Ponsero hopes for break-through season

France's Yannick Ponsero performs an exhibition routine at the 2009 European Figure Skating Championships.

Yannick Ponsero is one of those talented skaters who have it all, but just needs to put it together to achieve the final break through. Excellent skating skills, beautiful jumps (including arguably the best quadruple toeloop of the current men), originality, and expression on the ice characterize the Frenchman.

Ponsero medalled twice at Junior Worlds (silver in 2005 and bronze in 2006), collected two silver medals at French Nationals (senior level), and took the title in 2009 (in the absence of Brian Joubert). Thus far, however, he has finished off the podium at both the European and World Figure Skating Championships.

So far, inconsistency has not only plagued the skater, but has hindered  him from realizing his potential on the world stage (his highest placement was 14th in 2007).

“I’ve made huge progress,” Ponsero said, referring to the past season. “I won a medal at the Grand Prix which I never managed before,” he said, regarding the bronze medal win  at NHK Trophy last December. At Skate Canada, he missed out by less than a point on a second medal after placing fourth. “I am the French Champion and I won the free skating at Europeans,” he added.

At Europeans 2009, it was the short program that cost him the podium spot. Ponsero was ranked ninth after several errors, but then rallied back with an excellent free. “The short program at Europeans went wrong, but it was the first time that it happened in the season,” he explained. “Overall it’s not such a big problem. Obviously I still have to solve it, but I’m getting closer step by step. It means hard work every day in order to achieve consistency and security in practice and in order to stay calm. We will continue with this principle – to attack in practice and there will be further progress.”

During the summer, the Frenchman took part in a training camp in San Diego, Calif. with former French Champion Eric Millot. He also trained in Chambéry, France before returning to his training base in Annecy. Surrounded by mountains, Annecy is located in southeastern France and is Ponsero’s birthplace and where he began to skate because his elder sister skated. “I put on skates early. I was two and a half or three years old, and I never took the skates off,” the 22-year-old smiled. He has been coached by Didier Lucine since he was little. Sophie Golaz and Lucine’s wife Claudine are also part of his coaching team.

According to Ponsero, the preparation for the season over the summer went very well. “I’ve worked a lot on jump techniques to make them more consistent and also on my physical condition,” he revealed. He decided to keep the long program to a selection of jazzy music by Louis Armstrong and Brian Setzer “because both me and the judges liked it”. However, he prepared a new short program to music by Rodrigo y Gabriela, a Mexican duo of guitarists. “It is not very well known, at least not in skating, and I love it,” he added.

This week, Ponsero debuted the short program Friday at the French Masters -a
national competition- to kick off the season. He placed fourth in the short
after popping his opening quad toeloop that was planned in combination. In the long, he made an error on his opening quadruple toe and then fell on a triple Axel. He finished fourth overall.

For the free program, Ponsero had changed his rather athletic style to a softer style. “As I decided to change myself, I also wanted the judges to see that I had changed,” the French Champion explained. “I really wanted to do something new for my skating and even for skating in general.” He showed this especially with his very original short program —entitled Ice 5— last season. The music was composed for him and the skater wore jeans in competition.

Asked where he sees his strengths, Ponsero answered without hesitation: “I think it’s skating skills. I’m stroking easily and I’m fast. Then, my quad. I have good spins. I think it’s the whole package. I’m also doing the quad Salchow in practice and would like to show it in competition. So you can say that I’m quite complete (as a skater), but consistency is the difficulty in spite of everything that I master.”

Ponsero realizes that his lack of consistency is his biggest weakness. “I’m working on it, day by day. It was really better at the beginning of last season. I just need to develop more confidence,” he sighed. “On the other hand, it’s also my strength. I’m a little bit like an artist. The day I have an inspiration, nothing can stop me.” Indeed, the day he puts it all together, he will achieve a lot.

Ponsero names four-time World Champion Kurt Browning of Canada as his idol in skating. “I think he gave a lot to figure skating and he is still one of the best skaters in the world,” the Frenchman noted. “Another one I liked was (Alexei) Yagudin, who was a great performer. He was impressive to watch, but I still prefer Kurt Browning. For me, he remains the best current skater until today.” Ponsero met his idol at Skate Canada last year and appreciated his friendliness.

There are no athletes in other sports Ponsero looks up to, but he follows sport in France in general and skiing especially. “I started early with figure skating, but I even earlier I stood on skis!” he laughed. “We are an athletic family. I love skiing. Didier (Lucine) knows that I’m doing it from time to time, and it is not a problem. He also knows that skiing helps me to clear my head and to skate better.”

Not only skiing, but also education helps the athlete to sometimes focus on other things than skating. Ponsero finished his education in osteopathy and has begun taking  additional classes to become a physiotherapist. “Osteopathy and physiotherapy are not exactly the same. Osteopaths are more like chiropractors,” he explained. “I now want to get a second education to have more possibilities later on. I don’t quite want to start working yet, so I’m skating and studying.”

Ponsero studied osteopathy for four years and would need to study physiotherapy for another three years. However, the school is not located in Annecy, which makes it more difficult. “I will do some classes up to the Olympic Games then I will see if I continue to skate or if I will focus more on my studies or if I move to Grenoble for training. I don’t know yet. At some point in the future I definitely will have to choose between studying and skating.”

In any case, school plays an important role for the Frenchman. “I’ve always said that skating is a major part in my life, but I don’t want to become a coach,” he pointed out. “This would be too easy for me, maybe. I love figure skating, but if I can prevent my children from getting into skating, I won’t hesitate to do it. Skating is not too hard, but there is a lot of politics that tarnishes the image of skating —that tarnishes yourself and your skating, too. If my children ask me to let them skate, I’ll let them skate, of course, but I won’t push them into the sport if they don’t ask me.”

Ponsero is a quiet, thoughtful young man. “I’m rarely get upset except on the ice,” he laughed. “I don’t like to do things without thinking them through first and to be sure that it is right for me. I take my time.” Asked about where he sees himself in five years, he considered the question for a little while. “I believe I will at least have finished my education,” he answered. “Maybe I’ll have a child. I’m together with my girlfriend for four years now. I think that I’ll work as a physiotherapist, maybe in skating but also for other sports. So I will stay involved in the sport, but on the other side of the boards, on the medical side.”

Ponsero follows the development of figure skating attentively. “For sure it is less easy than it used to be. If you just look back a few years to the era of Yagudin and (Evgeni) Plushenko, you will remember that the top 15 skaters did quads and skated clean. Now even the World Champion doesn’t skate clean. This reflects the higher level of figure skating,” he pointed out, “but I don’t think this is bad, because the programs are much more interesting than before.”

“The only negative aspect of this (judging) system is that it doesn’t motivate the younger ones —most of all the ones that are coming up now to risk difficult elements,” he continued. “I’m sure there won’t be quads in a few years and there will be people who won’t even do a triple Axel. There is always a time of transition when you start doing them (these difficult elements) and you won’t necessarily land them in competition. The Juniors won’t try the quads and when they lack the experience after moving up to the senior level, they won’t do the quad there either.”

“Other than that, it is obvious that this system is demanding a lot from us physically,” Ponsero added regarding the CoP (Code of Points). “You have to work harder than before. Now you have to rest during the jumps and not during the spins,” he laughed. However, Ponsero  doesn’t feel that the judging system is responsible for more injuries. “I think there are maybe some people who get injured more often because they didn’t adapt their training to the new demands of figure skating,” the future physiotherapist pointed out. “Maybe injuries are a problem in ice dancing, where they need to do the Biellmann position. Overall, I don’t think that there are more injuries, but the demands for the skaters are higher. You have to do more.”

Ponsero has, for his part, done a lot over the summer and feels ready to start this important year. He is currently scheduled to compete at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany at the end of this month, and was also assigned  two Grand Prix events —the Trophée Bompard in Paris (which he will attend for the first time) and the Cup of China in Beijing.

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