France’s Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres skated from one success to the next this past season, becoming the first French pair team to win the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final and the first French pair in 87 years to claim the European title. The duo won every competition they entered with the exception of the World Championships. James collided with Italy’s Matteo Guarise in the warm up for the short program and was obviously hurt and rattled by the accident. After mistakes in the program, the European champions and top favorites ranked only seventh. With a strong free skate, they pulled up to fifth overall.
“I feel we had a good season, because we never had such good results,” said Cipres. “It was amazing! I am happy with our performance at Worlds—in the long we skated almost clean. It was difficult in our minds, but overall, I’m very happy with what we’ve done.”
While the accident and finishing off the podium in Saitama was a setback, this team has a history of coming back even stronger.
“It [the accident at Worlds] was a shock, but we’ve had so many in our career,” said James. “We fell on the twist in the short program, we’ve done it in Shanghai, at the end of the lift, I fell … I mean, many things have happened throughout our career. Having that experience and knowing that every year we come back stronger after something like this happens just gives us motivation. For us, it is time now to say, ‘okay, we didn’t get it this time, which means next time we’re coming back and we’re going to be stronger.'”
Not winning the world title is, as the 31-year-old pair skater puts it, “maybe a hidden blessing,” because if they had won, they might have retired from competing.
“It’s not only been an up and down season, it’s been an up and down career,” said James. “Now we’re heading towards where we want to be and I think with Worlds if we had won, we would have thought about maybe this is the time [to stop]. But it was a sign saying that we need to come back and be stronger and that we still have things to give to figure skating.”
“Yes, we’re definitely very motivated now,” said Cipres, who turned 28 last month. “We’re going to try our best, but everybody is trying their best and it’s really close with the Chinese and the Russians. Everybody is coming up, so it’s kind of hard [to stay on the top].”
Nevertheless, the six-time national champions keep going and hope to go for that elusive World title in Montreal next year. Following the World Team Trophy, the team took part in a show in Paris and then went on vacation.
“I think we’re going to take a good four weeks off,” said James. “[The 2017-18 season] was long with the Olympics and this year was long, so we really need to relax our bodies, minds and souls a little bit and then start to pick music,” James said.
James also needs some time with her family after her paternal grandfather, Carlton Leroy James, passed away on April 16, only a few days after his 84th birthday and just after World Team Trophy.
“I am still lucky to have my paternal grandmother and other grandfather and both my parents,” she said.
Last season, the skaters really enjoyed working with teammate and ice dancer Guillaume Cizeron, who choreographed their short program to “Uninvited” by Alanis Morisette. However, and understandably, the French federation wants him to focus on his season this year.
“It was a lot of time, energy and stress for him watching us at competitions and maintaining a long distance work relationship,” James pointed out, adding that they have two other choreographers in mind. “This year we will expand our team. We know we still have a lot of work to do to become World champions, but we are ready to work and will have a number of experts around us to get us there.”
The team, who is coached by John Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana is open to everything.
“We’ve never always stuck to one thing and I think this is what makes us a different team,” James offered. “We have a couple ideas for music. Morgan and I would like to skate to a French song this season. He has gotten a few ideas from fans.”
The 2018 World bronze medalists are also thinking about what comes for them after they finish their competitive career. One important thing on their minds is to develop pair skating in France.
“We would love to develop pair skating in France,” said James. “The difficulty is that France is a very small country and figure skating is not like the national sport. We need to find single skaters so that we can make them pair skaters. We’re starting from nothing right now. I think France has to figure out how to get skating more popular and keep them lasting long enough in seniors.”
“It’s going to take time for our country to develop pairs,” Cipres added. “When we stop, we want to do something to help, because I think we have a lot of things to give.”