Captured: Stéphane Lambiel - 2020

April 26, 2020
By Reut Golinsky
Photo © Reut Golinsky

Ten years ago, during the "Art on Ice" rehearsal in Lausanne we met with Stéphane Lambiel for an interview which consisted of two parts: the "more serious" and the "less formal". For the latter, I asked him to fill out a special form I'd prepared and at the end of that talk I promised to give him the same form again in ten years time.

And so, almost ten years later, during the "Music on Ice" rehearsal last January he filled this form again (click on the image to enlarge).

Starting from the bottom clockwise:

  • the foundation upon which I'm standing
  • my tools, meaning advantages and skills I have now and can use in my life
  • my thoughts
  • my feelings

His answers maybe got a bit more detailed (and his English has definitely improved), but the core stayed the same: just like ten years ago, he relies on his close circle and appreciates them a lot, he wants to help others by sharing his knowledge, experience and passion, and he is excited to discover new places and meet new people. "Excited" was the word he emphasized in 2010's form and it is still very much present in his vocabulary.

Excited... Every time I have things to do, I'm excited! The more things I have to work on the better for me. This is one of my mottos. When I wake up in the morning, if I have nothing to do, I will make sure that I have plenty of things to do!

You have mornings when you have nothing to do? I can't imagine.

(we both laugh)

When did you have such morning last time?

I mean... on Christmas? I know that I will see my family, but I don't have a stiff schedule that I have to follow. So, I think to myself: "It's Christmas, today I'm not working, I will see my family... I can be late... Let's do something that I usually don't do!"

Going back to those two drawings... You had ten pretty amazing years between them...

Yes, it's true.

What were the significant milestones during that period for you? Name, for example, three. There are, of course, the obvious ones - the "Ice Legends", the Skating School, but you always know to find unexpected answers to my questions.

Probably my work with the Japanese Federation in their camps was a stepping stone. That was something that gave me a wish to share, to open my knowledge, not to keep it, to be generous. I understood that I have this knowledge and I also want to learn from others, so it opened my mind to learn more and give more.
I think, when Deniss asked me to coach him, it was another one, meeting him in Lillehammer was an eye-opening experience for me.
And when I bought my house in Champéry. That was a huge step and brought a big satisfaction. It's a very old house, it has so much history and it feels quite unique to be there. And for the first time in my life I live so close to the rink, I've never had that! Even when I was practising in Geneva I lived in Lausanne. I always travelled so much and finally I can go out of my house and just walk to the rink.
So those three things, yes...

When we talked back then, it was just after the Vancouver Games, you'd recovered after that fourth place already, but you were still very upset. Something I always wondered about: do you think your career, your professional life would have been better if you got that medal? Looking back now.

I don't need to look back to understand whether this or that could have happened. I definitely know that being only fourth and not getting the result I was hoping for gave me a reason to re-think about what I want and what I need. Reaching success, maybe it would have been a little bit more difficult to re-question myself. So, in that sense I totally accept what happened. And I'm thankful, especially for the people that surrounded me in that difficult moment. It's really, really tough to transition from competition to "normal life" and the environment you're in influences a lot how you will bounce back and find your path. So I'm very thankful to have met Marla (Pichler, physiotherapist), to have Majda (Scharl, physical trainer), Peter (Grütter), Salome (Brunner), to my parents... They were for me like pillars that gave me a bit of structure in my life. Even though I was very stubborn, and I always wanted to do my own thing, I still had this framework. And they were very, very important "pillars" who thought about my future. With or without the medal, and at the end of the day - and that's what I try to tell my skaters when they focus so much on points, results, medals - that at the end of the day it doesn't matter that much. I mean, yes, people present you as blah blah blah but it's who you are [what is important], not what you've achieved... It's who you are.

It's a person you grow to be in the end...


I completely agree with you. But what I meant: in professional skating life I can't think of a better career than what you had...

(smiles) Mhm.

With or without the medal, you were invited to the best, biggest shows all over the world, you opened your own school, and produced your own show. I can't think how that gold medal in Turin or any medal in Vancouver could improve it, not you as a person, but your professional life.

Yeah, just like you said, that's right.
It was not so much about medals anyway, with or without those medals I want... to go forward. And I don't even care if it is successful or not, it doesn't matter, for me this is not the point.

What is the point? To try? To participate?

The point is not to participate, not to try... It's to fully commit to whatever you decide.
I think nowadays - or maybe it's been always like that - we are very judgemental. Everybody wants to know what is right, what is wrong, what is good, what is bad, we try to categorize everything. But it doesn't matter which label you have or which category you're in, it matters that you commit at this moment. We try to think black and white - and it happens to me, also - when I coach, I question myself all the time. Why do I tell my student something is good? Maybe it's not good? Or when I say something is bad, maybe it's not bad? What "bad" means, what "good" means?

It sounds a bit too abstract in the context of teaching skating...

Yes, I know but it can be about anything. When I watch a performance, I switch off, I try to... Or when I watch something, I don't really have a knowledge of, like let's say ice dance... I don't really know the rules, I don't know how to get the levels, I just watch. And I don't think: "the edges were correct" or "the key points were correct", I don't know. But I try to feel: does it vibrate [with me] or not? I don't look at it as good or bad, was it in front or in the back, I just take it in.

Yeah, but this is exactly what we discussed once. When you create your program - or if we talk about ice dance when Tessa and Scott work on their program - the spectator doesn't see details, he is charmed and overwhelmed but he is overwhelmed because there was this work and there were so many...

...details, yeah, I know...

It's like you were explaining to me once about the "broken" elbow. I don't understand these details but because there are all those details the program vibrates in me...

I understand what you're saying... I don't know how to explain what I have in my mind... But sometimes I just feel... it's just like in that interview when I was asked about quintuples and I said: "I hope I won't see them". I don't care if I see four or five rotations. If I see four rotations but with something that stands out, I will be more impressed than a quintuple that doesn't stand out. You know, the number doesn't interest me.

Yet you care very much to continue doing quads...


And you were the one who said: "When I stop doing quads, I stop skating."

Yes, I know! But there is - and I learned that from one of the courses that I took - external motivation and internal motivation, and they need to be in balance. I think numbers - points or medals or number of revolutions, like quads - are an external motivation, all the "materialistic" stuff. And an internal motivation is more about feelings, like, for example, trying to stand out, even with something simple, even with the double Axel but something which feels satisfying. So, the balance between the satisfaction and the points gives a reason to do all this. The beauty, the success, what we aim for is to find that balance - to reach the goal that the external motivation defines, but also to reach the one required by our internal motivation. And once this is balanced you reach a point where all makes total sense to you. Maybe this is the key. (smiles) But I don't know, maybe we will need to do this talk in ten years again and you will ask me the same question...

So, if you introduced me to these concepts and if we talk about you now, what are your external and internal motivations? For example, you still have this wish to go after quads...

But this is external, this wish for quads is an external motivation. People look for quads because this is a...

...a wow factor...

Exactly, this "wow" thing. But forty years ago, Jozef Sabovcík already landed those! When I hear people saying it's exceptional to see quads, I'm surprised: it's not ten years, it's forty years ago that we were already doing quads, so...
The internal motivation is more like: "Okay, I shut down my brain and I feel my body". When I am working, my body, my mind, everything is getting to one place. And I feel that my body is my home. Whatever I would like to start now I'm in peace with myself. This is a state where you don't stay forever, I don't think that you can stay for a long time in it.

When you perform you are usually in this state...

You get to that point. But it takes time and experience, you need to know yourself, your body, your mind, you need to work on a lot of technical things. And so this comes back to internal and external motivation, it's a system that means both growing together, evolving together, it's a continuous evolution and it's never stopping nor going only up, sometimes you lose a little bit, there are fluctuations...

And what is an external motivation for you? No more numbers, points, medals now...

The success of my students. I don't know exactly what their external motivation is but mine is the success of my students even though I didn't know exactly how they define success for themselves.

And external motivation for your own skating?

For my skating? That I'm able to push further my limits, of course. I don't know how I will be able to push much more physically, but to hold on and to keep working on my body, my mind. And if I'm able to hold on to that, then I will be able to push more into choreo, into practicing. I love to feel that I'm still capable, capable of skating, of creating, of performing. This is an external motivation for me.

Since that talk we had in Bellinzona the situation with the figure skating season and all over the world has changed dramatically. And although it must be pretty tough for Stéphane to stay away from the ice for so long, not to be as busy as he loves to be, to "socialize" more online than offline, he finds passion and motivation to help skaters and skating fans to push their limits and keep training.
Thank you, Stéphane, for your gorgeous "Strength & Plyometrics" training session. And I promise to work more on my plank, it will be my new external motivation (or is it internal?).

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