Stéphane Lambiel: On the Front Line of Figure Skating as Coach and Choreographer

Stéphane Lambiel is one of the most successful skaters in history. Once a competitive skater, he was known for his super spins and great personalities shown in his programs. Even though it’s been years since he retired from competitive skating, Lambiel never left the ice. He participated in various ice shows and even created his own. He opened his own skating school and choreographed for numerous world-class skaters. Among his students stands Koshiro Shimada, the newly medaled Japanese junior skater at the Grand Prix Final in Vancouver. After the Japanese Nationals, Shimada was nominated to represent Japan at the Junior World Championship. As Shimada’s coach, Lambiel talked about Shimada’s performance, as well as the feeling of stepping in as coach and choreographer in the figure skating world.

Q: What do you think of Koshiro’s performance at the Japanese Nationals?

A: I’m super happy with his short. We made some changes to the step sequence, so I was looking forward to seeing programs with new changes. I’m super excited to see his skating. He’s more and more involved in his performance. He put so much energy into it. While he was skating, I also enjoyed it. He decided to skate to that music himself. After the last season, He came up with the idea of skating to that music. It’s very personal for him. I really enjoy watching him performing that.

Q: What about the free program?

A: Koshiro’s free isn’t his best for sure, but I’m quite happy with the way he’s controlling his energy. The previous performance turned on the whole crowd. I was worried that he was going to be distracted, but I was happy that he went through the whole program. After he popped the first Quad Toeloop, I was afraid that he’s going to lose concentration, but he was able to regain control of his body and his mind. He went through the whole program. We were discussing that the second Quad Salchaw is like a bonus. He wasn’t able to let it go, but I wasn’t expecting much there. However, I was expecting that later in the program he would go for another Quad Toeloop. As for the rest, he was very calm. I think it is a very great experience for him to skate as the last skater here, right after Daisuke, being third in short. There are lots of new experiences for him, and they are going to be very helpful for him in the future.

Q: You mentioned Daisuke. How do you feel about his return to competitive figure skating?

A: I’m very impressed and super happy for him that he is here and is enjoying skating more than ever. I know this feeling because I stopped competing in 2008 and then came back in 2009 in order to compete at the Olympics, my final competition. I understand the feeling. It’s a great feeling and a great step to move forward in his life. I hope he can take in as much as he can, to enjoy the crowd and the space, to use the space that he has to show himself.

Q: Do you think Daisuke could make it to the Worlds? (Note: at the time of this interview, the Worlds team has not been announced)

A: The question is open for me and for him as well, probably. The answer is not very impotent. What’s important is that he goes out there and enjoys himself more than ever and perform more freely in the ways that he wanted.

Q: Koshiro mentioned that he felt very nervous. How do you help him with his nerves? What caused his nervousness?

A: I think we both felt pretty nervous, but at the same time we both felt confident. It always feels very special before you send a skater on the ice, because your nerves peak at that moment. You just have to accept it. Today he accepted it and he performed very well. As of reason, this is his first experience skating last with a third place in short. It’s a lot for him. He had a good short and came on last in the free, so he was probably nervous about that. Also, because of the Junior Worlds selection, he must be very nervous. After the short I told him that stress is your friend. We need to take the stress with you. Stress is part of the job, so don’t try to push it away. Try to grab it and use it in the best way. That’s what he did. Even though he popped some jumps, he was able to use the stress and control his mind. I’m happy with the way he dealt with pressure. He didn’t give up and fought till the end of the program.

Q: What did you discuss after the free program?

A: I was just telling him that he needs to be more flexible. If our plan A is not working, then he needs to trust the plan B. That’s what we discussed. I was expecting that he would recover with a second Quad Toe, but he was not even thinking about it. We need to work on that. We need to be more flexible with plan A. If plan A isn’t working, then we need to go for plan B.

Q: Could you talk a little bit about the creative process of this season’s programs for Koshiro?

A: I choregraphed both programs. Koshiro chose the short himself. We started choreographing in March, because he finished last season pretty early. We took some time to choreograph that program. In April, we did the free program. I recommended the music, “Eight Seasons” from Kremer. I like the combination and connections of the “Four Seasons” of Vivaldi and Piazzolla. I always have a strong connection with those two “Four Seasons.” Funny thing is that when I came to Fantasy on Ice, the first person I met was Satoko. I asked her how her programs were going. She explained that she was in the US and Canada for the programs. When I asked the music she chose, we found out that she chose the same musician as Koshiro and I did. We were like “wow, same idea!” It’s a beautiful (piece of) music. I like both programs very much. They show strong personalities of Koshiro.

Q: You also performed this music once.

A: Yes, I performed this Tango too. I performed many Tango pieces. Tango is in my blood. I love Tango music and classical. As choreographer, you need to enjoy all music because you need to be creative. You need to be open to all kinds of music. That’s really important. In the future, I’ll recommend more music to Koshiro, to develop more of his abilities to skate to more complex and beautiful music.

Q: Koshiro looks a lot like you in many ways, like his spin positions. Did you choose those positions because those were your trademarks once?

A: That’s mostly what everyone does with the rules now. It’s more about the spins that the system requires. But of course, he has improved a lot. He has been working hard. We will keep working. There are still things that he needs to improve. My job is to get him ready for the next challenges.

Q: Which will be Junior Worlds?

A: We are expecting the announcement. I have no idea. We will wait for the announcement. In case he is going to World Juniors, I really want him to first recover from this period, because he has been in so many competitions: both Grand Prix, the Finals, sectionals, junior nationals, then here for Nationals. We had so many trips. Now it’s time for him to recover and enjoy a little bit of the Christmas holiday. Later, we will be back to Switzerland and prepare for the next challenges.

Q: The battle field is deep for men’s singles here. What do you think are Koshiro’s strengths and weaknesses?

A: His strength, for sure, is his personality. He has beautiful body as a figure skater. He has musicality when he skates. He feels the music. We did lots of dance classes during off season. The way he moved to the music was wonderful. I was admiring him, because as a young man, sometimes you only want to jump. Of course, he loves to jump. He can land Quad Toe and Quad Salchaw, but he also likes to feel the music, to move and follow the music, to discover new styles and to use his body in so many ways. He has so many interesting personalities and that’s very important.

Q: This is your first Japanese Nationals experience as a coach. How does that feel?

A: It’s a wonderful experience. First of all, because I really like my student. I like the way he performs and the way he respects his coaches. He respects me a lot. We have great feelings. After Vancouver, we prepared while I was preparing for Christmas on Ice. I’ve been to Japanese nationals before as a guest skater. This is my first experience as a coach. There is a lot of pressure because there are so many great skaters, both from junior and senior levels. There is always a lot of attention to all the skaters, both in the ladies and men’s events. I take it more as an inspiration. Yesterday I watched the ladies. Of course, not all performances were clean, but every performance was so intense. That’s where I find inspiring. I am good friend with all the Japanese coaches because every summer I come here to join the Japanese skating federation’s camp, so I’m somewhat familiar with the people. It’s very nice to be here as a coach for the first time. I’m thankful to be there with him at the Kiss and Cry. It’s a wonderful Christmas gift to be here with my student. It’s very original. I’m very thankful for him to give me this experience.

Q: You also watched the ladies. What are your take on their performances?

A: I enjoy Satoko’s skating very much. I think she is most refined skater of our time. She makes you feel what figure skating means to her when she is on ice. Clearly, she isn’t here for the scores. She was here for her love for skating. Her skating is powerful and inspiring. I also love to watch Wakaba. She has very different style than Satoko. She’s full of energy, but she also makes you feel why she loves to skate. Her performance also hits me very much. Mai and Kaori are also great skaters. I think they are yet to sharpen their styles and find the ones that fit them in order to leave an impression. They have great potentials. Rika came to Switzerland to work with me this summer. Back then I knew that she was ready for the challenges competing in the highest level of international competitions. I love her style. She’s very young and exciting.

Q: You were one of the best skaters yourself. As a coach, what do you want to pass on to your students?

A: I have my own experience, but as a coach I’m still learning. Every competition I adjust my coaching technique a little bit. My philosophy stays the same: I want the best for my skaters. I want the best for myself. I want to improve myself as a coach, but I want them to improve themselves as skaters. That’s my goal, my direction, my philosophy. Meanwhile, I want them to enjoy figure skating. It’s a wonderful sport. As a coach, I wish that when my skaters retire, they will have wonderful memories of figure skating and their career, the same memories I had with my career and my coaches and choreographers. They’ve been always supportive. They’ve been positive, even during hard times. That’s what I’m aiming for, that is to follow the model that my coach has showed me.

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