While many ice dance partnerships resolve throughout one’s career, few remain and even fewer last as long as 15 competitive years, but that is what makes the one of Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder even more special.
Isabelle Delobel, born together with identical twin sister, Veronique, as the last two of four children in 1978 in Clermont-Ferrand/France, started skating at the age of six when her mother enrolled her into lessons. Showing actual interest in trapeze, Isabelle was taken to the annual seasons-end gala of the club her brother, Laurent, skated in, when the prospect of being able to win competitions suddenly caught her attention. Audible to everyone around her, the words ‘I want to be Olympic Champion’ were shouted boldly across the ice by the tiny five-year old, resulting in her mother signing her up for next season’s lessons.
Immediately liking the elegant sport, Isabelle learned quickly and soon teamed up with her brother in order to make her first dance moves. Supported by their parents, the brother and sister partnership worked well and by the time the young brunette was 8 years old, the tiny couple entered some minor competitions. Already showing a great sense of artistry, results were satisfying and for three years, the two developed as a team, until things were about to change with a simple workshop held in Lyon, a couple of hours away from Isabelle’s hometown.
Born the older of two children, in 1977 in Belfort/France, Olivier Schoenfelder took up skating as an already more advanced eight-year old. He had not been practicing any sports before but was drawn into ice dance due to the impact of the famous Duchesnays and was registered for lessons.
Unfortunately, there is not much more information available, other than that he too quickly gained experience and has also been signing up for the workshop in Lyon, the same Isabelle had planned to attend.
Arriving in Lyon in 1990, and never having met before, Isabelle and Olivier started out the workshop with different partners, when Olympic Champions, Irina Moiseva and Andrei Minenkov, realized how well their contrasts would work together. Excited about the idea of teaming up the petite brunette with the tall blond they approached the two at the end of the workshop in order to inform them about their idea. Despite knowing that there was still a lot of work to do, the experienced skaters immediately saw potential in that partnership-to-be, so Isabelle and Oliver were left to decide what to do about their future – within 48 hours. It might seem very little time for such an important decision but it was more than enough for the straightforward Isabelle and without hesitating for a second she agreed. Olivier, much more considerate, wasn’t as quick as his then partner-to-be, but he too was fond of the idea of forming a new partnership and eventually gave his o.k. as well.
Leaving their old partners – Isabelle’s brother quit skating and took up studies at a reknown school in France, whereas it’s unknown what happened to Olivier’s partner – the two children went home, so things could be packed before they returned to Lyon for good. Separated from friends and family, the 12 and 13 year old soon found out how many sacrifices had to be made to pursue one’s goal and while they were faced with the difficulties of a new life, their partnership developed fast. With a program set to music of ‘The Firebird’, they entered a competition in Belfort, in which they took second place, wiping out any doubts either one of them might have still had.
Moving from her host family into a dormitory where Olivier had already been living Isabelle, as well as her partner, struggled with the challenge of living alone but a strong will did not allow them to give up. Being able to put the problems of daily life aside their success in skating continued and in 1995 they were rewarded with a gold medal at the Olympic Junior Games. A year later a World Junior Silver medal was added to their contingent, with Isabelle and Olivier finishing second only to Ekaterina Davydova and Roman Kostomarov – an ice dancer who they have not been able to surpass until now.
With that they decided it was time to move into senior ranks, so in the summer of 1996 not only did the couple start preparations under a different prospects but Isabelle soon found out that her twin, Veronique, who had become a competitive ice dancer as well, would join her. Delighted to be with at least some part of her family again, she and Olivier, as many other ‘greenhorns’ did, gave their senior debut at the well-known Nebelhorn Trophy gaining a satisfying bronze medal which led them confidently into their next competition. The contrasting couple was able to build on their promising beginning, but still they did not manage to earn a spot on the European or World team and finished the season early but not the least disappointed.
Content and optimistically, Isabelle and Olivier tackled their programs for the 1997/1998 season and this time gained a trip to the European as well as World Championships finishing 15th and 18th respectively. Once again pleased with the outcome of their competitions the young couple renewed forces during the summer to be fully able to focus on another set of challenging choreographies, but not improving placements during the Grand Prix Series led the couple to rethink their situation.
The realization that there really was something missing in their skating, resulted in Isabelle’s and Olivier’s decision to leave their coach of nine years, Lydie Bontemps, in order to train under Muriel Boucher-Zazoui. Hoping to round out their almost perfect technique with unique artistry, they had no difficulties adjusting to their new environment and happily took on the different approach to their preparations. Not the least intimidated but rather profiting from training together with then-Olympic-Champions-to-be, Anissina/Peizerat, Isabelle and Olivier started into the season with a fresh perspective and for the first time were able to crack the top 10 at the European Championships finishing a good 9th. The World Championships result was just as promising, and while the couple dropped a little in the ranks during the following season, it was obvious that their overall skating had improved.
Still another decision had to be made; admitting to themselves that their coach would put all her time available into helping Anissina/Peizerat achieve their final goal of winning an Olympic Gold medal, the two accepted an extended offer. During the summer of 2001 Isabelle and Olivier once again packed their bags, this time for a move even further away from home – a move to the United States – in order to be taken under the wing of renowned coach, Tatiana Tarasova.
Encountering a lot of difficulty to adapt to their new life, both, but especially Isabelle, missed their family even more than they had as teenagers, resulting in unstable performances and an eventual back injury of Isabelle. They had to sit out the European Championships, went back to their program used during the previous season, had a disastrous Olympic Games, with falls in both the Original and Free Dance, and without hesitation returned to Lyon as soon as they knew Anissina/Peizerat would decline their World spot.
Although it was not easy to work with Muriel Boucher-Zazoui again, the performance given by them at the World Championships was much improved and a 12th place finish helped to launch themselves into preparations for the following year. All three persons concerned, Isabelle, Olivier and Muriel, learned once more to get comfortable with each other and being much happier back where they belonged, they started the season medaling at two competitions. European and World results also improved and while they were not yet able to challenge for a medal, they secured their spot in the top 10, slowly advancing towards the podium.
Sidelined by a concussion, Isabelle and Olivier had to withdraw from the French Masters early in the season of 2004/2005 but came back strong and with a program set to Frida, they added three international medals to their contingent. A disappointing 6th place finish at the Grand Prix Final did not put them into high contention for a European medal and a 5th place finish at the Compulsory Dance did not seem to change anything about that, but with a breath-taking performance, the striving duo was able to eventually gain the bronze medal. Happy beyond words, the two went to the World Championships at which they just missed out on a third place finish. Still, disappointment only lasted moments and the couple, as well as their coaching team and family, celebrated their best-ever season cheerfully.
They did some shows, took some time off, Olivier got married, but then it was time to begin preparations for one of the most important seasons – the Olympic season of 2006. With a free dance to Carnival in Venice, they once again had to pull out of the French Masters due to another injury of Isabelle, but for them it was just a minor set back. As if nothing had happened, they started out strong winning the silver medal at both Skate America and Trophée Eric Bompard, their first gold at the Europeans, only to finish on fourth place at Worlds.
The following season was their best. They won all the Grand Prix events they entered and qualified for the Grand Prix Final, which brought them a bronze medal. Europeans came with silver and their career culminated with the gold at Worlds in 2008. Finally, Isabelle and Olivier's dream had come true, they had become world champions!
During the 2008 - 2009 season they won four more gold medals, but they had to end the season early when Isabelle injured her shoulder during the Grand Prix Final at the end of 2008. She had surgery in the beginning of 2009, which compromised their chances to compete at Europeans and Worlds. During the rehabilitation period, Isabelle discovered she was pregnant. Still she and Olivier didn't give up on their goal, the upcoming Olympic Games. They continued to train for as long as the pregnancy allowed them, then Isabelle got married and had the baby at the beginning of October.
As soon as possible she returned to the ice and they resumed their training for the Olympics. All other competitions were skipped in order to get more time for practice. They presented their new programs in Vancouver, where they skated a moving free dance to Jacques Brel's La Quete - The Impossible Dream. Unfortunately, it was going to remain a dream as an Olympic medal was not in the cards for them.
This concluded their competitive career, but Isabelle and Olivier have promised to invest their emotions and knowledge in the artistical side of the sport and focus on more demonstrative galas in the future.
Written by Frederike Hylla