World renowned coach and choreographer, one of the main figures at Ice Academy of Montreal, Romain Haguenauer is commonly referred to as the longtime coach of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.
But not just that.
He is the coach who saw the talent, nurtured it, envisioned a (master)plan for Gabriella and Guillaume and prepared them for success.
He’s been essential to their path, we dare say that – their journeys are intertwined from the moment they started working together full time, in Lyon, in 2012.
First thing on Romain’s list: turning Gabriella and Guillaume from the skaters who would fall three times during their Junior Grand Prix debut in Lake Placid (their talent was still very raw) to polished juniors who would take everyone’s breath away (senior skaters included) at Junior Grand Prix Final in Sochi, in 2012, and then win silver at 2013 Junior Worlds.
Watching them in Sochi, Anna Cappellini would tell Romain: “I hope we’ll finish our career before they turn senior”.
Then: handling the move from junior to senior level, by polishing them even more and planning a major change which would make them stand out once the Olympic cycle post-Sochi started. It was now or never, no time to lose: “Next cycle you need to be fighting for a Top 5 at Worlds!”
That much trust Romain had in the potential of his skaters. And, looking in retrospect, this right here might have been one of the coach’s greatest chef-d’oeuvre – envisioning that change, making it happen at the right time.
And he had everything ready for it.
He had the music for the free dance (he had saved Mozart, Concerto no. 23, “for the good people”), he had convinced the two to skate to it (“At the time, Gabriella and Guillaume always wanted modern music – so for them, never, never, never they would have imagined themselves skating on a classical music!”), he had the concept of the program (with the ballet “Le Parc” in mind) and he knew by heart who was going to choreograph it.
He would call Marie-France Dubreuil in Montreal and ask her: “Have you seen my team? I need them to step up – and you are going to do a masterpiece for them”.
He’d send them to Marie-France for choreography in June 2014 – and he’d go there too, to see how everything works.
It worked just fine. For all three of them.
Facing chronic problems at his club in Lyon, Romain Haguenauer reconnected with his former students, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, who’d just started a skating school in Montreal – now the famous Ice Academy of Montreal – and decided to join them. Very shortly after, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron followed Romain in Canada, a major move for the two French teenagers. One that, at a larger scale, replicated the first move, two years prior, when they left Clermont-Ferrand, their hometown, to train with Romain in Lyon.
The partnership flourished in the new environment of Montreal, Gabriella and Guillaume left their cocoons and turned into butterflies – and we all now where that led up until this point: five European titles, four World crowns, Olympic silver in 2018, Olympic gold in 2022, remarkable progress, remarkable programs, numerous records broken, lots of kiss (and euphoria, and enthusiasm, and amazed faces) in the Kiss and Cry – and the story is still writing itself.
One of the things that stayed unchanged throughout the years? From the very start, them as a team – and, since their move to Canada 8 years ago, a team within the bigger team of Ice Academy of Montreal.
Gabriella and Guillaume’s desire to fly – a natural state for the two – and Romain’s ability to lead the way.
Nothing broke that bond, that unison. All for one, and one for all. You know, like in Alexandre Dumas’ Les Trois Mousquetaires.
And so this is Romain’s story as much as it is Gabriella and Guillaume’s one. And we’ll delve into the layers of this partnership that led to masterpieces – but, more than that, it reshaped the history of ice dance.
It’s a genuine look at how things happened, season by season, with details, colours, smiles and lots of insights – a genuine look into their past, their common journey, even before their glory started.
What else is this? A roma(i)n-fleuve with Romain Haguenauer: at different events throughout the last couple of seasons, the coach offered hours of his time to paint a detailed, intricate picture of Gabriella and Guillaume’s career. “I talk too much”, he says laughing, forty minutes into our first interview (we’d just reached the Canadian soil), “I ask too many questions” – and, acknowledging this would be long, we continued to meticulously dig into every little or unknown story there was to tell.
What else is this? A fantastic, in-depth series of conversations about how champions are made.
And the scenes that Romain recreates have very often the word “fantastic” in them too – the French version, fantastique – and exclamation points, and the-always-present French accent, and small French words and particles that give the story its authentic feel.
a story by Florentina Tone
The very start of the story, as Romain remembers it? Gabriella skating a tango when she was 7 or 8. The team of Papadakis/Cizeron wasn’t born yet.
“It was a regional competition in Lyon, at my rink, I was there probably with some juniors – and they announce in the rink: «Gabriella Papadakis!». And I knew Gaby’s mom, she’s a coach, Catherine Papadakis – so I watched her: she was maybe 7 or 8 and she was skating the Tango Fiesta, a compulsory dance for the young.
This was the first time I saw Gabriella – and I remember her because she was fantastique! She had this fantastique expression on the compulsory dance! Usually, the kids don’t skate like that”.
Fast-forward to 2007-2008, when the duo from Clermont-Ferrand – by then, there was a duo – travelled to Lyon for a summer camp. Catherine Papadakis had teamed up her daughter Gabriella with Guillaume when they were 8, and the partnership bore fruit already.
“They were novice, probably novice champions, when they came to me for a camp – and this was the first time I really saw them, and worked with them. And I remember the first lesson, they were doing the Paso Doble, another compulsory dance – and they were very good, the knee action was there, but they were doing the Paso Doble like too soft, you know? I said: «Listen, you can’t do a Paso… You glide well, but you need the character to be sharper!»
And I also noticed that both of them understood what they needed to do, for their young age. Most of the time, when they are young, you have to show, you have to… With them, you could tell things that you could tell a senior team, and they would understand what you wanted them to do”.
[Another fast-forward to their sharp, intriguing, full of character Paso Doble during 2014-2015 season – they learned their Paso lesson well, right?]
They were “maybe 12-13” when they first worked with Romain – “and, since then, they came many times to Lyon, like every vacation, during summer, and also Gabriella’s mother, their coach, came with them, to see [what needed to be done] and also to continue the work.
And they came more when they were juniors, because they were already national champions and immediately got selected to the Junior Grand Prix. And their Junior Grand Prix debut was difficult, I think they fell three times on the compulsory dance and finished last in Lake Placid. But they were super young then…”
Romain remembers it well: both 14 at the time, Gabriella and Guillaume finished 15th out of the 15 teams competing at 2009 Junior Grand Prix in Lake Placid. The ice dancing event was won by Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani and featured, among others, Victoria Sinitsina and Ruslan Zhiganshin, Sara Hurtado and Adria Diaz, Katelyn Good and Nikolaj Sorensen.
22nd in their debut at Junior Worlds that season, they’ll rise to 12th in 2011, and 5th in 2012.
No doubt about it: their Elvis Presley free dance was a highlight at 2012 Junior Worlds in Minsk, Belarus – and Romain Haguenauer had already become a constant presence in the Kiss and Cry at big events, alongside Catherine Papadakis. And Catherine had done a tremendous job with Gabriella and Guillaume – but it was now time to move on, and give the partnership a second wind, a fresh perspective on it.
At the end of the season, eyes on the future, the teenagers relocated to Lyon, to train full-time with Romain Haguenauer and Muriel Zazoui. No need to write it, but still: as an ice dance team looking for recognition, Lyon was the place to be, home to so many champions.
It was June 2012.
“The season they moved to Lyon they became second at Junior Worlds”, Romain emphasizes the progress. He was, after all, very much responsible for it. His guidance, their work as a team, Gabriella and Guillaume’s incredible qualities.
“Of course I saw that in them – and I was not the only one. Even at the Junior Grand Prix, the Junior Worlds, people noticed them. Their technique was super good – but [on the other hand] the packaging was not very well done. So when they moved full time to Lyon, this was the main thing I did: work on the overall, the look, the elegance.
And I always knew they were good, but, you know, I’ve worked with a lot of very good skaters, and sometimes everyone just disappears… And though I never knew they would become what they are today, I always knew it [the partnership] would work!”
And so the team got better and better while training in Lyon – they were second at the 2012/2013 Junior Grand Prix Final in Sochi, second at 2013 Junior Worlds in Milan – and headed into seniors in the autumn of 2013, while the more experienced French teams were getting ready for the Olympics.
Gabriella and Guillaume didn’t go to Sochi, but they did get to replace Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat at 2014 Europeans in Budapest (they finished 15th in their debut), and then travelled to Saitama for their first senior Worlds (they finished 13th).
That’s where a particular conversation happened – a smaller part of the plan Romain Haguenauer had already in place for Gabriella and Guillaume.