J. Barry Mittan, the Electronic Photojournalist

Delobel and Schoenfelder by J. Barry Mittan (1999)

It's unusual to have siblings competing against one another in skating. It's even rarer to have twins competing for the same prize. But France's ice dance silver medallists, Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, found themselves in such a situation this season at Skate Canada, when they competed against Isabelle's twin sister, Veronique, and her partner, Olivier Chapuis. Although Veronique only took up ice dancing again three years ago after a hiatus of several years, Isabelle and Schoenfelder have been battling Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat for the French championship for the last three years. The 1996 World junior dance silver medallists finished third in the French Nationals in 1999. This year, the couple won the bronze medal at Skate Canada and finished seventh at Trophee Lalique. They finished 15th at Europeans in 1998, moving up to 12th in 1999, and finished 19th and 14th in Worlds for those years.

Isabelle began skating with Veronique and her brother, Laurent, when she was six. They did freestyle for a year before starting dance. Both Isabelle and Laurent wanted to do pairs, but it was easier to find coaching for dance. She danced with Laurent for three years before her parents decided they couldn't afford lessons for everyone. Isabelle then moved to Lyon for dance training and was matched with Schoenfelder by their coach. Schoenfelder had begun skating at eight after his mother took him to see the Duchesnays in an ice show. Within six months, he was already concentrating on dance. "There were too many jumps and other things required to do freestyle," he said. "Dance is better for expressing yourself. I must feel free to skate."

"We are a good match because we have different character," Isabelle stated. "I'm very excitable, but he is calm. I'm the fire and he's the ice." "It makes a very good mix," Olivier added. "She's a very good skater and we fit well together. Isabelle has very good technique, but sometimes she's very nervous and I calm her down. Sometimes I'm too slow, and she makes me go faster."

The dancers train with Lydie Bontems in France. They also worked with Tatiana Tarasova for a month in 1998 and two months in 1999 and have been working with Tarasova's assistant, Nikolai Morozov, this year on their choreography. "Nikolai made our free dance," Isabelle noted. "We were looking for new styles of music and heard this piece, then Nikolai came to France and brought the same music." Their free dance, in harlequin costumes, is to "Steppe Quintette" By Rene Aubry.

Their Latin rhythm original dance is to music suggested by a French ballroom dancing instructor, with whom they work to try out moves on the floor before moving them to the ice. It includes "Love Potion Number 9" for their cha cha, a rhumba, and "My All" by Mariah Carey for their samba. For the compulsory dances, Isabelle prefers the Golden Waltz and the Tango Romantica. "I don't like bouncy dances," she explained. "These dances are harder, but you can still make an interpretation." Olivier likes the Golden Waltz, the Argentine Tango and the Blues. "I like the Blues because it's smooth and very different from the waltzes," he said.

The dancers train from three to six hours on ice every day, more earlier in the season. They also work about two hours off ice with balletics and weight training in the summer. "I did ballet before skating," Olivier noted. "My mother was a ballet instructor."

Both skaters plan to coach after they finish competing. Isabelle is studying science and sport at the university, while Olivier is in his final year of university studies, preparing for the coaches examination this spring. They plan to compete at least until the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and may become professional skaters if they win a major competition.

Their favorite skating trip was to Australia for the 1995 Junior Worlds, where they finished fourth. "It was always my dream to go to Australia," Isabelle sad. "We stayed three weeks but wanted to see more. We saw the strange animals and I held a koala. I was surprised by how heavy they were." For holidays, Isabelle goes to the beaches in the south of France, while Olivier goes to the beach in the summer and the mountains in the winter. He likes to ski and snowboard. His other sports interests include soccer and pinball, while Isabelle sometimes does rhythmic gymnastics. Both skaters also rollerblade.

To relax, Olivier sometimes paints small figurines and listens to music. "I prefer ballads to techno," he said. Isabelle enjoys shopping and cooking. She has a room full of stuffed animals and collects owls especially. "I listen to all kinds of music except rap," she said.

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