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Monday, January 14, 2013

Brian Joubert's adventures in figure skating: 2012-13 edition

Take a look at this video. Remember when this happened?


Less than a year ago, Brian Joubert defied expectations by skating two strong programs at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships to finish 4th. Just a few weeks later, he finished third in the men's event at the World Team Trophy, trailing only Daisuke Takahashi and Patrick Chan. It seemed as though Joubert had finally gotten his career back on track after two difficult seasons, and was gearing up for one final run at the Olympics. But a combination of logistics, health problems, and other issues seems to have gotten him off-course once again.

This past fall, the rink in Poitiers, where Joubert had trained since he began skating, shut down for an extensive, year long renovation project. This was in the works for some time beforehand, but the solution for Joubert came at the last moment: he would relocate to Paris, to live at INSEP and train with Annick Dumont at Champigny sur Marne. At the time, many fans and skating observers expressed concerns about this arrangement, as Dumont was not considered a great fit for Joubert.

Joubert began the season at the French Masters, debuting a new free skate to the soundtrack of Inception. He was not in great form, but the program, choreographed by Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski, showed considerable promise. At the time, it was believed that it would be carried over to the Olympic season. Ha! If only!

In November, Joubert skated an extremely disappointing short program at the Cup of China before withdrawing prior to the free skate. It was later revealed that he had been seriously ill and had fainted several times on the flight over. The Cup of China is the only Grand Prix event he has yet to win, and becoming the first singles skater to win all six GPs has long been a goal of Joubert's, so perhaps his decision to skate, despite being ill, is understandable. Still, it was unfortunate that he chose to risk his health in such a way.

Two weeks later, Joubert competed at the Trophee Eric Bompard, an event in which he had not medalled since winning in 2006. A decent SP performance, especially given his abbreviated preparation and health problems, left him in third, but he struggled visibly with stamina and conditioning in the LP, dropping him to 4th (in all fairness, Joubert should have finished on the podium; Florent Amodio's atrocious short program should have had him further back).

In mid-December, Joubert was a late withdrawal from French Nationals, due to the flu; soon after, articles in the French media suggested that in addition to his illness, Joubert had been working on a new free skate, which was not ready for competition yet. Reportedly, the change to the Gladiator soundtrack was suggested by French Federation president Didier Gailhaguet, and was embraced by Joubert, who had enjoyed skating to the music as an exhibition. Gladiator, as Saffron and I (and many others) have noted, is strongly identified with Alexei Yagudin; hopefully Laurie May's choreography will allow Joubert to make the music his own.

 Gladiator, the old version

In addition to the program change, Joubert had also left his new training base in Paris (in French) in early December, displeased with his collaboration with Dumont and her unwillingness to allow him to continue to work part-time with longtime coach Veronique Guyon (reportedly, Dumont and Joubert remain on good terms). In this, I support Joubert completely; however, I would have liked to see him find an alternate coaching arrangement first. As it is, he was back in Poitiers, coachless and with no nearby rink. Later reports indicated that Joubert began training on his own and commuting to a rink 90 minutes away, a less than optimal arrangement for any skater. He test-drove his new program at several winter galas, but it is difficult to judge its merits, as performed under spotlights and with only part of the technical content. 

Gladiator, the new version

As of mid-January, Joubert has found a temporary arrangement in Paris and is "discussing" matters with his federation, which would prefer for him to head to the US for training (report here, in French). His status and preparation for the upcoming European Championships is unknown, as are his ability to salvage something from this pre-Olympic season. As a positive, Joubert assures us that while he can be difficult to work with, he does not eat his coaches (in French).

I have long believed that Joubert is something of a cat with nine lives, and that one day they will run out and his career with them. I have lost count of how many times he has bounced back after being written off; every season since he won Worlds, it seems, and in 2006 too. Can he somehow, against all odds, do it again?

It's been said that all human wisdom is summed up in these two words,-"Wait and hope". Maybe that's all that can be done, if one happens to be a fan of Brian Joubert.

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