France's finest turn out for French Masters

Pechalat and Bourzat, Amodio, Joubert debut new programs in Orleans

Florent Amodio debuted his jazzy short and Brazilian-themed free skate in Orleans.
Florent Amodio debuted his jazzy short and Brazilian-themed free skate in Orleans. (Getty Images)


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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to
(10/10/2011) - The French "Masters" traditionally allows the main skating forces in France to display their new programs. Several French international judges came to give advice on how the skaters could improve their programs and attain higher levels for the elements.

Skaters like to come to the Masters for that reason, and also for the relaxed atmosphere of the competition.

"Finishing first or second or third here does not mean much," Brian Joubert said. "What is important is to have our program seen and commented on by the judges, so we can fine tune them before the start of the international season.

There was much more at stake, though, for the pairs and ladies, as the selections for Trophee Eric Bompard should be decided in the upcoming week for both disciplines.

Péchalat, Bourzat are ready

Interestingly, the two main French ice dancing teams, Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat (fourth at worlds last year) and Pernelle Carron and Lloyd Jones (12th at 2011 worlds), are now training in the U.S.

Zoé Blanc and Pierre-Loup Bouquet, who were rated as one of the most original ice dancing duos in the world and ranked third in France the two last seasons, decided to end their competitive career. Carron and Jones, who are now coached by Natalia Linichuk, did not make the trip to Orleans. Thus, Péchalat and Bourzat's victory was never in doubt from the moment they stepped on the ice.

Péchalat and Bourzat were forced to leave their coach of three years in Moscow, Sasha Zhulin, because of what has come to be known as the "Putin law." Although it has remained a non-official rule, the prime minister of Russia declared that no Russian coach should train foreign competitors prior to the Sochi Olympics.

"Sasha had advised us that he might not be able to keep us," Péchalat explained.

"We keep a strong connection with him, however," Bourzat added, "And we will go back to him for a training session as soon as we have time."

The duo has now settled near Detroit to train with Pasquale Camerlengo, whom they had come to know when he was learning his trade as a coach alongside Muriel Zazoui-Boucher.

Péchalat and Bourzat's Latin-themed original dance proved to be an instant hit in the rink. Staged in a Rio Carnival atmosphere, they skated their routine at a fast pace, and with deep and long edges. Their free dance took us to distant Egypt, with Bourzat portraying a pharaoh and Péchalat his mummy.

Péchalat and Bourzat may have set a kind of a record in Orléans, as their scores were more than twice that of their closest competitors for both the original (72.73 to 37.07) and the free dance (106.99 to 52.84).

Amodio, Joubert still have work to do

Florent Amodio has widely publicized the landing of his first quad -- a Salchow -- in the last few weeks. Although he landed it successfully in practice, Amodio missed it in both programs. He nonetheless won the competition, ahead of Joubert and Chafik Besseghier.

Amodio decided to change styles this year, "although not personality," as he was quick to point out. His skating remains as crisp and sharp as it was last season, when he won the European gold medal. His jazzy short and Brazilian-themed free skate gave him the edge, even though he admits there is still a lot of work awaiting him before his first Grand Prix assignment, Skate America.

"I do not want my programs to be ready too early in the season," Amodio said. "I need to peak much later."

Concerning his missed quad, he admitted he needed to fine tune it.

"Falling did not hamper my energy at all," he said. "Now I have included the quad routinely in my programs, and I feel quite comfortable with it."

Joubert, on the contrary, did not miss any of his quad toes. His triple Axel was pure in the short but eluded him twice in the free.

"After those three jumps [the quad and the two missed triple Axels], I was completely exhausted," he admitted. "I must work on my physical condition a lot now."

Joubert had initially planned to keep his Beethoven free program, which led him to a silver medal at last year's Europeans and a fourth-place finish in the free skate at worlds in Moscow. Three weeks ago, however, he and his coach decided to bring back his hit program, set to music from The Matrix.

"I have never felt a program better than the Matrix one," Joubert explained.

His failure to skate it clean at Orléans made Amodio's youth and modern style even more apparent. Joubert's goal for the upcoming weeks is to win the Cup of China, the only stage of the Grand Prix he has never won before.

Crowd pleaser Alban Préaubert, who has represented France at both Europeans and worlds in the past, came skateless to Orléans. (He is skipping this year's Grand Prix Series and plans to make his season debut at the French Championships in December.) He has just joined an asset management group in Paris.

"For now, I am doing non-financial analysis," he explained. "This helps me learn the trade, and I love it. Unlike skating, this is teamwork!"

Ladies: Is France finally back?

Yrétha Silete, Lena Marrocco, Lénaëlle Gilleron-Gorry and Maé-Bérénice Meïte, the four up-and-coming talents of French female skating, and veteran Candice Didier, were all in Orléans to display their new programs.

Boosted by her promising first international season (ninth at Europeans, 14th at worlds), Meïte worked hard on both her elements and components throughout the summer.

She landed her triple toe-triple toe combination successfully in the short program and displayed much-improved components.

"My first specialty was jumping," Meïte explained. "Yet components have been my main goal this summer. I needed to get the feel for what I was missing in my skating -- what 'gliding' was about, what 'posture' on the ice meant.

"I worked a lot with ice dancers, and my programs were choreographed by Karine Arribert [an ice dancing coach in Villard de Lans]. Now I see skating differently, and I try to give as much feeling as possible. I could do it off the ice, but I was not able to combine everything on the ice until now."

Meïte won the competition, ahead of Gilleron-Gorry and Silete, who won the free.

Pairs: Vanessa James, Morgan Ciprès disclose new partnership

When Yannick Bonheur and Vanessa James decided to dissolve their partnership at the end of the 2009-10 season, many wondered if both skaters would be able to find other partners and keep skating competitively. The two had experienced a short, yet intense, career.

In December 2006, James was emerging as a singles skater for Great Britain, and she had to learn all the pairs skating elements. The duo reached their peak in 2009, when they skated their free program to Romeo and Juliet at worlds in Los Angeles, where they received a standing ovation and a 12th-place finish.

Rather unexpectedly, Bonheur then teamed up with Adeline Canac, who had just dissolved her partnership with Maximin Coia. Canac and Bonheur won French nationals at the end of 2010. They represented France at Europeans and worlds, and then left the competitive ranks.

James did not take the same path. She paired up in mid-2010 with Morgan Ciprès, one of the best talents in singles in the junior ranks in France, but the duo did not participate in any competitions last season.

"Many had encouraged me to skate pairs before." Ciprès explained. "Yet I would only accept to switch to pairs if it was to aim for the very best."

"We obviously had a good level of skating and strong singles elements, like jumps and spins. But I needed to learn all the pairs elements. The twist jump and lifts were the most difficult for me. I had never done any, and had never even wondered how they worked. Vanessa was kind and patient, and she took the time to help me improve."

"I was patient with Morgan, just like Yannick had been patient with me at the time," James said. "In fact, I think it is easier for the lady to learn pairs than for the man. We just have to hold positions, whereas the guys have to do the lifts!"

The two did not perform well at their first competition in Bratislava, the Ondrej Nepela Memorial, one week earlier.

"Several mistakes cost us a lot, but we also learned a lot," Ciprès admitted.

In Orléans, however, they displayed strong elements, including side-by-side triple Salchows in the short program and a side-by-side triple toe-triple toe combination in their free. They also displayed good unison.

"Besides technique, pairs is also a matter of patience and communication," James added with a smile. "I must say that men are not very communicative."

"And ladies may be a bit too much communicative!" Ciprès suggested, also laughing.

They won in Orléans, ahead of a young, promising new couple, Daria Popova and Bruno Massot, who share their time between Caen (in Normandy) and Germany, at Ingo Steuer's school.