At the time of the European Championships, which begin this Wednesday, January 12 in Estonia, the French skaters are under no illusion: the podium hopes are almost non-existent in the absence of the star couple of ice dance Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who preferred to ignore the competition so as not to risk contamination with Covid-19 less than a month from Beijing Olympics.
This zero point on the medal table reflects the state of hexagonal skating under reconstruction. On the side of Normandy in particular, where, however, a beautiful story has been told in recent months: that of Bruno Massot, the child of the country who left to gild his reputation in Germany, Olympic champion under the German flag in 2018 at the PyeongChang Games, back today in his club in Caen with a project in line with the desire for federal renewal. The realization of a dream, which took very devious ways to come true.
Olympic gold for Germany
First fork in 2014. Bruno Massot flies to Germany, to join the skater with whom he wants to relaunch, Aljona Savchenko. Leaving his long-standing club, the Caen sports and leisure artist (Acsel), was not the first idea. With his trainer Jean-François Ballester, Bruno Massot was thinking rather of bringing his future partner to France. Except that the French Ice Sports Federation is dragging its feet. On the contrary, his German counterpart offers the champion all the facilities to move. “The difference was huge, and I first thought about my career”, says the skater.
Bruno Massot settles across the Rhine. Jean-François Ballester, after twenty years of service in Caen, set out to found a high-level training center in Switzerland, while continuing to coach his foal. Four years later, the consecration. It was written ? Not really. “For eighteen months, the French Federation refused to release me, Bruno Massot points out. I trained, but without the possibility of competing. I was living on € 200 per month. Obviously, it was not the ideal for skating serenely. When the situation was resolved, there were injuries, nothing was ever easy. So yes, the medal is beautiful, but what sacrifices! “
It does not appear on the 4 minutes and 30 minutes of the free development of the couple in PyeongChang. The tandem is weightless, succeeding in tricks and carried to perfection. At the time of the verdict of the judges, it is a torrent of tears. “I had enormous stress, I skated like a lion, with rage, revived Bruno Massot. Twenty-three years of career that were played out there, in a few minutes. Afterwards, everything gave up. “
The return of the child prodigy
Bruno Massot finished in style, with a world title in stride. Time to put away the skates, to go train with Jean-François Ballester in Switzerland. But his mentor died six months later. “All my life, I never made a decision without his advice, loose the champion. I was lost, without landmarks. “ The Covid also complicates the situation. So with his wife, Bruno matures the idea of returning home. At the turn of the year 2021, he called the president of Acsel in Caen.
→ ANALYSIS. French sports practice at half mast
“Bruno’s phone call presenting me his training center project was timely, indicates Ludovic Le Guennec. With the Covid, we had lost nearly 40% of our young people. We had to start from zero, on detection. Bruno was helping us to come out of a rather depressive period. “ It was still necessary to organize new occupancy slots for the ice rink, to obtain the support of local communities, of the federation. But this time, all the planets align. “I arrived in May 2021 on a red carpet, with a federation determined to rebuild by betting on new talents that I want to develop”, rejoices the gold medalist.
The center already has a dozen students. Bruno Massot is looking to recruit skaters and hopes to eventually have six couples. The structure must gain momentum, with a second training track that will have to be built by 2026, says the municipality. “In the meantime, we have to adapt and be patient, but we are on the right track”, assures the champion who already sees one of his young couples with astonishing progression skating in Milan in 2026. Bruno Massot believes in it. With determination. And also a lot of emotion: “I am in my ice rink, where it all began, and on the edge of the track in place of Jean-François Ballester who would have wanted so much to found a center here in Caen. It’s done. Let’s be up to it. “
Reduced numbers at the European Championships
In Tallinn, the blue delegation will consist of three pairs, a skater and a skater. But getting a podium would be a miracle. The last time the Blues posted a virgin record at the Euro, it was in 2014, the first continental competition of the ice dance tandem Gabriella Papadakis-Guillaume Cizeron. Since then, the duo has always held its place. The Blues will still count on the two champions at the Beijing Games to win a medal. They will be accompanied by the two skaters Adam Siao Him Fa and Kevin Aymoz, to complete the weakest French delegation in the history of the Games.