by Francesca | Photos by Melanie Heaney

Francesca met with Laurence Fournier Beaudry & Nikolaj Sorensen at Gadbois on February 25, after their training and before Nikolaj head to the other side of town to teach skating.  

How difficult was the choice of changing the country you represent and what did it mean to each of you individually?

LFB: We represented Denmark for so long, we knew we couldn’t go to the Olympics and at the beginning we didn’t think we could qualify, but then after we did, we thought there was a possibility for an exception. The federation tried everything they could, even with lawyers, and we got in touch with the ministry of Sports and Culture, but they said it was not happening and they wouldn’t make any exceptions.

NS: We got this news in September the season before Olympics and were disappointed, we also were disappointed that we only got one Grand Prix, but we committed actually that season to really up our game and train hard. It was right after Europeans, when Olympics were getting really close that we started to think about switching countries. Maybe I had entertained the idea in my head way back let’s say around 2015/2016, but we never spoke about it… well, now Laurence you know about it. Then I saw how much we improved from Worlds in 2014 to Worlds in 2015 where we finished 11th, so inside my head I started to think that maybe we were good enough to go to the Olympics. After 2018 Europeans we were really happy with how we skated but we didn’t necessarily have the event we wanted to and we felt there was a lot of stuff that was moving in weird directions just because of the Olympics. We told ourselves we really wanted to be a part of that.  We felt we deserved to be at the Olympics and we asked ourselves, how do we do that?

LFB: I think the hardest part about everything was that we were training with everybody who was going on and we were part of it and training as much as them.

NS: At Europeans we had a talk with our performance coach Steffany [Hanlen] and she told us that our coaches felt like we deserved to go to the Olympics. She suggested that now was the time to make a difficult decision and switch to Canada. Straight away we had a meeting with the vice president of the Danish federation to talk about it because we didn’t want to hide anything.

LFB: That was one of our biggest fears.  We had such a great relationship with the Danish federation.  They gave us so much support over the years that we felt it was hard for us to sit down and tell them what we thought we needed for the next step.

NS: They really understood us and our desire to go to the Olympics.  They told us it is our career so we should do whatever we think is best because they wouldn’t be able to give us that in four years either. What was scary was we didn’t know how we would be welcomed switching to Canada.  There are so many great teams.  We didn’t know if the federation would care or leave us alone for a year. They already invested in other teams, so we didn’t know what would happen it we would come and disturb the whole balance. I think it’s just insecurities that you have. Our coaches told us to not expect anything in the beginning until we would prove that we are serious, but that was not the case at all. Mike Slipchuk, the high performance director of Skate Canada was on board straight away.  We got invited to High Performance Camp. They took all our results from Denmark in consideration for the application form for governmental funding, so it’s just been more than we could ever imagine.

Nikolaj, how far along are you in the process of obtaining your citizenship?

NS: I got my permanent residency already last year in April. Usually it’s three years from that to passport, but I’ve been here so long so I can get credits for that. I have one year of credit and then it’s from April 3, 2018 when I got my permanent residency until April 3, 2020, but every time I go out of the country it doesn’t count, so it’s probably going to be somewhere in May or June.

How do you feel being part of Team Canada? What are the differences compared to when you were competing for Denmark?

NS: Being part of the team has been really awesome. All the athletes already knew us and we were already always hanging out with the Canadians more than any other team because of our connection with Canada was very deep. Everybody has been really open and welcoming, including the ice dancers, and I’m very happy about it. We train with Caro [Soucisse] and Shane [Firus] and nothing has changed with them. Competition is competition whoever you skate for.  It’s something that we understand well skating here and that Marie [Dubreuil] and Patch [Lauzon] try to instill in everybody, as long as it’s healthy it’s totally normal. The three Americans all train here and they’re having a great time. And I have known Kaitlyn [Weaver] and Andrew [Poje], Piper [Gilles] and Paul [Poirier] for a decade, so it’s really awesome.

LFB: It feels very nice, we are also pretty good friends with the pairs teams Kirsten [Moore-Towers] and Mike [Marinaro], Cami [Ruest] and Drew [Wolfe], because they live in Montréal. We really like to be with other people and just to know that you share the same passion. It’s nice to be with a whole group instead of being by yourself, and support each other at competitions.

NS: I think it’s an attribute in general for Canadians.  They’re very including, very open to new cultures, new immigrants, it’s a very open-minded and welcoming country. I think it shows also when we are competing.  For example, you have Keegan [Messing] who is competing early morning and watching the ladies compete the night before.  It’s really cool. We also try to see some of our teammates.  When you are in an international competition, you want for everyone in your country to do well.

How did you keep motivated after not competing at the Olympics and then having to sit out a year from international competition?

NS: was that one year? It went so fast! We started to think about new music right after Europeans, but then we took holidays during the Olympics, between the team event and the individual events we went to the Dominican Republic for a week. All the coaches were gone, and up until Worlds they had other priorities, but we still started choosing music and making a game plan for next year. We didn’t feel like our FD had reached its full potential, usually it is in this last two months stretch between Europeans and Worlds that programs are really pushed to where we really want, because earlier in the season we have so little time between competitions, and so Marie suggested to keep it, because we wouldn’t do it internationally for a whole year anyways.

LFB: I think we had just a bit longer off season and had more time to work on the RD, but then we did a summer competition, Sectionals, Challenge, Nationals.  We tried to match everything in parallel as if we doing an international season.

NS: For example, Challenge was just a week before the Grand Prix Final, so everybody was training hard. The timing and periodization with our performance coach was as if we were having our regular season.  We even had to travel as if we were doing an international. It’s just about the mindset.  Taking a year off for us was like having a year to become awesome. We worked super hard because we were really excited about the change, to show we are serious about it even though we didn’t have international competitions. It was actually really easy, even though when we were thinking about it in March before it didn’t seem like it.

LFB: That’s when it’s good to be in two, if one has insecurities you talk to the other one about it and it’s going to be okay.

What was it like to compete at Canadian Nationals and win your first medal?

NS: We always set the bar quite high, but the main goal for us was to give two good performances and make the national team. We didn’t really talk about medals, but of course it’s what you want.  You want to go to Worlds and 4CC. For me, personally, it was the most stressful competition ever.

LFB: You know that the season can finish there or can continue towards the big competitions and also we hadn’t done any international [for Canada]before.

NS: And I had never done Canadian Nationals, so it was very stressful up until we got there, but then the most amazing competition while we were there. Everything in the organization was awesome; it always is in Canada. It was weird in the beginning because we hadn’t skated in a big arena for so long, so this changes a bit the vibe, but just the support and the crowd were great. Everybody just wants everybody to do well even if it’s your own competitors. We are all supportive of everybody doing their best because in the end that’s what’s going to make Canada better as a team when we go to a big competition. That became very important and apparent to us straight away. I think like the days of scandals and horror stories of the 90s are over.

LFB: Often you talk to people and they are surprised we are training with our competitors and we actually get along, they ask if we have separate rooms. They don’t understand it’s such a nice environment.

What’s your goal for Worlds and the next few years?

NS: With experience we know it’s so hard to put placements and points as a goal.  What we really just want to do is go out there and feel like we did better than the last time. We have some specific elements that we want to do better, but in general it’s about getting feedback that we are going in the right direction and then you always have the little things that you got to work on.

LFB: We know when we finish a good program in practice, that’s the kind of program we want to reproduce in competition, but adding some small magic touch, the magic moment that comes with the adrenaline and the crowd.

NS: For long-term goal and the whole reason why we’re doing this is to go to the Olympics, then let’s see what happens. We don’t really know what to expect now that we skate for Canada.  Maybe goals are going to be very apparent a year from now, maybe we are going to say the next thing we want is a World medal because we can do it, right now everything is new. Let’s go to Worlds, it would it be cool to be in the top 10. I think we can definitely do it if I have to put in my mind one placement, with a lot of range.

You’ve been at Gadbois since the very beginning. How has the school changed throughout the years?

NS: We were here in the beginning.  It all starts with the way that Marie and Patch take care of the environment without really doing anything, just instilling the feeling of how they think here, and if people don’t have the same mindset or don’t fit, they will slowly just move or stop skating. It’s just really an energy that’s nourished by how people treat each other. It’s all because of them that we all are able to coexist as graciously as we do. There have been many changes, they have evolved, right now everything is very well organized and it’s getting better every year, more coaches are hands on. Every day, we know which coach is going to work on what with whom. Everybody has their assigned time, but if someone needs 5 minutes here or 5 minutes there, it’s flexible.  It can’t be an excel sheet all day long.  They manage to balance that and everybody manages also to accept that that’s how it is.

LFB: We get the schedule the night before, but we give our availabilities for the times.  For example, if we have an appointment, we write it by Friday the week before, otherwise you write open.

Tell us about the programs choices and construction for this year. A classic Piazzolla tango for the Rhythm Dance (RD) and a reworked version of last year’s Free Dance (FD).

LFB: For the RD, it’s a music we actually wanted to do last year as a FD. I’ve been listening to this music for five years and I knew I liked this and it could make a very good program. Then, I made Nik listen to it and he loved it too, but when we talked with Marie she didn’t know if it was a good choice.  We went for the flamenco, but then when we heard the RD was going to be to Tango Romantica, we already knew we were going to use this as our RD.

NS: Laurence layered three pieces of music: one is vocal, one is instrumental, and one is both, and at some point in the program all three of them are playing, or one, or two, it’s pretty complicated. She’s very good at mixing music on the computer.  She’s able to create a concept, the programs evolve in an organic way and you can tell a story of emotions that develop though, and not just part 1, part 2, part 3. Her dad is in the Symphony Orchestra of Montréal. Her stepdad graduated from the Montréal conservatory, so she has a musical background and that talent. It’s always easy for me. I just have to like the music. We do like the same kind of music so it’s easy to agree on it, and I trust her that if she thinks it’s going to be good I know it’s going to be good. When we listen to music with Marie and discuss some ideas, I know Laurence is going to cut it on the same night and then come back tomorrow with a program.

LFB: It’s hard when pieces of music are that long, to make the coaches listen to them and see why they are not boring, to cut them to make them build up.

NS: Marie is super creative so when she goes off in one direction and Laurence goes in the other direction, which is why we always like to come here prepared with the music to ask them what they think of the concept already cut. This usually has worked even though Marie and Patch would tell us when they think it’s not going to be a good fit for us. I think they really want all of us here to develop our taste and style.  We are all grownups, so it’s going to be hard to skate to something you don’t like.  We have our own opinions and we know what we like to perform. It’s probably easier when we come up with suggestions and the coaches direct us afterwards. It’s something that they instill in us, professionalism and taking care of our own career, so thank God we have Laurence, because we wouldn’t have a lot of our programs if it was me.

LFB: He would skate to Frank Sinatra every year.

Do you already have music ideas for next year?

NS [laughing]: Frank Sinatra.

What do you think about the choice next year to not have a set pattern for the RD?

LFB: What we heard at 4CC is actually that half of the pattern will likely be a Finnstep, and apparently that’s what they said at Europeans too. They had said they might remove the compulsory dances, but 90% of the figure skating community and coaches didn’t like it.  They said we need pattern dances, so they try to implement back the Finnstep, but it’s only half a pattern so it’s not going to take much time, and then we would continue with our own style, and create our own partial step sequence.

NS: We are very excited about that.  We love pattern dances and compulsory dances. I love the work, and also because I think we are good at it. I know a lot of skaters would rather not do it, but I remember the first year we skated together we had the Finnstep.  It was really fun. It’s very difficult, but you’ll quickly see who’s good and who’s bad. The problem when everyone does a different pattern is that everyone can do what they are good at that and it’s also hard to compare.

What do you think of the new choreographic elements?

LFB: We like especially the choreographic steps. I feel like it reflects the character of your music and it’s entertaining for everybody.

NS: We love it!  I think it’s a great initiative an it’s making everyone better to be challenged in a different way.

Nikolaj, you just turned 30. How did you celebrate?

NS: Laurence surprised me here, when I came out for the second session after the break she had put balloons all around the walls. Towards the end of the lesson, Laurence said she had to go to the bathroom, and she would never ever miss a lesson because she needs the bathroom 5 minutes before the end, but then she went off and then she came back with tiramisu and a bottle of champagne. She also called called all the people on the other side of the arena to come and sing for me on the ice rink and that was very cool and special. Then we went home at night and she blindfolded me and put me in the car, then she drove off and 30 minutes later she said I could look and we were at a ski hill in Mount Saint Bruno: she took me skiing for the night! We always talked about it but we never did it because we are responsible athletes.

LFB: And then on Friday, we celebrated with his colleagues from work, and on Saturday we celebrated with all the skaters.  It was also Evan [Bates]’s 30th and Shane’s 25th, we were around 20 people in a restaurant. And yesterday, we celebrated with my family, so we had a big week of celebrations!