French pair eye PyeongChang 2018 success
The leading ice dance pair of recent seasons, young French duo Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are intent on dazzling judges and fans alike at PyeongChang 2018 and adding an Olympic medal to their growing list of honours.
A proud tradition
French figure skating has produced many a successful ice dance pair since the 1990s, led by 1991 world champions and Olympic silver medallists Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay.
The list goes on, including Gwendal Peizerat and Marina Anissina, 2000 World Champions and Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Champions; Isabelle Delobbel and Olivier Schoenfelder, 2008 World Champions; and Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat, two-time world championship medallists and double European champions.
Aged only 21 and 22 respectively, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are well on the way to achieving even more than their illustrious predecessors, having already won two world and three continental titles in dominating the international scene since Sochi 2014.
His sights set firmly on PyeongChang 2018, Cizeron said: “Even though we’ve only just started our careers and we’re still pretty young, we’ve gone some way already to making our mark on skating. I hope there’s a lot more to come too.”
Born on 10 May 1995 in Clermont-Ferrand, Papadakis first took to the ice at an early age thanks to her mother Catherine, a figure skating coach. 24-year-old Cizeron also received an early introduction to the sport through his father Marc, president of the Clermont Auvergne Ice Dance Club.
It was Papadakis’ mother, the pair’s first coach, who suggested they start skating together when Gabriella was around nine. The two quickly developed a strong rapport, training hard during their school years. “It comes naturally when you’re 12 and 13, and our first aim was to become champions of France,” explained Papadakis. “And when we took part in our first international competition, we wanted to finish first,” added Cizeron.
Sign of things to come
After excelling on the international stage at junior level and finishing second at the 2013 World Junior Figure Skating Championship in Milan despite an ankle injury to Papadakis, the French pair made their senior debut in the 2013/14 season.
After placing 13th at their first Worlds in March 2014 they then relocated to Montreal to train. In November that same year they took their maiden major win at the ISU Grand Prix Cup of China in Shanghai and then lifted the Trophée de France in Paris.
Expressing their lofty ambitions, Papadakis said, “We want to innovate, to do things no one’s ever done before and take skating in a new direction.”
World and European doubles
At the 2015 European Championships in Stockholm (SWE) Papadakis and Guillaume scored highest in both the short programme and the free skate to land their first continental title. Two months later in Shanghai (CHN) the French pair added a first world title. Performing a stunning free skate to the sound of Mozart’s piano concerto No. 23 they scored 112.34 points to climb up from fourth after the short and take the gold.
“It was an intensely pleasurable and graceful experience, which was exactly what we wanted to achieve,” said Cizeron at the time. “We are only at the start of our careers really and we weren’t really expecting this. Even we’re amazed.”
They retained both titles in 2016, in Bratislava (SVK) in January and Boston (USA) in March, again thanks to outstanding performances in the free skate.
In Montreal, Papadakis and Cizeron trained with Canadian 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Returning from a two-year sabbatical, in December 2016 Virtue and Moir got the better of the French duo at the NHK Trophy in Sapporo (JAP), before beating them once again in the final of the ISU Grand Prix in Marseille (FRA). The defeats were the French pair’s first since the 2014/15 season.
Nevertheless, Papadakis and Cizeron were back on top of the podium in January 2017 in Ostrava (CZE), winning their third straight European title by some distance over the Italians Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte and the Russians Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev.
“We had so much fun on the ice today and it’s so exciting for us to be able to skate 100 percent, like we do in training, and to be able to share this moment with the crowd,” said Cizeron. “It was just magical.”Despite their success, the two young skaters are staying cool. “2017 is a special season for us, an important one. We mustn’t show everything that we’ve got,” explained Cizeron. “We need to make some strategic programme choices so that we can be at our very best at the Games.”