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Figure Skating, Off the field of play »

Skating pair Delobel-Schoenfelder back after pregnancy, injury

By Associated Press sports staff

February 18, 2010, 7:32PM
delobelschoenfelder.JPGIn this 2008 file photo, France's Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder perform during their Ice dance original dance for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in Goyang, South Korea. The compulsory dance at the Vancouver Games today will be the 2008 world ice dance champions' first competition in 15 months, and it comes just 4-1/2 months after Delobel gave birth to her first child, Lois.

Nancy Armour, Associated Press

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- When most athletes say they're just happy to be at an event, it's a cliche.

For France's Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, it comes from the heart.

The compulsory dance today will be the 2008 world ice dance champions' first competition in 15 months, and it comes just 4-1/2 months after Delobel gave birth to her first child, Lois.

"Every day we tried to improve everything and be in time to come here," Schoenfelder said. "That was the big challenge. Of course to get the good level, but to come back in time."

Delobel and Schoenfelder's return adds another layer to what was already an especially deep dance field. Reigning Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto are back, as are defending world champs Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia.

Two-time U.S. champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the prestigious Grand Prix final title. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, medalists at the last two world championships, are perhaps Canada's best chance for gold in figure skating.

Don't overlook Italy's Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali, second to Domnina and Shabalin at last month's European championships despite winning the original and free dances.

"It's going to be a great event, and what an honor it is," Virtue said. "It will certainly be entertaining, that's for sure. Everyone brings something to the table and everyone has their own style of skating. We're just happy to be a part of it, happy to be in the mix."

No more happier than Delobel and Schoenfelder.

Delobel, 31, and Schoenfelder, 32, began skating together in 1990 -- just a few years after some of the other top dancers were born. Fifteen years later, they came into their own.

They missed the bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics by 1.57 points, done in by a rough start in compulsories. Two years later, they won their first world title.

"We had a long, long way to win this medal for us. It is the first world medal and it's a gold -- so it's amazing," Delobel said at the time.

They dominated the Grand Prix series the following season, winning at Skate America and Trophee Eric Bompard before breezing to the 2009 Grand Prix final title.

But Delobel injured her shoulder at the Grand Prix final, and the couple was forced to sit out last year's European and world championships while she recovered from surgery. A month after worlds, Delobel announced she and husband Ludovic Roux -- a bronze medalist at the Nagano Olympics in team Nordic combined -- were expecting their first child.

"It's the best event in your life -- different than the Olympics," Delobel said. "It gives me serenity."

Delobel continued to skate during her pregnancy and worked with trainers to stay in shape. But it wasn't anywhere close to the workload she and Schoenfelder were used to. She wasn't skating at full speed, and they could do little more than walk through the complicated steps and elements in their original and free dances because she couldn't risk a bad fall.

Lois was born Oct. 1, and Delobel was on the ice shortly after.

"It was the most work, the hardest work I did all my life," Delobel said. "But we did it, and I'm proud of what we did."

It wasn't as simple as losing the weight she'd gained while pregnant. Delobel had to regain the stamina needed for 2-1/2- and 4-1/2-minute programs that are filled with fast-paced footwork, athletic lifts and challenging dance moves. She and Schoenfelder also had to get back that seamless timing that makes ice dance look so effortlessly beautiful.

Even for a couple together so long, it was a challenge.

"Of course there is some frustration. You want to go fast and you can't because you have to go step by step," Schoenfelder said.

Delobel and Schoenfelder skipped the European championships, meaning they will get that first rush of competitive adrenaline -- and the pressure and nerves that go with it -- at the Olympics.

"Of course it would be good to have a competition before coming here," Schoenfelder said. "We have very big experience so we can count on this to be able to manage the stress. Plus, we're just so happy to come here and be able to compete."

"It makes our story even more poetic," Delobel added.

And this will be the final chapter in that story.

"We came here just to say the best goodbye we can. And hopefully get a medal," Schoenfelder said. "But there is no big pressure because we just want to have fun."



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