Brian Joubert
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 Godfather?

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 practice?

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 season?

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 selections?

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 curse!"

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 age?

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 for Laetitia."

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 young."

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 positions.

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 Plushenko."

Kathleen Bangs (Golden Skate), February 15, 2005

, © 2006