by Jacquelyn Thayer | Photos by Robin Ritoss
Danish ice dancer Nikolaj Sørensen has found much to reflect on after finishing 11th at the World Championship—and ninth in the short dance—with partner Laurence Fournier Beaudry.
“Back in 2004, I remember sitting down and having a meeting with the federation,” he said. “I was 15 and we [Sørensen and then-partner Anna Thomsen] did our first Junior Grand Prix [JGP Pokal der Blauen Schwerter] that year, and I remember setting my long-term goals. And you know, my long-term goal was to be top ten at Worlds.”
It was a result Sørensen, who finished 15th at that early JGP event before a series of lower-tier placements at the Junior World and World Championships with Thomsen and subsequent partners, once considered distant.
“It’s been weird to just think about where do we set the bar for next season after this, because this is where I thought I was going to end up when I was ready to quit, you know?” he continued. “Adriá Diaz told me straight after the short dance, he said ‘Well, Nik, it looks like you’re going to be quitting a lot sooner than you thought, because right now you’re top ten in the world.’”
In their debut competitive season of 2013-14, Fournier Beaudry and Sørensen finished 18th at Europeans and missed qualifying for the free dance at Worlds. Goals for 2014-15, then, were modest but forward-thinking: top 15 at Worlds, top 12 at Europeans—an event at which they would actually finish ninth, a best-ever achievement for a Danish team.
“I think this season was very unexpected for us because we didn’t really know what to expect,” said Sørensen. “Last season [2013-14] we had pretty good results, but in small international competitions and nothing that really means anything. And we came to Europeans and qualified and we did Worlds and we didn’t qualify.”
While the team had yet to finalize next season’s specific goals with coaches Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon—“I think they always aim a little higher for us than we do for ourselves, because we maybe hadn’t realized that we had the potential of being as high as we were this year,” Sørensen said —the achievements of last year have already begun to pay dividends in the form of a first-ever Grand Prix spot, courtesy of a berth in 2014-15’s ISU top 24 Season’s Best scores.
“We are both very excited to be joining the Grand Prix circuit,” he said of the team’s assignment to Skate Canada International. “Needless to say, we are very happy and of course we are hoping to maybe get a second!”
The two especially appreciate the Grand Prix’s impact on World Standing, with the team sitting 28th on the current list. “We really need those, because we’re not getting enough points right now,” Sørensen said. “We only get points from two Senior Bs and a championship, where the other teams that we’re competing against are getting two Grand Prix [events], two Senior Bs, and a championship. It’s tough to make up the gap.”
And in preparation, they’ll kick off their season at August’s Québec Summer Championships, an event scheduled to feature several of their Montréal rink mates and which will serve as a good testing ground for their current training emphases. One key technical focus has been the dance spin—“It’s one of the elements where we’re just sort of surviving, according to our coaches, so we need to improve it a lot,” Sørensen said —while they’ve also added new lifts to their arsenal and are continuing to refine what they consider one of their greatest strengths.
“We’re doing a lot of compulsory dances, a lot,” said Sørensen. “Last year we got level 4 on the Paso Doble at pretty much all the competitions, and that’s a goal of ours. We did it in the Finnstep, too—even though we didn’t even qualify at Worlds, we were one of the teams to get a level 4 on the Finnstep. And it’s something we need to keep us in the competition. Our components are a little bit behind; we can’t afford to lose the technical side.”
But they are, too, polishing those aspects more focused on by judges.
“We need to improve our leading and following,” Fournier Beaudry said. “I think that is one of the qualities our coaches are trying to make us work on the most.”
“We’re not one of the crazy gymnastic teams with crazy lifts,” Sørensen continued. “We have a pretty good proportion in size and we’re both very, very strong skaters, so for us, it’s important to really develop the connection and the dance side between the two of us. I think that’s what people saw the biggest difference from year one to year two—that we looked like a team that skates together a lot more than we did. It’s like that first year, it’s always tough, you have a new partner, everything is new. So we’re just working towards the same thing. I think you just become even more blended together as one.”
In the process, they’re taking on a pair of romantically-tinged modern compositions with this season’s programs, from a waltz short dance set to “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS to a free dance combining “Woman,” by folk-rock musician Shawn Phillips, with original material from composer Karl Hugo.
“It’s very powerful, a little bit contemporary,” Sørensen said. “I think we’re going to try to bring it a little bit on the contemporary side, like our free dance to Peter Gabriel two years ago. It’s not exactly the same style, but it has some elements that you could find a resemblance like that.”
Also contributing to their ongoing development are instructors from the off-ice realm, including theatre teacher Catherine Pinard and ballroom specialist Ginette Cournoyer, who assists from the boards. “She did choreography for Marie and Patch when they were skating,” Sørensen said. “She’s very big in the world of ballroom. She’s a judge at the world championships and she came to the States and taught there.”
The training regimen and international roster at Montréal’s Gadbois Centre have offered a sound foundation for the couple’s quick progress, but can serve, in its way, as a double-edged sword for those competing on behalf of a far-off nation. While skating for a small federation may mean obvious opportunity—Fournier Beaudry and Sørensen were the only contenders for Denmark’s senior dance title in 2014 and 2015—it can also mean limited resources.
“Now you need minimum scores to go to Worlds, but you know, there’s always a spot to go to Europeans, to get to the big competitions. You’re going to be able to go to international competitions,” Sørensen said. “What’s tough is that there’s not a lot of funding—they don’t have any money. They try and do what they can, which is not a lot.”
Given Denmark’s comparatively small skating tradition, with certain events like pairs often not contested at the national championships for lack of entries, achievement of a particular standard is also necessary to international representation. “Denmark is also very conservative,” he continued. “They’re a little bit strict, and they try to make sure that what they do send is not completely ridiculous, so they don’t fall in the category of the small country who will just send people that can’t really skate.”
But with Fournier Beaudry a Canadian citizen, participation at one major international event seems unlikely.
“Right now, we haven’t exhausted all of the options, but from what history tells us, it’s pretty much impossible for Laurence to get a Danish passport,” said Denmark native Sørensen, who relocated to Canada at age 20, of the couple’s Olympic odds.
“First of all, we won’t be living in the country, not if we’re going to keep training, so you can forget about that. And secondly, once you get your permanent residency, you can apply after ten years of living in Denmark, and if you’re married, it’s only seven years. I mean, I don’t think we’re going to be planning to skate for another ten years.”
So while the career continues, the two devote their limited spare hours to work and leisure. “We spend a lot of time together,” Sørensen said. “I spend a lot of time in front of my computer.”
Fournier Beaudry works as a coach, at one time balancing triple-duty with university studies in biomedical science before injury in the 2014 off-season.
“I had a pretty serious concussion last summer,” she said. “I tried to go to the university again in the session before Christmas, but then with the work I do coaching and training, it was really hard. I started to have the same problems from my concussion coming back and it scared me, so I finished my sessions and then I took a session off of school because it was too much. And the coach also told me that if I was going to school, then I was not focused towards Worlds, and it was going to be much easier to achieve my goals if I was focusing on skating.”
For both partners, the rink is often its own diversion.
“We’re sort of a team that hangs around the arena,” Sørensen said. “We’ll go upstairs and do some lifts, stretch, watch the other teams on the practice, just hang out, go to the gym, get home late. Just because you go home early from the arena and you feel like you’re only skating the four hours in a day—the day is long afterwards to just be sitting at home doing nothing.”
And after a wide-open Worlds with few expectations, the duo will be using that time to ready themselves for new competitive territory.
“It’s one of those things where after Europeans, I was so nervous, being top ten at Europeans was already a shock and then being in that second-last warm-up group, I think we were both ready to pee our pants,” Sørensen said. “So just getting used to that, also, is a goal. Getting used to being in the group with the best, believing that you belong there, is something that I think we have a hard time doing. It’s really just opened up a new world.”