat, the 2009 French gold medalists, for the Olympics, when the duo qualified for the ISU Grand Prix Final (they finished 4th in Tokyo). Péchalat and Bourzat also had to withdraw from nationals, though, in order to rest one of Bourzat's ankles.

The ice dancing competition nonetheless allowed Pernelle Carron and her new partner Lloyd Jones to win their first National gold medal. Carron, who decided to split from her former partner Matthieu Jost right after the 2009 World Championships in Los Angeles (they had finished 9th), has been skating with Jones (originally from Great Britain) for only a few months.

Matthieu Jost is now skating with Olga Orlova (originally from Russia). The duo finished 3rd. Carron and Jones as well as Orlova and Jost would have been eligible for the Olympics anyway, as neither Jones nor Orlova hold the French nationality.

Zoé Blanc and Pierre-Loup Bouquet won their first silver medal at nationals, and their originality and style even led them to win the free dance.

James and Bonheur win, but their selection remains unsure
Both Vanessa James and Yannick Bonheur and Adeline Canac and Maximin Coia were hoping to win in Marseille. In case of a victory, Canac and Coia would have gotten their Olympic visa in Marseille. Friday night, their short program was nearly perfect, with only a hand down for Canac on the landing of their side by side triple Salchow, and an over rotated thrown triple Salchow.

Still, Vanessa James and Yannick Bonheur skated their best short program in months and were close second to Canac and Coia. Today, James' and Bonheur's free program was almost as magnificent as the one they skated in Los Angeles during the 2009 World Championships (they had finished 12th there and received a standing ovation) and they won their first national gold medal together.

James and Bonheur can however not be qualified for the Olympics right away, as James is still not a French citizen. She was denied naturalization twice by French authorities, and it is not sure that she can get it in time to participate in the Games. Anyway that first victory comes as a strong encouragement for both of them, after the difficulties they experienced in the last months.

A new generation in the Ladies
Gwendoline Didier had failed to win an Olympic quota for France earlier in the season. While her perennial rival, Candice Didier (same last name but no family links between Candice and Gwendoline), was laying in bed with the flue, Gwendoline hoped to win a second National gold medal.

She had to fight with the upcoming generation, however, as four younger girls did skate up to par with her. Lena Marrocco, 14 years old, won both the short and the free program with an impressive triple Lutz to double toe and triple flip in the short, to become the new French National champion. "I can not believe it", Marrocco said afterwards. Maé Bérénice Meité, 15 years old, came 4th in the short program but skated a nice free to win the silver medal. Didier had to settle for the bronze.

The next stage for the French team is now set in Tallinn, for the European Championships, in a month (Jan. 19-23).