Lauriault

From the first days of their ice dance partnership, everything fell into place
for Marie-Jade Lauriault and Romain Le Gac.

Sometimes, things happen when you least expect them, and what is meant to be flows naturally without any effort or stress.

“What will be, will be” could easily be the theme song for ice dancers Marie-Jade Lauriault and Romain Le Gac, who made their debut as members of Skate Canada’s national team this season.

When Le Gac’s former ice dance partner, Estelle Elizabeth, decided to end her skating career in July 2014, he was at loose ends. A month earlier, his coach Romain Haguenauer had left Lyon, France, and moved to work at a new ice dance school in Montréal.

Having spent seven years training in Lyon, and with no other partner waiting in the wings, the native of Nogent-sur-Marne decided it was time to make some changes in his life.

Le Gac’s first call was to Haguenauer to ask two questions: Could he come and train at the school in Montréal, and did he know of anyone who would be a potential partner for him?

Around the same time, the ice dance partnership of Québec’s Marie-Jade Lauriault and Pierre-Richard Chiasson had come to an end.

After giving Lauriault a private lesson to assess whether she and Le Gac would be compatible, Haguenauer thought a partnership might work.

At the end of their first week of skating together in Montréal, Lauriault and Le Gac knew it was a good fit. “I only had one partner my whole skating life, so for me everything was new and different, but we connected really well together,” Lauriault recalled.

Though the duo would represent France, they opted to remain in Canada and train with the coaching team at Montréal’s I.AM Academy.

Things moved quickly from that point, and a month after they teamed up they began an off-ice relationship.

When Lauriault and Le Gac started climbing the ice dance ladder, Haguenauer began thinking ahead. With the 2018 Olympic Winter Games less than three years away, he knew that it was highly likely his students would make the French team and began putting a plan of action in place.

“At the time, we were training in Lyon, and one day he said to our mothers, who were both in the stands, ‘I think marriage is a good idea,’” Lauriault recalled with a laugh. “He did not say anything to us; he did not even mention it to us first. When we left the training rink my mother looked traumatized. I asked her what was wrong; what did Romain say to her. She said, ‘He wants you to get married.’ I was like ‘Ah, no! Not yet!’”

But eventually the couple came around and in December 2015, 15 months after their first date, they married in a small ceremony in Lauriault’s hometown of Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines. “It felt right,” she said. “Everyone was crying at the wedding, but we were just so happy. It was a special moment. We filmed it and every time we watch it, we both cry.”

Two years later, on Dec. 28, 2017, and just three days before the French Olympic Committee deadline, Lauriault received citizenship, clearing the last hurdle to be eligible to compete at the 2018 Games.

“There are a lot of things in our life and career that were meant to be, and this was one of them. Marriage was not useful and had nothing to do with our selection in the end,” Lauriault explained. “The way that we were representing France, our results, how we were serving the country and what we had achieved was why we were selected for that Olympic team.”

The next two seasons produced varying results, but everything came to a standstill when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. With strict quarantine regulations in place in Canada and France the option to travel between the two countries became impossible, forcing Lauriault and Le Gac to re-evaluate what they were doing and why.

“When we first started skating together, it was a question of where we wanted to go in the future and where we wanted to live,” said Lauriault, 25. “In the beginning, France was a possibility for us but as the years passed we were like, ‘No I think we are good here.’

“And then with COVID it was hard to manage training in Canada while representing France. At school I was not recognized as a professional athlete because I skated for France, so it was hard to get the time slots or classes I wanted or to relate to the teachers. It started to become complicated with Romain studying here and us coming and going so many times.

“We had to quarantine before and after competitions. It was a lot of sacrifice, and we did not know if we were ready to do that again and again. At one point it became too much, and we thought that maybe we were done with skating. We did everything in our career, and we were proud of everything, so we thought maybe we should stop.”

DECISION TIME

Lauriault and Le Gac shared their thoughts with their performance coach Steffany Hanlen and took her advice to “take one day and just skate for yourself — not for any country — see how it feels and if you still love skating.”

“After that we knew we still wanted to compete, but we saw that we were in a place where it was hard to manage everything,” Le Gac explained. “That is when the possibility to represent Canada began to formulate in our minds.”

“It was a process. It was not a decision we made in one day,” Lauriault added. “Our life is in Canada; we train here full time; I was in school, and Romain was working.

“We knew we had no chance to go to the 2022 Games for France and also not for Canada due to Romain not having citizenship and because of how high the level was. So then the question arose: ‘Are we fine letting go of the Games and switching to Canada and maybe skating for another year?’ We had the time to really think about that, to take a step back and look at our life.”

When the couple made the decision to switch countries, officials from Patinage Québec and Skate Canada “were very supportive” and assisted with the transition. “Patrice (Lauzon, their coach) almost choked on his water when we told him,” Lauriault recalled with a laugh.

“He was happy, but he warned us that a transition is not always easy. Fortunately, we had a lot of help navigating that and the financial part.”

Skate Canada applied for both skaters to be released from France in February 2021. Lauriault received hers four months later, but Le Gac was not released until January 2022.

“We made the decision to change countries not knowing what would happen,” said Lauriault. “But when Mike (Slipchuk, Skate Canada High Performance Director) came to our rink and said, ‘Welcome home guys,’ it was like whoa!

“We are really grateful for that help and the support. Now we had the possibility to train and compete at a high level. It was really awesome. Everything just fell into place.”

Another bonus for the team was that even before they were officially released to represent Canada, they started receiving financial support from Patinage Québec and also from Lauriault’s hometown, and were permitted to compete in domestic competitions.

Once the dust had settled on the country change, the duo took it one step at a time, initially planning to compete for just one more season.

In 2021, they began their campaign to reach the national level by competing at every sectional event in Québec, provincials and the Skate Canada Challenge, which also afforded them the opportunity to get to know the other athletes from Québec.

Heading into the 2022 Canadian Championships the goal was to make top five, which would not only put them on the national team but also ensure funding.

Lauriault and Le Gac achieved that goal with a fifth-place result and were subsequently assigned to their first Four Continents Championships, where they finished sixth.

Their first competition in the current season was the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, a Challenger Series event which took place in Lake Placid, New York. Lauriault and Le Gac placed third in the free dance but finished in fourth place overall.

“Skate Canada people were at the boards asking us if we needed anything, making sure we had everything to perform at our best. That was a really nice feeling,” said Lauriault.

“It kind of surprised us that they have a huge team that is always around you. There are so many people in that organization that want to take care of the athletes. It was a good moment and a good experience.”




PASSION REDISCOVERED

Over time, Lauriault and Le Gac said they have “kind of fallen in love with figure skating again,” having had the opportunity to step back to appreciate everything they have.

“We have a home, a good family and a good coaching team, train at the best school in the world and to travel for figure skating is exceptional.

“COVID gave us the time to see that and now we are taking every moment to enjoy competing. We know that the end is getting closer, so we are embracing every second.”

“After the 2018 Olympics, we were motivated to get better results, but we were kind of tired and it was hard to go to competitions,” Le Gac added. “When we stepped back it recharged our batteries and I think we needed this time to recharge.

“Last year we saw people going to competitions and that made us want to do it again. I think that is why we now enjoy the process.”

Lauriault and Le Gac have also changed their approach to training sessions and are doing a lot more mental preparation, “which has completely changed our view of training and competing.”

It has also helped with their energy levels. Where once it would take three days to recover after a competition, it now takes no time at all. “Now we realign, see what did not work and say, ‘OK, let’s go,’ said Lauriault. “We don’t need three days to recover.”

With Four Continents being their last competition of the 2021-2022 season, the duo made good use of the extra time by working on new programs.

With the change in rules announced much later than usual, they completed the free dance and then started working on the rhythm dance. They chose two pieces by Robin Thicke — “Everything I Can’t Have” and “Ms. Harmony” — which they hope will show a greater maturity in their skating.

“We thought that maybe this year there would be a lot of Latino big, boom, boom, party music. We know that we can skate to that kind of music, so we tried to put another slant on the rhythm dance this year,” Le Gac explained. “The story line is that we are two dancers in a Miami club. The first section of the program is two people intimately dancing in the dark with their eyes closed. Then the last part is the big show,” said Lauriault.

Le Gac, 27, was not sure how the rhythm dance would play out with the removal of the pattern dance, but he now believes there is more freedom for choreography and creativity “and it is more fun.”

“The pattern dance was so different from the rest of the program, but now routines are more fluid from beginning to end. I think it is a good idea. Let’s see how it evolves during the year, but I think it is a good move.”

Their innovative free dance is set to a medley of tunes by Canadian composer Christophe Beck: “The Airport,” “Pinch a Finger,” “Main Titles” and “Blind Love” and Neo’s iconic “The Pink Panther Theme.”

“When we first proposed the idea our coaches were like, ‘Are you sure? People are going to see ‘Pink Panther’ and go ‘Oh no! Not another one.’ But we had the idea to use this music for four years and this season it felt right to do it,” said Lauriault. “We felt it was good music to showcase us and we wanted to have something more uplifting and fun and not do a drama program.”

“The goal was to make it really different,” Le Gac added. “We listened to a lot of music — all the versions we could find. It was really important for us that it not be obvious at the beginning that it is a ‘Pink Panther’ routine. We wanted to have some suspense, so we did not put the iconic opening notes at the beginning.”

 

A few years earlier they had the opportunity to work with a dancer from the stage production “Chicago” who had experience in the 1940s style, which they incorporated into this program. “We wanted to make sure that each movement was highlighted by the music, so we made up an elements order and then arranged the music to fit that order,” Lauriault explained.

“Last year we had the one foot step sequence at the three-minute mark and that was a big no for us. So, we told our choreographer Marie-France (Dubrueil) that this year we want that element at the beginning.

“I think it is a program that can evolve. Every time we work with (choreographer) Sam Chouinard, he comes up with new movements that we never thought of.”

Le Gac completes the feel of the program with a traditional Inspector Clouseau moustache, which Dubrueil first suggested in jest. When Le Gac decided to try to grow one, he said “everyone was like OMG! And then I was like OK, maybe I should keep it. I will not wear it for life but for the interpretation and to be in character.”

Off the ice, Le Gac — who graduated from a private school in February 2022 — now works part time as an osteopath at a Montréal clinic. Lauriault is in her first year at the University of Québec at Montréal, where she is studying psychology.

A more settled life has also afforded the couple an opportunity to look further ahead than just one year, and competing through to the 2026 Olympic Winter Games might figure into their future plans.

“Now that we can prepare for what’s next, it is way easier to say ‘OK, let’s go for four more years,’” said Lauriault. “I can go to school and Romain can work. It is way easier to combine skating with those things. Before we were not sure how we were going to manage it but now it feels like part of our daily lives.”

The stability has also given them a new confidence. Last season they felt like they had something to prove, but this year they are in a different head space. “We have nothing to prove. Now it is just about doing our best,” said Lauriault.

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