IFS caught up with Florent Amodio to talk about his career and what lies ahead for the French star. Here is what he had to say.
You were 4 when your skating adventure began. How did that come about?
I guess you could call it destiny. One Sunday afternoon, my parents took my sister and me to the ice rink to a public session. As soon as I set foot on the ice, I instantly fell in love with skating. I would fall down and get up; I would laugh and then skate across the ice on my own. An hour after we arrived, my future coach, Bernard Glesser, spotted me and asked my parents whether I would like to join the skating club in Cergy-Pontoise. That is how this adventure began.
What do you remember about the early years of your career?
I honestly have little memory of that time, but I do remember being thrilled to meet my friends at the rink after school. It was like recess for me; I was really happy to just be there and learn new things every practice. I initially never thought about medals or succeeding in the sport.
Tell us about your first Junior Grand Prix experiences during the 2005-2006 season.
That was my first real international competitive season, traveling and staying in hotels. It was the first time I had ever experienced stress — and my first parties, as well. It was all a discovery for me, but it also made me realize how much I really wanted to give my skating career a go. Back then, I could already feel that figure skating would be an amazing experience and that it would bring a lot of happiness into my life.
The 2008-2009 season had its ups and downs. You qualified for and won the Junior Grand Prix Final, placed second at nationals and landed in 15th at the World Junior Championships.
That season was definitely the peak of my junior career. I can tell you that, unlike previous events, which I may have forgotten about, that particular year is one that will remain carved in my memory forever. It was the first time I proudly sang the French national anthem after winning gold medals in England and South Korea. I think it was then that I truly understood that I had the potential to become a strong contender on the international scene. Everything about skating became so serious from that point on.
It was of high importance to me to be a strong skater in my country. I wanted to show my peers on the national team that I was turning into a serious rival. But, above all, what mattered most to me was to be happy and to try my best to achieve good results. I was never lucky when it came to the World Junior Championships. If anything, it taught me many lessons, and those failed experiences turned me into a stronger competitor. They will remain a tremendous disappointment for me, but failure is part of sport, especially at such a high level. I believe those missed opportunities on my part helped shape the skater that I later became.
You competed in your first Olympic Games in 2010. What was that experience like?
Unbelievable! Going to the Olympics had always been a dream for me and being able to achieve it and to have my longtime coach with me is definitely something I am really proud of. I felt like a kid at Disneyland. Vancouver was a fabulous city, the atmosphere of the Olympics was amazing, and the fact that I was able to perform two strong programs is also what made that experience very satisfying.
Why did you change coaches shortly after those Games and move to train with Nikolai Morozov?
After the Games, I felt it was time for me to step up my game. Having spent 15 years training under Bernard, the French Federation and I decided to look for a foreign coach. That is how I met Nikolai. He very quickly took me in and taught me what skating at an elite level entailed. In addition to Nikolai’s teaching, I also had the opportunity to train with some of the best skaters in the world. Working with him enabled me to further develop my artistic ability. We were like two artists on the ice, constantly looking to create programs that would be different from what other skaters had to offer.
In 2011 you won the European title. How did that change your life?
That was the confirmation that making major changes in the way I trained was the best decision I could have made at the time.
That European title opened up all the show opportunities I had always dreamed of. From the moment I stepped off the podium, I started receiving calls from the world’s most prestigious figure skating shows. The first big invitation that I received was after the Vancouver Olympics for Evgeni Plushenko’s show. It was a dream come true for me. Then came “Art on Ice,” following my European title. In my opinion, “Art on Ice,” is one of the best shows in the world. Back then, I was really fulfilling a big part of my dream, which was to be an elite skater and perform in the best shows on the planet.
Unfortunately, there was an inconvenience to this wonderful show experience, and that was that I lost interest in everyday practice. I found myself wanting to skate only in shows and enjoy that unique way to make contact with the audience. With time, I learned how to make both training and shows work alongside each other.
You left Morozov and returned to France in 2013. What motivated that decision?
I just couldn’t cope with living on my own, far from my family, my friends and my country. I was no longer happy with my life, and I just thought that figure skating wasn’t worth such a sacrifice anymore.
When you trained with Shanetta Folle and Katia Krier, you said that they coached you in an almost military way. Can you tell us about that period in your life?
Oh yeah, they did. But I would like to thank them for coaching me during that difficult time. They did their best to try to bring me back to my top level. However, I must admit that, back then, my love for skating was put through the mill. I just had lost all sense of freedom on the ice, and it was very hard to train with that frame of mind.
Clearly, the way I felt about skating at the time showed at the Games in Sochi. I wasn’t happy to be on the ice anymore. But, despite the obvious disappointment in terms of the result, I still have a very fond memory of those Olympic Games, especially because they took place in Russia, a country that I hold close to my heart. But from a skating point of view, it was a very tough competition for me.
You were one of the first skaters to skate to lyrics in your competitive programs.
I think that, in addition to all the titles and medals that I was able to win, being the first skater to use lyrics in a competitive program is what I’m most proud about. I really tried to impose my own creative and artistic style on skating. I put my entire energy into each program I performed, and I hope I was able to influence the world of figure skating to a certain extent.
I thought it was a shame that the ISU did not allow single skaters to use lyrics for their competitive routines. In retrospect, I’m happy that I was able to influence skating in that direction, and, in spite of the fact that I never became World champion, if I had to do things all over again, I would again push for lyrics to be allowed.
What made you decide to end your competitive career?
You know, I made enormous sacrifices for figure skating throughout my life. For 21 years, my life revolved only around the sport, and I feel that I gave it everything, both physically and emotionally. Besides, I am very realistic about my technical level, which is far from good enough to rival the young guys who can jump quads as easily as I can dance Samba. Figure skating has evolved technically, and I am very grateful for that. But quad jumps are hard for me, and being able to perform programs with three quads in them is something I am not capable of doing. Needless to say that, nowadays, without those three quads, it has become extremely tough to reach the podium.
It’s unbelievable to see those 15-year-old skaters land quad jumps with such ease. I am impressed, and seeing that also made me realize that there is a technical gap between them and me. I am quite concerned about this technical evolution, though. I am afraid that it might not be what the audience wants to see. We have to encourage people to come and watch figure skating, and, in my opinion, showing them jumps isn’t enough. In Bratislava, I got a standing ovation from the crowd, and I believe that it had more to do with the emotion with which I performed than with the quad I landed. I wish figure skaters would skate and perform with their hearts more.
I have always been fully aware of how lucky I am to have been able to enjoy the life that I have. I think my personal history was one of the reasons that made me want to fight in life and achieve great things in figure skating. I am fortunate to have been given a gift, and I have always gone the extra mile to try to convey my love for skating with all the wonderful people that I met during my career. Now I would like to put my energy into something new. I have set new goals for myself outside skating, and I intend to follow them through.
Can you tell us about your last competition at the European Championships in Bratislava and what it meant to you to have Morozov coaching you once again?
Thank God! All my efforts were rewarded, and I felt proud to end my career on such a high note. It was also very important for
me to skate my best one last time, as a way to thank all the people that have always believed in me and stayed with me through thick and thin.
Nikolai is like a father to me. I have a lot of fond memories of him. I would say, without hesitation, that the strongest memory is that last competitive free program in Bratislava. I am happy that we got to share that precious moment together and that we showed everyone that our collaboration goes beyond skating. He is family to me.
In 2002 you were diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease and were off the ice for 18 months. What advice would you give young skaters that suffer from a prolonged injury at an early stage in their career?
That was the first difficult time. I had no face in the sport. I was sad to be away from the ice rink and from my friends. However, I did my best to be patient and turned it into an opportunity to work hard at school and to improve my physical strength through some enhanced off-ice sessions. But I have to admit that it felt like it was forever to me.
Sports in general are tough on the body when practiced at this level. When you get injured, you must therefore be resilient and mentally strong to listen to your body and take the necessary amount of time off for it to heal properly. I think the biggest effort as an athlete lies in doing your best to prevent injuries and to do the necessary amount of off-ice work to strengthen your body.
Who do you think will claim the Olympic title in 2018?
The Olympic Games are always full of surprises. I believe that Yuzuru Hanyu is a strong contender, and he has proved his hegemony in the men’s category on numerous occasions this season. For the remaining two spots on the podium, I believe that it will be a strenuous battle and that Patrick Chan and Javier Fernández will probably be fighting for them. I have sheer admiration for Shoma Uno and Daniel Samohin, as well, and I hope they can fight for a spot on that Olympic podium, too.
What would you like to say to your French teammates?
When I first arrived on the senior team, Brian (Joubert), Nathalie (Péchalat) and Fabian (Bourzat) gave me a very warm welcome. They treated me like family, like a younger brother. All the time I spent with them will remain a cherished memory. Most of the new national team members — Maé (-Bérénice Meite), Morgan (Ciprès), Chafik (Besseghier) and Vanessa (James) — were my childhood friends. I really wish them the best, and I hope they are able to fulfill their goals in figure skating. They all deserve it.
What is next for you, and will you remain involved in the sport?
Of course, figure skating is my life, but I have a new life ahead of me now. I would like to make time to be able to help young skaters in France develop their artistic and creative skills. I would also like to bring those young kids some enjoyment, in what is otherwise a rigorous and demanding training schedule. I want to share my passion for skating, and I am currently thinking about organizing my own summer training camp.
I have a lot of shows to perform in, and I have had numerous requests to work as a choreographer. I have decided to take my time. I have taken some time off to be with my family and my friends. As for now, my first priority remains getting my journalism degree. However, I have started to think about the way I would like to stay involved in figure skating in the future.
Can you share a memory of your career that is close to your heart?
My last competitive program in Bratislava was a short statement and a summary of everything my career amounted to and what I hope has been my contribution to figure skating as a whole.
Is there anything you would do differently or change if you had the chance to?
Not a single thing. I am extremely proud of my career. I was extremely blessed and lucky to have had very competent coaches from the beginning and to have a family that has always supported me and never put pressure on me in any way.