Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres: "Mental games at practice give us confidence"

February 6, 2017
By Titanilla Bőd (Új Szó)
Photos © Joy

Save the best for last. Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres were the last to skate in pairs free skating in Ostrava, and they delivered a performance that will remain in our memories for a long time. To the uplifting tunes of "Sound of Silence" they had the skate of their lives which was worth the bronze medal. It was the first podium spot in a major competition for this French duo. After the press conference, while waiting for the doping control, they were willing to answer my questions.

You were the last to skate in the free skating, and your routine to the "Sound of Silence" was magnificent. It was really special, to witness it from the stands, but what were your feelings on the ice during this free skate?

Vanessa: I was so concentrated on each element that I didn't think about anything. But when I landed the last flip, I just started smiling. I heard and felt the audience, it was just crazy at the end. I was so tired though, because I really had to keep focus - no feelings, I was like a machine, a robot. Like in practice. I didn't have any emotions, I didn't get excited, I wasn't nervous. I think that's why I could make such a good program.

Two years ago you were third after the short program, but back then you didn't manage to keep the podium, and you described that free skate as a catastrophe. Has that experience helped you to handle the situation better this time?

Vanessa: I think everything happens for a reason. Yes, we were very disappointed in Stockholm, but if we didn't have that experience two years ago, who knows what would've happened today. I think that this being pre-Olympic season it's very important for us to have this medal and this confidence, and now I'm thanking God that it happened two years ago, because this also made us who we are today.
Morgan: It was an experience for us, to lose that medal. I think we used this experience to build the concentration for this program tonight. It was really hard, because the level of the competition was amazing tonight. I saw the score of Tarasova/Morozov on the big screen just before I should've started my program. But I still focused on myself and Vanessa. We took it step by step in the program, one element at a time. I think this is the way we should approach the competitions.

You were the last pair to skate both in the short and in the free program. Wasn't it hard to wait for so long?

Morgan: Both days we had to wait for almost the same time, but before the short program I felt it took really long. Today, before the free skate it was different, because I took off my skates and worked a little bit without them. It takes time to put my skates on again, so I didn't feel it was such a long time.
Vanessa: For me it was very long. I was a bit nervous, because we don't often skate last in competitions. And I didn't like taking off my skates, because it's very important for a skater, how they feel on the ice. I wasn't sure if I'm going to tie them again perfectly, so I rather kept them on. But this is a good experience for us for the next competition. It was hard, but the thing is that we did it. Next time it's going to be easy.
Morgan: We were ready. We did a lot of programs at practice. The elements are hard, but not that hard for us, except the quad throw Salchow, which still means a lot of pressure. Sometimes we play little games at practice: we go on the ice at 8 a.m. and we try to jump directly, even if we are cold or not ready for it.
Vanessa: These are mental games. They give us confidence.

How does a quad change your mental and physical approach to a program?

Vanessa: Today we were the only ones attempting a quad. It's something we are very proud of. It's very difficult, and not many people can do it. It's getting more consistent, but it's still a very dangerous element. But the fact that we were the only ones doing it in this competition is very satisfactory to us. It's a lot of pressure, because if I have a bad fall, it's hard to finish the program since it's only the third element. We have to be really in sync. That's why we took the throw triple flip with the arms above my head out of the program, because it's another very difficult element, and putting two of them would be too new for us this time. But we want to include the flip with the arms next year.
Morgan: For me the quad is really hard, too, because I build the quad with her. It's not dangerous for me, but I can be responsible for something. If something bad happens, I feel really bad; when she's in pain, it's hard for me too. We need to manage this every day, to be ready for competition. She can have pain at practice, but we must stay focused and keep going.
Vanessa: One bad fall can change the whole week.

Do you fall often at practice?

Morgan: Less and less, actually.
Vanessa: It's getting more consistent. I still do fall, but bad falls are very rare. It happens when we are cold or tired, so we have to be careful.

Do you practice the quad every day?

Morgan: Yes, every day. Sometimes even in the morning, or when we are cold or tired. It's good to practice it also in bad conditions, because you can create something in your mind and say: I landed this jump at 8 a.m., when it was cold, when I wasn't ready for this, when I didn't want to do it.
Vanessa: It gives us a good structure, it builds our confidence, because when you know that you can do it even if the circumstances are not the way you like them, you know that you will do it in good conditions.

What are your ambitions for the Worlds?

Vanessa: Skating even better than now! If it's possible.
Morgan: We will continue to work like we did, and we will see. We just want to be ourselves and show the audience what we can do. Here in Ostrava the real gift was the audience.

Your music choice for the free program, "Sound of Silence", is also very good. It carries the audience away from the very first moment.

Vanessa: Our coaches chose the music and we just trusted them. Maxim Rodriguez cut the music and arranged it, so it's a slow music, but it builds up even stronger at the end. He did a great job.

Vanessa, you are wearing black top and black trousers in the free skate, not a typical skating skirt. Why did you choose such an outfit?

Vanessa: We changed our short program very late in the season, and we didn't have a costume that went with it, so we took our long program costume. And in the long program we decided to skate in what we are most comfortable.

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