2016-2017: A MIX OF EVERYTHING
ROAD TO ADULTHOOD
In their third season in Montreal, Gabriella and Guillaume decided to challenge themselves with a song, or a piece… And what was meant to be a more elaborate question to Romain Haguenauer is promptly taken over by the coach himself:
“With some noise…”, he says, laughing. And the team of coaches’ very first reaction to Gabriella and Guillaume’s music suggestion for the free dance – a 15-minute piano piece, “Oddudua”, by Aldo López-Gavilán – wasn’t excitement, that’s for sure.
In an interview for Inside Skating, done at the very end of 2017 Worlds in Helsinki, the skaters came back to that particular moment with a smile.
►►► Guillaume: “We suggested the music, and… let’s just say they were not thrilled”.
►►► Gabriella: “They were not thrilled, they were really skeptic, and it was a long, long, long process… But it was already a few weeks, maybe months, and we were trying to find a music, and proposing, and not agreeing on anything, and this was kind of the only thing that we proposed, and maybe they were tired of us saying No to everything…
So they were like: «This is really what you wanna do? Because this is gonna be hard! And you’re gonna have to take the responsibility of your choice and of your failure if it doesn’t work». …and we said: «Yeah! We wanna do that, we wanna take the risks!» The risks are actually the reason why we chose this music. Because we wanted to challenge ourselves, and we wanted to put ourselves in a difficult position”.
Eyes on the very same moment, Romain Haguenauer talks now with the detachment, the distance the years and the experience have brought: “I would say this decision was a bit like… You know, when you become a teenager and you start saying No to your parents? It was a bit like that. But it was a good lesson for them”.
And then all ears on the very same moment, the coach says it in all honesty: this particular choice of music was not something that he agreed on, at first. And since the skaters were decided to stick with it [Guillaume: “We have kind of this radical vision, and we’re really stubborn”], Romain’s detailed answer will lead us on to the other side of the boards: inside the decision-making process.
“So they bring that music – and I disliked it. Absolutely!
[On the other hand], we, as coaches, we do a lot for the skaters – but one day they have to become adults and take decisions more and more. So it’s normal, and I always push them, and all my skaters, in this direction: Please, don’t wait I bring the music – you propose! And when it comes to that, Gabriella and Guillaume are super good!
And, anyway, they brought that and…” – Romain makes a choking sound.
“We were all like this, with Marie-France and Patrice, and we said: Ok, nice, nice… Because if you say No, No is the worst thing to say. To say: I dislike it. And so we were: Interesting, very interesting.
And we suggested some music also, we had some music too – and they were like: Blah! They were clearly saying: No, we don’t want that! It’s too much, so we bring something else: It’s too much – it’s like last season, it’s like whateveeer! You know, they were in that…
So I opened my mind and I said: It’s true that if I imagine a choreography… – because a music is a music, and you have to project yourself on the choreography – It’s true that it’s interesting. I don’t really like the sound, but there is something interesting, new, challenging!
So we finally decided on it.
Basically, we said, with the team-là, all together: Ok, if one couple can do that, it’s them! So let’s try, let’s go for it! And after we decide – and it was decided – we’ll continue with that. And we did it, and the process to build the program was actually very interesting. All was good – and it was, at the end! At Worlds they did well!”
But one year before the Olympics, was this a risky choice? Romain’s answer comes fast:
“We didn’t take this decision considering: It’s before, it’s too early! No, it’s season by season. We want the best – even in a non-Olympic season, we want the best all the time!”
But the road to the end of the season, to that emotional, staggering performance at the Worlds in Helsinki, which broke another record, was a bumpy one – as if the ice were filled with patches that needed repair, or, as the skaters themselves put it at the time, as if they were constantly trying to arrange the pieces of a puzzle.
“It was a mix of everything”, Romain summarizes Gabriella and Guillaume’s 2016-2017 season, before attacking every single challenge they faced.
THE REVELATION: “THE SHORT DANCE IS NOT WORKING THE WAY IT SHOULD”
In all this fret concerning the free dance, the noise surrounding the musical choice, the permanent efforts to prove it was a good decision, something else might have gone a bit unnoticed.
“I went to the Masters with them: Masters de Patinage is a national competition, so I don’t look like I look, but for me this is also the first time when I can see the programs in the context of a competition.
And the short dance was fine…. but I didn’t like the short. I said to myself: It’s not working, not the way it should.
Whereas about the free dance – which they skated pretty well, clean, for the beginning of the season – I realized: It works, but we have to reverse the elements, the music, we have to reshape everything.
And… what happened next? They did the Grand Prix in France, they did well, everyone was happy. And the next one was NHK, with Tessa and Scott. And Gaby and Guillaume skated really bad there – and lost to Tessa and Scott”.
At this point, you can’t help but notice: apart from being an excellent storyteller, Romain Haguenauer is also a very objective one. He needed to be: starting 2016-2017 season, Montreal team of coaches had taken up the challenge to coach Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir as well, in the adventure of their third Olympics.
And what was meant to happen at a certain point during the season – Gabriella and Guillaume facing Tessa and Scott – happened in Sapporo, at NHK Trophy.
And, for the French, it was a difficult encounter: they had to settle for silver.
Romain comes back to the moment: “At NHK, Gaby and Guillaume made really bad mistakes… and when you opened the door, everyone started: «It’s the free dance!!! The music is horrible!». The Federation, the outsiders, others were saying it – and I understand that”.
As a matter of fact, whenever things didn’t go as planned for Gabriella and Guillaume during that season, their unusual free dance popped up like a balloon and started incessant conversations.
While Romain was still considering there might be something else there:
“I said: «I’m not sure, I’m not sure. Yes, it’s a risk, it’s difficult, but I don’t think this is the problem. I think the problem is the short dance». Because Tessa and Scott were good on the short dance, their short dance was fantastic! – and Gaby and Guillaume’s was not as strong.
As for the free, we talked a lot with Marie-France and we agreed: We can make it work, even if it’s difficult. We also worked on the short, but, you know, at Worlds, Gaby and Guillaume lost the title because of the rhythm dance!”
A LESSON FOR ALL
“It was a tough year”, the coach wraps it up.
But did it get even tougher with Tessa and Scott’s decision to come back – and train in Montreal as well? Have Gabriella and Guillaume’s minds been tangled a bit in this new and unfamiliar situation?
“Maybe… I don’t know, it’s difficult to say-là. It was maybe a combination of that comeback, the comeback of strong competitors, and also this choice of music, that, at the beginning, they pushed against us. And we decided to commit, we said: We don’t agree, but we go with you, 100%, no question!, but after people around had bad feedback, they lost a bit the confidence in their program. And when you lose the confidence of your own choice…
But we managed it well, and they did well at Worlds”.
In Helsinki, at 2017 World Championships, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron won the free dance, with standing ovations and a world record score (119.15 points), but lost overall to Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who set world records for their sizzling short dance (82.43 points) and the combined total (198.62 points).
Closing this particular chapter, Romain Haguenauer is convinced they all learned something out of this experience, skaters and coaches: “The lesson of this season is that now they are more… When we discuss, because it’s a group decision for everything, they trust me, they always trust. And it can happen to me too, I tell them: Sometimes I’m sure of things, but, at the end, I’m never sure. You know?
So it was a good lesson for them, and for us too, because maybe we should have, maybe I should have said a clear No [to the music]. And sometimes I say a clear No.
But for this, I could see the possibility of doing something really interesting.
And it’s not to say that they made a mistake – it was not a mistake! The problem was that it took too long to find the good balance in the program, to make it nice, to make it understandable… But I don’t regret it – I just analyze how it happened”.