While France has had a strong men’s figure skating team in the past two decades, the ladies have been far less successful with the exception of multiple European Champion Surya Bonaly and 1997 World bronze medalist Vanessa Gusmeroli. There may be hope, however, as French Champion Yrétha Silété is looking to leave a good impression in her first international year as a senior this season.
While the 17-year-old is still junior eligible, she and her coach, Claude Peri-Thevenard, decided together that she would compete at the senior level this season. Although she won nationals last season, the French Federation didn’t send her to the European or World Figure Skating Championships, but to Junior Worlds where she finished in 11th place.
The Nebelhorn Trophy in September was her first event of the 2011-12 season, however, Silété made several errors in her long program and dropped to 11th. Still, the competition in Oberstdorf was an important preparation for the upcoming French Masters after her summer training in France and in Oberstdorf in August.
“I really wanted to have a competition before the Masters,” explained Silété. “I think it is good to have an event before an important competition. Plus I knew Oberstdorf from my summer training.”
Silété debuted two new programs at Nebelhorn Trophy. Her short is music from Black Swan – a popular choice this year, while to the long is to René Dupéré’s Xotica.
“I picked the music from Black Swan, because I watched the movie and I really liked it,” Silété said. “I like ballet in general and I think that this movie triggers a lot of emotions. Ballet and figure skating go well together.”
“As for the long program, we chose Xotica which is a totally different theme and original,” she continued. “I like Xotica, because it is something different for me.”
Silété usually picks the music together with her coach, Claude Peri-Thevenard, who is also her choreographer. She was the one who discovered the talented girl in their club in Dammarie-les-Lys, in the south-eastern suburbs of Paris, and they have a good relationship.
“We have been working together for 11 years,” Peri-Thevenard noted. “She started skating with me. She was one of the kids in the club and I realized that she was talented. So I suggested to the parents that she should skate more. They agreed and so it started.”
“I started skating when I was six,” recalled Silété. “I wanted to try it and I liked it.”
Her first memory of skating is when she placed first in the second competition of her career.
“I got my first cup. It was just huge,” she said, laughing.
Another fond memory is winning the French novice title in 2008.
Figure skating is something new to Silété’s family as they are immigrants from Togo in Africa.
“I have family there (in Togo) and I visited them, but now I have hardly any vacations anymore,” the skater noted.
Her family in Africa was surprised that she took up skating.
“But they like it and I showed them some videos,” said Silété. “Obviously this is a sport where it is not very hot, so it is something different for them.”
She is the only skater in her family, but not the only athlete. Her younger sister Yolene is a gymnast and her younger brother Yvan plays soccer.
“They are training as well, but not as much as I train,” Silété explained. “Our parents didn’t really plan for us to become athletes. I was a very lively child and they just wanted me to do some sports to channel my energy and I chose skating. It was pretty much the same for my sister and my brother and so they started to train as well and each of them picked the sport they liked.”
In figure skating, Silété likes everything, but admits a preference for jumps.
“Before I would have said that I don’t like spins, but they have improved and now there is nothing that I don’t like,” the skater noted. “I have worked a lot on the spins but also on everything else including the jumps and skating skills. If things are going well, you like everything!”
Winning the French Nationals this past December meant the realization of her goal last year, and defending the title is an important goal for the current season.
“I want to achieve good placements in general, and I want to be selected (for the team),” Silété said.
Her career goal right now is it to compete at the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014.
“It would be nice to be there, so I am training and training,” said the skater.
Therefore, the Frenchwoman wants to focus on the sport for the next two years.
“I’ll finish school this year, and we decided that I’ll study by correspondence for the final exams,” the teenager explained. “I have some teachers that come to my home and help me to catch up with what I missed when I am attending competitions.”
Her favorite subject in school is English. Once she has passed her final exams, Silété wants to concentrate fully on her sport.
“It would be good to have two sabbatical years until the Olympic Games. Then we’ll see what happens with skating and if I continue or not,” she pointed out, smiling. “Life doesn’t consist only of figure skating!”
Silété describes herself as someone with “different personalities. I can be difficult or nice, but in general I am easy going and get along with everyone.”
Her coach agrees.
“She is easy to work with and she is mature,” Peri-Thevenard commented. “She is hard working and a little bit rebellious as all the youths are.”
The coach is hopeful for Silété’s future as an athlete.
“I hope that she will get to the highest level and compete at the European and World Championships,” she said. “There is still a lot to do, especially for the component score, but she is a skater with great technical qualities.”
Silété includes a triple toe-triple toe in her program right now, and is working on other triple-triple combinations, as well as the triple Axel.
“We didn’t train the triple Axel so much recently, but she was very close and we’ll take it up again,” the coach pointed out. “I think she is a skater that can land a triple Axel soon.”
Silété is currently scheduled to compete at the French Masters and the Cup of Nice this month, and Trophee Eric Bompard in November.