In a skating world that is primarily focused on jumps, Kévin Aymoz of France is one of the rare exceptions. Though the 21-year-old did not medal at any of his competitions this season, his musicality, interpretation, and presentation of his programs won over a legion of new fans.
In his first full year as a senior, Aymoz placed seventh and fifth, respectively, at his two Grand Prix assignments — Skate Canada and Internationaux de France. He made a quantum leap from a 15th-place finish at 2017 Europeans to fourth in 2019, missing the third step of the podium by 0.74 of a point. Seventh after the short program in his World Championships debut, he achieved his goal of skating in the penultimate group for the free. Aymoz finished in 11th place overall.
“I was honored to skate at Worlds for the first time. When I saw a season’s best score for the short my stress level went down and I became emotional,” he said. “The stress was totally different in the free because I knew I needed to skate clean. At every training session I popped the triple loop and as I was heading into the jump in the long program at Worlds, I was like, ‘OK … here we go,’ and when I landed it I was like I did it! Next! I was so happy.
“I went there to show who I am. I have some regrets, but in general no regrets. It was really cool to skate in front of a lot of people.”
Aymoz has been showing rapid improvement the past two seasons since he made the move to train with John Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana in the U.S. He first met the American coaches, with whom the French pairs team of Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès also train, at the 2017 World Team Trophy in Japan. His federation subsequently suggested it would be a good idea for Aymoz to go to Florida for two weeks that summer to have a new short program crafted by Zimmerman and Fontana. Aymoz agreed.
“John and Silvia choreographed the short program and immediately after, I asked them ‘can we please do the long?’ It was not in the original plan, but we did it,” he said. “After two weeks training with John and Silvia, I felt a real connection and I asked the federation if I could stay.”
The French federation was reluctant to agree to this request given his previous history. “It was not really OK in the beginning,” Aymoz said. “My federation was like, ‘Oh, we don’t know. It is far away. You have never proved you can stay far from home. When you were in Annecy, not far from your home, you were like, I miss my family, I want to go back home. And now you want to be on the opposite side of the Atlantic?’”
In the end, it was agreed that Aymoz would try a gradual transition, splitting his time between Katia Krier in Paris and Zimmerman and Fontana. “The first season I was one month in Florida and one month in France, but last July I started training fulltime in Florida and now I just go home three times a year,” he explained.
When he first moved to Florida many of his friends were envious, Aymoz recalled. “Everyone was like, ‘Oh, Miami, Florida, it is going to be sunny every day.’ But I am not living in Miami. I am living in Wesley Chapel. It’s really lost in Florida. It is not sunny every day. It rains a lot and I am not going to the beach. In two years, I have been only three times to the beach.”
Aymoz started skating in his hometown of Grenoble at age 5. His parents followed ice hockey and he often attended games with them. Aymoz told his parents he wanted to try hockey, “but I was really thinking about skating. I had a school friend who was always talking about skating atschool. My parents put me on hockey skates, but I was not really interested. Then one day, I told them that I wanted to do ‘hockey for girls.’”
Though he competed in local events, Aymoz knew nothing about international competitions until he was 9 or 10 years old. “The first elite level skater I saw was Evgeni Plushenko on TV. I said, ‘one day I am going to compete against him and I am going to beat him,’” he said with a laugh.
At age 16, Aymoz won the French junior title. At the time, he was struggling with skating and regular school schedules, running from one to the other multiple times every day. Aymoz then started being home schooled, which had benefits but also drawbacks. “I was really bored because I only had skating in my life and when skating was bad, everything was bad,” he recalled. “Home school was bad because I had no friends and no one to go out with.”
His sister had joined a baton-twirling club and Aymoz asked his mother if he could go with her to watch her train. He began following his sister to competitions and it was not long before he also took up the sport. “A girl I knew was the national champion. She said it would be amazing if we tried doing pairs,” Aymoz said, adding his sister taught him how to twirl the batons. Two months later, he and his friend began working as a pairs team. “I did pairs for two years with my partner and I started doing singles as well. I won the national singles title in my second year. It was a surprise because I did not know I could do that.
“But it was really an escape from my life,” he added. “After I won the national title, I stopped. I could not do two different sports. Skating was my first dream.”
Getting his programs organized for last season was a challenge. Zimmerman and Fontana first choreographed a short program in May 2018, but Aymoz said it did not work and they abandoned the project. At the end of July, he still did not have any programs ready. Finally, his best friend found the music “Horns” by Bryce Fox. “I went to the rink with this music and said to John that maybe this would be cool and John said, ‘Yes, that’s really cool.’ So we started working on the short.”
Aymoz and Zimmerman were on the same page when it came to the long program. He had wanted to skate to a piece of music, ‘In This Shirt,’ by the Irrepressibles (the creative guise of British musician Jamie Irrepressible) for years. Zimmerman arrived at the rink one day with a song from the collaboration and asked Aymoz if he knew this guy. “I did and I told him that I knew a song that was really cool, with lyrics that matched what was happening in my life at that time,” Aymoz explained. “I always wanted to skate to this music, but it was never the right time. Last summer, I was like, ‘Yes, let’s do it.’ Everything in my life matched with the words of the song.”
Following on the heels of his successful year, Aymoz said his goals for this season are to be on the podium at Europeans, make the last group for the free skate at the World Championships and to have two different quads in his long program. “In practice I can do toe and Salchow, but I have not yet trained the Salchow for competition. A couple of months ago I was doing it every day, but I did not try it in competition because it was too new and I had never done it under stress. Maybe the Lutz will be the next one I learn.”
After watching the last group of men at 2019 Worlds, Aymoz believes he is not that far behind them. He knows he has to put in a lot of work to reach their level, but said he is up for that challenge.
Aymoz opens his Grand Prix season on home soil at Internationaux de France, and will make his debut at NHK Trophy in late November.