Ready to Rally
When Brian Joubert exploded onto the international figure skating scene in
2002, he piled up championship medals and quickly learned to 'walk the
walk' of a rising star that crescendoed with a 2004 European Championship
title and World silver medal. The four-time French National champion then
began to 'talk the talk', serving notice of his intentions to be crowned
the next Olympic champion. But what goes up eventually comes down, and in
Joubert's case it was a steep arc in both directions.
Last season after rallying to a narrow second-place finish and the loss
of his European title to Russian rival Evgeni Plushenko, Joubert fell to
sixth overall at the World championships. At October's Skate America, an
event he'd won twice before, he slipped to bronze, and the confident
bravado slid to subdued. Next month Joubert will finally be put to the
pressure test of the do-or-die Torino Winter Games – his time to either
'walk the walk' of an Olympic champion or go down trying. Before that
remains one event upon which to sharpen his edge, an event that has always
been good to the twenty-one year old Frenchman - the European
Kathleen: In America we say that a dog's personality
reflects that of its owner. How is your pet bulldog?
Brian: He is very good. 'Blade' is two-and-a-half
years now and about 70 pounds. He is solid muscle and when I come back
from the rink everyday he waits for me to play with him, to wrestle on the
ground. Mostly he likes to play fight with me, and I indulge him as who
could resist that face?
Kathleen: So here you are, one of France 's most
eligible bachelors and still you are living at home?
Brian: Yes, with my parents and my sisters. For now,
until the Olympics are over, this is the arrangement that works best. I
cannot take the time to manage a house, and I cannot afford the
distractions. It's also very convenient. My rink is only about a ten
minute walk from the house. My family helps me to stay relaxed, and they
filter out the things that right now I don't need to deal with, like too
much media. I'm turning down a lot of interviews, photo shoots, and
television appearances because it takes away from my concentration on
training. I don't want to be disturbed, I need to be 'quiet' and get ready
for the European Championships next week. Plus (laughing) if I do well in
Torino, those offers will still be around in the future.
Kathleen: Were you able to enjoy the holidays?
Brian: This season it seemed like there were no
holidays. I was only able to take off two days for Christmas, and one for
New Years as there is just so much work to be done with my training. I'm
training so hard, that when I stop it actually seems like it's even more
difficult to begin again, so I'd rather not have any long breaks right
Kathleen: It's certainly not been the Olympic season
that people would have predicted for one of your major competitors, Evgeni
Plushenko, as he's skated at only one international event prior to Euros.
Brian: Yes, Euros will be a big event for Evgeni. I
followed his results at Cup of Russia, and it was good for him but the
Europeans and of course the Olympics are going to be a way different
competition than a Grand Prix event.
Kathleen:The past year-and-a-half has been very, to
put it mildly, chaotic for you. After leaving your life-long coach
Veronique Guyon for Laurent Depouilly, you returned to her last season.
That reunion was short lived and you switched over the summer to your
present coach Andrei Berezintsev. You worked in the summer of 2004 with
Alexei Yagudin, who was going to accompany to you to Torino, and now that
has been scrapped. There have been countless problems with the French
Figure Skating Federation, not the least of which is your continuing
relationship with their former President Didier Gailhaguet, and even
concerns over your mother's omnipresent involvement in your training.
That's just on the skating level. You're also a celebrity in France which
has made you a target of some good-willed fascination – and some spiteful
gossip. How do you remain so determined and optimistic?
Brian: All of the bad stuff is behind me. Right now, I
have a very good team around me that includes my coach Andrei Berezintsev,
my advisor and friend Didier Gailhaguet, and choreographer Nikolai
Morozov. Together we all work closely and do a good job. I wanted to
continue my work with Alexei (Yagudin) but it was not possible and I am
disappointed about that. There is a problem between he and Nikolai
(Morozov), and they will not work together. I remain in the middle, but
had to make a choice. Because my scores need to be stronger in the second
mark, I chose Nikolai because I do not believe anybody is better at
designing the right choreography for me than he is. I like Alexei, and we
did good work together. He taught me a lot about skating and also about
the strategy of competing, so it was difficult to stop our cooperation.
Kathleen: This will be your second Olympics. How will
the Torino Games be different?
Brian: The time has gone by so fast. I
remember Salt Lake City in 2002 so well. It was almost four years ago, but
it seems like almost yesterday. The Olympics are unlike anything else. In
Salt Lake I wanted to see and learn how the Olympics worked and to have
that experience, that maybe once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to skate on the
world stage. This time will be different because now I go to try for the
win. There is more pressure this time, but I don't think I have to be
nervous. My practices are good and I feel confident.
Last season's Euros were held at the same arena in Torino and I had
fairly good luck there (coming in at second place less than three points
behind Plushenko), with very good performances. I felt good in Torino, I
recall the main arena had a nice atmosphere so I look forward to
returning. Really, all that matters is the results. Nothing I can say at
this point can change anything and it cannot make anything happen for the
future. The European Championships have usually been one of my best major
events, and I really like this competition. I always feel good there. Why
I don't know exactly, but it makes me confident and comfortable. I look
forward to arriving in Lyon next Tuesday night.
Kathleen: What are you doing on your 'down' time away
from the rink to not go crazy constantly thinking, 'Okay – it's only X
days until the Olympics'?
Brian: Life definitely cannot just be skating. I like
it, but I have to do more so I don't lose my mind. Riding my motorcycle is
fun, I like to take it out on the road. It's great that my closest friends
and I get together every weekend and talk about everything but skating. We
go bowling, play pool, race little cars, or just hang out at a pub and
drink beer. They have zero interest in the sport, which is good for me
because then we can just talk and laugh about other things and my mind
doesn't wander back to skating. I can start the new week refreshed and my
head is free.
Kathleen: What are your competition plans, if any, for
after the Olympics next month?
Brian: If I win in at the Olympics, I will continue to
compete. And if I don't win, I will continue to compete. If I can make it
to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics I will be only twenty-five, still young
enough to perhaps be a contender.
Kathleen: You've talked about switching to Pairs
skating. Were you joking or is that really a possibility?
Brian: I was serious. There are two possibilities
after the Olympics – to continue as a singles skater or try Pairs. I'd
like to experience Pairs and see how I'd do, it would be cool to try
something different and I find that discipline very interesting. Ice dance
would be completely foreign to me, so I wouldn't try that, plus I wouldn't
want to give up doing the jumps. Once I tried some Pairs skating with
someone, about five years ago. It was nothing special, but we did a few
side-by-side jumps and tried some lifts.
Kathleen: Any favorite Pairs team?
Brian: I love the German team and how they perform.
She's very beautiful, but when they skate you see both of them together,
not just him or her. They create a beautiful emotion. Although I don't
care much for the Chinese teams as much as the others, I do really like
Shen and Zhao. I still remember their free skate at Washington, D.C.
Worlds in 2003 – it was magnificent.
Kathleen: Tell us a bit about your coach Andrei
Brian: He's a true Russian, which means that he works
hard and plays hard. For me it's very important to train with somebody who
can work every time on the ice as if it's the only time. In France, the
coaches don't want to work. They want results without the effort. Andrei
helps me a lot not only with spins and general skating skills, but he also
helps to keep my spirits high. He's never nervous – he's always calm. I
can feel that calmness and it makes me confident. Andrei likes to joke
around a lot, he's very funny and can always make me laugh. He helps me a
lot when I work because I want to do good things for him, and of course
sometimes it doesn't happen but when I inevitably get frustrated, he stays
calm and quiet. With a different style of coach in that situation, I can
continue to get even more frustrated and make more mistakes. Andrei
(laughs) never screams.
Kathleen: Any opinions on the guys that are your
Brian: There are a lot of good skaters. The Canadians
are very strong, as is the US team, and Daisuke Takahashi from Japan. Any
of these could win medals. It will be very difficult in Torino – plenty of
good competitors to go around. But, I'm focused on myself and think about
them much less than I used to. In past seasons I would think about what
they were skating to, how they were doing at the competitions, who they
were training with. Now I've found that it's much better for me to pay no
attention to it. It doesn't matter what they do, what matters is that I do
my job. If I do my job, I can win.
Kathleen: Michelle Kwan had to withdraw from US
Nationals. Do you think she should get a bye for the Olympics?
Brian: I just heard about Michelle's withdrawal. How
many times has she won Nationals?
Brian: If she can't do Nationals I think it would be
stupid not to send her to Torino. Look how many times she has won
Nationals before! She doesn't need a tenth title, and if she feels it's
good for her to skip it then she should do what's best for her. She
deserves the bye. There are many good lady skaters in the US right now,
but Michelle is very different. When she skates she – oh, it's so hard to
describe in English – she has a magical quality. You want to watch her,
you don't take your eyes away from the beginning to the end. With other
skaters, not so much. You look away.
Kathleen: Can you explain your relationship with the
often-maligned, always outspoken Didier Galliguet? You call him an
advisor. Some call him your 'Svengali'.
Brian: (Laughing) He is no Svengali. He's a man with a
lot of experience in the skating world who has helped me so much. He's
taught me how to run my skating sessions, right down to fine tuning my
jumps – he's almost like a coach. Of course, because he has other duties,
I cannot use him as my full-time coach. I am aware of the criticism that
surrounds him, but you know – he loves figure skating, and I can feel it.
That's the key. You strive to work with those you can find that share your
passion, and he has that. I love to work with Didier.
Kathleen: Why do you feel he continues to be
Brian: I think it's been hard for him to overcome the
negative image that he was given at the 2002 Olympics judging scandal. To
me that's stupid because it was a judging problem. I believe he's innocent
and the problem was with the French judge, not with him. I do not believe
her accusations, but I don't care about Salt Lake. He helps me and that's
Kathleen: Does he get along with your coach?
Brian: They get along very well and also like each
other. Together we are a solid team.
Kathleen: What's the one thing nobody asks in
interviews that you wish they would?
Brian: About having a family. I want to have children,
ideally two. Probably when I'm done competing after Vancouver 2010. That
seems like it would be a good time to start a family.
Kathleen: Do you have a bride picked out?
Brian: No (laughs). Right now I'm just trying to find
Kathleen: Choreographer Nikolai Morozov spent time
working on programs again with you during December in Courcheval, France.
Beyond the choreography, what do you get out of working with him?
Brian: We've been working very hard, especially on the
free program. Nikolai is such a good guy. He likes my style, and it works
well for me when he does my choreography. From my 'Untouchables' program
to 'Matrix' and now to my new Olympic programs, Nikolai has done great
work for me. This season is the most important of all, and I knew inside
he would be the right person to go to. He understands the new judging
system, and how to choreograph for it. Lately we've worked on trying to
get the steps to Level 3, and to arrange the free skate so that I can stay
relaxed. If I'm not relaxed, I use up a lot of energy and my jumps suffer.
My shoulders start to tense up and it throws me off.
Kathleen: What are your post-Olympic plans? Will we
see you at Calgary Worlds? Or on tour?
Brian: Both, I hope. I really want to win in Torino,
it means so much to me, but I know the most important thing is to go there
and do my job. Even if I finish off the podium, of course it would be a
huge disappointment, but I could feel okay if I knew that I came and did
the job I was prepared to do. That's all you can ask of yourself. Many
talented athletes will compete, at one time, all looking for that top
step. Only one can get there. As far as tours go, for sure I will be doing
shows in France and as to the US, Canada, Japan or anywhere else, we'll
Kathleen: How are you feeling at the practices right
Brian: Good. The training is going very well. My quad
jump is solid, and I do two quads and two triple axels in my free skate at
practice. I will try and do that in Lyon at Euros. I know the quad jump is
not worth that much more in terms of points, but Alexei Yagudin won the
2002 Olympics with two quads in his long program, and it would somehow
seem like less to me for someone to win with just one.
Kathleen: But Johnny Weir or Jeffrey Buttle could land
on the Olympic podium with no quad jump? Why do you put so much emphasis
on that jump?
Brian: I think it will be a step backwards for men to
win Olympic medals without the quad jump. For me, I believe the jumps are
very important to the future of the sport, and we can't allow the
technical quality to diminish. In 2002 I remember everybody who medaled
did two quads in the free, and now they think just one – or maybe none –
is good enough? I don't understand that, and I certainly don't agree. In
the short program, some are just doing triple-triples instead. I think for
the people – the audience – it's interesting to see the big jumps. We have
to keep pushing forward and see things like a quad flip or quad lutz,
rather than go backwards. I would not want to be the man who wins the
Olympics in 2006 by doing less than the Champion of 2002. The standard was
set in Salt Lake, and any new Olympic champion should strive to at least
equal that technical level.
Kathleen: What else would interest you beyond figure
Brian: I like to experience different things, and
different sports. I would really like to do the famous off-road
cross-country Paris-Dakar motor rally. It starts in France, winds through
the Sahara, and ends up on the coast of Africa. I'm fascinated and
thrilled by the speed of racing, and interested in any kind of racing, but
there is something about the legendary Paris-Dakar that particularly
fascinates me. Probably because it is such an endurance test – they call
it the world's toughest race.
Kathleen: The race's credo is, 'A challenge for
those who go. A dream for those who stay behind.'
Brian: That makes it sound like the Olympics. Both are
grueling, but I can tell you that when I'm finished with Torino, the
Sahara (laughs) would seem a relief.
Kathleen Bangs (Golden Skate), January 9, 2006