France’s GP Papadakis (22) and GC Cizeron (23) won their fourth consecutive European title in January, they are also the 2015 and 2016 World Champions as well as the reigning World silver medalists and Grand Prix Final Champions. They are heading as top contenders into their first Olympic Winter Games.
GP = Gabriella Papadakis, GC = Guillaume Cizeron, Q = interviewer Tatjana Flade for ISU
Q: You have won many titles already and you are top contenders for the upcoming Olympic Winter Games, yet you are still very young at 22 and 23 years of age. What is the secret of your success?
GP: I don’t think that there is a particular secret to it. I think it is a mixture of everything, things like that we get along very well and that we have been skating together since we were young and that we started skating in the same place, so we really learned the same way how to skate. Now we are in Canada with a super team and I think this work and the motivation we get there lead to our success.
GC: I agree. It is a mixture of many things. I think we have one of the best teams in the world, including our coaches, our mental trainer, our artistic coach, we are surrounded by very good people and also our federation has supported us since we were young. We never had difficulties to pay for training or for certain projects for the future. The fact that we got a lot of support from so many people and that people believed in us has taken us far.
Q: You have set new highest scores this season and are the first to break the 200 points barrier. What do these records mean to you?
GP: We don’t think about records. We want to better ourselves, to improve and improve as much as we can before the Olympic Games. This is our goal. If we can beat records each time on the way, people talk about them as world records, but for us it just means that we have improved and that is what is important for us.
GC: A record in ice dance seems a bit subjective to me, because you cannot really compare because of the changes in the points system. It is more a personal record and a sign that we are on the right track. It is a bit difficult, because we always want to progress and it gets harder to chase after the little points that are left to take. As a result, the work becomes more and more detailed.
Q: How much do you feel the pressure of the winners? If you are winning a lot, people expect you to win each time.
GP: For sure it is a different pressure if you want to meet expectations of others than if you want to prove something. However, for us, this pressure was a preparation for the Olympic Games. This season we are very focused on the Olympic Games, so this kind of pressure helped us to prepare, to try to improve and to practice our programs in competition. Europeans is a nice competition that we had to win. So for sure on the one hand there is a certain pressure, because you don’t want to mess up especially since everyone is watching (laughs). If you make errors, everyone is seeing them as well. On the other hand, it is nice, because it means we have a lot of support and many people wish us success.
GC: Winning is not uncomfortable (smiles). The challenges change with the time and the experience. Now, unlike four years ago, it is not a surprise anymore, there are other difficulties, it is a different kind of pressure, it is a different kind of challenge and it does not get easier. I can’t say that it is harder, but it is not easy.
GP: The more you win, the more you are afraid to lose, yes. However, each season we are trying to set the bar higher, to make the programs more and more difficult. The expectations are growing with us so it gets harder to reach the level that we want to reach. It is always the same kind of stress to realize what you want and to raise the bar each time.
Q: Four years ago, the Olympic Games took place in Sochi. You did not compete there, what did you do during this time, were you watching and what did you think?
GC: I don’t remember. I know I watched the ice dance, but I don’t remember so much. I remember Nathalie (Pechalat) and Fabian (Bourzat) who competed for the podium and unfortunately didn’t make it.
GP: I remember most of all that I was disappointed for Nathalie and Fabian.
GC: I don’t think we really expected to go there, so we never were disappointed that we didn’t get to go. It could have happened, but we were not in a rush and didn’t expect to go anyway. We did not see ourselves four years later for the next Games to be in that leading position that we are in now. For sure we did not think that we would be competing for first place.
Q: I think nobody did.
GC: No. It was the year after that we started our breakthrough.
Q: At Worlds in 2014 you were in 13th place.
GP: And we were happy with that (laughs).
Q: These will be your first Olympic Games. What do you expect it to be like?
GP: There are a lot of practical questions to begin with. It might sound silly, but we don’t know, where you eat, what you can take with you, what you are allowed to wear. We’ve asked many questions, but I think it won’t be completely clear until we get there. What we expect is, that on the one hand the pressure will grow, because these are the Olympic Games, but on the other hand, as it is just one competition among many others, it gets a bit lost and you feel less pressure, because even the ice rink is smaller than at the World Championship etc. We’ll see how it goes. We won’t stay in the Olympic village all the time, we’ll leave for a week to train elsewhere in Korea.
Q: When do you go to Korea?
GP: We’ll go at the beginning to do the Opening Ceremony and then after the team event we’ll leave for a week to train in another place and then we’ll come back for our competition.
Q: The level in ice dance has risen so much that success and failure can depend on small details. For example, a small error on the twizzles in the short dance already can make the difference. How do you deal with that pressure of always having to be perfect?
GC: Well, we get a lot of help from our mental trainer. Then we get confidence from our training, because the more often you execute elements perfectly in practice the higher is the chance that you don’t miss them in competition. It helps if we can trust our training a 100 percent, but then anything can happen in competition. You don’t always know why it happens, but good training limits the chance for errors. And it is not only errors, it could be steps that are not executed perfectly at a 100 percent. It is really a lot of attention to details and a lot of concentration on the elements that are important. You cannot lose concentration until the end of the program. You work on that in practice, but there is always pressure and is it is the same pressure for everyone. If an error happens you need to be able to continue at a 100 percent and not let yourself be thrown off. That is also important.
GP: I think the same. In training, you get into the physical condition to be able to perform your program without fatigue and to remain concentrated and control the moves - that is important. You just need to work on that.
Q: Would you say that ice dance is psychologically the hardest discipline?
GP: We’ve never tried the other ones, so I don’t know (laughs).
GC: Honestly, I don’t think so. I think that it is really a different kind of pressure and we are not focusing on the same things – the single skaters for example have to think about strategy, if there is a combination missing in the program. The pairs, as well, seems to be complicated, it is very demanding physically. I think it is another kind of stress. In pairs there is hardly anyone maybe with the exception of the Chinese that is always perfect and always on top. Everyone misses a jump at one point, while for us (ice dancers), at least the top five in the world are more or less perfect every time and it really depends on small details. It is rare that in a pairs competition the top five skate perfectly.
Q: You have been training now with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir for two seasons. What have you learned from them?
GP: It was interesting when they came. We didn’t really know about it before, so it was a surprise. But we’ve seen them before so we knew them a little bit. They are a couple with a lot of experience and their way to work shows that they have been at a high level for a long time. Now we know them quite well. It is a rivalry that like the one they had with Davis/White and they are used to that. We all respect each other during the training and everyone has their way to train. I think we push each other by seeing each other.
Q: Are you on the ice at the same time?
GC: Not always. We are often on the ice at different times.
Q: Did you like it that Tessa and Scott joined your practice group or where you concerned that you have to share the attention of the coaches with them?
GC: No, there was never a problem in practice. I think it is difficult, but at the same time it was very useful for us, because it motivated us to push further. The fact that they are in Montreal pushes us in training and in competition and gives us extra energy. We had to learn to deal with this rivalry, but once we did, I think it helped us to improve and gave us a certain power that we didn’t have before. I think we wouldn’t have been able to improve as much as we did this year if we didn’t have that pressure from their side.
Q: You said earlier that one of the secrets of your success is the relationship within your couple. How can you describe that relationship?
GP: I think we have built a special dynamic, because we’ve been skating together for so long. It is natural for us to skate together. There are lot of things we don’t have to discuss, because we know
already how the other one works. We save time with that (laughs). The two of us have the same goal and we know that misunderstandings and disagreements don’t get us anywhere.
Q: So you never argue?
GC: Sometimes there are tensions like in any other couple, but with experience we’ve learned to overcome these disagreements. I think we’re always able to remind ourselves of what is important in our relationship and in what we are doing as a couple. It is a partnership first of all and it is difficult to compare to other things.
Q: So it is not like brother and sister or even twins?
GC: We both have brother and sisters and it is not at all like the relationship with them. It is not like brother and sister and not like lovers either or like best friends.
Q: Off the ice, are you very different from each other?
GP: We are different, because we are different personalities.
GC: I believe we are different, but we have things in common. We are not radically different.
Q: Do you spend time together off the ice as well or you prefer not to see each other?
GP: We don’t have much time outside the ice (laughs).
GC: We take the plane together, we take the cab together … We get on the bus together.
GP: We do different things off the ice, but we spend so much time together that this is rare.
Q: When you are on vacation, do you write to each other?
GC: Only when it is necessary.
GP: In general, no.
GC: I write ‘I miss you’ (laughs). Let’s go skate!
Q: Thank you very much for the interview.