Driving the Zamboni home
On the Ice
- Nov 8, 2017
That was a really interesting read! I love their honesty...so human.
I wanted my friend to read this, but she doesn't speak French. So I made a translation. I suppose there is an 'official' translation somewhere, but I've got no courage to go and search. Maybe it's useful for other people also, so here it is.https://ici.radio-canada.ca/sports/...ngchang-tessa-virtue-scott-moir-medaille-robe
Published today, a story by Gabriella and Guillaume on Radio Canada (in French) about the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Strong and emotional. What difficult moments for them, and what strength to face and surpass them.
Cizeron-Papadakis - When the dress spoiled it all
The Olympics. The gold medal within reach. Then, at the worst moment, the collar of a dress breaks open before the eyes of the whole world. “To really understand the tsunami that came down upon us, let us tell you how it all started.”
A text by Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, four times world champions and silver medallists ice dance at the Olympic Games of Pyeongchang, for Podium.
GABRIELLA PAPADAKIS: The music starts. I begin to move. I'm so nervous that I can't think about anything. I'm on the ice in Pyeongchang, at my first Olympics, accompanied by my partner and brother in arms, Guillaume Cizeron. I let my body guide me on the rhythm of the Ed Sheeran song Shape of You.
Then, the unthinkable happens. My dress opens up.
GUILLAUME CIZERON: I felt it in my hand. In fact, it's my hand that opened it. Well, I think it did... I said to myself: “It's not possible that this is what's happening, and on top of it, in the short dance.”
And then you forget and you go for it. It's like a firewall that blocks all negative thoughts.
SHE: There's not one ounce of my thought that said “Maybe you could stop?” No. You have no choice but to continue.
HIM: It's only afterwards that it really struck us. We were a bit in shock. This was another misfortune, another obstacle, beyond our control, that rose up in front of our goal: Olympic gold.
To really understand the tsunami that came down upon us, let us tell you how it all started.
GABRIELLA: Summer 2014. We move to Montreal.
We didn't take long to decide to come and live in Canada. Our coach, Romain Haguenauer, had chosen to join the team of Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon.
GUILLAUME: We decided to follow him. In two weeks we were gone.
That was five years ago, just after the Sochi Olympics, for which we had failed to qualify for the French team.
Even though at that time Marie-France and Patch (Patrice's nickname) were not very well known as trainers, I think that the French ice sports Federation felt that we should have a look elsewhere. That we should travel and work with other trainers.
SHE: From the very first competition we had really good results. In China we won the first Grand Prix in our career.
Montreal is a city where you feel at home very quickly. And they speak French. Every day we went to the rink with the coaches that we already knew. Marie-France and Patch had already been doing our choreographies. Several skaters with whom we had trained in Lyon came here at the same time.
It creates a cocoon. We felt like in a second family. Protected and guided by our coaches.
HIM: On the ice, everything worked. We won our second Grand Prix in France, and we qualified for our first final, where we got bronze. Then, in January 2015, we were crowned World Champions for the first time! [My note:January was the month in which GG became European Champions for the first time; Worlds were held in March.]
We were a bit surprised though. It had been a meteoric rise.
SHE: Other people always get big ideas before we do. At one point, they started telling us that we could win the Olympics. We thought “Yea, yea. Chill out!” Until the moment that we started to believe it ourselves.
In just two years, we had gone from glorious nobodies to a couple that could win the Olympics.
GUILLAUME: Then the rumours started. The Olympic champions of 2010 and silver medallists of 2014, the Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, were thinking of coming back to the competition.
GABRIELLA: At first it made me laugh. I thought: “That makes no sense. Why would they come back?” But the rumours persisted.
And then, one day somewhere in February 2016, all three of our coaches invited us to a brunch.
HIM: Marie-France, Patrice and Romain.
We already knew what this was about. It wasn't confirmed, but you could feel it. They were walking on eggs. I think it was Marie-France who spoke first. I don't remember her exact words.
SHE: They knew they weren't bringing us good news!
HIM: I think they were anticipating a bit of a bad reaction from us, which didn't happen.
It was really great of them to give it to us serenely. I guess that on the one hand, they really wanted to coach Tessa and Scott, as they are excellent skaters. And I think they had the idea that it would also be good for us, because at that time we were indeed crushing the competition. We were cruising towards Olympic gold. It would make us work harder and progress more. Which turned out to be true.
SHE: OK. We sure weren't over the moon about it. Not only were they coming back to the competition, they were also going to turn up in our school and work with our coaches.
HIM: We had mixed feelings. We are proud competitors, and if we win, we want to win from the best. We believed we could do that. But on the other hand, we had no illusions that this wasn't going to complicate things.
SHE: We would never ask Patch, Marie-France and Romain not to have Tessa and Scott in the school.
The issue was that before they came, there was no stress in the rink. It was like a family. We were all friends and team-mates. And then Tessa and Scott came and everything changed.
It's normal, they came to train, to win, to do their job. They were in their third Olympic cycle and they had already lived through a similar situation in which they trained at the same rink as their big rivals, the Americans Davis and White.
HIM: We didn't really know how to deal with this new dynamic. It's nobody's fault, not theirs, not ours. It was simply how it was. From that moment on, we came here and were in competition every day. It was a huge emotional burden.
SHE: The atmosphere has never been the same again. It's impossible to rub shoulders with your rivals every day without it having an impact on your daily life.
We now had to share our coaches. We were used to trust them, without thinking really. In the North-American mentality, that's not how it works. We had to show some initiative by involving our physical trainer and by surrounding us with a team that we could trust 100%. Today we really value that, but at the time, we weren't ready for it.
HIM: But we were ready to fight. We weren't going to throw in the towel so easily.
There were also times that we had doubts. Because inevitably there was a sort of triangle with the coaches, which meant that at some times, we wondered if we could really trust them. Whether justified or not, we weren't fully convinced.
SHE: We tried to protect ourselves from all sides. We ended up understanding that the only thing that we could fully trust was our couple.
I think that Marie-France and Patrice, as well as Romain, did everything to stay 100% impartial. I'm sure that for them also, it was a particularly tough exercise.
GUILLAUME: The two years that marked the come-back of Tessa and Scott and that lead us to the Pyeongchang Olympics have been very heavy on the emotional and competitive level.
GABRIELLA: In April 2016, Guillaume and I won the World Championships for a second time. Tessa and Scott were absent as they had only just announced their return.
In April 2017, our rivals snatched the world title away.
HIM: We delivered a catastrophic short program. I messed up my twizzles and cut my hand. But we did win the free! The score wasn't high enough to win the competition, but still, it gave us hope.
SHE: And then, in December 2017, we surprised many people by winning the Grand Prix Final. A convincing victory, as we had won both programs!
HIM: That was two months before the Olympics. We said to ourselves: “It's doable. We can really beat them!” With that mindset we set off for Pyeongchang.
GUILLAUME: Tessa and Scott competed in the team event, which took place first. We didn't. So we arrived way later. I didn't even watch the opening ceremony.
GABRIELLA: I spent that evening with friends. Doing my stuff in Montreal, relaxed. We had managed to recreate the little cocoon and that was good for our confidence.
We consciously chose not to watch their performance in the team event. But I remember that I did check their score. It was good, but not impossible to match or beat.
HIM: We arrived in Pyeongchang after the team event: ready, confident and in a good mindset.
All went well, until the morning of the short dance.
Obviously, everybody wants to know how it happened.
Why did the famous dress get unbuttoned?
SHE: I remember that we were in the corridor, with our mental coach Steffany Hanlen. It was her that had been tasked with stitching the dress. By the way, if we had decided to do that, it's because the dress had already become undone a few weeks earlier during a practice session at the European Championships.
Was I worried that it might happen again? Not at all. I was convinced that stitching it would do the trick.
Let's immediately state that we don't blame anyone for what happened. It would be unjust to blame anybody.
HIM: It was everybody's and nobody's fault.
So we were confident and ready. We took our positions on the ice and the music started. And at that moment, it happened. I felt the dress unbutton in my hand.
I quickly checked how Gabriella was doing. When I saw that she continued, I did the same.
SHE: You tell yourself: “Come on, let's go! It doesn't matter, you need to get to the end.” And, contrary to what has been endlessly repeated later by a truckload of people and journalists who imagined what I went through, it wasn't the thought of being exposed that bothered me. I just had that costume moving all over my body and it was so heavy! It bothered me in doing my movements.
HIM: At one point I thought: “I could maybe close it up again during the part where we stand still”, but we were already at three quarters of the program and at that moment I concluded: “It's no use, we'll just go on.”
In fact, we didn't think it was thàt bad until at the end of the program.
SHE: That's when I thought: “F---ing sh-t! This can't be real!” It's not nice, but it's what came to my mind.
HIM: We were quite disappointed. This was simple bad luck, and in the short dance on top of it. The short has always been our pet peeve. Luckily we had all this preparation under the belt. We could skate the choreography almost blindly.
We waited anxiously for the score, to see if we still had a chance to win. Then the scores were up.
Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir: 83.67 points
Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron: 81.93 points
SHE: We said: “Damn! But it won't be the first time we win a competition with the free. It's doable. It won't be easy, but we can do it!”
HIM: We still had hope, and we believed in it. We really believed in it.
Coming off the ice we needed to face the journalists. It was tough. The questions were painful. Are you sad? What do you think... It was frustrating. But we needed to stay polite. It's our job.
SHE: I thought: “Can I just have 5 minutes to cry in a corner?” But no! Not even. I wanted to send everyone packing.
Back in the village, I cried for hours on end. I had this thing in me that needed to come out. My phone didn't stop ringing, vibrating, beeping. Even if I had wanted to check it, I wouldn't have been able to, it was thàt absurd. I left it aside. Later, I went walking around the village. Spaced out, like a zombie. I cried some more. I spoke with some friends. That did me good. And I went to sleep.
The next morning was really a new day. It was the day of the free dance, and I had really refuelled mentally. As by miracle, it felt as if a whole week had passed.
HIM: The situation was a bit like the World Championships the year before, when we had done a catastrophic short program. We said to ourselves: “Whatever, we will simply try to give the performance of a lifetime in the free program. It's all we can do.” We got together with Steffany, our mental coach, and we quickly made the round of our options. We could only move forward.
In the free dance, Gabriella and I skated one-but-last. Tessa and Scott had gotten the final position.
So we knew that we needed to wait until the end to know the result.
GABRIELLA: I don't really remember the skate. We let ourselves be carried away. We let our bodies guide us.
GUILLAUME: After our performance we were happy. We had really done a super job. We could be proud.
SHE: And our score, wow! That was really a lot of points! 123.35 for the free program. A world record. You calculate. If Tessa and Scott would get the same score as in the team event (118.10), we would have beaten them, and by a big margin in fact. You repeat to yourself: “It's not over yet! In fact, it's even very possible!”
HIM: We were seated in a sort of tent. We watched Tessa and Scott's performance on a screen.
It's hard to go back and relive those moments. We've never really gone through it in detail again.
SHE: I remember that I watched each of their elements. For each element, we wanted them to screw up, and they never screwed up. It was like: “Sh-t, they didn't screw that one up, sh-t. Sh-t. Sh-t.” They didn't screw up at all, in the end. It was only fair game to wish for it. We didn't wish them any harm, but we thought of ourselves.
HIM: And then, we waited for the score. It isn't a fond memory. There rarely have been moments in my life that were so, how to say... It's on the screen in one second. There's no process. You wait for the banner with the score, and the little 1 or 2 in the corner, which determines whether you win or not. And I suck at maths. So I always need to wait to see that little number before I know. And you have all these camera's on you.
It was surreal. You want to win so badly, and on the other hand you prepare yourself for a loss. And in one second, your world collapses.
SHE: When I saw the results, live, I immediately understood. No doubt. Bang! We're second. It was a weird atmosphere, because in that tent, there were also the Shibutanis, the Americans who won the bronze. They were extremely happy! And we, we were devastated.
I remember that we couldn't move. Everybody went out. Outside there was this eruption for everyone, the Shibutanis, Tessa and Scott. And we, we sat there, frozen. Alone. I said to myself: “I really don't want to go outside.” But we had no choice. The victory ceremony was going to start and we had to be there.
HIM: I remember Patrice. He came to see us and cried. He's the only one that I remember. I think he was really sad for us. Happy for Tessa and Scott. But sad for us.
It must have been hard for Marie-France, Patrice and also Romain.
SHE: It was such a big moment. Too big. It was as if everything was floating. There were no real interactions. There were only people looking embarrassed. And me, I was angry. I was full of anger.
HIM: A feeling of injustice. And then your head gets full of questions: “Why? Why did this happen?”
And there are all these things that people say. Luckily we were trained for this process, because it would have been very easy to believe the conspiracy theory and whatever else.
SHE: It was in fact hard not to believe it. When your thoughts are not clear, and people rehash non stop conspiracy theories and stuff like that.
The dress, the composition of the judges panel which was questioned by some people, the fact that they got way more points for the same programs than in the team event.
HIM: To this day, we never watched the videos of the Olympics. We didn't see our performances. It's too hard. We know that, when put in perspective, it's nothing. It's just a competition. It's totally virtual. It's not as if someone died! We're aware of that.
SHE: In fact, the only people that can really understand, are those who have been in competition. Our world is only about that.
In hindsight, the Olympic Games were almost like a roll of the dice.
Change a few things, and everything would have gone our way. From one competition to the next, the difference between Tessa and Scott and Guillaume and me was so tiny that it was more like a gamble.
HIM: It is still hard to accept our 2nd place. We are proud of our performances and our resilience. But of the colour of our medal? No. People ask “A silver medal! That's brilliant! Why are you not happy?” Because it's linked to a trauma. That's why.
SHE: It feels good to tell it all, honestly, the way it was. I hope that people, and most of all journalists, can now move on. I don't want to have to talk about it again in two years! We'll be in a different space by then.
One thing is clear: we now look at our careers in a different way. For now, we're back at the top. But we expect that we won't stay there for four years. The judges don't like to see the same people on top all the time. But this time, we'll be ready.
HIM: We now have this experience that others don't have. And that, that will be our strength.