Brian Joubert: “The skaters have to improve, but the judging system has to improve, too”
By Titanilla Bőd
Photos © Caroline Par├ę
What happened in Vancouver? How hard it was to come back? Why is the quad jump so important? These are only a few questions from the many we asked Brian Joubert, bronze medallist at the World Championships in Torino.
Your bronze medal in Torino was a great comeback after the disastrous Olympics. What helped you to bounce back in such a way?
It was not easy to come back, I didn’t know if I would be able to compete again mentally. I had so many bad competitions this season, except the NHK Trophy, so I was a little bit lost. I thought about stopping figure skating, but I realized I was not ready. I need figure skating, so I had no choice. If I wanted to be at the World Championships, I had to do my job. I worked a lot and I did it.
When did you think of stopping?
Right after the Olympic Games—maybe not stopping my entire career; just taking a break for one season. If you are on the top for many seasons, it starts to become difficult [to stay on top]. Every time the Olympic Games turned out poorly for me. Maybe I don’t like this competition; I’m not meant for this competition. That’s life. I still can skate, win competitions and have good performances.
Can you explain what happened to you in Vancouver? According to the practice reports you looked sharp at practices.
It’s strange because during practice, technically I was not bad, but I wasn’t 100 %. Two days before I had to leave for Vancouver, I told my mum, “I don’t want to go, I’m not ready for this competition.” Physically I was okay, but technically I wasn’t where I wanted to be, especially on the quad toe. Despite feeling that way, the first practice was good, but as the competition came closer, the more nervous I became, which resulted in more mistakes. When I was on the ice, I wasn’t relaxed and when I’m not relaxed, I can’t do my job.
Do you think it gets harder for a skater with every Olympics? Were you more nervous in Vancouver than four years ago in Torino?
In Torino I wasn’t nervous, but in Vancouver I was. I didn’t control myself and when I came out on the ice, I couldn’t feel my legs. I was shaky; it was horrible. In 2006 I was okay, but I wasn’t ready physically back then. I think if you are ready, you can do your job, and it doesn’t matter if it is Olympics or World Championships. If you are ready, you don’t feel pressure. Unfortunately, I was never ready for the Olympic Games.
Did your injury on the Lutz affect your skating? Aren’t you afraid of hurting yourself again?
I make a lot of mistakes on the Lutz—in the short program and also in the free. It’s a pity, because it’s one of my best jumps. I work on it in quad rotations, but the injury makes me a bit nervous about this jump. The injury was really bad for me. I was getting into shape, won the NHK Trophy and I was ready for the Grand Prix Final, but then I got injured and lost a lot of [practice] time, so I couldn’t be ready for Europeans and Worlds.
After the Olympics, you had to pass a test skate to secure your place in the French team for the Worlds. Whose idea was the test?
It was my federation’s idea, but I said that if they want to test me, I can only accept. I can’t say, “No, I don’t want to do it.” The test was good for me because it was like a practice, but it was a very difficult test. It went well and we could see how prepared I was for Worlds. It was okay and I think we will have more tests in the future for the whole French team; not just the men.
So you don’t mind being tested? Isn’t the test extra pressure?
No, although it was difficult because we skated in front of journalists and I didn’t like that. It makes me nervous because I don’t want to make mistakes. In France, if you make mistakes, [the stories] in the paper the next few days are horrible. I think it was interesting to skate with Alban Preaubert. When I was young, I tested before every competition. The federation didn’t trust me, so I worked harder and finally they helped me, so it was useful. If they want to test me in the future, I will have nothing against it.
What was it like to work with your choreographers, Albena and Maxim? How did they help you?
They helped my skating a lot. I use less energy when I go faster and I can move my body more. It’s still not enough, but I can improve. They are great and working with them was a step towards the new Brian Joubert we want to show, but I think we made some mistakes. We worked a lot on the choreography this season, but not the jumps. We made many changes during the season, but unfortunately, this was the Olympic season. When you make changes, you have to make them before the Olympic year. I see where we made the mistakes but we have to continue.
How do you feel about first and second place at the Olympics? There was a big debate about the quad jump.
I didn’t watch the competition. When I finished my program, I just wanted to go back to the hotel, so I can’t say anything about it.
Haven’t you watched the programs on youtube?
No, I don’t want to. I haven’t watched my Olympic program in 2006, nor in 2010 and I don’t want to watch Evan Lysacek, the Olympic champion, without a quad. I still don’t understand it. He is a very good skater, but I’m a little bit disappointed about somebody winning without a quad.
What do you think about the “e-mail scandal” before the Olympics, when an American judge, Joe Inman, sent messages to his colleagues to watch out for your and Plushenko’s transitions?
I didn’t care about it; it’s part of the game. This guy maybe talks like that in e-mail, but I think he wouldn’t talk like that in front of me or in front of Plushenko. I think it’s better to speak your opinion in front of the people and not through e-mail. Evgeni and I see figure skating with the quad and people have to understand us, but we also have to understand the other skaters, who think transitions and the choreography are more important. Different styles make the figure skating more interesting. If everyone was doing the same thing, it would be very boring. I will continue with the quad, even under this judging system. Here at Worlds I did two quads in the free program and it was great! I did make some mistakes after them because I was tired, but still it was great. I didn’t win the competition, but I don’t care. Finally it was just to have fun and to come back.
To come back to the podium?
Not really to the podium, just to come back—to have good feelings and good performances. I could have been fifth or sixth, but with this performance I would have been satisfied as well.
How did you feel before your short program when you took the ice?
I was very nervous, but I controlled my nerves. The six-minute warm-up was horrible, so I started to worry. Before my music started, I did two jumps, and they felt good, so when the music started I was confident and said to myself, “No questions. Just go and do your job.”
When you finished the short program you roared of joy. What did you think about right in that moment?
I was very happy because I knew that I was on my way back. It was the last time I skated this short program and I had some very good performances of this program, so it was important to me to finish with a good final presentation. I was a bit scared about the Lutz because I made the same mistake on the Lutz at the test in Paris as I made in Vancouver. However, here in Torino, it was good. I was a little bit disappointed by the score, but that’s life.
Why was it so important for you to do two quads in the free program?
The last time I had two quads in my long program was in 2006 at the Grand Prix Final, so it was a long time ago. I did it in practice, but not often and it was very difficult for me, so I wasn’t sure if I was still able to do two quads in the free program. I tried it and it was great. For me, it’s a good answer. It makes me very, very confident for upcoming seasons. I can’t be too confident though; I have to work and be professional.
Your coach Laurent Depouilly was jumping up and down after you landed the second quad.
It was tough for him as well after the Olympic Games. Not because of the journalists because nobody talked about him, but he was disappointed for me. We worked together. We made some mistakes and it was the Olympics. We knew that I was able to win the Olympics or to medal, but I didn’t do so. It was hard for him, too. Physically and mentally it was also difficult for him; that’s why he was very happy.
Will you keep your free program for the next season?
No. I love it; it’s my favourite program, but I’m very disappointed because I could never give this program 100 %. At Worlds it was good but not perfect. I think it was my best program so far. It was very difficult, but the best one. However, if I want to improve, I have to change.
In practice, is your quad more difficult beside this choreography?
This season it was pretty good, especially around NHK. We found a good practice schedule between my choreographers and coach, but the problem was the injury. We lost a lot of time and we didn’t work enough on the quad jumps, so at Europeans and at the Olympics it wasn’t perfect. I was able to do it, but I lost a lot of energy to be focused on the quad toe, although normally, physically it’s like a triple. Now I’m 25 years old. I have more experience on the quad toe, so it’s easier than before, but you have to work on a quad jump every day. If you don’t do it, you can lose it very quickly.
Do you think that the ISU is going to change the points for the quad?
I hope so—just to see more quads in competition. The audience likes to see a quad; they recognize it. If they don’t change the rules, there will be very few quads. I remember in 2002 when I attended my first Worlds in Nagano, Min Zhang finished around 15th, but he did three quads in the free program! Everybody did quads in the short program. The competition was more interesting. Maybe it was too focused on the jumps and not on the transitions – no problem, we can improve—but I think it’s boring to only see a triple-triple in the short program.
Is it much easier for the skater if they do just a triple-triple in the short program instead of a quad-triple?
Oh, yes. I tried it in practice. I ran through my short program with only a triple-triple. It’s totally different. When you start the program, you are relaxed. If you want to put a transition before the jumping pass, you can do it; it’s easy. You can be faster, on the music, everything is perfect. Everything gets changed when you include the quad jump. Evan Lysacek tried it and it wasn’t the same. You use a lot of energy mentally for the quad and you can’t put transitions before a quad. What I don’t like in the short program is that if you try a quad, you have to have a triple as a second jump in the combination. If you do just a double, the risk is the same but the points are much lower. The skaters have to improve, but I think that the judging system has to improve, too.
After the Olympics you were criticized about not training abroad. Here in Torino you mentioned that you might to go abroad for a shorter time. Have you already thought of possible locations?
I want to change my practice routine. Practicing in Poitiers is great. It’s my town and I need it, but I work alone there and I practice with kids. To keep motivated, I have to think about Daisuke Takahashi or other skaters. I really want to practice with elite skaters, maybe in Canada or in the US, but I don’t really like North America just because of the food! For me it’s a big problem. I can gain weight easily, so I have to be careful. We will see what happens; I don’t want to decide alone.
The president of the ISU Ottavio Cinquanta mentioned at his press conference that they are thinking about including a team competition for skaters at the Olympics, just like the World Team Trophy was last year. What do you think about this?
The World Team Trophy was great. The best skaters were there and everybody was relaxed. If we do it during the Olympic Games, I think physically it would be very difficult. We have to be focused on our singles competitions, so I’m afraid we wouldn’t see the best performances in team competition all the time. Team competition in general is a very good idea. I talked about it with my French teammates and we’ll do everything to qualify for this competition again. It’s going to be difficult, but we will try.
Japanese TV NHK made a documentary movie about you called Miracle Body. Did you enjoy the filming?
Yes, it was very interesting for me. They helped me a lot. After Trophée Eric Bompard, my quad toe was technically very bad. When we came back, we did a lot of shooting, so I did a lot of quads and they started to get better. It was a very good practice for me under difficult conditions, because of the lights and the cameras. I have a DVD of the documentary, so sometimes if I’m not satisfied with my quad toe, I watch it and analyze myself.
You earned many new Japanese fans thanks to this program.
It’s funny because this season I had a dream that I will be World Champion for the second time in Japan, so I hope it happens in the next season. I like to skate in Japan. I think that the Japanese people like figure skating and they love the quad jump.
When you end your competitive career, would you want to be a coach or a choreographer?
I don’t think I would be a good choreographer (laughs), maybe just for the steps. I really want to be a coach and have a big figure skating school in France because we don’t have one yet. I like to work with young skaters and to translate what I have learned. I’ve already taught little kids and it was great. I really want to help the small kids and maybe some good junior skaters in the future.
So there will be many good quad jumpers in France!
I hope so. When I see the juniors now, they are scared about the quad. They don’t want to try it, they don’t practice it, and the jumps are not good.
Do you limit the number of the quads you practice per day?
No—it depends. If I feel very tired, I can tell my coach: “I will do only one, but it has to be perfect,” but sometimes I can do twenty quads during practice.