by Matteo Morelli | Photos by Melanie Heaney
Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri have been the leading ice dance partnership for Italy for a few years now. We met with them at the World Championships in Montpellier, where we talked about their early years together, all the way through to this Olympic season and what the future holds for them.
Charlene and Marco, it is a pleasure to talk to you. Although you both represent Italy, France is Charlene’s homeland: how did you feel skating in front of a full audience at this World Championships in Montpellier?
CG: It felt great to compete in Montpellier! The audience was fantastic, they helped us a lot, particularly given that this was the last competition of this Olympic season. This was the third time that we were going to a world championships after the Olympic Games, and it is very exhausting. You naturally get a bit stressed as you wonder whether you are going to be too tired, but I have to say that we dealt with it really well. We were very satisfied of our competition.
MF: It has been two years of Covid adding a lot of pressure to the sport, with competitions without public or with limited public. We loved to see a lot of people again, it really helps us and motivates us to do our best. Our sport is very demanding and you have to keep focused and calm. The positive distraction that the public gives us makes things easier for us.
CG: It reminded us a lot of the World Championships in Milan, Italy, in 2018. The audience was so full of energy, at some point halfway through our free programme we had a few seconds of not hearing the music because of the public support being so loud! Luckily, we managed to complete our routine without any disruptions.
This was your 10th World Championships. You have been skating together since 2010, finding each other on Partner Search, the skaters’ partner search platform that Daphne at IDC has created!
CG: That is interesting, we didn’t know that! These days, platforms like Instagram help a lot to find new partners.
MF: Back then, social media were not as prominent as they are now, we didn’t really have many forums to access.
We are very happy to have facilitated the making of your partnership. How were your first years skating together?
MF: We always say that we started from zero, almost without ice dance experience. Charlene did some ice dance at her previous club in Brest, France.
CG: It was another kind of skating level, I went to two junior world championships representing France, but always with young partners, so I didn’t start skating with Marco bringing in a lot of experience.
MF: I did a bit of ice dance when I was little, but when I had to choose between ice dance and single skating, I decided to continue my career towards the single skating route, as I knew that if I stopped training jumps it would have been difficult to get them back if I changed my mind. When I changed back to ice dance, I only got in with four months experience with a previous partner, and Charlene with a bit more but still limited experience.
So from then on to now, how has your partnership evolved?
MF: The first few years were really quite difficult, but we are very proud to have believed in ourselves whilst not many people believed in us at the start of our career. We also had the struggle with Charlene’s passport: we started skating together in the first of the four years that led to Sochi 2014 Olympic Games. We knew that the standard procedures to obtain a passport in Italy would have not allowed her to get one before the games, but luckily we managed to facilitate that process thanks to the help of receiving sporting merits.
CG: The fact that I did not have a passport didn’t help!
MF: We had to fight a lot, but it helped us to create strong foundations that were essential for the making of our career. We built a shield throughout the years that really helped us to stand up again after some difficult episodes we went through. We have such a maturity as a team now, it allows us to really fight in every situation, to give our best in every competition. We know we are not the youngest team, but we feel well, mentally and physically, so we don’t see any reason why we should stop now! We don’t want to regret not going on competing and having missed more opportunities to grow.
Your coach Barbara Fusar Poli has always been by your side. It seems like the passion she shows when she follows you at the side of the rink is a reflection of the relationship that you have with her.
MF: Absolutely. Our relationship with her has changed so much throughout the years. She has passed on a lot of her experience, she taught us a lot. This is not an easy thing to do, but Barbara is excellent at it. Our relationship now is really mature, it is more about cooperation than a coach and skater/student interaction.
CG: We work very well together. We share a lot of ideas and opinions. It is real team work. We feel like we are all at the same level now, while before we were doing what she was telling us to do, which was of course the right thing. This helped us so much to approach competitions in a different way.
This year has been particularly good for you. The Grand Prix events at the start of the season showed in what good shape you were: after winning silver at both Skate Canada and Rostelecom, you qualified for the Grand Prix Final in Japan, but sadly that got cancelled because of Covid.
MF: It was disappointing, but to be honest it was also a difficult season, with all the complexity that Covid was adding to travelling. In hindsight, clearly we wanted to compete at the Grand Prix Final, but at the same time we welcomed the chance to catch our breath and have a little rest. Competitions are extremely demanding. They require a lot and each one involves intensive training sessions and the competition itself.
CG: Normally after the European Championships we have a little rest, but this season it wasn’t the case with the Olympic Games. The fact that we had our nationals early in December and that the Grand Prix Final was cancelled helped us to get a little break in to recharge for the European championships and the Olympic Games. We were certainly disappointed that the Grand Prix Final was cancelled. It would have been our second one and it is very difficult to qualify for it, but in the end, it was ok like that. What we want to take away with us is the awareness of having qualified for it, we are still very happy about it!
You then won your fourth national title, and a second European bronze medal in Tallinn, Estonia.
MF: In all honesty, we were hoping to get something more at the European Championships, but we are still very happy with what we achieved. The competition was quite difficult, also without Barbara at our side during the free programme because of a positive Covid test result for her.
CG: We didn’t sleep much that night. We had to take a test the morning of the free programme, fearing to be positive like Barbara. If we tested positive, it would have messed up the entire plan leading to the Olympic Games as we would have had to quarantine in Tallinn. At the end of the competition, we literally did the podium ceremony and then left the country, missing the gala. It was definitely a different European Championships for us.
And then your third Olympic Games, where you ended in fifth place. How did you feel in Beijing?
MF: It was a great experience. It went better than Pyeongchang in 2018, which we did not approach at our best. These last Olympic Games, despite of them being unique because of Covid, were better for us, We got there with a lot of maturity and approached them in a much better way than the previous ones.
CG: The practice and training at the Olympic Games are always quite intense for the two weeks before the competition, but we managed to go through them with a lot of calm and a positive attitude. The result was fantastic! We couldn’t ask for more.
The future: are we going to see more of you?
MF: We are definitely going to continue next year and take it step by step. If we keep being in a good shape, we are definitely going to target the Milano-Cortina Olympic Games in Italy in 2026. We don’t want to say anything specific about it though, we will take it one step at a time. We want to end our career with a high, at the max of our abilities and potential. As long as we see results coming through, we are motivated and feel good physically and mentally, there is no reason why we should stop.