One Down, Two to Go
It's one down and two to go for France's reigning three-time
national champion Brian Joubert. In 2003 after picking up a silver medal
at the European Championships he matter-of-factly delivered a message to
the skating world: he would be crowned next year's European champion,
followed by a win at worlds, and culminating with Olympic gold in 2006.
After taking Evgeni Plushenko's European title last year in the upset
of the season, it appeared that Joubert's timetable was ticking right on
schedule. But this season the reigning world silver medalist struggled
from a strong start gold medal finish at the Grand Prix Skate America
kick-off that dwindled to a fifth-place at the Grand Prix Final. Like his
rival Plushenko, and in contrast to a number of top men, Joubert is a
strong quad jumper. Just weeks ago he rallied to a second-place finish at
the 2005 European Championships, giving Plushenko his fourth European
victory by a margin of less than three points. Next month both skaters
will meet again, but the home ice advantage goes to Plushenko when the
world championships convene in Moscow.
Kathleen: At the recent 2005 European Championships,
you narrowly lost your title by 2.7 points, and finished with the silver
medal. How do you feel about the results?
Brian: "This has been a very difficult season for me.
One week before Europeans I changed my coach, leaving Laurent Depouilly,
and went back to my former longtime coach Veronique Guyon. I think
Veronique and I did good together. When I came to Torino (Italy), I was
very confident, and I felt good. I really don't know why, except that I
think the coaching change improved my mood. With Laurent, things were too
difficult. In my head I felt better, my jumps were stronger, and
everything seemed to come together, which was important to me as I wanted
to skate a good competition."
Kathleen: What will be your coaching situation for the
critical upcoming Olympic season?
Brian: "Veronique Guyon will be my primary coach, just
like in the old days. I'm happy for the opportunity to skate in the
Stars On Ice shows after the World Championships conclude, and
then in May I will travel to Simsbury to again collaborate with Tatiana
Tarasova, Alexei Yagudin, and Evgeny Platov."
Kathleen: There were some problems with your programs
this season, most notably the long program, where you sometimes looked
uncomfortable skating it. What have you done to resolve this?
Brian: "I believe the short program is good. We
changed a little of the footwork and spins, but overall the program works
for me. The free skate was something else. It was too difficult in the
beginning for me to perform well, although I liked it. We made small
changes in the music, and also the steps. In the beginning of the season I
simply was not comfortable with this program. I was not relaxed mentally
for it. Also, the jumps did not have good placement in it, at least not
for me, and that's why I changed some of it.
I felt the transitions also were a bit difficult for me, so my former
coach Laurent (Depouilly) and my advisor Didier Gailhaguet (former French
Figure Skating Federation President) altered it. Of course, I discussed it
with Tatiana Tarasova and she was okay with it. She said, "You need to be
comfortable in it, so if you have to change it, do it." By the way, it was
her birthday this week and I phoned to wish her a happy birthday. I am
excited to go back to Simsbury to work with her and Alexei (Yagudin).
Evgeny Platov also contributes a lot on the footwork and I like working
with him as he does very original work and that's what I want."
Kathleen: You have in a very short period of time
become a celebrity in France. How has your fame changed your life?
Brian: "This year, the fame is a big pleasure. Last year
I was the European Champion and the World silver medalist and it changed
my life dramatically. I started to become famous in France to the point
that sometimes just walking down the street people would ask for my
autograph, or to take photos with them. It's really nice, I like it. I
also now do a lot of television shows. It's very interesting work and for
the moment, it's not creating a problem with my training. I'm twenty years
old and have a lot of energy."
Kathleen: You've done the long-running French
reality-style game show Fort Boyard. What other television shows
have you appeared on?
Brian: "Just last night I was a judge for a new show,
on the biggest network in France. It's a good show that features
celebrities in a dance competition. Twelve French celebrities are paired
into six teams, and they receive only one week of lessons together before
they have to compete on live television, in front of a judging panel. It
was a competition, but a fun and relaxed atmosphere, and nice for
everybody– the judges, the competitors, and the audience. They did
everything: tango, salsa, disco, hip-hop, you name it. The judging system
was between 4 and 10 for the marks."
Kathleen: Did you give out any perfect scores?
Brian: "Yes, I gave out one perfect 10 to a couple
that danced disco. They were really good and were having a lot of fun
dancing together. I could see the pleasure they had to dance with each
other. Watching the couples dance tango reminded me a lot of watching ice
dance - very similar. Actually, I found judging very easy to do, and I
enjoyed being on the other side of it (laughs)."
Kathleen: What else have you been doing for fun these
days? Are you still riding the motorcycle?
Brian: "Well, in Poitiers there is no snow ever, but
it is quite cold and rainy, so I have not been able to ride my motorbike.
But, I found a way to fix that (laughs), I bought a new sports car. With
the upcoming World Championships, all I have really been doing is training
and resting, training and resting, with the occasional trip to Paris for
television shows and media events."
Kathleen: In less than one month you will meet Evgeni
Plushenko, for the world title, on his home ice. Realistically, if he
skates clean do you think you have a chance of beating him?
Brian: "I know it will be extremely difficult. I
skated in St. Petersburg two years ago at the Grand Prix Final, and it was
hard to compete there, and especially to try and beat a Russian skater in
his country. I will go to Moscow and just do my job and try to skate a
strong competition. I want to put the pressure on Evgeni, and then we will
see. If I can beat him in Moscow, it will be fantastique."
Kathleen: But he has a strong program content-wise,
especially with the footwork. He skates clean, you skate clean – fine. In
that scenario, can your free skate, 1492, out-score his
Brian: "Yes. In the beginning of the season he was
really good, and I was bad. Then at the Europeans he wasn't quite as good,
and I was better. I won the short program, and that makes it harder for
him and he beat me by less than three points in the long. It's going to be
tough, there is no denying that, but I think if I do my job I can beat
him. I like his program, the music is very good, but he has a lot of stops
in it, and I have never really cared for his choreography. His footwork is
not that difficult, and he moves his arms and body a lot, which helps
create more of an illusion of difficulty. Also, his jumps are not as clean
as in the past. We are two different skaters, with two different styles.
The main thing for me is not this event, my main goal still remains the
Olympics. I want to beat him in Torino."
Kathleen: You have said before that you think
Plushenko is a very good skater and competitor. Who else of the current
eligible crop impresses you?
Brian: "For me, I like Johnny Weir, Jeffrey Buttle,
and Emanuel Sandhu. I like their skating, I admire the quality of it. I
believe that if Sandhu skates a perfect clean program, then he is the next
world champion. Why? Because he has very good spins, and the overall
quality of his skating is just so high. I think his problem at some of the
competitions has been that when the pressure is on, it can become really
difficult for him."
Kathleen: You've been criticized for not liking the
non-masculine style of some skaters, and for being outspoken that the quad
– which you can land in competition and some of them can't – is not
receiving enough credit under Code of Points.
Brian: "It's true that I prefer a masculine style of
skating, that is my preference. And personally, I do not care regarding
someone's orientation, as they are people and competitors, just like me.
It's simply that I prefer the style of, for example, Alexei Yagudin and
Elvis Stojko. That is what I like. Regarding the quad and the new judging
system, yes, I was very disappointed at Trophee Eric Bompard (Joubert
placed second), not by the results, but that the quad is not receiving as
many points as I had hoped for. Johnny Weir won the event, and he deserved
to win. It was a good competition, but it appears it is almost better now
to do simple jumps and rack up the points because if you risk a quad and
fall, it's terrible, so that is a bit disappointing. I had a bad short
program at that event, and even though I won the free skate, it was not
enough points to win overall. I agreed with the results, and I like Johnny
(Weir). We trained together last summer in Simsbury and it was really
interesting because I saw how he works when he is not at a competition,
and it pushed me to try to do better. We improved each other I hope."
Kathleen: Did you ever see Johnny (Weir) do a quad at
Brian: "Not this summer, but that doesn't mean he
wasn't doing them before or after I left. In the summer it's really hard
to have the quads ready anyway, because we're just gearing up for the new
season. I have seen him do a triple-triple-triple, which is a combination
I never learned to do."
Kathleen: Looking back over the season so far, which
event did you enjoy most?
Brian: "Even though my gold medal this season was at
Skate America, I was especially happy at Europeans because finally I
didn't hear about "how much I look like Alexei" (laughs). That was
important to me. Every event before then I would hear people complain that
I had his style - that I was copying him - but at Euros I didn't hear
that. I don't want to look like Alexei. I like his skating, but I don't
want to be a clone of anybody. Also, I didn't like my long program
costume, so I had a new one made. I want to show my own style, and I'm
going to work a lot to display that next season."
Kathleen: If there were so many problems with
1492 – the costume, the music cuts, the choreography – why didn't
you just scrap it and revive Matrix for the remainder of the
Brian: "Matrix was a great program for me,
but 1492 was more difficult for me to use, and so I learned from
this experience. Matrix and 1492 are so different, and
it was important to me as a skater to be able to change styles – the
music, moves, and choreography – and to be able to skate it. I think for
next year I can mix the two, but I do not want to be able to do just one
type of music, I want many styles. I'm willing to work hard, and I'm still
young, just twenty-years old. I know I have a lot to learn."
Kathleen: Any plans yet on the Olympic program music
Brian: "We are already thinking about new music, and I
would like to work with the composer Maxim Rodriguez. He has created
arrangements for Philippe Candeloro and Stanick Jeannette, and has great
style and a lot of new ideas. I'm interested in returning to something
more like Matrix again – that style of music – but I don't know
what will happen. Possibly he could create something new for me, or else
I'm going to find something and have him arrange it for me."
Kathleen: At the 2006 Winter Olympics, you will be
twenty-one years old, right in that narrow seemingly ‘magic age' range for
previous men champions.
Brian: "Twenty-one is a very good age to be skating at
the Olympics. I have heard about the 'curse' – that no reigning men's
world champion has won the Olympics in a very long time, but I want to
leave Moscow the world champion, and I won't let (laughs) the 'curse'
affect me. I think both can be accomplished – being a reigning world men's
champion and winning the Olympics, and I hope it's me to do it. Of course
if I'm not this year's world champion, then Plushenko (laughs) has the
Kathleen: "You've done some provocative magazine
photos in the past, and now recently a photo shoot with your girlfriend,
Laetitia, who was last year's Miss France. Do you think it's a good idea
to have so much of the personal side of your life exposed at such a young
Brian: "It's difficult for me. I didn't want to tell
everybody my personal life this year, my story with Laetitia. It was her
agent's idea, and I went along with it even though I didn't want to. We
took some pictures, but I really didn't want them published. I prefer when
people discuss my skating, not my love life. I think it's a problem. I
don't like to talk about my girlfriend in public, or have people
discussing it, but it was not my idea, and then suddenly the photos are
not just in a magazine, but on the Internet, everywhere. I was not crazy
about the idea, and I should have listened to my first instincts. I did it
Kathleen: How serious is the relationship?
Brian: "She lives in Paris, I live in Poitiers. It's
difficult to see each other, and we both lead very busy lives. I am not
engaged, and I don't yet wish to be married. At this point, I'm too
Kathleen: There have been a lot of problems for you
recently with the French Figure Skating Federation, now that your good
friend and close advisor Didier Gailhaguet is no longer president. What is
the present state of things between you and your federation?
Brian: "It has been extremely frustrating and
difficult, but now I think things are fixed. I have a problem not with the
current president of the federation, Mr. Tourin, but with Mr. Ranvier, our
technical director. Without my knowledge they sent a letter to Alexei
(Yagudin) saying that his services were no longer needed, basically
dismissing him abruptly. I was very disappointed in Mr. Ranvier's behavior
and have cut off my relationship with him, and now work just with Tourin,
which is fine. Certain people have a problem with my mother, and with
Gailhaguet, who is a part of my team. They don't like my mother because
she has a working relationship with Didier. It's too bad they feel this
way, but I don't care. Mr. Gailhaguet has helped me a lot over my career
and I'm going to continue to work with him. Regarding the letter they sent
to Alexei, no explanation on why Ranvier sent it was ever made to me."
Kathleen: Besides yourself, who do you see as the
strongest podium contenders for the 2006 Olympics and what are their
strengths and weaknesses?
Brian: "Of course Evgeni. He has huge experience at
winning, he's the world champion, a very fine skater, and he still has
strong choreography. But, I think the jumps are getting more difficult for
him. I haven't seen any indication of it at the Euros practices, but about
one month ago there was a documentary on television in France that
featured him. He talked about how his back and knee were hurting a lot and
that it was making things difficult, especially the jumps and some spin
Stephane Lambiel for his wonderful spins and the quality of his
skating. He has some problems with the triple axel right now, but he has a
very good quad toe loop, so he can be dangerous. Sandhu, Buttle, and Weir
all because of the similar high quality of their skating, the solid spins,
the good footwork. Only the quad holds them back. If any of them do the
quad jump, they can be very, very dangerous not just for me, but for
Kathleen Bangs (Golden Skate), February 15, 2005