Russian Olympic Ice Dance Champions played matchmaker for Delobel&Schoenfelder


by Susanne Kempf
Photos ©
Susanne Kempf

After their fabulous third place at the recent European Championships in Torino, Isabel Delobel found some time for a long chat with AbsoluteSkating, to talk amongst other things about their experiences in Torino and their season so far.

How do you rate your performance here in Torino and are you happy with it?

Well, when we came here we sort of hoped for a medal but of course we didn’t know what would happen here. But our practices went always really well. The compulsory was good and we have given the best performance of our Original Dance so far, I think.

But particularly for the OD you didn’t get the marks you deserved.... many observers agree on this.

After the OD the French media asked us: "Why aren’t you more unhappy about it?" But well, we did our job, we can’t be disappointed because we skated so well. Of course we would have been more pleased if the marks had been higher but we couldn’t really blame our skating for it, so we were still very happy.

After the Original Dance did you still think you could take a medal?

Yes, we knew we had to skate well in the free dance and then we would see. On Friday I was very excited and thought to myself "Maybe tonight I will have a medal, maybe I will cry..."! When I started the Free Dance, I ONLY thought: "Okay, don’t think about the medal now, just think about who is Frida, what does she feel..."

I saw you behind the Kiss and Cry when you saw you got the Bronze and you were crying...

Yes... (laughs) I was so happy. We had already beaten Grushina&Goncharov in the Free Dance. Many people came to us afterwards and told us "You skated so great".

So, what does this medal mean to you?

Well, we knew we "had" to get a medal here before the Olympics next year. It had to be this year or never, you know? (smiles) I still haven’t realized that we got a medal!
My father who stayed at home called me and said: "You are on tv everywhere, on the first channel, on the second channel..." People know us, they know we have been like 5th or 6th at Europeans before – and now the bronze...



What do you think about the rink and the audience?

When I had the first practice here, I immediately loved this rink. It is so "refreshing" and relieving and not as oppressing as in Salt Lake City. The rink is also very bright. I liked the audience.

But I noticed people were booing when French skaters took the ice...

Yes, that’s because of the football rivalry between French and Italian fans I think... But in the Free Dance we still got a good reaction. We started with a spin and lift and when we crossed the ice, people were already clapping. We heard it. For Olivier and me, the dance didn’t last four minutes. We started and suddenly we were already finished - time passed so quickly!

Was this the best you have ever skated?

Yes, I guess. At the Cup of China we had skated really good already. We changed some transitions afterwards so that the Free Dance would become even more flowy.

This year really seems like a breakthrough for you. Suddenly it seems to have "clicked". You have been always good but this year many people say: "I really like them!" What happened, did you do anything differently in the preparation for the season?

Not much, actually. We decided to have a personal trainer for off-ice training. We were much more confident and we realized we had to work even harder. Somehow we have a different attitude this year.

You and Olivier also had some unfortunate falls in the previous seasons, e.g. in the side-by-side step sequence. But not anymore so it seems...? How come?

I don’t know. We used to be very nervous. But since last summer I think we realized that there is much more in life than just skating, so maybe that’s why we have a more relaxed attitude now which reduces the mistakes. For me, skating is everything - but I know that after my career I have to go on with my life. So maybe it helps that we didn’t put so much pressure on ourselves anymore. We already knew we can be really good from our practices. Last year our practices weren’t always good but this year everything suddenly seems to "fit" and all our practices go really well. We just feel more confident!

What do you expect from Worlds in Moscow?

We will practice a lot and we have to work even harder because now everybody is waiting for us even more (laughs). We will also go to Berlin in February to do some polishing of our programs with Anjelica Krylova&Pasquale Camerlengo.
There will be Belbin&Agosto among others of course, who we will fight for a medal with certainly.

What do you think of the COP?

It is better because you can move up more easily now from second to first place. Earlier it was more like: When you were first after the CD or OD, you usually stayed first overall when you didn’t make any major mistakes. Now, with all the single elements which count, you can really make a difference when you skate wonderfully in the Free Dance and you are still able to overtake the first-placed couple.

But a lot of people criticize that there are many restrictions now and that the free dances more and more look alike.

Yes, but I think the system has been installed only very recently and it can still be adjusted better. I think the couple who still has the most originality, who combines technique and originality the best, will win. Maybe one could reduce the sets of twizzles to get some more choreography into the programs.

So, next Europeans will be in Lyon, an homecrowd. What do you expect?

The best! (smiles) We will fight very hard for another medal and maybe even the gold. We feel we are also able to do what the couples who are placed ahead of us can do. We are not afraid.


Now let’s talk a bit about your background because I am sure many people are interested to know... how and when did you team up with Olivier?

Well, I am from Clermont-Ferrand and Olivier is from Belfort. I started skating at six years old and Olivier at eight. I was skating with my brother and he was skating with another partner. In 1990 I did a skating course in Lyon and so did Olivier. The former Russian Olympic champions Moiseva&Minenkov were there too with a team and they said: "Oh, this blonde guy and this dark-haired girl... those two could be really good together!" So my mother asked me: "You want to skate here in Lyon?" And I said "Yes!". Olivier did the same, so we became a team... Lyon has always been very famous for coaching, so I wanted to go there very badly! For the first month we had another coach but then it became Muriel.
When I arrived I was 12 years old and lived by myself already. We had our own room but had to share the kitchen with other students. I had to cook by myself too (laughs).

Did you feel alone or did you miss your parents? You were still so young...!

Of course but not so much. I wanted to do it, it was my life. So, all started from there. We even became Olympic Junior Champions in 1995. So we got the Marseillaise! We were also silver medallist in Brisbane at the Junior Wold Championships in 1996. We were leading after the Compulsories and the Original Dance - that was the first time ever for a French couple in junior ranks! But we were only second in the free... and Roman Kostomarov won with his former partner Katerina Davydova... now it is still the same! (laughs)

Do you still remember your first competition with Olivier?

Yes, it was one month after we teamed up. It took place in Belford. We did really good, we got second place. I still remember the program and that I thought "Okay, this is my first competition with Olivier"....and now we are still skating together.. after 15 years!

You have skated so many programs with Olivier during all those years. Do you have a favourite?

The Johnny Hallyday program “Vivre pour le meilleur.” It was from the 2000/2001 season. I love the music and I always felt really good when we skated it. Somebody had played the music during a practice session and Muriel happened to put it on for ours. I immediately knew... "That’s for us! That’s our music!" (smiles)


How do you pick your music in general? Do you, Olivier and Muriel sit together and choose?

No. Whoever likes a music plays it for the others and then it gets decided. We always agree on a music....

You trained with Tatiana Tarasova for a year but came back to Muriel . Can you tell us a bit about that?

Well, she had asked to be our coach. She is a legend, so we felt very honoured, of course. We had already done some training with her in the USA. It was also because Muriel spent so much time with Anissina&Peizerat prior to the Olympics, so we decided to make a move.
The life there wasn’t very good, with no money and nothing to do in Simsbury, really. It was just skate and sleep and eat and skate...(laughs). I also missed my sister a lot. It was much different than when I had left home at 12. Now there was a whole ocean between me and my family!
And if you are not happy, you can’t produce anything good because you do skate with your heart. Even though I loved Tatiana and skating, something was missing.
By the way, Tatiana came to me after the free dance and told me: "I knew you would be able to skate so well.. now everybody knows!" (smiles)

So then you went back to France... how did Muriel react?

Good! She saw what a bad mental condition we were in and wanted to help us of course. We like each other very much! But still, the first year it was a bit difficult... we had to learn to trust each other again.

How did you decide on the "Frida" music?

Muriel suggested to us: "Let’s watch that movie!" When I listened to the music, I said: "This music is for us!" I was impressed by this woman who saw the good things in life, who still went on in her life, trusting it, despite all the tragedy that happened to her.
We took the music and put it together like a mosaic. We decided to end the Free Dance with a slow part even though that is not very popular with the audience or judges - but we wanted to do something different, more emotional.
It is a very intimate music, it comes from very deep. Probably next year will be a very different music.


What is your favourite program ever? Who do you look up to as skaters?

Grishuk&Platov. Their "The Passion of Christ" program from 1997. For me, that’s like a reference, like "Bolero". It is the best ever. When I see it, I can watch it over and over again. If I can be like them at some point, it will be the best moment ever for me. I would like to be remembered like them in the future.. that people don’t talk about Delobel&Schoenfelder.. but about THEM (laughs). This recognition by people would be even more worth than a gold medal for me...

You have skated with Olivier for 15 years now. Was there ever a point in your career where you thought it was better to part ways, to change partners, or did you always know you were right for each other on the ice?

No, we never thought of breaking up ever...

How is your relationship with each other? Do you sometimes argue? Do you generally get along well? Are you very different personality-wise (like Marina and Gwendal for example?)

Well, Olivier is very stoic and isn’t shocked easily whereas I am more out-going and excited. So I think we complete each other very well. We trust in each other very much too, there is a lot of respect and confidence between us. We are friends but we don’t go to movies together or something like that.

What are your future plans? How long do you plan to keep on skating?

We will certainly go on after Torino 2006 and then we will see, if we are injury-free probably until the Olympic Games 2010.


Thanks for the interview and good luck for Worlds!

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