Figure Skating

Exclusive! Papadakis and Cizeron’s creative approach: It ‘comes from our hearts’

PyeongChang silver medallists and four-time world champions in ice dance, the French duo aims to push their discipline forward with a contemporary style. 

By Nick McCarvel ·

PyeongChang 2018 silver medallists Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron know that they present a new and different look on the ice.

And that’s just the way the French ice dancing duo likes it.

“We're really committed to trying to do things that are coming from our hearts,” Cizeron told Olympic Channel in an exclusive interview. “We're not interested in doing things that were done before because there's so many programs that have been done perfectly and there's no point really in doing them again. That’s really what motivates us.”

With the figure skating season cut short this last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the four-time world champions did not get to compete in their adopted training city of Montreal for the World Championships – nor did they get to exact revenge of sorts, having been beaten at the European Championships for the first time since placing second at the Olympics to Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron: Straight from the heart

The French ice skating pair Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron excel...

“It was, of course, disappointing, especially because we didn't get to do worlds (because) we had worked a lot after Europeans,” said Papadakis of their 0.14-point loss to Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov. “It was kind of disappointing to end the season with this performance and this result.”

She added: "But, I mean, it's kind of past us now. We realised what had happened.”

What happened since, of course, is the pandemic, and the choice of the French athletes to stay in Montreal versus going home to France, which they said has been tough not seeing their respective families for months on end.

We're really committed to trying to do things that are coming from our hearts. --Guillaume Cizeron

It hasn’t, however, quelled their creative drive, as they’ve continued to work with coach and choreographer Marie-France Dubreuil on potential rhythm and free dances for next season.

Their 80s-themed rhythm dance from the 2019-20 season made waves, as did their moving, spoken-word free dance, two programmes that had ice dance fans around the world tilting their heads to the side with curiosity and wondering, ‘Is there anything these two can’t do?’

In a wide-ranging interview, the two discuss quarantine habits, their learnings from the season gone, that silver from Euros, Guillaume’s public coming out, how they handle pressure and expectations, hopes for Beijing 2022 and much, much more. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Olympic Channel: Gabby and Guillaume thank you for chatting with us. First off, tell us a bit about your experience with quarantine and COVID-19. What have some of the positives been… and the challenges?
Guillaume Cizeron: It’s been a tough time. We're trying to focus on the positive aspects of it. Obviously, I think taking some time to rest our bodies has been very rewarding. I think a lot of small injuries that you can drag along through the years (are) in a much better state now. (It’s been) a time where we got to really slow down and take time for us to heal. It’s been hard being away from family, too, because we chose to stay in Montreal.

It’s definitely challenging, but we're trying to stay as creative as we can.

Gabriella Papadakis: We were also somehow not very stressed about all of this because we usually start our programmes in mid-July. I know some couples in America or Asia that could train and were doing (choreography) on Zoom with their coaches. That's another story. But because we couldn't skate, then we (couldn’t) do that. (But) we didn't feel like we were particularly late on our preparation.

OC: Are there good habits you picked up in this time? Or bad?
Cizeron:
I feel like spending time at home and taking time to settle down and slow down. It’s kind of a nice habit to just take the time to do things.

Papadakis: At first I said, ‘Okay, now you're just gonna do whatever you feel like at any given moment!’ And that lasted for like… two days? (Laughs.) It turned out that I went on walks alone, like a lot. I walked alone in Montreal. I started writing a little bit… (and) I just did whatever I felt like doing it.

Papadakis and Cizeron (FRA) - Silver Medal | Free Ice Dance

The free ice dance competition took place at the Gangneung Ice Arena on Tue...

'Fame' choice opened new doors

OC: Let’s go back to last season. You had two very different programs that created quite the buzz, while also winning all three of your Grand Prix appearances, including your second Final. We’ll get to Euros in a minute, but let’s reflect on the season as a whole.
Cizeron:
I think last year for us was really about exploring. We did a program [the rhythm dance] that we never thought we would do in our career, and it's been really fun. It was a little bit stressful in the beginning. It was a challenge because we had never done something like that before. But I mean, that's what we're about. We like to challenge ourselves to do new things.

We were really, really happy to get the most entertaining program award this year. [Via the first-ever ISU Awards, announced last month.] We're really proud of (that award) because we were so insecure at the beginning about this program. But it really grew on us. And I think it made us a show on every part of our personalities on the ice.

I think the free dance was really one of our favourites, too. I think we got a little bit frustrated not to be able to perform it at its best at worlds.

Papadakis: It’s true that I also loved both programs that we had… we had so much fun paragraphing them. And I think that's kind of the most important (thing). That's why we were very excited to go back to training because we just like this process of creating and working. We learned a lot about ourselves as skaters and performers through both of these programs.

Reflecting on Euros silver

OC: Sometimes in the media we obsess over placements and achievements. How do you frame your silver medal at Euros? It was the first time you had been beaten in a competition in nearly two years.
Papadakis: It was, of course, disappointing, especially because we didn't get to do worlds (because) we had worked a lot after Europeans. It was kind of disappointing to end the season with this performance and this result.

We understand why we didn't win this competition. And I feel like it's past us now. We’re focused on more of what's coming ahead.

OC: Was it a good thing you lost? Some athletes say that when they’re on a winning streak it can lessen pressure before, say the Olympics, if they have that streak broken so that the build-up isn’t so extreme.
Cizeron:
I think in people's minds, especially for the French audience, I think they expect us to win. And so going into a competition as favourites, as it's a pressure.

I think we try not to go into in competition with the fear of anything. It can be pretty tricky because if you're at the top, you're used to it. It's hard not to be scared of falling down, you know. So it's really not something we're trying to focus on. We try to really focus on the aspect of our own performances. And so when we enter a competition, it's never really to win.

Of course, we want to win, but we're really focused on the performances and delivering, you know, the perfect performance and giving as much as we can and trusting our training. That’s kind of our thought process. When we go into a competition, it's not really about the place.

I just thought that if my voice could help somebody out there then that it was worth it to me. --Cizeron

OC: Guillaume, congratulations on publicly coming out this spring. Why did you feel like it was the right time to share that part of yourself with the public?
Cizeron:
I just thought that if my voice could help somebody out there then that it was worth it to me. And I've had a lot of really great responses and people writing me and telling me that I've had a small impact on their lives. And that's just made me really, really happy.

The creative process on ice

OC: Gabby can you tell us anything about your programs for this season? Last year’s made such an impression…
Papadakis:
We still love those programs. If we don't have time to make something else (then) we’ll keep the same programs. But we wanted to take a shot at making new choreography, playing with new music. So, we started doing a new free dance. Now we'll see where it goes. We were going to start making a new rhythm dance, too, but we'll see where that goes, too.

We're not committed completely on changing the programs. We're more, you know, doing choreo for fun and seeing where it goes and seeing if we have time to actually work on them and present good programs. We always love doing new stuff every summer. We didn't feel like we would be really motivated to come back to the ice and do the same thing (from last season) again.

OC: You talked earlier about trying to do things no one has done before… that creativity bit. Why is that so important to you and your craft?
Cizeron:
We're really committed to trying to do things that are coming from our hearts. We're not interested in doing things that were done before because there's so many programs that have been done perfectly and there's no point really in doing them again. That’s really what motivates us.

The excitement of discovering new movements, pushing the limits of the sport… that's why we do it. And I think it's not so much about just being different to be different. We don't want people to just be like, ‘Oh, they're different.’ We want to share emotions and touch people's hearts. Because I think that is what the most beautiful (part) of this sport is. (We want to) tell a story and share it with each other, with the audience and the judges. And I think that's what makes the sport magical and that's why we keep doing it.

Thinking ahead to... Beijing 2022

OC: The ISU has introduced a proposal for the Grand Prix Series this fall, but because it’s so up in the air, let’s look past it, at January and after. How do you handle this season as a whole?
Cizeron:
Hopefully everything will be kind of be back to normal by Christmas, maybe January. We're hoping that there's no issue concerning Europeans and worlds and thinking about (Beijing 2022).

I think it changes our strategy a little bit. It changes our schedule. And I think we're still trying to figure out what the best way to look at it is and the best way to prepare for the Games. And, you know, it's a lot of adjustments and we're kind of trying to go with the flow and stay in a positive mindset.

OC: Speaking of the Winter Olympics in 2022, how are you focusing on Beijing while also not being distracted by it?
Papadakis:
That's a good question. I think it's being focused on everything we do right now, we are always setting small, personal goals.

Slowly… we have in mind what we want to do for the Games. What programs do we want to do? We know that it's going to come very fast, like the Games are going to be here quicker than we think.

(But) it's also about enjoying the present moment and taking one day at a time and doing our best every day. There’s a lot of uncertainty right now, and, as I said, we're trying to go with the flow and prepare for every scenario.

(But) it's also about enjoying the present moment and taking one day at a time and doing our best every day. --Gabriella Papadakis

Appreciating your partner

OC: Let’s close with this. You've been skating together since childhood, so, Guillaume, what makes Gabby such a great partner? And Gabby, same question to you.
Cizeron:
I think she has so many qualities. Obviously skating qualities, but also human qualities, too. I think she's an open-minded person and hardworking.

I think she's dedicated to the sport and to the arts. She's committed with me and loyal to me. And I think we're always trying to life each other up and work to make (the team) better. I've never had any other partners… (Laughs) So, I mean, she's always been the best partner for me.

Papadakis: I haven't had any other partner either, so I can't really compare.

I feel like he's the best partner I could ever have.

It feels like we sometimes we go through different ways just to go in the same direction… and then we meet in the perfect area. We can compensate each other's quality and faults in a very perfect way. He's very hardworking and then very creative on a lot of stuff.

And I think we're both very stubborn. Which sometimes can be great when we have an idea that we won't let go of. This is something that I think like I love about him.