Sabrina Lefrancois and Jerome Blanchard are the youngest French pairs team competing internationally. The couple made a big splash in their first season together in 2000, finishing fifth at the 2000 European Championships and third at the Karl Schaefer Memorial in Vienna as well as second in France. But then Lefrancois was felled by injury. A nerve running down her back to her leg began spasming, occasionally causing a loss of feeling in her leg. “I thought I would never skate again,” she said, “but the injury worked itself out by itself. I had to have a lot of rest and a lot of massage and could not skate for a year.”
“I told her to trust her lucky star,” coach Annick Gailhaguet said,” and she would be able to go to the next Olympics.” Since Lefrancois finally returned to the ice last July, the skaters have been working hard to return to their previous form. “They are really hard workers,” Gailhaguet stated, “but they need to get back in condition. They get really tired by the end of the practice, but they are getting better all the time.” “Our training is so difficult that we just go to bed when we finish,” Blanchard stated.
The skaters train with Gailhaguet in France and with Richard Gauthier in Montreal. “We met Richard at Trophee Lalique two years ago,” Lefrancois stated, “and we liked the work he did with Jamie (Sale) and David (Pelletier).” They trained in Montreal for two months in the summer and plan to train there before Europeans and Worlds. The skaters try to practice for at least four hours a day on ice, especially since they need to improve their conditioning after sitting out last season. They do an additional four hours a week of off ice training, which includes ballet and conditioning classes.
Lefrancois didn’t start out to be a skater. “I wanted to be a ballerina,” she said. “I began ballet when I was five, but I was too small, so I thought I could become a skater.” She began skating when she was eight and landed her first triple jumps when she was 13, first a toe loop, then a salchow and loop. Lefrancois reached French Nationals in juniors in 1995, but then switched to pairs when she was 15. “When I watched skating on television, I liked Gordeeva and Grinkov,” she said. “So I decided to skate pairs.” She reached fourth at French Nationals with Nicolas Osseland, and competed with him at Junior Worlds three times finishing fourth in 1997 and fifth in 1998.
Blanchard began skating when he was eleven. He used to play tennis, but said,” Every time I saw skating on television I liked it and wanted to try it.” He had landed a triple loop when he was 14 and rapidly mastered all the triples except the triple Axel, reaching fifth in singles at French Nationals in 1999. He switched to pairs in 2000, after Lefrancois had asked him to skate with her for a year. “At first I said never,” he stated, “but everyone told me that we would look good in pairs.”
Lefrancois found the music for their short program, “Valse Triste” by Jean Sibelius. “I liked it because it was music that Rahkomo and Kokko used,” she said. Blanchard selected the music for the long program, Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.” “We searched for a long time,” he said, “until I brought in this music.” Julie Brault is the couple’s choreographer. Both of the skaters listen to a variety of popular music off ice, but Lefrancois doesn’t like techno music.
To relax, Lefrancois enjoys shopping and dancing. “I dance in my room, in my bathroom, everywhere,” she said. She also likes to ski. Blanchard likes running in the park and dancing. He reads science fiction, while Lefrancois favors novels. They both like watching movies, although she doesn’t like science fiction movies. She keeps the stuffed toys they receive, while he gives the extras to children. He collects stamps instead. On holidays, they both like to go to sunny beaches. Her favorite trip was to Junior Worlds in Australia, while he enjoyed Paris and Spain.
Both skaters are finished with their high school classes but aren’t taking any additional classes while they concentrate on their skating. “It’s not possible to go to school and train,” Blanchard said. Neither has decided on a career after skating. “I won’t be a coach. That’s for sure,” said Lefrancois. “For the moment, we are just skating,” Blanchard said. “We’re just happy to be present because we missed last year. We will skate for one year and see if we win, then decide about the future.”
Lefrancois and Blanchard finished 10th at the 2002 Trophee Lalique Grand Prix event which was held in November.