So it now seems to be real: 2007 world men’s champion Brian Joubert is coming back as a pair skater at age 29 – and probably for Russia to boot.
How intriguing is this going to be in the coming months? Of course we’ll have to wait a year to see how it all turns out, because he can’t skate for another country for a year, and neither can his new partner Katarina Gerboldt, who used to skate for Russia with Sasha Enbert, who has found greener pastures with a new partner and will train in Russia’s most powerful stable, headed by fabulous pair coach, Nina Mozer.
We’ll see which country releases who. Gerboldt and Joubert are turning to a top coach, Oleg Vasiliev, an Olympic pair champion who also has coached Olympic pair champions. Vasiliev would like to see Joubert skate for Russia, if for no other reason than financing and training opportunities will probably be better. Pair skating in France always seems to follow a rocky path. In France, Joubert has sometimes tread a rocky path.
None of this surprises me. At the 2013 world championships in London, Ont., Joubert told me that he planned to try pair skating after Sochi. I laughed, but I stopped laughing when I looked at his face. It wasn’t a joke.
But desire and actually making it happen are two different things, and now he seems to have made this step towards turning his dream into a reality. Joubert also told me that he wants to start a singles and pair school in France, and that skating pairs would help him learn to teach it. But I think the desire goes beyond getting some credentials to be a teacher. He’s a competitor at heart and he wants it.
He will have so much to overcome, but like some top pair coaches say, it can take only four years to turn a pair career around, if you are dealing with skaters with some experience. Look at Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, who incidentally will be in Joubert’s path to the top if he skates for Russia at the 2018 Olympics, which seems to be in the plan. So will Tatania Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, the Olympic champions who are not retiring, but continuing. Mix that up with a few other Russian pairs who at least have experience with the risky discipline and Joubert will have his work cut out for him. But it will be fun watching it all evolve.
Will France release Joubert? Will Russia release Gerboldt? Where will they train? (Joubert has always preferred to train at home in Poitiers, near mother, Raymonde. Any attempts to skate elsewhere have been short-lived. He’d have to cut the apron strings and change his life. Perhaps he’s ready. ) How will Joubert’s back hold up to all of this new, strenuous activity? Gerboldt missed a year of competition in 2012 with torn ligaments. Will her body hold up to the work, too? Can Gerboldt and Joubert adapt to each other? Will Joubert be willing to change his citizenship to Russian for the next Olympics? He says he wants to retain his French citizenship. He’s a major star in France. Will his French fans forgive him? Will they embrace his new challenges? Joubert says he has many fans in Russia, perhaps more than he has at home.
He’s already had dinner with prolific French actor Gerard Depardieu who has been accused to abandoning his homeland to avoid a 75 per cent tax on millionaires in France, departing first to Belgium, then giving up his passport as Russian leader Vladimir Putin signed an executive order giving citizenship to Depardieu.
Depardieu apparently knew Joubert was in Moscow, called him up and dined with him. He told Joubert that if he wanted to move to Russia, he shouldn’t doubt it for a minute. Depardieu backs Putin’s treatment of the Pussy Riot group. Depardieu has been described as a “beautiful runaway truck of a man.” Joubert has always been his own man, always himself. Maybe not quite a runaway truck, but interesting, all the same.
The pair skating itself? How will it turn out? Gerboldt had never skated pairs before she teamed up with Enbert with whom she finished fourth at the 2011 European championships. She can show him the way. In an interview, she said she was pleasantly shocked by what he was able to do, without any previous experience, and in fact, went so far as to say she felt more comfortable with him than with Enbert.
Joubert had never done a death spiral until last week with Gerboldt and by all reports, it wasn’t bad at all. In an interview with a Russian newspaper, Vasiliev said five years ago, Joubert’s mother asked him to teach her son how to skate pairs and he thought it was a joke. Over the years, it’s become less of a joke. When Vasiliev suggested he try out with Gerboldt, Joubert didn’t hesitate.
Joubert is the most decorated French skater in history. Gerboldt hardly speaks English. It’s the stuff made of bad movies, but it’s actually happening. But with so many athletes pondering their future and taking the year off, and with a bit of a wasteland of big names in the Grand Prix series this year, Joubert and his quest will make things interesting. Thanks, Brian.