This week's theme is Le Fantastique Français (The Fantastic French.)
Ever since he burst onto the senior skating scene at the 2001 Skate America competition, Brian Joubert has been considered skating's heartthrob. The 26-year-old from Poitiers, France, may attract attention for his good looks, and rightfully so, but that is not why I'm choosing to feature Brian in my list of fantastic French skaters. Brian is a phenomenal, pure, natural jumper, and has helped to push the sport athletically over the years. Brian deserves recognition for his ability to consistently land quadruple jumps and quadruple jump combinations over a long period of time.
Brian's skating accomplishments are especially notable since at 11-months old, he suffered a serious, life-threatening illness, and had one kidney removed. Because of this, Brian chose to skate because it was considered a less-violent sport than some of the other ones he favored. He began skating when he was 4-years-old with his two older sisters. Brian started out as an ice dancer, but switched disciplines when he became intrigued with the high-flying jumping and exciting technical aspects of singles skating.
Brian has won 6 French National titles,6 French Masters titles, 3 European Championships, 1 Grand Prix Final Championship, and 6 World medals, including gold in 2007. Despite these victories, Brian has had a somewhat up and down career, not without injury, illness, disappointments, and setbacks. He continues to persevere.
Brian has endured two Olympic disappointments. He finished 6th in 2006, but that was nothing compared to the utterly devastating, downright humiliating Olympic experience in Vancouver in February, where he finished a lowly 16th. Brian had entered the event as the reigning World bronze medalist. To this day, I don't think anyone, including Brian, knows why he had the meltdown that he did.
Despite his nightmarish situation in Vancouver, Brian fought back at the World Championships a month later in Torino, Italy. He wasn't perfect, but he was impressive, considering everything. Brian won bronze, his 6th world medal-- a true testament to his athletic firepower and longevity in the sport. (FYI: Brian has won 3 world silver medals ('04,'06, '08),one gold ('07), and 2 bronze medals ('09, '10).
The photo below is Brian on the podium at the 2007 Worlds in Tokyo, Japan, when he won world championship gold. Silver medalist Daisuke Takahashi of Japan is on the right, and bronze medalist Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland is on the left.
Though he's always pushing the sport technically, and has often been outspoken about the importance of the quadruple jump, Brian has been criticized for remaining somewhat stagnant artistically. Brian has good skating skills, his spins have improved tremendously over the years, and he is well-liked by audiences, but there's something missing in his skating that would make the difference between him being a great skater and a great artist. Brian also tends to skate with similar choreography to the same musical genres each year. For example, he skated to Metallica, Safri Duo, and The Matrix and The Matrix unloaded for a number of seasons. While they were all very good program, it would have been nice to see Brian skate out of his comfort zone and try different styles of music and choreography. For this season though, I couldn't be happier to report that Brian has finally decided to branch out! He's working with renowned choreographer David Wilson and skating to Malaguena in the short program, and Beethoven's Symphony No.9. Brian has never skated to classical music EVER. I can't wait to see his evolution! I'm sure he's going to be great, er, fantastique!
The videos posted below are an interview with Brian right before his 2008 World Championship "Metallica" freeskate, and then the video of his program. Brian finished second to Canada's Jeffrey Buttle. Some argued that Brian, who skated a brilliant technically-packed, energetic program, should have won, but he was coming from behind after a 6th place finish in the short program (after receiving a bogus, controversial music violation for his music containing lyrics) and came up just short of his second consecutive World title. Judging from Brian's reaction after his freeskate, I think that he thought he was going to win, but looking at the big picture, despite the result, this freeskate contains some of the most beautiful, pure jumps with smooth, soft landings that I've ever seen. Sometimes, it's about the journey, not the result. If you're able to give the skating world a thrilling memory, then maybe, in the words of Metallica, "nothing else matters."
ESPN Interview with Brian:
CLICK HERE to see Brian's 2008 World Freeskate to "Metallica Medley"