Four new champions were crowned during the French nationals. The most anticipated competition of the weekend was, as usual, the men's event. As none of the three contenders -- Florent Amodio, Yannick Ponsero and Alban Préaubert (in alphabetical order) -- had qualified for the 2009-10 ISU Grand Prix Final, the rule was clear: whoever won the nationals would join Brian Joubert at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. In the end, Amodo was victorious.
All three skaters delivered solid short programs. Ponsero seemed to have the edge as he landed a quad toe (combined with a double toe) but he had a small margin in his favor.
In the free, Préaubert skated first with his Rolling Stones medley and decided not to attempt any quad (he injured his right calf in practice). His biggest came when he put a hand down on his last triple (Salchow) but the technical panel decided also to downgrade his triple loop, which would cost him a lot in the final results (142.92 for the segment and 220.84 overall).
Next on the ice was Amodio. The 2008-09 ISU Junior Grand Prix Final winner stumbled on his initial quad Salchow attempt (2 foot-landing also), had a shaky landing on a triple Axel and doubled a planned triple loop.
"At that point, I knew I had to give it all and not put the brakes!" he said afterwards. "I could not afford any other mistake." He performed six perfect triples (some in combination). Amodio scored 156.94 points for the free and 237.69 overall.
The last to perform was Ponsero. He heard Amodio's marks and that seemed to put a heavy burden on his shoulders.
"He looked stressed," his coach Didier Lucine agreed. "He was unable to regroup."
Ponsero fell on his first jump (quad toe, doubled his third jump (Lutz) and stepped out on his second triple Axel (in combination). Still, the judges awarded him a controversial silver medal (147.77 for the segment and 230.65 overall).
"I am happy of course," Amodio told the press. "I take nothing for granted. After my win at the French Masters in Orléans in September (he defeated Joubert), many told me I could get this second ticket to the Olympics but my bad result at the Cup of Russia (ninth) made me realized it would not be easy. Hopefully, my second Grand Prix (Skate America) was better (he placed second in the short and fourth overall) but I had to prove to everyone I deserved to be Olympian."
In the pairs event, Adeline Canac and Maximin Coia were expected to win but that did not happen. In the free, they seemed nervous and made too many mistakes (she put a hand down while landing a side-by-side triple Salchow and fell on a throw triple Salchow attempt).
The miscues opened the door for Vanessa James and Yannick Bonheur to win their first title together (he had previously won three tiltes with his former partner Marylin Pla) and seemed to have improved from March when the 2009 World Championships in Los Angeles and they placed 12th.
James has not yet received the French citizenship and the French National Olympic Committee has given a tight deadline (Jan. 26) to the Frenchfigure skating federation for solving the issue (France has one berth in Vancouver).
Pernelle Carron and her new partner Lloyd Jones won the ice dance event (ahead of Zoé Blanc and Pierre-Loup Bouquet and Olga Orlova and Matthieu Jost). This title will enable them to travel to Estonia for Europeans (as France has three berths for that event) but not to Canada for the Olympic Gamess (France can enter only two teams).
Léna Marrocco won the title in the ladies (with two triple Lutzs), ahead of Maé-Bérénice Meité, Gwendoline Didier and Yrétha Silété. Marrocco is considered as a serious hope for the 2014 Sotchi Olympic Games, together with Meité and Silété.
But due to the ISU age limit requirements(in order to compete at an ISU senior event, a skater has to be 15 by July 1 of the preceding year), the three teens will watch Gwendoline Didier's routines on TV in both Tallinn (for Euros) and Torino (for the Worlds). Gwendoline Didier won the French ladies title in 2008 and was also fourth in 2009.
UPDATE: Defending French champion Candice Didier did participate at French nationals because she was suffering from the H1N1 flu. Candice Didier won the French ladies title in 2003, '04 and '09.
Joubert has not fully recovered from an injured right foot and it prevented him to participate at the ISU Grand Prix final in Tokyo).
Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder are still training (Delobel has still a few pounds to drop to gain top shape) and are expected to perform their routines in front of FFSG officials and judges in Paris early January (two weeks prior to the start of the Europeans).
Finally, Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat decided, in accordance with the FFSG, to skip the French Nationals in order for him to rest his injured ankle (it had bothered him since Skate Canada and he was still skating in pain during the ISU Grand Prix final in Tokyo two weeks later).
Due to their past achievements (for Joubert and Delobel-Schoenfelder) and this season's results (a third place in Tokyo for Péchalat-Bourzat), they all could validate their passports for the Olympic Games in Vancouver.
The facility where the French nationals was staged last weekend in Marseilles opened just a few days prior to the event. The Omnisports Palace of Marseilles East-Side accommodates three different indoor locations: one Olympic-size icerink, one leisure icerink (2/3 of an Olympic-size) and the biggest skate-park in Europe (for rollers, skate-boards and BMX bikes).
This equipment will be an asset for the French federation in order to organize in the future such events like the Europeans or a Grand Prix final, with a 5,600 seat-capacity. But the 2010 Nationals did not attract large audiences (less than 1,000 for the free programs) as the households names did not compete.