French team is getting ready for Europeans

Joubert, Alban Préaubert and Méité have high-hopes headed to Bern

Maé-Bérénice Méité is looking forward to the 2011 European Championships.
Maé-Bérénice Méité is looking forward to the 2011 European Championships. (Getty Images)


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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to
(01/18/2011) - The selection process for the two major events of the season (Europeans and worlds) is always interesting to watch in France. This year was no exception.

Brian Joubert, who won his seventh French national title a month ago, will once more lead the French team to Bern, Switzerland, for the European Championships [January 26-30]. Alongside Joubert, Florent Amodio and Alban Préaubert will aim at a medal as well. Maé-Bérénice Meité, who finished third at nationals, was selected for her first Europeans. Adeline Canac and Yannick Bonheur will be the only pair representing France [although the country had two quotas], in what will be their first major international showing as a couple. One week prior to the Europeans, Joubert, Préaubert and Méité took the time to speak with about their hopes and aspirations.

Joubert is getting ready for his tenth Europeans Your first Europeans was in Switzerland, and you won a bronze medal there. Now you are about to start your tenth Europeans. This must be a record on its own!

Brian Joubert: Oh no, I am not even thinking of such things. Alain Giletti won five European titles [in the late 50s and early 60s], and I am still far from his record. But you are right, I am going there to do a great competition -- or simply to do what I do during practice and become a European champion again. I always felt good at Europeans. Where do you see yourself now?

Joubert: We are really on the right track. Actually, I came down from the traditional Christmas gala in Courchevel quite worried because I felt so exhausted. Also, I fell on my left knee during a practice session up there, and I still feel it. It is a bit harmful each time I step onto the ice, but after half an hour it's usually gone. Altogether, things are much better now. I have found a good regularity on my quad toe again, and it enhances my confidence. It is very important for me when you land a quad nine times out of 10 and fail the tenth -- you can be sure that the one which will come during the actual program is the one you missed. That's why we are working also quantitatively with my coach at the moment -- to land every single quad.

To be honest, my only worry now is my weight, I still have three kilos to lose after the holiday season! Do you intend to leave the quad out in your free, as you did at nationals?

Joubert: Not at all. At nationals I really wanted to take back my rank in the national hierarchy. We had done extensive changes after the Eric Bompard Trophy [where Joubert withdrew after a catastrophic showing in the short program and a terrible practice session in the morning], and it paid off.

At nationals I wanted to skate clean, especially in the free program. I finally accepted not to try a quad in the free. Also, I had landed it in the short. After the six minute warm-up, I decided to switch to a triple instead. It was not an easy move for me, as you can imagine. For the last 10 years I only went for quads! Also, starting your program by a triple instead of a quad changes your whole program. There, I saw that I had improved. Simply to accept the change on the spot and make it worthwhile was a huge improvement for me. Still I do not think that I am going to do this at every competition. I hope it will just be one occurrence in a life time! Do you sometimes think of what is next in your life?

Joubert: Oh yes! My dream is to become a skating coach and to launch a training center. I would love to have it in my home town of Poitiers. Poitiers is not a big city, and many people can't understand what makes me so passionate about that city. It is simple, though, when I see people stopping me in the street to tell me to keep going and make them dream, it gives me so much energy. They are proud of what I am doing. I have been traveling extensively throughout the whole world in the last 10 years, yet I feel best in Poitiers. I see how everyone believes in me and what they do for me. Parting ways from Poitiers would look like being a tragedy to me. Who do you see as your main competitors in Bern?

Joubert: [Tomas] Verner, [Michal] Brezina and Amodio. Of course I will fight. Florent [Amodio, who finished sixth at its first Grand Prix Final last December] will be skating his first Europeans. The main question for him will be to handle pressure. I would love it if we could be together on the podium. And of course if I am ahead of him! [he laughs]. As for myself, I do want to set an example -- always. Through my performances, my results, my behavior. I want to pull everyone upward. The newcomers will make it if they are rigorous enough. They have huge talent. My goal is simply to put my fingerprint on my sport -- which I love.

Alban Préaubert will fight for Europeans, not for the World University Games

Alban Préaubert has become one of the most entertaining and looked after skaters in France. While he did not qualify for the Olympics in 2010, he was willing to fight again this season and qualify for the World University Games (or Universiades), also a once in every four years event. His third place finish at French nationals qualified him for the European championships, but the French Federation decided to send two other skaters, Yannick Ponsero (who quit skating last season to concentrate on his physical therapist studies), and Chafik Besseghier, to the Universiades. Préaubert explains his ambitions and sadness.

Alban Préaubert: Skating is really the frosting on the cake for me. I have kept working on my studies throughout my career, and that relieves a lot of pressure from me. Does it take any ambition away then?

Préaubert: Oh no, not at all, it is just the opposite! In fact, serenity gives me an additional strength, as I feel so well in my skates. This will be my fifth Europeans, so I know what it is about. I am just coming back from a training session in the Alps, I have got lots of oxygen, and I feel great at this moment. I have always wandered around the podium, so there is a nice challenge for me. Also, even though I never won a medal, the French team has come back with three quotas each time I have been to Europeans. It makes me proud for French skating. So you see, I have a lot of ambition, yet less pressure. What happened for the Universiades?

Préaubert: If you can understand, please let me know! I simply was not selected. I wanted to do Europeans and the Universiades one after the other, but those who made the selection decided otherwise. Skating in the Universiades was my dream. Actually, my dream was to become the next University World Champion. Last time (in 2009) I finished third, and I always considered that winning the title was a life time objective for me. It was one of my main motivations to keep training so hard. To tell you the truth, I even postponed my graduation for one more year, in order to be able to skate there. So this is really a pity. So what will be coming next in your career?

Préaubert: I will keep skating as long as I am not broken down, physically or mentally. I will be graduating this year from ESCP-Europe, one of the leading business schools in France. As for my future, I am considering a job either in asset management or in consulting. Not skating at Universiades is like the death of a life dream, but my upcoming career helps me put things into perspective, as I have so many other things in my life!

Maé-Bérénice Méité, the new-comer What are your hopes in Bern?

Maé-Bérénice Méité: This will be my first Europeans. We have been working really hard on the cleanness of my programs. I do not feel a huge pressure, but there will be a lot at stake for me there. I will of course have to qualify first, but skating a long program beforehand should not be a big problem for me, as I do it every day in practice.

I would like to show what French girls are capable of and finish in the top ten. That would be my goal, really. We are ready to fight, we have a good technique. Every day with Candice [Didier, who trains with her in Paris] we fight to make our programs more stable, and each one of its elements. So, it should pay off. Now I am trying to work on the artistic side, as my strength is more on the technical side.

I will also take the time to watch all the other girls in Bern, to see what they have which I do not have and need to work at.

The French team that will arrive in Bern will carry high hopes. Joubert and Préaubert will be joined by Florent Amodio, who outskated Joubert several times these last two years, and Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat who won their two Grand Prix events (Cup of China and Trophee Eric Bompard) and finished second in the Grand Prix Final.

Amodio, Péchalat and Bourzat are currently polishing their programs in Moscow.

The selection for the world championship team will be based upon the results at Europeans.