THE (RE)START: MASTERS DE PATINAGE IN ÉPINAL
“The week previous to the Masters, they were really-là, in the starting block”, Romain leans over the table in a short, sudden move, before rapidly straightening. You get it: two horses in their starting-block – you just couldn’t keep them locked anymore, you had to let them run.
“I really felt that and, with Marie-France, I said: Ok, now it’s time… We don’t change anything [in the programs] because they have to compete!
And it was very good at the Masters, they skated very good, but it was very emotional after the rhythm dance, I could feel it. I’m someone who’s very… I mean, I’m here, I watch, inside I’m whatever [smiling], but after the rhythm dance, I really felt their emotion to be back.
And I was pleased to see how much they wanted to skate, to perform, to train – which was the problem 20 months before.
I was very pleased that, finally, it was good – and they are back in their hunger of performing”.
Guillaume would tell us the exact same thing, a day later, about their return to competitive ice after such a long hiatus: “We started with a small national competition… and we are always there nervous on our first competition, you can’t forget how it feels like to be stressed. But we were just so grateful to be competing again, we had really missed it.
We missed the adrenaline, somehow [laughing], we missed skating in front of an audience… Training is good, but you train for something! And we need that something to make sense of our training.
So it’s just… the adrenaline, the thrill of performing and having that energy back, and being alone on the ice, and having that feeling with the costumes, you know, the whole thing!
We’re competitors since we were babies, basically, it’s part of who we are, and I think we need those high moments – and it makes the practice after a lot easier too, because you’ve tried the program, you’ve got feedback and then you know what to work on, you know how it feels in a competition setting”.
THE ATTACK IS BACK. “AND THEY ARE BETTER WHEN THEY ARE A BIT TENSED-LÀ”
With that competition-feeling back, they went from Épinal to Espoo, at 2021 Finlandia Trophy, which they won, and then to Turin, for their first Grand Prix event of the season.
The French had been initially assigned to Cup of China, in Chongqing, but after the event got cancelled due to limited number of international flights to China and strict COVID-19 restrictions, Gabriella and Guillaume were reassigned to 2021 Gran Premio d’Italia.
And it’s here, in Palavela, at the beginning of November 2021, where we talk at length with Romain about Gabriella and Guillaume’s recent past, the last one year and a half – and mostly about their immediate future: the journey to Beijing, for their second Olympic experience.
A day after the waacking rhythm dance in Turin, and coming to the place of interview right after the dancers’ morning practice, Romain has really felt the pulse of his students in their first big international event after such a long pause.
“Even here yesterday, before the rhythm dance, they were a bit stressed, because this is their first Grand Prix, and their nearly last competition was here, the Grand Prix Final in Turin [in December 2019].
So, yeah, it is something to come back to, but I think they are good. And I think they are better when they are a bit stressed, when they are a bit tensed-là.
When they think it’s easy, they can be good, they deliver a nice performance… But, you know, what I like in skating – even for Gaby and Guillaume, who are not the most aggressive skaters – I like to see them with their quality, and flow, but also having the attack [snapping his fingers].
When I can see they skate not only to be nice, and beautiful, and perfect – but also to win!
They need that – and they lost that, completely!, in Graz. To compare, it wasn’t there at all.
And yesterday – and I hope today [for the free dance] it will be the same – they really attacked, in a good way. It was attacked, but controlled. And they had all their qualities, and the speed, and the power, and the flow.
That’s the best combination.
And I don’t know what is going to happen this season, but I know their training, and I see they really want to skate now. They have always wanted to skate, but they never had the time to think if they really wanted it to”.
THE COSTUMES: “THEIR SPACE OF FREEDOM”, ROMAIN SMILES
Another thing we noticed in Turin were their costumes for the free dance, completely changed from the ones they had started the season with: Gabriella, wearing a buttery sparkling dress, Guillaume, black pants with a red top.
It felt so new, so different from their traditional costuming habits.
Romain smiles amused when we’re asking him about the change, what might have prompted it. Maybe them wanting to literally sparkle in Beijing, at the Olympic Games?
“Guillaume, and Gabriella, they are a lot in charge of the costumes, but sometimes they can hide their ideas from us [smiling], because when we critique, they don’t like it [smiling again].
It’s a bit… how to say? Their space of freedom.
And it’s subjective, the costumes, some people like them, some don’t – but, yes, at first I was surprised when they brought that.
I think the first dress was working quite well for the beginning of the season, but Gabriella was not super comfortable in it. And I want all my skaters to feel beautiful, comfortable in their costumes. And I agreed the dress was also a bit distracting”.
His reaction to the sparkles though? Surprise, definitely, and he’ll share it with a laughter.
“I was not aware of the sparkles until last week [the week before GP Italy], and when she came with that, I said: Oh, but why? What’s with the sparkles?
I mean, I like the dress!, but in the past, when I asked you to put three sparkles, [you said] I was totally crazy!!! [laughing] And, this time, it’s not only three! It’s the full dress!
And Guillaume said: We never did that, so why not? And I said: Ok. So you should ask them about the costumes, not me”, Romain says, while laughing still.
“The red [on Guillaume’s shirt], I’m not sure. But it’s different, it’s a lot of contrast, and I understand the concept – because if I compare Guillaume to all the other skaters, he’s one of the boys who can move the best. Have the best gestualité, the best back movement… And if you don’t see that, he loses a lot of his qualities. So that, I agree.
We can actually discuss about the costumes for days and days, but, at the end, it will be about how they skate and what they can create”.
As advised, I’m bringing the subject, a day later, to Gabriella and Guillaume – and Gabriella will take the floor:
“I think costumes are always a work in progress. We tried something that we wore at the first two competitions, Masters and Finlandia, and the idea was great, but it didn’t look like we wanted it. I mean, after seeing it in pictures and videos, we were like: Hmmm, there’s something lacking, we could do better. And so we tried something else here – we don’t know how it will end and… what we would end up wearing at the Games, but that’s definitely closer to what we want it to look like”.
LAST MILE TO THE OLYMPICS, DODGING EVERY POSSIBLE BULLET
Winning gold in their second Grand Prix event, 2021 Internationaux de France in Grenoble, and with their gold medal in Turin, Gabriella and Guillaume qualified for the Grand Prix Final in Osaka, but the event was later cancelled due to restrictions tied to the escalation of Omicron variant.
They won the French national title in Cergy, in the middle of December – and they subsequently announced, via the French Skating Federation, they would skip 2022 Europeans in Tallinn, Estonia, to avoid the risk of contracting Omicron with so little time before the Games.
They didn’t want to jeopardize, in any way, their dream, their goal, their mission for 2022 Olympics.
It was stated clearly, it was their number one priority, and they embraced with all strength.
►►► Guillaume: 4 years ago, in PyeongChang, “we knew that we were equally favorites with Tessa and Scott to win the gold, but I think it’s something that we never… We were scared to actually have that goal, a little bit. Because, you know, the fear of disappointment…
And this year we are choosing not to be scared of it. And really just embrace that goal that we have: we are going for the gold and we really believe in that goal. So, this time, we have a different mindset, definitely”.