Brian Joubert of France has been a fan favorite ever since he burst onto the international scene at the ISU European Figure Skating Championships in 2002.
Ten years have passed since his impressive bronze medal winning debut at these European Championships, and the past two seasons have become tough for the veteran skater.
Plagued by inconsistency and injuries, the 27-year-old finished more off than on the podium. This season, he missed the Grand Prix due to a back injury, and his streak of ten consecutive medals at Europeans came to an end in Sheffield when he placed a disappointing eighth.
However, just as more and more people were writing him off, the three-time European Champion rebounded from disappointment and finished a strong fourth at the 2012 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Nice, France this past week.
Joubert finally seemed himself again: powerful, energetic, and crowd pleasing, especially during his renown Matrix long program. Overcome with joy at the end of his free skating performance, the Frenchman knelt down and kissed the ice.
“For me, emotionally this was one of the best World Championships I ever had,” Joubert said. “This is surprising as usually I don’t like to compete in France, but in Nice, I felt the crowd’s support. This was really important to me. I needed to find my positive feelings again. From the bottom of my heart I wanted to skate well at Worlds in France.”
The 2007 World Champion trailed bronze medalist Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan by 6.48 points, however, the audience felt that he deserved to be on the podium. Joubert wasn’t disappointed, though.
“The most important thing to me was to skate well, in the short and in the long, and to find myself again,” he said. “I could have been first, third, or 11th—it would have been secondary. The score wasn’t important either. Obviously, a bronze medal would have been nice for France and for the audience, but this really wasn’t my goal at this competition.”
The turnaround came unexpected. Joubert’s 2011-12 season started with a back injury that kept him out of the Grand Prix. Before he was fully recovered, he competed in and won the French Nationals, but Europeans didn’t go well for him.
“Europeans in Sheffield were tough, but in the end they were very good for me,” the three-time European Champion noted. “I was sure that I was well–prepared and that I’d have a good competition, but it was a disaster.”
At that time, Joubert realized that he and his coach, Véronique Guyon, were not on the right track.
“I had a discussion with my coach and I questioned her training method,” he recounted. “Then we changed everything. It (timing) was too short to skate a perfect Worlds with two quads in the short and in the long for example, but it was enough to find a good basis.”
“Within a few weeks, I got the feeling back that I had when I was a World Champion and won medals at Worlds,” he added.
The changes he made were simple enough.
“I understood that I didn’t work enough with Véronique,” Joubert revealed. “We worked a lot, but not in the way I like. I like to train the programs in pieces over and over to know in order to really know them by heart. This is what we did in the past few weeks.”
“I’m always doing a complete run-through of the short, but not of the free,” he continued. “Later, you have to combine both – skating a lot of pieces and skating the programs as a whole. Doing run-throughs all the time is something that I don’t like and don’t feel comfortable with.”
This is the traditional philosophy of the Russian school, which always emphasizes training the programs piece by piece rather than doing run-throughs in each practice.
“I think that skating in parts helps me to get to know my program inside out. At Worlds, I skated my program in pieces and this is a lot less tiring. I did the first three jumps and I told myself that the first part is done. I did the second part and so on, and as a result, it became much easier for me.”
Joubert received a lot of criticism, and even mockery, for reusing The Matrix, but there was a reason.
“I knew that this wasn’t a program to win or to achieve great results,” the 2007 World Champion offered, “but it is a program I feel comfortable with and I needed it in order to take off next season.”
He fully intends to change both programs next season.
“I’m going to need a very good music choice,” Joubert announced. “I need good components and I’ll have to work hard on my presentation.”
He would also like to work again with two-time World champions Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski, who were his choreographers during the 2009-10 season.
“I thought it was great when we worked together, and the component score wasn’t bad,” said Joubert. “With a program like The Matrix, you have a handicap of ten points from the outset compared to Patrick Chan. That means I am not allowed to make a technical mistake. If your components are good and you know that they can make up for an error on a jump, it is much easier psychologically.”
For the Frenchman, it is no longer not about winning medals anymore. He has ten medals from Europeans, six from Worlds, 13 from the Grand Prix series and Final, and nine from Nationals. He is also the first, and so far, only European skater to have landed three quads in a free program.
“My motivation isn’t necessarily to win more medals, but to become a very good artistic skater,” said Joubert. “I want to prove to myself that I can be an artistic skater. I proved already that I can do a lot technically, and I am renowned for my technique especially, but I can be among the top skaters of the World artistically, too.”
The Olympic Games in Sochi are also a special motivation for the veteran skater.
“I want to finish my career with good performances at the Olympic Games,” Joubert announced. “I went to three and they were a disaster. This is bugging me. Maybe 2014 will be a disaster again, but I still want to try.”
However, many people have already written the skater off, and he knows it.
“It is understandable, because I haven’t been consistent in the past two years and have had bad performances,” he admitted. “It is natural that people are saying ‘it’s over’, ‘he is too old’, or ‘he should retire’. For myself, however, I know that I can come back, and the people close to me know it as well. I am not listening to what others are saying, but rather am focusing on myself.”
Off the ice, the eight-time French Champion has taken up studies for his coaching diploma.
“I’ve always wanted to be a coach,” he said.
His ambition is to finish the studies within a year, although they could be stretched out to three years. However, the season isn’t over yet. Joubert is looking forward to the Team Trophy in Tokyo later this month, then he plans to mount his new programs in May and June.
Another important change is also awaiting him: The old ice rink in Poitiers will be torn down and rebuilt. It should be ready in 2013 for the Olympic season.
“So next season I won’t have a home rink, and will have to train in different places,” noted Joubert. “I think it will be good for me to go out and to break old habits.”
Joubert is also contemplating training abroad for a while, for example with Alexei Urmanov in Russia.
At any rate, it will certainly be interesting to see what the next season has in store for the skater. Regardless, his fans will be loyal to him and he appreciates it.
“I want to thank my fans, because even in the tough past two years, I received many letters of encouragement,” said Joubert. “Usually I read my mail before practice and it motivates me to work hard. They have always believed in me and I am happy that I skated this World Championship for them as well.”