It was, Nikolaj Sørensen will tell you now, the craziest of thoughts – or so it seemed at the time. After being denied the chance to compete at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in South Korea due to citizenship issues, the Danish ice dancer and his Canadian partner Laurence Fournier Beaudry first hatched the idea of switching countries. In March 2018, they made the decision to represent Canada with the goal of earning a place on its 2022 Olympic Winter Games squad. Now the second top team in the country, that dream could very well become reality in early 2022.
Though the path has been anything but smooth at times — especially the last two years —Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen can now see the biggest prize squarely in their sights. It is so close they can almost touch it.
In a conversation with IFS, while working on and refining the programs they hope will deliver them a pair of tickets to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, there was no mistaking the optimism in their voices. “It is going to be the bow on top of the gift for working so hard to get there,” the 29-year-old Fournier Beaudry said when asked what it will feel like to see the five rings in the ice in Beijing, China.
Behind them, they hope — along with the rest of the skating world — are the many potholes caused by a global pandemic that ravaged the previous season, but a campaign that also ended with so much hope at the 2021 World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden. It was the first competition in roughly 15 months for the Montréal-based team, after an extended layoff following Sørensen’s complex surgery in December 2019 to relieve recurring pain in his right knee.
All that was in the past, however, as they glided onto the ice at the Ericsson Globe in Sweden’s capital city, once again in the familiar territory of a real competition. While the environment was hardly typical — 2021 Worlds was held in a virtually empty building due to coronavirus restrictions — it was a moment that Fournier Beaudry and Sørensen had been anticipating for so long.
“It felt exciting because going through the season, each competition had that buildup … it’s going to happen, we are going to go, and then two weeks before, oh, it got canceled. Then building up again for another competition and it got canceled,” Fournier Beaudry recalled. “Finally when the plane tickets were bought for Worlds, we were like ‘OK, this is really happening.’ At the same time, we got super excited and super stressed because it had been a while since we competed — especially for us because of Nik’s injury, it had been longer than just last year.
“Our last competition was in China in 2019. Going into Worlds, we just enjoyed the fact that we would be able to skate in front of people, which gave us some hope that everything was slowly getting back to normal.”
“What was funny about it was that sometime in February, we were thinking that Worlds was not happening,” added Sørensen, 32. “At our rink, among the teams that train together, half of us were like ‘it’s not happening. Don’t get your hopes up,’ and the other half were saying, ‘no, no, it’s Sweden. It’s going to happen. Finally, when everything got confirmed the excitement started to get real because we knew it was going to happen, but there was also this extreme amount of stress that started to set in during practice because it was ‘holy cow, we’re going.’
But when they took to the ice in Stockholm, and the familiar notes of their “Bonnie and Clyde” rhythm dance (which they used for a second straight season) began to play, Fournier Beaudry and Sørensen settled in to doing what they do best. “Because we have done many Championships, and just so many competitions, and because we have skated together for 10 years, we just got right back to where we left off,” Sørensen said. “Had it been two years or one year or six months … it was just nice to be back because everything was so familiar. All of a sudden, you are like ‘this is a competition, I know this, I’ve got it.’”
“It was a little bit of the same feeling as when you get back riding a bike if you haven’t done it for one or two years. Once it gets moving it feels the same,” Fournier Beaudry added.
Sørensen felt the rhythm dance they performed in Stockholm was the best they had ever done in the two years they skated that program. Their performance earned them a seventh-place finish in the segment and though they ranked eighth in the final standings, it was their highest finish ever at a World Championships. Perhaps more importantly, their placement at this competition, combined with the bronze medal effort of Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, ensured Canada three ice dance entries at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in February. “That was one of our big goals,” Sørensen recalled. “As much as we wanted to medal, what was really important for us was to earn those three spots for Canada. “We could not have asked for much better skates.”
While there was a lot of familiarity with their rhythm dance, the opposite was true for the free, which they performed for the first time in front of a live panel of judges. “When you have done a program multiple times in competition, you know that feeling as compared to how it feels in training. We didn’t have that competition mileage on the free dance,” said Sørensen of the program that is set to a medley of four songs: “A Call To Prayer,” “The Last Kingdom,” “Skogsraah” and “The Return to the Inner Temple.”
“With the rhythm dance, we knew what that program felt like when we are under stress. But, we only did the free dance at Skate Canada Challenge and all that online stuff. Yes, we were nervous like at a competition but it was not the same. You are in your own arena; you are skating in front of your friends with somebody filming the performance. It’s not the same kind of adrenalin, I would say. The mileage was what was really missing with that program.”
Following the World Championships the duo had the opportunity to cross the border to visit with Sorensen’s family. “We went to Denmark for two weeks after Worlds — I went back to see my family for the first time in over two years,” he explained. “As we were in Sweden it was like we were already there, so we figured we would go. Laurence wasn’t supposed to be able to get into Denmark, but somehow we didn’t run into any trouble at the airport leaving Sweden or getting into Denmark. We were just so happy that I finally got to go home.”
Fournier Beaudry and Sørensen kept last season’s free dance for the Olympic campaign, and have had plenty of opportunities to get a lot of mileage on it in the months leading up to nationals, where the Olympic team selection will take place. “We just feel like we really didn’t get to show it a lot and it is a vehicle that we can take a lot further,” Sørensen explained. “So, back in May, we sat down and had a meeting with our coaches (Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer) and they said they ‘really think this program still has a lot of room to grow. We really like it, and we like what you are doing with it, so you should consider keeping it.’ And that is what we did.
“We did have a hard time with the program at Worlds. That’s also one of the reasons we wanted to keep it, to dig deeper into the essence of it and find out how we want to move and what we want to show.”
The choreography of the program was a collaborative effort between the ice dancers, Dubreuil, Samuel Chouinard and Scott Moir —who is now the head coach and managing director of an I.AM satellite campus in London, Ontario. “Marie-France likes to give us the space to grow as artists, and that really makes the choreography she does different from one team to another,” said Fournier Beaudry.
“She lets the athletes take charge. She knows that we have a style that is not her style, or not necessarily anybody else’s style” Sørensen added. “So we really incorporate the way we like to dance and move within the choreography, and we come up with suggestions. It’s a great process.”
Working with Moir they believe has given them a different edge, and both feel he is a valuable addition to their team. “You can see in his teaching that one of his greatest strengths — at least this is what I saw from the outside — was how he paid attention to Tessa (Virtue) when they skated. The connection between the team was great and through his teaching, we can see that he is really putting a focus on that, and he helps us build the choreography through that process,” Fournier Beaudry explained.
They also could not help but notice his infectious enthusiasm. “Scott Moir is Scott Moir. He is just the bomb, full of energy. It doesn’t matter if it is the first lesson of the day or the last, he is always 110 percent,” said Sørensen. “We had a lot of early lessons with him at like 7 in the morning, and it was always a blast. It is so great to work with him because he is so down to earth and very accommodating with what we think is good. He does not try to take up all the room by saying ‘this is what you should do.’ He is very attentive to what we need and what we want to do. It’s just a very supportive style of coaching.”
Skating fans of a certain vintage have no doubt found themselves bopping to the trio of tunes that accompany the couple’s new rhythm dance: “Careless Whisper,” “I Want Your Sex” and “Freedom,” by George Michael, a 1980s and 1990s heart-throb. Sørensen said he and Dubreuil are huge fans of the late British singer, who died in 2016. “I listen to a lot of cheesy music, so I guess I am kind of a cheesy guy. I love it.”
Fournier Beaudry also pointed out that Michael sang “Freedom” during the closing ceremony at the 2012 Summer Games in London, England, so there is that Olympic connection. His music became the soundtrack of their summer.
“We found ourselves listening to his album over and over again,” she said. “And then we are listening to his other songs, and then we are asking ‘how come we didn’t use that song?’”
The words to “I Want Your Sex” have been “censored” by Fournier Beaudry who cut the music (with Hugo Chouinard refining and finalizing it). “I don’t know how that song was played on the radio in the 1990s,” Sørensen mused.
All of this is great fun, of course, and quite the departure from the situation the couple found themselves in at the beginning of 2020, when Sørensen was on crutches and he and Fournier Beaudry held only the slimmest hope of competing at the World Championships in Montréal, the city they call home. But they were determined to give it a shot and resumed training about six weeks prior to the event.
However, 10 days before the Championships were set to begin, they made the difficult decision to withdraw — one that became moot when the event was ultimately canceled. The entire experience produced a roller coaster of emotions for the couple. “Nik came back from his surgery (“from the grave,” he interjected) but I had continued training the whole time he was off the ice. Really, we pushed through until the last moment and we really tried to do our best. But finally we said, ‘listen, if we do our best and our best won’t be enough, we should not do the competition,’” Fournier Beaudry recalled. “Then we decided with our coaches and our federation that it was better for us not to do it. We went back home, and I remember that day … I was crying, thinking about all that effort we put in. It was sad.
“When you go to Worlds, you kind of know it’s your last time performing the two programs. It’s a sweet and sad time, where you think ‘I really love the programs and I just want to honor them and say a sweet goodbye.’ But we could not do that and when we made our decision, our thought was that we just have to put those programs behind us. Then one week later, when it got canceled, I just felt that everybody was feeling the way we felt the week before.”
Sørensen agreed. “What we had felt 10 days prior, everyone around us was then feeling. And then we felt it all over again because we saw the disappointment that all our friends were feeling. You can’t help it. If 10 people around you are feeling a certain way and are really sad about what is happening, then you feel it, too. But I think we all got over it very fast and just reflected, ‘why are we feeling so sad about Worlds when there is something much bigger going on?’ It’s a very small thing … we just started looking more at the bigger picture and moved on that way.”
The restrictions imposed in Québec due to the pandemic kept Fournier Beaudry and Sørensen off their home ice from March until June, but that proved to a positive — it gave his knee more time for recovery. However, the duo soon learned the problem was hardly gone for good.
“The most challenging thing for us in the last year was mainly how to get back on the ice with Nik’s injury, and then what we did when we got back. We were a little too intense at the beginning because we had a summer competition we thought was going to happen,” Fournier Beaudry explained. “Nik had some pain in his knee, so we had to take more time off and then look at how we could manage our training differently. Last year was really about how to get our training time in without making his knee worse.”
The pandemic forced the cancelation of every live competition they had planned to contest before Worlds, which Sørensen said was not beneficial in terms of keeping his knee healthy. Training for months on end, without the usual breaks they would take post-competition, took a physical toll on them. “When we got back on the ice in June, we were all thinking that, hopefully, there will be competitions in September. There was the Grand Prix Skate Canada, which we could go to, so we pushed really hard, but my knee pushed back,” he said.
“We took a break and then trained really hard all year. Shortly before Worlds my knee sort of started pushing back again. What was really different was that we were always in a state of ‘oh, we can’t really take any time off. There might be a competition happening. We have to keep training.’ When you do six competitions in a year, you train a lot less than you do when there are no competitions. Managing that load … we realized at the end of the season, when we were getting close to Worlds, that we had not taken a single day off — except for maybe one long weekend. We were spending four hours a day on the ice, plus all the off ice work with no travel days and no days of competition where you are only on the ice for 30 minutes.
“Physically, we were not really thinking about managing that time well. But in the second half of the season, we spent a lot of time paying attention to that. It has been our big thing this season, and it is going to be a big thing for the rest of our career.”
This season will not be the last dance for this team. Both agreed that the 2024 World Championships, which is set to take place in Montréal, is a tempting lure; a chance to make up for the opportunity that was missed in 2020. “We generally want to continue. At this point, it all depends on health,” said Sørensen. “We are at a point in our lives where we really love what we do, and we want to make competing a part of that for as long as possible. Are we committing to the Games in 2026? Probably not. In 2018, I remember watching the Games from the Dominican Republic, which seems like yesterday. So you never know. But in the short term, it would be fantastic to do Worlds at home in 2024.”
If all had gone as they hoped, Fournier Beaudry and Sørensen would have been at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, skating under the Danish flag. But as Fournier Beaudry did not have and would not be able to obtain Danish citizenship, the couple then shifted gears and decided to work toward representing Canada in 2022 in Beijing. That decision, it appears, could soon prove to be the right one. Sørensen passed the written test to become a Canadian citizen in early June, and now has a Canadian passport, which cleared the most significant obstacle to realizing their Olympic dream.
Looking back on everything that has transpired since Sørensen made that fateful decision in 2011 to move to Montréal to train, both skaters say they are grateful to be where they are right now. Despite the upheaval throughout 2020, neither lost their motivation or the desire to push through it all. “When you are in a place with so many teams and so many friends and such an amazing coaching staff, that just keeps every day interesting and fun,” said Sørensen. “We had teams around us like the Americans, who went to their national team camp, Skate America, and nationals. People around us were training for events, and we sort of just went with that flow. We are really lucky to be in the environment we are in.”
With all the hard work complete, both are excited that their dream goal could now be just two short months away. That has given Fournier Beaudry and Sørensen so many reasons to feel a sense of true satisfaction at this point. “It started with a crazy dream and a crazy plan, and just knowing we have been able to push through to make that happen will be a really nice gift for both of us,” said Sørensen.
“We have a lot of people behind us supporting that dream, especially our coaches, Marie and Patrice. It is something that they really want for us Everyone is going to be happy and proud, if and when we realize our dream.”
The Canadian Championships, which take place in early January, will determine their Olympic fate.