By Hiro Yoshida
This week sees Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron go for a potentially record-breaking fifth consecutive European title in Minsk, Belarus. It would be a feat never achieved by any ice dance team in the history of the championships, but for the French ice dance is about more than medals or points.
Following their victory at the 2018 World Championships in Milan, Italy, Papadakis and Cizeron took an extended break after what had been an emotionally exhausting Olympic journey. It afforded them an opportunity to decide how they wanted to approach the upcoming season and what direction they wanted to take their skating.
“I understand now why a lot of people take a year off because it is hard,” Papadakis said. “The thing is that doing the Olympics you put in so much energy and focus on this one event that when it’s over you feel a little lost. ‘Oh my God. There is something after this event?’ You don’t think about what’s after at all. Everything that happens after is very tiring. We still decided not to take a year off. We don’t regret that decision. We’re really happy to be doing competitions and with our programmes right now. What helped a lot was of course to rest a lot, but to also start working with a lot of new and different people. We needed to add something new to our routine, to the way we worked and to rethink a lot of things. Fresh air.”
They ultimately spent several weeks off the ice and began preparations for this season unsure of what would be their opening competition. They chose to work again with Christopher Dean on their rhythm dance as they had with their short dance for the Olympics. The tango routine using “Oblivion” and “Primavera Porteña” by Astor Piazzolla came together quickly.
“For us it’s always a pleasure to work with him,” Papadakis said. “We went to Colorado for a couple of days to work with him and I think the first draft was made in one day. We almost kept everything as it is. We worked on all the movements a lot, but the whole construction of the programme almost stayed the same.”
For their free dance, they unconventionally opted to collaborate with 2006 Olympic silver medallist Stephane Lambiel to two tracks, “Duet” and “Sunday Afternoon”, by American singer-songwriter Rachael Yamagata. It was a definitive departure from their previous programmes and a risk as to whether it would be viable.
“I think this year was the right year to try something different and use those pieces from her album,” Cizeron said. “We weren’t sure at first that it would work on the ice, but it turned out to work really well and I think the guitar and the folk aspect of the song really brings something new to our body of programmes.
“It’s light and then there’s kind of a crescendo until the end and it kind of goes with the electric guitars so it becomes more intense. It’s pretty hard because you have to keep energy for the end and make it really dynamic. It’s a good challenge. It’s also a little bit of a different structure than our previous programmes. We’re always slow-fast-slow. This one is more like a crescendo. It’s really interesting to play with that.”
Papadakis and Cizeron were due to unveil their new programmes at the NHK Trophy in Osaka, Japan in early November, but had to withdraw due to injury.
“I’ve always had issues with my back,” Cizeron said. “It was kind of at the peak of pain, but it’s under control now. It shouldn’t be a problem in the future I hope.”
Despite having no chance to qualify for the Grand Prix Final, they did show up at the Internationaux de France in Grenoble at the end of November. They were anxious about how their programmes would be perceived, but were pleased with the reactions of both the judges and spectators.
“Of course we had this little stress that it was the first time, but it went well,” Papadakis said. “We both love our programmes so much. We were pretty confident about showing them to the public. We knew that if we liked them so much it didn’t really matter.”
The duo received world record scores for their rhythm dance (84.13), free dance (132.65) and overall total (216.78) in claiming their home Grand Prix title.
“We were really happy with the scores obviously and we were really happy that the public seemed to like it,” Cizeron said. “We tried to go in a slightly different way this year. There’s still a lot of work. We know that. I think it was just a confirmation that we are on a good path, a good way and we are excited to see how it develops in the year and to improve all of aspects of it.”
In December, the Olympic silver medallists took a fifth French title and closed the year out with two appearances in Javier Fernandez’s “Revolutionice” show in Madrid, Spain.
“We are happy for Javi and Spain that the show is so popular and skating is getting so popular,” Papadakis said. “It’s really beautiful.”
After a low key start to the season, Papadakis and Cizeron are now ready to take on the best European teams in Minsk this week. This will be their second time competing at the competition venue as they took part in the 2012 World Junior Championships that were held here as well.
“It hasn’t been that busy a beginning of the season for us because we only did one Grand Prix out of the three that we usually do,” Cizeron said. “Our training is going as planned and we’re excited to perform at the European Championships for the sixth time this year.
“The arena in Minsk – it’s really special,” he added. “Europeans is always a special rendezvous. It’s always a special experience and we are looking forward to it.”
Whatever happens this week in Minsk, Papadakis and Cizeron still feel that even with all the titles and accolades they have amassed in their careers so far they are far from being done with the sport.
“We always keep the same passion and the same love of the sport and the same will to learn and get better,” Cizeron said. “That’s always the flame that makes us go train every day. There are some medal goals like at the Olympics, at Worlds and records that give you an idea of where you are at, but it’s not what really makes you want to keep going. I think we want to keep going because we are still young and we have a lot to explore in the sport.”