Interview With Alban Préaubert
For close to a decade, if you were talking men's skating in France, Alban Préaubert was a name that would keep coming up time and time again... and with good reason. A powerhouse of a skater technically and quite the showman to boot, Préaubert found success internationally in winning six medals on the ISU Senior Grand Prix circuit, a medal at the World Junior Championships and six consecutive top ten finishes at the European Championships from 2005-2011. He did this while balancing school and skating... which as we know is no easy feat. Personally, I couldn't imagine doing both. Though he's not skating regularly anymore and has started a new life in the world of business, he remains active in the sport both as a commentator and a huge fan. We talked at length about his competitive career, decision to retire from skating, his relationships with coach Annick Dumont and former competitor Brian Joubert in this in depth interview I think you'll really quite enjoy:
Q: Your career was full of such wonderful accomplishments - a medal at the World Junior Championships during the 2002/2003 season, six medals on the ISU Senior Grand Prix circuit, five medals at the French National Championships, top ten finishes at the European Championships and two trips to the World Championships. Reflecting on your competitive career, what are your proudest moments and most special memories?
A: Of course, all those events that you are mentioning are wonderful memories for me but I definitely have three favourite moments among those various accomplishments. The first one was my medal at Junior Worlds. Actually, when I was competing in Ostrava I was not sure I could continue to compete the next season as I was supposed to start demanding studies and wasn't sure if I would be able to combine studies and sports in the future. I was just thinking about enjoying every single moment of this competition. I was not even an outsider for this competition so I didn't feel any pressure on my shoulders. It was my first season at the international level and I was not able to enter the top five in my Junior Grand Prix at the beginning of the season so being able to skate my best and to medal here was a wonderful surprise. The second one was my silver medal at the 2006 Trophée Eric Bompard. Before that event, a Frenchman had never won the Trophée Eric Bompard. It was an historical moment as Brian Joubert won the competition and I was second. It was awesome to share this podium with my friend Brian. Moreover, this second place qualified me for the Grand Prix Final so it was the icing on the cake for me. The third one was the 2009 Winter Universiade. I was the flag bearer of the French delegation and was very proud of that. I always considered it essential to pursue my studies during my skating career so being able to medal at this event rewarding the sportsmen who are able to pursue a double path was also very important to me.
A: You are right. I never went to the Olympics. I was the first substitute in 2006 and again in 2010. I was very close to qualify but I didn't make it. Actually, Yannick Ponsero and I both missed the opportunity with to qualify for Olympics during the French Nationals. Brian won the competition and Florent Amodio, who was the newcomer won the silver medal so the French federation decided to send them both at Olympics but to preserve Florent during Europeans. That's why Yannick and I both competed in Tallin, already knowing that we had no chance to qualify at Olympics. Of course, it would have been a great honor to represent my country at this prestigious event. However, it was not such a big disappointment for me. I have to admit that I never idolized the Olympics too much. For some athletes, Olympics is the only goal of their career. For me, it was only one goal among others. Of course, this event has a strong symbolic value but I consider that a World title is as much prestigious as an Olympic title, because the competitors are exactly the same ones. I know I did my best, I trained myself seriously the whole season and didn't do many mistakes at French Nationals, so definitively no regrets about this.
Q: Was continuing through to the 2014 Olympics something that you considered and what were your thoughts on the men's competition at the Sochi Olympics?
A: Actually, after 2010 I was willing to continue four more years because skating was still my passion and I didn't feel any lassitude at the time about training and competitions but in 2011, the doctors diagnosed a strong arthritis in my right knee. I was suffering more and more during each training session. Also, as with many French skaters, my relations with the French federation were quite complicated and it was not pleasant to skate without feeling respect and support from the French Federation. Above all, in 2011 I graduated from my business school and I received a great professional opportunity. It would have been irrational to decline it so that’s why I decided not to continue until 2014. Of course, I am still following very closely my former colleagues and competitors and analyzing what they are doing during competitions. Sochi Olympics were a powerful event. The level of skating of all those guys is amazing. Even if some of them made a little more mistakes than usual, they all have wonderful capabilities. It made me think that it was more reasonable for me to quit in 2011!
Q: You were coached throughout your career by Annick Dumont, who has coached many French champions including Laetitia Hubert, Stanick Jeannette, Marie-Pierre Leray, Florent Amodio and Gabriel Monnier. What makes Annick such a successful coach and what made your student/teacher relationship work so well?
A: Annick knows better than anyone how to motivate the athletes who are composing her team. She is smart and can adapt herself to the behavior and personality of each different skater. She is demanding during practices but at the same time she manages to maintain an entertaining environment on the ice, which helps us to stay enthusiastic and motivated. She also has the intelligence to allow and even to encourage her skaters to use other expertise than her own knowledge. The collaboration that she helped me to establish with Muriel Boucher Zazoui and Romain Haguenauer, Pasquale Camerlengo and Nikolai Morozov for example strengthened our relationship as it is also important to discover new visions sometimes during a career. She also has a fantastic team with her, with Pierre Trente, Alain Fusco and all the other members of the staff in Champigny sur Marne. Actually, I was very lucky during my career to collaborate with great people. Elena Issatchenko, my first coach (who was from Belarus) was also a wonderful woman and I never want to miss an opportunity to pay tribute to her. It was difficult to lose her too early in 2006. Before joining Annick's team, I also learned many things (as a skater and as a person) by training under Philippe Pelissier, who is the best technician in France and maybe even in the world.
Q: You competed against Brian Joubert for years. What are your thoughts on his career and how hes managed to maintain such a high level of skating for so long, perhaps delivering some of his best performances in the last couple of seasons?
A: I have so much respect for Brian. It was an honor for me to compete with him during this last decade and to train with him during summer camps. He is the greatest champion ever in figure skating in France and it will be a great loss for the French federation not to have him anymore in the French team. He is a hard worker with an exemplary work ethic. He was a strong leader and an example to follow and that is probably thanks to him that we had such strong male skaters in France in the recent past with Florent Amodio, Yannick Ponsero and now Chafik Besseghier and Romain Ponsart.
Q: You are now involved in the business world. Do you still have ties to skating and do you think you'd ever get out there and perform again?
A: I am now working mainly as a portfolio manager and an equity analyst so of course, my main job is not in direct links with the figure skating world. Of course, I am still very passionate about skating and it would have been completely impossible for me to definitely leave this world. I knew when I quit in 2011 that I would stay involved in some manner... it's my passion. I was very lucky that Eurosport asked me to commentate the figure skating events. Since 2011 Skate Canada, I am the consultant for the channel and I love doing that. I stay very updated about what is going on in the figure skating world and this mission also helps me to keep some links with people that I used to frequently talk to when I was a competitor. I also skated some shows after 2011 but actually not so much. The last one was in Switzerland for Christmas but it is getting more and more difficult for me to find time for some training sessions with my busy schedule so performing on the ice will probably be over very soon for me!
Q: Skating isn't your only sport. You have a red belt in judo, play tennis and play basketball as well. If you didn't taken up figure skating, which other sport do you think you could have really made a mark in?
A: Actually, I was quite talented in golf when I was a young kid but had to choose between golf and figure skating as the training sessions were scheduled at the same time. I started to play golf again last year. It is a lot of fun for me but I am not so talented anymore! To be honest... when I quit in 2011, I was becoming dangerously static. When I was leaving my office, I was only thinking about going back home to read, watch TV and eat. I was considering that I did too much fitness before that and that my body was deserving some rest. After a few months, I realized that my clothes were becoming too short so I started to do some exercises again and actually I feel that I am a sportsman again now. It is difficult for me to go to the rink because it is far from my apartment and from my office but I am running, playing football, squash, swimming... I love being active!
Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?
A: Ilia Kulik was a wonderful champion. In Nagano, I was very happy that he won this Olympic title. Unfortunately, we didn't see him long enough on the amateur circuit. I had the opportunity to have a few jump sessions with him as a coach in the United States and it was very useful, so I understand why he was so consistent! I am a big fan of Daisuke Takahashi. He was the more complete skater to me. I was there when Nikolai Morozov choreographed him his "Black Swan" hip-hop program and it was amazing to see. Finally, I would say that I admire my senior French skaters such as Philippe Candeloro, Stannick Jeannette and Laurent Tobel, who tried to modernize our sport and who were really charismatic on the ice. To list such a few skaters in my top list is difficult. I have admiration for so many of them!
Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?
A: Difficult question! Actually, I always try to be quite honest and not to keep secrets so I don’t know. Maybe that I was very close to being born Canadian? My parents were supposed to move to Canada but finally cancelled their relocation just before my birth. I don't know what to think about that. I love France. I love living in Paris but at the same time, Canada is (along with Russia) my favourite country. I am sure I would also have been proud to be Canadian. But for sure, my competitors at Nationals would have been very strong as well if I was Canadian.
Q: What do you love more than anything about figure skating?
A: It is the only discipline that can combine art and sport in such an accurate mix. When I started skating, I was only thinking about the technical and athletic performance, considering that is foremost a sport. Step by step, I realized how much the artistic side of this sport is also important, and that it is the added value of figure skating compared to any other sport. It is a wonderful discipline, that is for sure. However, the world is moving fast and figure skating will have to adapt if it want to capture a new audience. It is a long debate!
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