Comments from Marla Pichler and Salomé Brunner

 

By Reut Golinsky
Photo © Silvia Ulenberg

During "Art on Ice" I also had the opportunity to chat with a couple of very important people from Stéphane's entourage.

Marla Pichler, physiotherapist

Marla Pichler, the physiotherapist he met during the Canadian "Stars on Ice" tour last May, performed nothing short of a miracle. Thanks to her, Stéphane was able to overcome the injury that forced him to retire from competitive skating in October 2008.

First of all Stéphane's supporters would like to thank you for the miracle you performed. What was so different about your approach?
I think the key is to look at an injury the way you look at an onion; what you see on the surface is not necessarily what the actual problem is. So you peel off one layer, and then another. I was fortunate to have the time and the intensity with this athlete to go through the many layers of the "onion" to the core of the problem. Once you find it the problem is easier to fix. But when working with an athlete you rarely have that luxury; you need to keep them going so you're only scratching the surface of the problem. That wasn't what Stéphane was looking for. We had the time together which was fortunate, and we had a good relationship so we could work on this together. But in the end it was up to him to heal himself, really. He got on his way, it was his doing.

So a miracle equals lots of work?
It's the amount of time you need to spend together to sort out the many different layers of the injury, since they compound each other. So you have to work through them all before you reach the core. Normally you see an athlete for two or three days and then they take off to a competition. But because we were travelling together [during the "Stars on Ice" tour], we could see each other every single day and note the progress: "OK, this is a little bit better today. OK, now we can go a little bit deeper." When you're able to do that it's easier to figure out what the centre of the problem is.

So you found the centre of the problem and the set of exercises he needs every day to keep his good state. But can we say that he's healed?
In Stéph's case the centre of the problem was something that could be healed, and yes, we can say he's healed.

During the Olympics many commentators blamed Stéphane's skate on his injury.
I believe he was physically fit. And I think he would say he was physically fit and ready for the competition. But he has to answer that himself.

Do you think your job with Stéphane is finished now?
We are great friends and we keep in touch. And when I can work with him again, I will. But he doesn't need me. He is well. He is free as a bird. He can fly.

Salomé Brunner, choreographer

Salomé Brunner has been Stéphane's choreographer, friend and mentor since he was a child. Like a protective screen she's always there to support him.

You were with Stéphane during the Olympic opening ceremony as he carried the flag. There is a superstition known as "the flag-bearer's jinx" meaning that athlete will fail in the competition...
Yes, I know. But I believe each athlete can create his own situation and this alleged curse is not important. It has happened many times, I know, that a flag bearer didn't perform his best. But I think when you get this honor from the organizers to carry the flag; it's up to each individual to create his competition. And I saw how happy and excited Stéphane was, and he did a really good job carrying the flag. This was his story and not the story of other people who were flag bearers before him.

What happened during the long program? Did he have a bad day?
Yes, maybe it was a bad day. If he could only have skated the program more freely. During the warm-up and also backstage I didn't really see the light in him. I asked him if he could find a little more light for this event and he said he would try. It was such an important moment for him and if you tell someone to "take it easy"; it would be a lie, because this was not easy!

This was like the end of the line of what you'd been working so hard towards, the dream of Olympic gold.
It wasn't even so much for the gold. I mean, that would have been a nice prize at the end of this journey, sure. But just to be able to show everything he was capable of doingÂ… It was not the day when he could do that.

He usually knows how to stand up to pressure. There were skaters who fell apart completely. He didn't, but he seemed very, very tense.
Exactly. I think he should have believed more in himself. He did execute very strong technical things so it was not bad. But he didn't fly.

The serpentine step sequence received level 4, which was the first time.
Finally, yes! All his steps are level 4, and I think it's a mistake that he didn't get it for the other steps. We designed everything according to the rules in all the steps. It was hard work because the music sometimes says different things and we had to adapt the system to the music. It has to be musical, that's of course the first rule. So all his steps are level 4 but we haven't received the credit for it until now.

There was only a half point difference between Stéphane and the podium. Would the situation be happier and better with a bronze medal?
It's hard to say. I think the most important thing is to be able to deal with any situation as it happens and to make the most out of it. Things happened like this and we cannot change it. And when I watch him skating now I think having that medal or not doesn't change anything. Of course everybody would have been so excited, especially Stéphane himself. But he didn't have that good moment in this competition, it didn't work. But it doesn't really change his skating; he is still a wonderful skater!

The anniversary book about "Art on Ice" was written before the Vancouver Winter Games. It ends with the paragraph titled: "Stéphane Lambiel: Gold, silver or bronze?". "Of course, many of the world's best figure skaters will be joining Art on Ice 2010," – it says. "Those who have already committed to appearing include Stéphane Lambiel, who may be coming to Zurich with another Olympic medal." There is nothing pretentious in those words; he was indeed one of the realistic candidates for a medal. He came home without one, missing the podium by half a point and not reaching the goal he made his comeback for. But you should hear how his home audience greets him every time he is on the ice, you should count the number of presents he gets during every show, you should see the faces of his close friends and colleagues when they talk about him. And while reading about him, talking to him and trying to understand him better I still can't find an answer to one simple question: why he is so beloved? I still don't know. But one thing I know for sure: the love he creates around him is much more important than any medal.

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