Tribute to French Skating

After the awful events of yesterday, the second day of Trophée Eric Bompard has been cancelled, and we must be thankful the event is now in Bordeux; who knows what might have happened had it still been in Bercy.  Instead, let us take a moment to honor France’s long tradition of figure skating, and a few of the illustrated skaters from its history.

Two of the earliest greats in French skating were Andrée Joly-Brunet & Pierre Brunet, an early pairs team who were the first to come up with many elements, and also mirror skating.  They were also Olympic champions twice, two of the three Olympic golds in figure skating that have been won by France.

After the Brunets, the next French skater to win a world title was Jacqueline du Bief, the only French World Champion in Ladies Singles to date, who would also claim bronze at the 1952 Olympics:

The end of the decade would see the first bout of French men medaling; the following years would see three of them on the World podium, two of them at the top of it, and two of them on the Olympic podium. The first was Alain Giletti, who won in 1960:

The most decorated was Alain Calmat, who made the world podium five times in succession, culminating in the gold in 1965, the year after winning Olympic silver. By the time the Olympics came to France in 1968, he was retired, but would have the honor of light the cauldron at the opening ceremonies.

The French would not go empty-handed at their first home Olympics, however. Patrick Pera, who took over French men’s skating after Calmat’s retirement, would win bronze in both Grenoble and in Sapporo four years later, although unfortunately I can’t find any footage of him. The 1960s had by then also since the first French ice dance medal wins at the World championships, with Christiane & Jean Paul Guhel taking a pair of them at the beginning of the decade, though the only available footage of them is silent:

Later French skating would decline for a bit, but in the 1980s, the French flag found a memorable pair of French-Canadian siblings willing to skate under it. Isabelle & Paul Duschenay pushed the boundaries of ice dance, taking it up to a new level of drama and creativity, as well as even performing the first reverse lift, of the lady lifting the man, and in a time of Soviet dominance, would claim the World title in 1991, and when the Olympics again came to France in 1992, they claimed silver, although they were actually disappointed they hadn’t won gold:

French skating would see a resurgence in the 1990s, led the innovation and character started by the Duschaneys, and remain common traits of French skaters to this day, and also by a few skaters who were also colorful characters off ice. Perhaps the most infamous was Surya Bonaly, who would bring her strong athleticism to ladies skating, court controversy by her protest on the 1994 World podium when she lost the gold she’d believed she should have won, and culminate her competitive career by doing her signature backflip at the 1998 Olympics, despite it being illegal in competition:

More successful at the Olympics was men’s skater Philippe Candelero, bronze medalist in both 1994 & 1998, know for his character-driven programs and signature spin on his knees:

Character & drama would also be the signature of pairs skaters Sarah Abitbol & Stephane Bernadis, who would being among the first pairs to attempt the throw triple axel. They would never land it, but they would win France’s only world medal in pairs post-Brunets, and they would do it on home ice in Nice, at the end of a week which had started by his being attacked by a knife-wielding assailant and having his arm sliced open!

2000 Worlds would also see another French world gold, won by Marina Anissina & Gwedanl Peizerat, leading off a new more homegrown wave of French ice dance success that is still going on now. They would fully explore the art of the reverse lift, and be known for a few memorable programs, including the ones with which they would win the 2002 Olympics, the only French skaters to win it besides the Brunets:

They would be succeeded by Isabelle Delobel & Olivier Schoenfelder, a pair whose high creativity might have been a bit much for the judges, but they nonetheless did take a World title in 2008:

They were not the only French skaters on top at the time. Throughout most of the noughties, Brian Joubert was a powerful presence in men’s skating. Always a contender during the second half of that decade, he pushed things technically, especially in an undefeated 2007 season, which including a world title, and also his becoming the first skater to land three quads in a long program at the 2006 Cup of Russia:

The current decade first saw another creative French team rise to the top, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat breaking through to the top tier. When Worlds returned to Nice in 2012, it was they who made the home team proud and won the first of their two World bronzes, though like their predecessors Delobel & Scheonfelder, they were never quite as successful as they might have been:

But now, the current quaddrenium has seen a new French team rise to the very top. Last year Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron, newly up from juniors, with the sheer beauty of their skating took the ice dance world by storm, and they are the reigning World Champions, and could very easily win France their fourth Olympic gold come 2018:

Viva la patinage artistique francaise.


8 thoughts on “Tribute to French Skating

  1. What a good idea this post was. Thank you. I’ve linked to you in a post in the goldenskate forum so people can share their favorite moments. 🙂

  2. This also was put on WWTTA about the blog – by a Diane: “I wanted to mention how much Roger and I enjoyed the French skating blog Izzie put together. As someone who enjoys historical context (and would never think to assemble such clips myself), watching the development of such beauty was an antidote of sorts–or balm–after the horrible news from Paris. I couldn’t help but think that the extraordinary skating is precisely what an enlightened society makes possible on a number of different levels, despite all the problems our societies have.

  3. What a beautiful post and how crafty and quick you were to put everything together! Izzy, you know so much about our patinage: my knowledge began with Alain Calmat, and I knew nothing of the Brunet. And this is a very touching homage to France an to the French people. Thank you so much. A blog like yours help go through the awesomeness of the days. And I will always remember that you were the first from abroad to ask if we were okay. 🙂

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