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Dubreuil, Weiss take top honors on ABC's "Thin Ice"

Five teams split $220,000; Bourne, Zimmerman are second

Michael Weiss will put on "Ice Champions Live" to benefit his foundation.
Michael Weiss will put on "Ice Champions Live" to benefit his foundation. (courtesy of ABC Television)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/22/2010) - Back in January, when Michael Weiss was booked for Thin Ice -- a reality-style competition mixing singles, pairs and ice dancers into unlikely pairings, broadcast on ABC on March 19 and 21 -- he called up John Zimmerman for a few tips.

"I figured the male pairs skaters, like John and David Pelletier, would have a huge advantage," Weiss said. "I've done a few simple pair moves in Stars on Ice, but nothing like those guys. I told John, 'You need to help me out.' He said, 'I'll help you a little, but you realize there is prize money involved.'"

As things turned out, Zimmerman may wish he'd been a little less helpful.

Weiss and partner Marie-France Dubreuil, Canada's two-time world ice dance silver medalist, edged out Zimmerman and his partner, Canadian world ice dance champion Shae-Lynn Bourne, to win the $60,000 first prize. A total of $220,000, provided by event host MGM Grand in Foxwoods, Conn., was awarded to five teams.

The top two couples received three perfect 10's from celebrity judges Katarina Witt, Dick Button and Kristi Yamaguchi for their final performances. Dubreuil and Weiss also won the judges' top honors last Friday, and that -- combined with votes from the home audience for the first program -- gave them the win.

"I'm learning how to skate with somebody else," Weiss said after the team's outing to James Morrison's "Broken String," featuring Nelly Furtado, choreographed by Yamaguchi's Dancing with the Stars partner, Mark Ballas.

"There are so many times when I'm used to having my personal space. When I do a crossover, I want to step away, and she wants to step in, because that's what she's been doing her whole life. It's a tough transition for me."

Dubreuil, who usually skates with husband Patrice Lauzon, said that wasn't a problem for too long.

"Every time we would skate, he would get away and I started to catch him," she laughed. "It was funny but we got used to it very quickly. We worked [with Ballas, in Los Angeles] from 9 am to midnight or 1 am for two days and a half, and once you get that tired, we got close and he didn't worry about it any more."

This spring's schedule is particularly tough on Dubreuil, who suffered a serious concussion during her last foray into reality TV skating, Canada's Battle of the Blades, which teamed female pro figure skaters with retired NHL hockey greats.

"We went from [the 2007] world championships to SOI and we never stopped," she said. "I did Battle of the Blades, we commentated at the Olympics, did this show and then there are some shows in Japan, and the Canadian SOItour.

"This huge concussion created a bunch of problems, because I didn't take any time off. I've kept pushing it and my body is saying, 'Listen lady, it's enough.' I will have to take time off after May; hopefully I can hold out that long."

Dubreuil and Lauzon -- who placed fourth in Thin Ice with 2002 Olympic pair champion Jamie Sale -- are working with Renee Roca to create a new show program to Nina Simone's "Do I Move You" for SOI.

"It's our first time working with Renee; the number is very bluesy, sexy, it's a lot of fun," Lauzon said.

After SOI, the couple will focus on working with the Quebec Figure Skating Federation and coaches including Annie Barabe to teach young athletes better skating skills, and also hope to choreograph for some top competitors. And that's not all.

"Hopefully there will be a baby on the way," Dubreuil said. "I don't think so, quite yet, but soon."

Bourne and Zimmerman are also keeping one foot in the professional skating world, and the other working with current competitors.

The day after Thin Ice, Zimmerman headed to the world championships in Torino where he will coach Italian pair Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek.

"I'm arriving the day of the short program, so tonight is the most important flight of my life," he said.

"This is pretty much their debut on the international scene; they've been skating together since last February. I've been in Milan with them since September, working on that back outside death spiral, triple twist and everything else. They're both excellent singles' skaters, they can do all the triples, and they have good skating skills."

Zimmerman's wife, three-time Italian champion Silvia Fontana, is in Torino, working on her Karisma sportswear line.

"She'll have a booth at worlds, and Torino is her home town, so she's very excited about that," he said.

"Karisma is really growing by leaps and bounds. It's overwhelming, it's our own business, and there are a lot of challenges to it, but it's quite rewarding."

The couple has their home in New Jersey on the market, and hope to settle in West Palm Beach, Fla., and the Ice Works rink there, soon.

"Right now we're taking it week by week," Zimmerman said. "She's in Torino, I'm in Milan, and our house hasn't sold yet."

Bourne, too, is busy combining her performing career with choreography and coaching. Together with Pasquale Camerlengo, she trains Canadian ice dance bronze medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who narrowly missed winning a spot on Canada's Olympic team.

"They just missed [second place at Canadian nationals] by .3," she said. "It could have gone either way, really. It was frustrating, but at the same time, it's invaluable what they'll gain from it. It's only going to make them stronger for the next four years."

Bourne, who has homes in Toronto and South Carolina, also created the "Day in the Life" short program Jeremy Abbott used to win his second U.S. title in January.

"When Yuka [Sato, Abbott's coach] called me and said, 'Jeremy really wants you for the short, he wants something different,' I almost said no, go with what works, because he is so good and it was an Olympic year," she remembered.

"But he was very clear about the look that he wanted. It was so easy working with him. I'd say, 'You can't do that before your triple Axel' and he'd say no, don't hold back, I'll try anything. He's full of talent, very creative, and he has no limits. He's probably the only one I've ever worked with who's said, 'Make it harder.'"

Abbott, who placed a disappointing ninth in Vancouver, plans to continue competing for at least a few more seasons. Bourne, for one, hopes he's around for the 2014 Sochi Games.

"The Olympics is a whole other experience. Everyone gets there at different stages. My first Olympics happened when I was 15. My next one, I knew what it was all about. It can be a little overwhelming and I'm sure Jeremy has already learned from it. I think he's only going to gain momentum."