Featured Interview: Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres (FRA)

- Lausanne, Switzerland

After an outstanding season which saw them on the podium at the ISU European Figure Skating Championships, Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres head into the 2017/2018 season aiming for an Olympic Medal.

V= Vanessa James; M= Morgan Cipres; Q= Interviewer Tatjana Flade for ISU. 

James Cipres Gettyimages 632699510 MasterQ: How do you feel about the past season?
M: It was a different season for us, we changed our team and we started many things from scratch and changed a lot like our programs and our ways to work. We had a good season after all, we are happy with what we achieved like the podium finish at the Trophée de France and we finally were able to get on to the podium at Europeans with a strong performance, it was one of the best European Championships. The World Championships weren’t as good, but we still had a much higher score than last year. So it was a good season for us.

V: I’m very happy and proud of the step that we’ve made. I don’t know by how many points we improved (our personal best) since last year, probably it is like 35 or so and it is with not perfect programs. At Europeans we had two great programs which was amazing. All things considered after great performances at Europeans and Grand Prix (in France) lots of expectations, still fought for it at Worlds and had a really good score all things considered. I think we changed places for next year. Next year, instead of fighting trying to move up we are already in a different group now, at a different level. So we’re starting right where we need to be to be at the top for the Olympics. It’s cool.

Q: What have been doing since World Team Trophy?
V: After WTT we started new choreography and went on a much needed vacation. We were happy to have won the pairs competition but mostly proud to have skated so well for our coach Jeremy Barrett and his wife Lucy who was diagnosed the day before our short program with leukemia. These kind of tragic events bring life into perspective.

Q: Looking back at Europeans, it must have been very emotional for you.
M: Yes, it was very emotional, because we finally realized this goal. The competition was just perfect and the level was the highest I’ve ever seen at Europeans. The scores were huge, too. Everyone did a great job at this competition. It was not easy, there were five or six couples that could have been on the podium. We did it and we had a standing ovation from the audience which was awesome. I think everyone remembers us and we left an impression.

V: The most memorable thing for me was the audience, like the standing ovation, people screaming during the medal ceremony, it was amazing. It was even more special I think, because we skated last and all the other skaters skated so well. It is not like, ‘oh the others made mistakes, that’s why the won the medal’. Everyone was at their best level and we are very proud to be part of the best skaters at Europeans.

Q: At the World Championships you had a freak fall on the triple twist in the short program. How did you deal with that shock?
M: We did not have time to think about it. We made the error, we were shocked and we didn’t really know how to react, but we had to react quickly. She looked at me and I just said, continue and we did the rest. We did the solo jump (the next element) which was not easy and I think we did a good program after (the fall), but in fact we cannot make a mistake like that at the World Championships in the short program. This cost us a lot of points and we could have been in the top five, I think. But this is life, these things happen. We saw (Fedor) Klimov doing a similar mistake.

V: Three couples made a mistake on the twist.

M: Yes, it’s strange. But it happens and it is better it happened now than at the Olympic Games.

V: I think every year we learn something. Every year, and it’s only for our good. Champions are made from difficulties, not just have it the easy way going. I’m glad we got it back together. For me it was a nightmare. I was like what the heck, this can’t be happening right now. That’s why I stopped. But that shows all the work that we’ve done, all the training and the consistency we have on the elements, because I can tell you, if we did that last year, that program would have been a mess. I’m really, really proud of all the training and the consistency and the confidence that we have behind us now.

Q: Did something like that fall on the twist ever happened in practice before?
M: No, not this year for sure. It happened before in training maybe once.

V: In competition no.

Q: As you said you changed coaches and moved to the USA for training. How did you find your coaches John Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana?
M: We told ourselves that we don’t want to remain at the same level that we were. I think it was a good level, but we had the capability to be better than before. We said we need something that suits us, someone who can take us to the top. We thought about it together and Vanessa had the idea to work with John Zimmerman and his team. I didn’t know them, but she knew him as a skater.

V: We decided we needed a change, because being fifth and fourth at Europeans and eight to tenth at Worlds wasn’t good enough for us. We didn’t want to keep doing that until the Olympics. It was either we stop now or we need a big change. We looked at some coaches we love, Richard Gauthier and Bruno Marcotte, but they have a lot of teams and we need a lot of attention. This is what we are used to, we always have a coach on the ice with us in Europe. There was the coach of Alexa (Scimeca Knierim) and Chris (Knierim) (Dalilah Sappenfield), but they’re direct competition also. What I was really looking for was someone who would be able to bring out our athleticism, because we’re not classic skaters, not the most graceful. It’s also a quality, because we don’t look like anyone else. But we need it to be a quality, not a weakness. I saw John Zimmerman skating before with Kyoko (Ina) and he was very athletic, very strong, really innovative lifts and transitions and I was like – I think he can do it. I didn’t know he had a team in the beginning, I just asked him and he said he has a team set up and he was willing and we would be the priority. He had some teams, but they are younger teams and he has no direct senior level competitors. So it was like jackpot.

James Cipres Gettyimages 632788912 MasterQ: When you had a tough time at the beginning of the season, did you want to stop?
M: We told ourselves, either we change the (coaching) team and start from scratch or we stop. If we find the team that suit us, yes, if we don’t find one, that’s it. We would have stopped.

V: It’s too much sacrifice, too much work and too much emotion for not to work. Either we’re going to pass this cap or it’s not worth it. But thanks goodness we stayed.

Q: Your coaches turned out to be the perfect choice, also with your programs. Who had the idea for those?
M: The free was a suggestion of the coaching team. We were not too convinced in the beginning, but we said, we trust our team and we have a fresh start and once we started working on the ice it went really well. For the short we first had “The Mask of Zorro”, we did a small competition in Miami, but we realized that this is not the right program for us, this wasn’t what we wanted. So we changed right before Skate America. Step by step we created this short program and I think it was also good, it suited us and people liked it. It will be tough to find something better for next year, but we will try.

Q: So you are going to change both programs? Many people were wondering if you want to keep the free especially since it was so perfect for you.
M: True, we could have kept it, but the judges maybe want to see a new program and in the Olympic season it is probably better to do something new.

V: People like it, yes, they want to see it now, but when you only see that for next season completely I think it’s going to be boring. I think we have to try to find something innovative. If we are not excited about it, the public won’t be excited about it. If we are bored to do it that’s what they’re going to feel. If worst comes to worst we always can go back to it if it doesn’t work.

Q: What can you tell us about your new programs?
V: Our new programs suit us. We didn't try to copy or keep the same style as last year, though a lot of people asked us to keep our programs. Both styles of each program are very different with more transitions than last year. We both are completely in love with the themes, songs and choreography.

Q: There is a new and young group of choreographers and coaches that did a great job, also with the programs of Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot.
M: Our sport has changed, now a lot of things are happening. There are a lot of quads for the guys, there are new transitions, new lifts. Things are changing, developing, so we also have to evolve with the people we are working with.

Q: Meagan Duhamel said in an interview that taking risks is not rewarded in the judging system. How do you feel about that? You are also doing a quad throw Salchow.
M: I don’t know. We do the quad, because it is a strength for us. Taking risks sometimes doesn’t pay off, because there might be an error or a fall.

V: And it fatigues you. You shouldn’t think that because we’re doing a quad we have more energy. If there is a fall, it costs energy. You have to get up and to continue, take up speed again. It can affect the rest of the program. It’s not just landing it, it’s also, if there is a mistake, the rest of it can be affected, too, even if it’s just triples after. So I understand what Meagan is saying, but I still think it is worth it, because that’s what the sport is about. See these men. Men were falling on one quad, two quads. Now they’re falling on five and now some of them are landing five. So you have to try it, we have to try to push our sport to be better. I think this is what we’re doing. They started the trend also. For me, the element is worth the risk, because of the points, even if you’re falling. If you take the points and you land a nice (throw) triple Salchow, the fall is almost around the same points or more than if someone did a clean triple Salchow. Yes, the rest of the program can be affected by this big risk. So that has to be taken into consideration also. But I think it is good that people that fall on the quads still have more points than a triple Salchow landed. Otherwise it wouldn’t be worth the risk.

James Cipres Gettyimages 660271154 MasterQ: Do you think about trying other quads?
V: Considering now my triple flip is pretty high, sometimes I mess it up, because it is too high and I’m too open in the air. In the gala at Worlds I did like three and a half turns, there was Fedor (Klimov) and Bruno (Massot) asked me if I want to do quad flip. I think we might try it. The quad Salchow is still very risky, it’s difficult, but I think like the men here, when you try more quads they’re going to get consistent. Right now we only have one risk, it’s the quad, sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s harder. But I think if you get used to doing four turns every day in other jumps, the quad Salchow will get easier and the flip will get maybe consistent.

M: Maybe we’ll work on quad flip this summer and we will see how it goes. Maybe it goes well, maybe it doesn’t. But as she said, that will get her used to doing four turns in other things and I think this could be interesting to see and maybe it will be even easier than the quad Salchow. However, I think it is too much risk to input two quads into the program at the Olympic Games without trying it before. I think next year it will be very close with the results, because there are five, six teams that are at a very high level and in the same group. The ones that don’t make errors will win the medals. Even with big elements and little errors it is not good. I think you need to skate very clean with maybe some risk, but you can’t be satisfied with trying something and maybe it will work out. I don’t think this is going to work next year. It will be very close and it will be interesting.

Q: How is your preparation for the season going?
V: The preparation for Olympic season is going well. We are pleased with our new programs and hope the judges and audience love them as much or more so than last year's which were big hits!
Nothing is new nor different in our training. We are trying to keep everything the same as last year which worked well for us. We just changed our location. We are lucky to be at such an amazing facility in Wesley Chapel with five rinks and everything we could possibly need.

Q: How do you feel about Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford joining you at least sometimes in training and about them working with John Zimmerman?
V: We take this as a compliment. They have also asked John Kerr to choreograph their programs. World Champions who want to train with us and our coaches after such an amazing season for us? We couldn't be more honored. I think they see we have the team and the keys to success. This gives us even more confidence that our coaching choice was the best we could have made and just the perfect timing.

Q: Which competitions other than the Grand Prix and the French Masters do you plan to attend in the fall?
V: We have a few in mind, but nothing in concrete. We don't want to be too tired for the Olympics considering we will have the team event also. We have to be very strategic about which competitions we do this year. The French Federation and our coaches will decide which will be best. They will most likely be local competitions.

Q: What are your goals for the Olympic season?
V: Our first goal is to get programs that are just as good or better than this past season. People can talk about it, they liked it a lot. It’s difficult for us, but I’m confident. We weren’t sure about the short program, but we’ve been getting really good scores even with errors. Like I said if we skate like we skated this year or better then, no matter what music we have, it should be good results. What’s the goal next year…

M: The goals are the Olympics. Maybe win, maybe touch the medal, we will see.

V: And we did get second in the short program at Europeans, that would be great, if we can get second overall at Europeans.

M: But the real goal is an Olympic medal. If we dream of something, it’s this.

Q: What are your plans after the Olympic season?
M: We won’t continue until the next Olympic Games, that’s too long for us. Maybe one year after the Games, that depends on how next year goes and if we’re still skating well and we we’re still enjoying it.

V: We’ll how next year goes, then definitely we probably do one more year. Morgan is younger than me, so he could continue.

M: Yes, but …maybe I’m younger, but to restart with a new partner it going to take too much time maybe. In France there are no girls, so someone needs to chance nationality if I choose another partner after Vanessa. It’s now not the time to think about this.

V: It’s always different, because everyone would always be comparing. Morgan and I have a different style than anyone. And if anyone else has Morgan as a partner it wouldn’t be close to our style at all. He has to look into it if it worth it or not.

M: I’m not sure. I don’t think so, actually. But you never know.

V: We have a very unique type of skating and style and just the way our bodies are together is completely different. If you now look at Morgan with me and then put him with someone else it won’t look the same as what people are expecting to look it like. For me, we are the only team that really worked.

Q: Thank you very much for the interview and all the best for the upcoming season! 

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