Brian Joubert
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 Championships.

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 now.

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 Berezintsev.

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 competition?

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?

Kathleen: Nine.

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 criticized?

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 what matters.

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 a girlfriend.

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 see.

Kathleen: How are you feeling at the practices right now?

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 skating?

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
, © 2006