Stephane Lambiel: «IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO COUNT ART»
|Photo © Alex Wilf
Last Monday the two times world champion, the 2006 Olympic Silver Medalist Stephane Lambiel was a special guest at the `Crystal Ice' awards and gave an interview to Sport-Express.
«Don't worry, Stephane will be on time. As far as the meetings go he is completely punctual. Well, you know it just as well as I do», I was told by my old acquaintance Ari Zakarian right after he greeted me. He then added wistfully «Such a client is a dream in my profession».
Lambiel's visit to Moscow was organized by Ilya Averbukh's company «Ice Symphony» and his three-day schedule was tight almost to the level of minutes. Lambiel's manager Olivier Hoener remained in Switzerland, hence while in Russia Zakarian took over, as he had done many times before. Though as far as the interview went he left it all to me: «You know him well. So I won't bother you.
* * *
While waiting for the skater I thought: he left amateur skating right after the Olympics in Vancouver. On the date of the Sochi Olympics he'll be just 28. He could participate his 4th Olympics. If he wished to. What for? Well, if only for the fact that, for many people figure skating simply does not exist without Lambiel. And after all, he came back in 2009 after he retired.
My thoughts were interrupted by the Swiss man, covered in a warm scarf and ready for the walk.
- Hello! I realize am very lucky with the weather. Finally I'll get to see Moscow.
- How do you take such trips as this one? Is it work or pleasure for you?
- I love travelling. Going to a competition or a long tour is different. The schedule sometimes is so tight that you don't get to see a thing. If possible I like just walking on the streets and looking at the buildings. To see how the architecture changes, how the old buildings blend with the new ones. Moscow is an interesting city in that respect: very soft, pastel colours of the old buildings and swift, almost aggressive architecture of the sky scrappers. I noticed it before when I came to your city for the Grand Prix competitions.
- You retired right after the Olympics in Vancouver. Do you remember what were you thinking right after the competition?
- I had some awful thoughts. And a terrible state of mind. I realized , that the goal I was heading to for several years suddenly moved into the past. I didn't gain what I aimed for and the opportunities were left behind. I didn't know what to do next. Where to go. A total emotional void. On one hand I was dreaming to participate the shows, that there would be many shows, but right at that moment I just wasn't sure the shows were what I wanted to do. Or what do I want at all. See, even now I can't really put that into words.
- Nevertheless, indeed you started participating the shows right after the Olympics and there were plenty of shows.
- Yes, I've been touring all the time and was surprised to realize I have to learn to live without the competitions. It's still weird. But in a good way I think.
- What do you mean?
- I had a huge number of fans while competing. I reckon one of the reasons for my post-Olympic depression was the fear of losing my fans. I mean: I would retire, and they would remain in the sport. I was absolutely shocked (I am being completely honest) when realized the fans' support did not lessen even though I stopped being a competitive skater.
* * *
- Do you miss the competitions at least a bit?
- No. I have enough titles, I like what I do and I'd like to develop as an artist in my skating. At the same time I love watching the others compete. I was looking forward for the beginning of the season: I try not to miss the interesting competitions, I watch the skates, follow the results. After all during my whole competitive times I never had a chance to see all that. I mean, I watched the figure skating from the inside. Only now I realized how much more interesting it is from the outside.
- So why did you come back before the Olympics in Vancouver? You had all the titles by then and, assume, you had plenty of commercial offers.
- Hm... Good question. After I came second in Turin I started dreaming of Vancouver. Think I began to dream when I got on the podium. For a while everything else became meaningless. I woke up thinking about getting ready for Vancouver, I was thinking of it while training, I was counting days and when the injury happened I was loosing my sanity. As if the reason for my existing was cut. It took me a while to realize that life still goes on; at the same time I was recovering and when I got well enough to resume training the dream of Vancouver returned. It's hard to put into words. You asked me «What for?». Well, I can't really tell. But it was my dream.
- Perhaps because the Olympics is a special competition?
- Of course, that's right. In 2002, when I flew to the Salt Lake City, I was just 16: I had never been to the USA before, so everything seemed like one huge Disneyland. I learned something new with every step, gained some new emotions, I was feeling as if it was happening to someone else. Like in the movies.
Turin was different. The games became a huge stress. Perhaps because in Salt Lake City was just a kid, while in Turin I realized I can fight for a medal. The pressure was huge and didn't go away for a second whether I was training or resting or just walking on the streets. Though I can't really remember walking on the streets there. I do remember when the competition was over and I thought that those days - that silver medal which I got in such a huge competition - those are the best and the happiest days of my life. That maybe I'm the happiest person on earth. I realized that with my brains, but I didn't feel anything even remotely resembling happiness: it was so hard to overcome the stress. I told you about Vancouver already. I don't think I should ever want to go through that again.
* * *
- Now when you became an artist do you still keep in touch with your coach Pieter Gruetter?
- Of course. With him and Salome (Salome Brunner - his choreographer). As a sportswoman yourself you'll understand what I mean: throughout our careers we might have several coaches, but there is only one whose role is as great as your parents, if not greater. And it's not because you spend more time with them than at home. For me such people are Piter and Salome.
I'm even glad we parted for a while. Sometimes only when away one realizes how much a person means. This is what happened with Salome, Peter and I. We even discussed it later and came to a conclusion that it's like in the family: you don't understand what home is until you go away for a while.
- Would you want to become such a coach for someone?
- I know for sure I'm not ready yet. First of all I love what I do and I want to skate for as long as I can. As far as I understand it, the coach's job is dedicating yourself 100% to another person. At least that's the way I felt Grutter did his job. When he had a nasty fall and broke his femoral neck he came to the ice rink almost right after the surgery. I was almost crying looking at him walking with the crutches. A 2-3 months later Piter was back on the ice skates.
- Nevertheless you started collaborating with other skaters as a choreographer. Is it interesting to choreograph programmes under such strict rules?
- It's not the worst thing. The hardest part is the rules changing every year. And yes, the attempt to measure in points what I consider to be an art annoys me. You can't measure the art!
- Why not? You can actually. If one wants to become a world or an Olympic champion he'll have to play by the rules. Whether you want it or not.
- I certainly don't want to. I can assume the current system's planning had some good intentions. Something that would allow to measure much more exactly certain things. But so far I don't think it really works. There is no need to name names, but you know quite well some of the skaters have no problem jumping, but everything else is a problem.
The constant attempts to raise the technical demands result in the artistic parts disappearing. If someone manages to keep the character, choreography, expressions through the programme he gets the same average points everyone else does. It's rarely obvious based on what the marks were given. And you know why? Because it's impossible to explain! This is what I meant when talking about the arts and the points.
I do like the work though. Salome taught me an inner choreographic freedom. An ability to hear the music. It always gives a wide range for the creativity.
- Do I understand correctly that with such an attitude the amount of the hard jumps annoyed you?
- Not at all. While I was competing the jumps were a kind of inner competition. For example when the combination with a triple loop didn't work for quite a while I would only do that. I always loved understanding the technique of each jump, understanding how it works.
- What do you usually think on the ice?
- Nothing. At all. When I get to the ice a thousand thoughts cross my mind. But once the music begins everything is gone. Until my skate is over I don't hear what is going on. It's a weird feeling - like a meditation. Nothing else can clean my head so well.
- But the skater has to control so many things: the entrances, the landings, the angles
- What for? I work on that during the trainings repeating everything hundreds of times. Until the movements become automatic. If I realize that during the the skate I am thinking of an element it means the element is not ready.
* * *
- It's not always nice to be famous in the age of the Internet. Have you ever read anything nasty about yourself?
- In order to know I have some downsides, that I can be wrong or make mistakes I don't need to go online. I probably annoy some people, which is all right. But I really don't give a damn. I take the well-based critique seriously. In that case it doesn't matter whether it comes from someone close to me or from a stranger. In both cases I try to listen and come to conclusions. But if the person is only interested to be mean at my expense - well, I don't care.
- That's a good attitude.
- I guess. I really don't have a need to read what is written about me. What for? Will I learn something new about myself? Of course that happens too, but I'm not expected to take that seriously, am I?
- What is your education?
- None really. If I ever have a bit more of a free time I'd love to go to the university. To learn Arts. Or foreign languages. Or sports. I.e. I have a need to learn. But right now I really don't have time. I'm not interested to get accepted and act as if I were studying. I have been used to giving everything I do 100% effort, ever since I was a kid
- Is it something your coaches taught you?
- No, my mother. She was always strict with us. I reckon one needs to when there are 3 kids in the family. Sometimes we were hurt, but once I grew up I realized she gave us a lot and taught us a lot. We learned to be independent, responsible, goal-oriented.
- What do you like to do on your free days?
- Wish I remembered when I had one. Though this summer I spent a whole five days home, but it's a rare thing. I like lying in my bed, I like cooking. Love reading the cooking books. Recently I got interested in the Thai kitchen. Soups, chicken, meet made in the Thai way... And I love baking muffins. That's probably from my grandmother. She lives not far from Lisbon and is an amazing cook. When I come she always makes the Portuguese muffins. And she always brings some to us to Switzerland when she comes to visit on Christmas. I love fondue, even though I have hated the flavour of cheese since I was a kid.
- What's your favourite dish?
- Am easy on that account: except for cheese I love everything.
- Does your fame make the everyday life hard?
- It's hard to believe.Haven't you ever walked on the street and found yourself surrounded by fans who would love to tear you apart out of love?
- Well, I guess it happens from time to time but it's all right. Let me explain: I think I'm really lucky to have my life. And I have to pay for it. I pay it by sharing part of my life with the other people. Not because someone told me to, but because I feel the need to. If someday I decide I had enough I will be the first to admit so. «Stop now. If you're tired of people's attention do something different».