Monday, February 15, 2010

Lambiel hopes to cap comeback with gold

Stéphane Lambiel has yet to hit the ice for his short program, but it's already been a roller coaster ride for him here in Vancouver.

The Swiss star carried his country's flag into the opening ceremonies. His friend, Swiss ski jumper Simon Ammann, won the first gold medal of the 2010 Games eight years after taking home two in Salt Lake City, giving the skater added inspiration for his own comeback after sitting out last season with hip abductor injuries.

"I am going to use the energy of the Opening Ceremonies, the community of athletes entering the stage, the joy, in my performances," Lambiel, 24, said at a press conference. "It was an honor to be chosen. For me, it was already a great dream."

Back for his third and likely final Olympics, Lambiel hopes to win the ultimate prize after taking silver in Torino.

"Physically, I feel perfectly fine," he said. "In fact, I feel much better now than I did at Europeans in Tallinn last month. I have to thank my physical therapy team in Geneva for that.

"I'm almost all the way to the top of the pyramid; there is only one step left, and that's Vancouver. I like the ice here, even the color. I've already practiced in both competition and practice rinks, and it went well."

The skater's longtime coach Peter Grutter, who trains Lambiel in Geneva, disagreed, saying his skater must improve before he takes the ice for the short program on Feb. 16.

"He was actually very good in practice since Tallinn, almost spotless in both programs," Grutter, a 1964 Olympian, said. "Then we had a 24-hour trip here, jet lag, and the Opening Ceremony, so I want the practices here to get better. I was worried about the Opening Ceremony; I knew it would be long, a lot of standing around, not proper food."

Grutter aside, Lambiel seemed relaxed and energized with reporters.

"When I took the first steps with this comeback [last summer], it was hard to believe I would be where I am today," he said.

"It was a lot of listening to my body and knowing where I wanted it to be. As soon as I knew that, I was able to find solutions to the problems that started two years ago. Before, I went everywhere, to so many doctors, and nothing helped."

Lambiel added that although the condition is chronic, a regular program of physical therapy and intense daily stretching has made the difference.

"Before, I lost the belief that I was able to stay healthy," he said. "Then I knew I was able to be healthy. I decided to make this comeback to challenge myself."

Unspoken is his desire to add Olympic gold to his resume, which includes world titles in 2005 and 2007.

"When he enters any championship, he wants to do his best, and if the best suffices for gold, he's happy," Grutter said. "We never speak of the color of the medal, but he is a winner, not a loser, so he is not just here to participate."

To further that end, a few weeks before Europeans, Lambiel ditched his Tango free skate in favor of a more classically elegant program to Verdi's "La Traviata." The risk paid off when the routine's program components' score defeated that of longtime rival Evgeni Plushenko.

"As soon as "Traviata" was choreographed, I knew that the program was going to be my Olympic program," he said. "I felt a freshness in the program. I had -- how do you say? -- the music under my skin.

"It's a very hard program compared to the Tango. There are no breaks in between elements. I'm moving all the time, and it takes a lot of energy to keep moving. Since Tallinn, we've worked on the details of the program and also on my physical condition."

The skater's choreographer, Salome Brunner, favors the program because it's more accessible to audiences.

Full article.

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