8 December 2022

Interview - Laurence Fournier Beaudry & Nikolaj Soerensen

Before the Grand Prix Final, we met Canadian ice dancers Laurence Fournier Beaudry & Nikolaj Soerensen. After a second place at the Grand Prix d'Angers and a victory at the NHK Trophy, this was their first qualification for the Final.
Solene: How are you?
Laurence: Very good! We are happy we competed in the first Grand Prix Final of our career. It was an important goal for us.
Solène: This season, besides qualifying for the Final, you won a Grand Prix. Did you think it would happen this year?
Nikolaj: When we set our goals last summer, I said I wanted to win a Grand Prix. Laurence asked me "Why don't you want to win both?". We’ve done well this year and we are happy with this victory at the NHK Trophy. We gave our all during our training sessions and had a lot of fun.
Laurence: There was a lot of pressure on us during the last two seasons: external pressure but also pressure that came from ourselves. We haven't had a lot of fun between 2020 and 2022. When we sat down after the 2022 World Championships in Montpellier, we decided that we wanted to have more fun in training. We still have to work, but we wanted less pressure and more fun.
Nikolaj: We are very hard on ourselves, but we realized that we already have coaches whose job is to be hard on us. We don't need to be hard on ourselves on top of that (laughs). Last year was particularly difficult: the pressure of the Olympic Games, COVID... It was very stressful. We had few competitions but a lot of time at home to think and therefore to stress. We were training with eleven couples who were going to the Olympic Games, three of whom were aiming at a first place. Our coaches were nervous too. I'll be honest, I thought about quitting after the World Championships. In the end, we decided to continue but on one condition: it had to change and we wanted to have fun.
Laurence: We had this key objective of going to the Olympic Games. Once this goal was accomplished, it was important to identify our reasons for continuing. We are working on this with our mental coach and our team. In the end, by putting less pressure on ourselves, we skate better. Everything feels smoother and better, including our communication.
Solène: Where do you see yourself in the global hierarchy of ice dancing?
Nikolaj: Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are not competing at the moment, Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue have retired. The Russians are also absent. This season is exciting because we had proof at the NHK Trophy that anything was possible. Before arriving in Japan, I felt that we could win. Our training was going well. We have a different energy, I think everyone sees that, whether it's our coaches or our parents. My parents tell me "What's going on? You're different".
Laurence: It's a year of transition with doors opening. The level of the best dancers is close and the performance during the competition has a lot of impact on the final result.
Solène: Canada has several top couples. How do you feel about it?
Laurence: Very good! That's why we keep skating. We are happy to be part of this team.
Nikolaj: We have very good relations with Canadian couples and couples from
the Ice Academy of Montreal. We see Madison Chock and Evan Bates off the ice a lot. It's motivating to be on the ice with these couples. We are friends with Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri and I often wonder how they manage to train alone in Italy. It happens to us sometimes, when we spend a week in Denmark, about every two years, and we don't like it at all.
Laurence: In Canada, there are many national competitions. It's fun and it helps us prepare for international competitions. It also prepares the next generation!
Solène: Speaking of the next generation, there is a couple of junior Canadian ice dancers in this Final, Nadiia Bashynska and Peter Beaumont. Do you know them?
Nikolaj: They train in Toronto with the same team as Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier. We don’t know them well but we saw them skate in Turin; they are very good. They have a lot of potential and will surely skate at the senior level next year. They are ready. Now we are "the old ones". We have been in the senior category for a very long time. To give you an example, at our first senior World Championship, Nathalie Péchalat, Fabian Bourzat, Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte were on the podium.
Laurence: We are used to skating only with seniors. At the Final, the juniors come to see our training sessions. We don't identify as mentors but it's interesting to have both categories in the same competition.
Solène: Nikolaj, you knew the Ice Academy of Montreal at its beginnings. You were their first international skater. How do you see the evolution of this school?
Nikolaj: I arrived at the end of 2010. It wasn't called the Ice Academy of Montreal at the time. Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon started coaching in Gatbois in September 2010. They had no international couples, only a few Canadian couples. They were originally Pascal Denis' couples. I arrived with my former Canadian partner. Then Sara Hurtado and Adria Diaz came for two weeks in the summer of 2011. You were there too, Laurence, I believe? You were training alone with us.
Laurence: Yes, I came twice a week to Gadbois.
Nikolaj: The atmosphere was different, we were all skating at the same time since there weren't many of us. Laurence and I started skating together in 2012. At the same time, Sara and Adria decided to settle in Gadbois. Gabriella and Guillaume came in 2014 because Patrice knew Romain Haguenauer well. We did our first World Championships with them in 2014. They placed 13th and we placed 29th, we hadn't qualified for the free dance. The following year they won but we placed 11th, so in the end we had better progress than them since we gained 18 places and they gained 12 (laughs).
Laurence: Madison and Zach joined Montreal at that time. The coaching staff grew. Our occasional ballroom dancing coach came more regularly. A theater teacher came next, then another dance coach.
Nikolaj: Our school is more structured than before, but the atmosphere has remained very family-like. There is something I’ll never be able to explain about the atmosphere at the Ice Academy in Montreal. Marie-France and Patrice have created a special place where there is no room for unhealthy competition. If a couple came along and didn't respect that, it wouldn't work. We cherish this atmosphere. We wouldn't have stayed ten years otherwise!
Solène: You are two of the rare skaters to have participated in the European Championships as well as the Four Continents Championships since you first represented Denmark and now Canada. Do you miss the European Championships?
Nikolaj: Oh yes! We miss them very much!
Laurence: The Four Continents are a great competition, but it's not the same. The European Championships are similar to the World Championships, with a lot of skaters and a similar schedule over the week. The level of the European Championships is very high.
Nikolaj: And we liked to go to competitions with Gabriella and Guillaume.
Solène: Lilah Fear describes you as the Ying and the Yang. What do you think?
Nikolaj: Oh, I had forgotten that (laughs). It's probably true...
Laurence: We have quite different personalities.
Nikolaj: That's why it works! We never get bored.
Laurence: Nikolaj is quite impulsive. He makes his decisions quickly while I am rather patient.
Solène: We are doing this interview in French, but do you speak French or English together?
Laurence: We speak half French, half English.
Nikolaj: Laurence likes to speak a little Danish to me too.
Laurence: But you never answer me in Danish!
Nikolaj: Sometimes on the ice, Patrice speaks English to me and I ask him to speak French. It's probably because he coaches American couples a lot, he's used to working in English.
Laurence: Marie-France generally speaks French to us. Romain always speaks French to us. He even speaks French to Lilah and Lewis (laughs).
Solène: Nikolaj, what was your motivation for learning French? It doesn’t seem mandatory in a city as international as Montreal.
Nikolaj: I come from Denmark, a country where children are encouraged to learn both English and Danish. It was natural for me to learn French when I moved to Montreal. It was a personal drive. Moreover, in Montreal, the subject of the French language is sensitive.
Laurence: He scolds our English-speaking friends in Montreal who haven't learned French! I remember that when he was learning French, he kept repeating the names of Montreal metro stations, imitating the voice that made the announcements.
Nikolaj: I didn't study French, I learned it on the job. My French is not perfect... I trained children at the ice rink and I had to speak French to them. I was less afraid of making mistakes in front of the children, it helped me break the language barrier. Now I still make mistakes but I don't care! If you understand me, that's the most important thing.
Laurence: You make very few mistakes... But sometimes you come up with very cute words.
Solène: We talked a lot about France, but we are currently in Italy. So… Do you prefer French or Italian food?
Laurence: Oh... It's difficult. When we were at the Grand Prix in Angers, we bought lots of cheese and charcuterie! Then we made toast with cheese in our hotel room (laughs). In Turin, we tried to find stracciatella.
Nikolaj: Let's say it is a draw between French and Italian food!

Solène MATHIEU for Skate Info Glace