Patinoire Sud de France Arena, in Montpellier, on March 26, 2022. The crowd is jubilant: the French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron have just won their fifth world title in ice dancing. Just weeks after their gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. That evening, on the podium, they are surrounded by two American couples. Friends. And for good reason: they all train in Montreal. “We share a lot of things on a daily basis. And, during competitions, the emulation is very positive”, underlines Gabriella Papadakis.
The French champions have been part of the Ice Academy of Montreal since its creation in 2014. France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, who had this training center project”, recalls the native of Clermont-Ferrand. Except that at the end of the stay, their personal trainer, Romain Haguenauer, announces to them that he will… join forces with the two Canadians and therefore stay put!
A decisive change
The reaction of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, then each barely 20 years old, was immediate: both decided to settle in Quebec as well! “Honestly, I thought I was going to spend my whole life in Lyon. But, the day before our return to France, I realized that I felt at home in Montreal and that I could see myself living there one day” , remembers the ice dancer.
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Three weeks after this trip, they moved in near the skating rink in the Saint-Henri district, southwest of Montreal. The results are not long in coming: a few months later, Papadakis and Cizeron become champions of France, then of Europe… then of the world! “Our titles are directly linked to this change of life”, assures the now five-time European and world champion.
The Ice Academy of Montreal, which cultivates excellence and has high-level teachers, is one element that explains this success. Another is the important place of sport, and ice disciplines in particular, in Canadian society. “Here, physical activity is essential and is practiced in the heart of the city. In Montreal, there are more ice rinks than in the whole of France!”, Declared Romain Haguenauer, last March, at the microphone of Franceinfo. “We no longer had to train at 6 a.m.”, slips Gabriella Papadakis, who also evokes the difference in mentality of professional athletes: “In Canada, there is a more scientific approach to sport, as well as a greater culture of responsibility. It’s the athlete who hires his coaches and who manages his career. It’s a real job.”
Already in the legend
By dint of frequenting Quebecers, the Olympic champion has also learned to make fun of others and complain less. Character traits often reproached to the French and very little appreciated on this side of the Atlantic. “Every time I return to France, I realize that we really complain a lot,” recognizes Gabriella Papadakis. Despite her eight years spent there, the sportswoman still has as much difficulty managing one element: the Canadian winter. A shame for an ice dancer. “When I’m at the rink, I’m cold; when I’m outside, in winter, I’m cold; I spend my days being cold!” she explains with a smile.
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The following ? Sportingly, nothing has been decided for Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron who, at both 27, have already become legends of French skating. “We have no idea for the future,” he said after their last world title. Same uncertainty on a personal level. “Montreal is a city that I would never like to leave. But I am not completely closed to the idea of returning to France”, advances Gabriella Papadakis. Before launching: “I feel French, but Montreal has become my family at heart!”
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