Catching up With Sébastien Britten

Sébastien Britten

Sébastien Britten has had a full career on the ice: qualifying for the 1994 Olympic team, winning the Canadian men’s title in 1995, and beating out several world and Olympic medalists to take the World Professional men’s title in 1998.

So it is not surprising to find him at the rink more than a dozen years after retiring from amateur competition in another role.

“Skating has given me a life,” Britten said. “I got out of amateur skating in 1997 because I wasn’t succeeding in the way that I wanted to, and I really didn’t want to have to worry about the triple Axel anymore.”

Britten initially thought he would perform in shows and compete as a professional, but what he found was that he was a skater caught in a gray area. He was known as a great show skater, but didn’t have a major international title.

After performing in shows for three years, Britten left the skating world. Looking to explore and expand his
horizons, he took himself on a journey of self-discovery to Southeast Asia.

The experience had a profound effect. “I met wonderful human beings on that journey and learned great lessons of humility. It changed me forever,” Britten explained. “It brought new perspectives, opened my heart and soul, filled me with creativity, and gave me strength. That’s what I am most proud of — acceptance, learning, living life truthfully and fully.”

His respite from the ice gave him a focus. When he returned to Canada, he turned to coaching. Working with his former coach, Josee Normand, Britten found himself attending international events on the other side of the boards.

He also caught the choreography bug. When I caught up with him, he was en route to Japan, where he planned to spend a week tweaking the programs that he created for Nobunari Oda during the offseason.

Britten is following in the footsteps of his own choreographer, David Wilson, who counts the 40-year-old as his first big breakout client. What started as choreographer-skater relationship has evolved into a 20-year friendship. Britten and Wilson collaborated on the short program for America’s Adam Rippon this year.

“I am so thrilled for Sébastien because he has so much to offer. He was my first client. I started working with him before I even knew what I was doing,” Wilson said. “To see him working with Nobu now, I feel like a proud papa. Watching Sébastien bring Nobu back to life and take him even further — I cannot even describe how it makes me feel.”

Britten speaks candidly about his work. “What I like best is the freedom to focus on artistry. I love traveling, and I really enjoy getting to work with talented skaters where you can pull whatever you find on the inside out,” he said. “It is getting more and more interesting, and I find all these relationships very inspirational.”

Honesty on and off the ice — passion, integrity and creativity — just some of the ways to define Sébastien Britten.

Pj Kwong is a writer, figure skating coach and television commentator. She can be reached at www.pjkwong.com

Originally published in February 2011