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Season opens in Orleans with French Masters

James and Cipres, Gilleron-Gory display potential in pairs, ladies; Didier starts comeback

Second-year team Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès showed great potential in Orléans.
Second-year team Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès showed great potential in Orléans. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(10/08/2012) - The French Masters is meant as the season opener for most skaters and teams in France in the senior and junior ranks. The elite of French skating and ice dancing gathered for two days in Orléans, the city which Joan of Arc freed from the English invaders in 1429. French stars Florent Amodio, Brian Joubert, and Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat displayed their new programs for the first time. Amodio, Péchalat and Bourzat, Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès in the pairs, and Lenaëlle Gilleron-Gory in the ladies won convincingly and showed great potential for the season to come.

Men

Amodio decided to skate his short program to Flamenco music.

"It's something that takes me from the guts," he explained in his usual unconventional way.

He fell heavily on his opening quad Salchow but quickly recomposed himself for his triple Axel and a triple Lutz-triple toe combination.

Joubert kept his successful routine from last season to Justice and Daft Punk. He landed his quad-triple combo, then had to put a hand down on his triple Axel but was still happy about the outcome.

Amodio, nonetheless, managed to win this section by a mere 0.6 points (81.35 points to 80.75 to Joubert). The detailed results showed that his win was due mainly to the highlight distribution of his jumps, with his triple Axel and combination placed in the second half of the program. Joubert landed only his triple flip in the second half, and that was enough for Amodio to take the lead. The new regulations should add some spice to the short program, and significantly modify the perennial order of elements that has been seen almost from the introduction of this section.

Chafik Besseghier confirmed his potential and displayed all the work he did over the summer, especially on his skating skills, to take third place.

The work done this summer was quite impressive for both Amodio and Joubert in their free program, especially on the artistic side. Amodio had initially set his free to Charlie Chaplin's music, but he decided to change it over the summer, even before the season started. He skated a delightful routine to music by the Cinematic Orchestra and Nuttin' But Stringz. He polished his body line and movement, finishing up each gesture from every segment of his body, from head to toe. He even added pantomime.

"I'm a puppet who keeps growing throughout the program," Amodio explained.

Joubert's new program to Hans Zimmer's Inception soundtrack was carved by Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski, the Bulgarian ice dancing world champions.

"It's a very demanding program," Joubert said, "Because it's only one piece from start to end."

The program goes crescendo and emphasized Joubert's power and generosity. Joubert has also learned to open himself far more than he did in the past.

"I now have a one-hour session on components only every day," he admitted with a grin.

Neither Amodio nor Joubert was successful on his jumps.

"It shows all the technical work we still have to do," Amodio said later.

Although Amodio increased his lead in the free program and won, it was Joubert who was proud of himself: "I managed not to hamper the program even though I did not feel good, technically wise, as I was skating through it," he said afterward.

Besseghier kept his third place. Alexander Zahradnicek, the former U.S. competitor who is coached in Wilmington, Del., by Priscilla Hill and former jumping whiz Vincent Restencourt, came to skate in France for the first time and plans to represent France in the following years. He finished fifth.

Pairs

James and Ciprès have reached a new level in their skating this season. They were just coming back from the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, where they won the bronze medal.

"It seems that we have really found our own way to work," Ciprès said.

Daria Popova and Bruno Massot, from Caen, finished a close second. Popova, a Russian, is now well adapted to her French environment.

"I'm a very emotional person," she said, "And I always have a lot of stress at competitions. Fortunately, we are now rehearsing also in competition situations, and that helps me a lot to relax."

Popova and Massot finished fifth in Oberstdorf, and it seems that France may count on two high-level pairs in the years to come.

Ladies

The most complete skater of the field was certainly Gilleron-Gory, who skated to Tristan and Isolde and won the short program. She landed a perfect triple toe-triple toe and triple flip as her main jumps in the short, and gained a Level 4 for her combination spin.

"My choreographer, Mérovée Ephrem, and I worked a lot this year on choreography. I give myself 100 percent in each of my programs, something I was not used to do before," she offered.

Her free program to the soundtrack of Memoirs of a Geisha was as subtle and smooth as her short program was tense.

"The short program displays my tough and mean side," she explained. "My long program is all about softness. They are like the two sides of myself. I love each one so much that I really want to overskate myself each time."

That was quite visible, as she skated every step, jump and spin with heart and soul in what could be qualified as a masterpiece. Gilleron-Gory even increased her lead in the free.

Maé-Bérénice Méité has also progressed a lot this season, and that was most visible in her free program set to Cleopatra. Méité has learned to play with her arms and hands and fingers.

"There is a lot of work there," she emphasized. "I really need to work on acting for such a number, but that pays off!"

A rather unexpected participant was veteran Candice Didier, who now trains in Courbevoie, near Paris, with coach Diana Skotnicka.

"Many people thought that I had quit skating. In fact I had, but last July I thought about how much I was missing it, so I decided to skate for one more year," she explained. "My real objective for this year is to skate well at French nationals. They are held in Strasbourg, where I was born," she continued.

Ice Dance

Péchalat and Bourzat finally uncovered their two new programs. They elected to integrate their compulsory polka into a French cancan and made their dance completely consistent, as only they can do.

"It's our own private cancan, and we found something we love," Bourzat explained.

Pernelle Carron and Lloyd Jones have chosen a completely different mood for their short dance, as they skated to a western medley. The duo has relocated to Great Britain, where Jones started to learn ice dancing.

He and Carron had played on with the blonde and long hair they were both carrying in the past years. This year, Jones displayed a brand new haircut -- to say that he cut his hair.

"I wanted to start the 2012 season with a new look," he said.

In the free dance, Carron and Jones offered an emotional rendition of "Mon Amour" from Belgian singer Jacques Brel.

Péchalat and Bourzat skated to a Rolling Stones medley. Each time they skate, the duo manages to display a full package. They took an unconventional approach to the Stones.

"We are more into the 70s than into rock and roll," Péchalat said.

They won the short dance by more than 12 points (68.87 points to 56.44 for Carron and Jones) and overall by more than 30 points (176.05 to 145.58).