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Concussion Interrupted Papadakis’ and Cizeron’s Season

Return to Competition as French Nationals

by Klaus-Reinhold Kany

Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron

The meteoric rise of French ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron in the 2014/15 season is unique in the history of ice dancing. Never before did a couple win Worlds who were only 15th at the European Championships and only 13th at the World championships (and the two best dance teams Davis & White and Virtue & Moir were not even present in 2014). Moreover, the French dancers did not even participate in the Sochi Olympics because their federation thought they were only their couple number three. Therefore for their two spots, they had nominated the medal candidates Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat (who finished fourth) plus Pernelle Carron and Lloyd Jones who finished only 15th.

After the stunning victory at Worlds in Shanghai, Papadakis and Cizeron toured around France and went home, then went on vacation. Papadakis spent some time with her boyfriend and German-Italian skater and young coach Stefano Caruso. Cizeron flew to the beaches of Mexico with his boyfriend, a Canadian photographer. Meanwhile their main coach Romain Haguenauer, who the couple had followed in the summer of 2013 from Lyon, France to Montreal, Canada, and their Canadian main choreographer Marie-France Dubreuil had one big problem: How to find music pieces which were at least as good as the Mozart’s 23rd piano concerto, if not better? The beautiful and easy-looking interpretation of the Mozart music was the main reason for their sensational success. Everybody liked the program very much, even people who had otherwise no interest in classical music. The team had interpreted music of the 18th century, but in an extremely modern way of the 21st century.

After searching for several weeks and consulting experts, they finally found something for both programs. In June Papadakis & Cizeron started with new elements and new programs in their rink in the southwest part of Montreal which is called Centre Gadbois. All their lifts and the spin are different from last season and it took some time to learn them. In early August, when I saw and interviewed them in practice in Montreal, they and their coaches told me not to tell anybody or publish the music until their first planned competition which was supposed to be the French internal “Masters” competition in Orléans, France. They had done the same thing the year before. I think this is a silly decision because who would copy and use the music of world champions? Compared with them, every other couple would lose. But Haguenauer explained why: “If we had announced early last year that we would compete to Mozart’s 23rd piano concerto, many people would have said a Mozart program must be boring and old-fashioned. A negative image would have spread, but the program went the opposite way after people saw it when it was ready.”

Their short dance was ready in August and they used the Waltz “Charms” from the soundtrack “W.E.” by Polish modern composer Abel Korzeniowski. Dubreuil and her husband Patrice Lauzon had invited Halina Gordon-Poltorak from Poland, head of the ISU dance committee to check their programs. She had been an official at the Lake Placid dance competition the week before and stayed in Montreal on her way back and also for the Quebec summer championships, where many other students of the dance school revealed their programs, but not Papadakis & Cizeron. She advised them to add a bit more waltz rhythm to the short dance music. At that time they were still working on parts of their free program to the music pieces “Rain in Your Black Eyes” and “To build a Home” by Italian composer Ezio Bosso. All music pieces from both programs had hardly been used in skating, if at all.

After two months of hard work, they took another short vacation. They had just come back to training when the accident happened on Friday, August 28. Performing some easy transition steps, in a moment of lost concentration, both skaters fell. Cizeron got up and had no problems. Papadakis did not fall directly on her head, “but her head hit the ice when she fell on her back”, Haguenauer later said, “and she had a cerebral concussion.” She felt some vertigo and felt dizzy and strange, therefore the coaches advised her to go back home, rest for the weekend and do nothing exhausting. But when Haguenauer called Papadakis the next day she said that she did not feel better. Therefore the team decided to take her to a hospital in Montreal. An X-ray examination showed that nothing was broken in her head, but it was a serious concussion. For the next ten days she was ordered to rest, not to read, not to use computer or TV and certainly not to train. After this time her condition did not improve, and therefore she decided with the coaches to consult a clinic in Montreal which is specialized on brain problems. Haguenauer said: “These specialists work with a method that was developed specifically to restore damaged neuronal activities and regulate the normal process of the brain. They found some discrepancies in Gabriella’s brain.” Cizeron took a few days off, then continued to practice on his own, especially worked on his physical condition and later said he is in a better shape than ever.

Therefore Papadakis needed treatment for some more weeks and the couple had to cancel the Masters competition in early October and stayed in Montreal. Haguenauer then said: “During her treatment, she is working on areas that connect to vision, eye convergence and divergence, short-term memory and balance. She is improving fast, but she comes out of these mental exercises completely exhausted.” During the Masters event, the French federation connected the couple via Skype on the screen in the rink and interviewed them in Papadakis’ living room in Montreal for the spectators in Orleans. In this interview, they promised they would come to the Bompard Trophy in mid-November. But Papakakis still looked very tired and had to support her head with her hand all the time. Coach Patrice Lauzon, who was at the Finlandia Trophy in early October with a Danish couple, also confirmed that they cannot train fully yet. At Skate Canada international in late October however he said they have resumed normal training.

The weekend before the Bompard Trophy, French federation president Didier Gailhaguet rushed to Montreal to see how they were and to talk with the doctors. The skaters wanted to compete, but Gailhaguet had the impression that Papadakis was not fit yet. Therefore the federation decided to skip the Grand Prix in France and also two weeks later the NHK Trophy and therefore also the Final in Spain. Gailhaguet explained: “The longtime flights from Canada to France and back and to Japan and back and maybe to Spain and back would not be good for the head of Gabriella due to the change of air pressure. Therefore we decided to skip the Grand Prix. I would like them to be completely fit for the European and World championships because they are more important.” Haguenauer added: “They could have competed in Bordeaux, but we decided for health reasons. She had more time now to get completely healthy and polish the programs. We also changed part of the free program music.”

Their first competition therefore were French Nationals which took place from December 17 to 19 in the small town of Epinal in Eastern France. Finally they revealed their two new programs and won with a huge difference to the other teams. Their short dance, the first competition in nine month, still looked a bit hesitant, but all elements and the general flow were excellent. After the performance, Papadakis looked quite happy and did not finish smiling and laughing during the interviews. The free program went excellently, they even looked almost as free and relaxed as last season. Their style is a bit similar to last season’s lyrical and romantic style, because the coaches did not want to change too much after the successful last season. Haguenauer: “It is more modern, but in the same direction. With some more weeks of training, they will be quicker and even better at the Europeans in late January than now at our Nationals.” After the championships, they competed in a few shows and stayed with their families over Christmas. Over the New Year they went back to Montreal for Training.

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