Lambiel to defend ice-skating title in Tokyo
Two-time World Champion Stéphane Lambiel is taking to the ice in Tokyo to defend his titles from the two previous competitions in Moscow and Calgary.
Having withdrawn from the European Championships in January citing burnout and having raised the possibility of ending his career, the top skater is back, more motivated than ever.
"I want to take a step back to advance better, to bounce back better," Lambiel said less than six weeks ago, justifying his decision to sit out the European Championships in Warsaw. "I've reached a stage where the little prince has to go and explore the world."
The "sacred fire" had apparently gone out, and the 2006 Olympic silver and seven-time national champion didn't rule out hanging up his skates at the top level for good.
Just over a month later however the situation had changed and Lambiel decided to defend his World Championship crown in Tokyo.
In the meantime he beefed up his entourage, giving responsibility for his PR to Art on Ice Production and the management of sponsorship to the Italian Giulia Mancini.
In another significant change, Lambiel has gone for a new routine in his short programme, based on the soundtrack to the recent film "Blood Diamond", about the role of diamonds in African conflicts.
Previous last-minute pirouettes have served him well. In 2005 he used the soundtrack to King Arthur instead of The Truman Show and picked up his first World Championship title in Moscow.
Last year an impromptu decision to use musical extracts from the Cirque du Soleil just before the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin helped Lambiel to a silver medal.
"Stéphane is an athlete with an exceptional talent – as a result he can permit himself such last-minute changes," said the former skater Cédric Monod, who was Lambiel's coach for a year.
"He is able to pick up routines incredibly quickly and integrate them at a physical and mental level. What's more, he needs change. Change drives him."
Lambiel's new programme, already performed at a few Art on Ice galas, and the accompanying applause would have reignited his desire to skate.
But behind the scenes there are whispers that in fact it is pressure from the Japanese sponsors that has sped up his return – in December Lambiel did a publicity campaign for Fuji Xerox in Japan, where he is a huge star.
Monod dismisses this. "The fact that there is Lambielmania in Japan certainly made him consider his participation at the World Championships, but I don't think that was the decisive factor.
"Stéphane strives for excellence and if he returns, it's because he is ready. At any rate, the only person liable to put him under any pressure is Stéphane himself."
The competition in Tokyo is very open. The two other Swiss skaters selected, Jamal Othman and Sarah Meier, will be trying to put in a good performance.
Meier, who won a silver in Warsaw in January, looks better on paper, but on ice she is going to have to be bolder if she wants to improve on her sixth place at last year's World Championships.
swissinfo, Mathias Froidevaux
Stéphane Lambiel's main results:
Silver at the Olympic Games in Turin, 2006
World Champion in Calgary, 2006
Silver medal at the European Championships in Lyon, 2006
World Champion in Moscow, 2005
Seven times Swiss champion (2001-2007)
Stéphane Lambiel was born on April 2, 1985 in Martigny, western Switzerland. He now lives in Lausanne.
He completed his A-level equivalents in biology and chemistry in June 2004 but has postponed going to university to work on his skating career. Lambiel is coached by Peter Grütter.
Lambiel has also launched his own collection of watches, Spinmaster.
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