Barbara Fusar-Poli: “It’s challenging to compete with Montreal Academy, they are a true powerhouse. They have so many duos, so many coaches, so many judges. To surpass them, you have to be a head and shoulders above.”

Posted on 2023-06-18 • No comments yet


Interview with Barbara Fusar-Poli for Russian media. About the transfer of Dario Cirisano and his prospects in pair with Denisa Cimlova, plans of Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri to continue their career and competition with Montreal Academy.

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source: dd. 18th May 2023 by Maya Bagriantseva

Let’s start with Dario. How did he end up in your group in Milan?

Barbara Fusar-Poli: We have known each other for a long time. After all, he skated in my group. However, he was just a child back then – it was almost 12 years ago, and I coached him for only two years. Then he moved to Russia and began competing for your national team, under the guidance of good coaches, and achieved excellent results. But we stayed in touch, and he always sweetly congratulated me on all the holidays: “Ciao, Barbara, Happy Birthday, Happy New Year.” So we never lost sight of each other.

When his pair splitted up, a friend of mine – a well-known figure in the Russian figure skating world – called me and said, “Dario is left without a partner. Do you have anyone in mind?” I got in touch with Dario, and he confirmed that he wanted to continue skating and was looking for a new partner.

And I happened to have a girl in my group who, in my opinion, would be a great fit for him. That’s Denisa Cimlova, who has been training with me for 4 years. So Dario flew to Milan, they tried skating together and it immediately became clear that it was a viable option. They liked each other, quickly found common ground, and looked good on the ice – in short, the partnership came together.

Dario immediately told me, “There’s one thing, Barbara. I’ve always wanted to do an internship in Montreal, at the dance academy of Patrice Lauzon and Marie-France Dubreuil.” And I didn’t object.

Weren’t you afraid they would want to stay there?

Barbara Fusar-Poli: Yes, of course, it was a risk. But Dario was very sincere, ‘I want to try it now, at the beginning of our journey with a new partner.’ I agreed, but I also honestly told him not to forget that Denisa is a skater from my group. He reassured me and said that our relationship meant a lot to him, and he would never forget it.

Honestly, I admit that I was jealous when they decided to do this internship, ‘Oh this Montreal again!’ But you can’t force anyone to stay. Besides, it’s better for them to try something now, at the beginning of our collaboration, rather than regret missed opportunities later. And let’s agree: it’s great that athletes are so eager to try new things; any experience is wonderful.

In short, Dario and Denisa went to Montreal, but we stayed in touch all those three weeks – maybe not every day. They worked, learned new things, but we continued to communicate. And you know what? I was prepared for the possibility that they wouldn’t return. It’s a very strong school with so many fantastic duos. I admitted that they might call and say, ‘Barbara, sorry, but we really liked it here, and we’ve decided to stay in Canada.’

So yes, I was mentally prepared to lose them. But I never hold athletes back or force them. It’s important to me that skaters skate with me not because they have no other options, but because they genuinely want to train in my group.

By the way, I read an interview with Romain Haguenauer, where he said that he liked Dario and Denisa and didn’t rule out the possibility of them staying in Montreal. So at some point, I convinced myself that the kids wouldn’t come back to me.

But after three weeks, Dario and Denisa called and said they wanted to train with me: ‘Wait for us at the rink on Monday.’ And now, they have been in our school for a week.

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Have you asked them how the internship went?

Barbara Fusar-Poli: Of course, I asked, haha. They told me that they enjoyed everything, that they met so many amazing skaters, and that it was an excellent experience. They had a good time working with everyone there, but now we are starting our journey together.

There’s another important point: when they were arranging the internship in Montreal, I wasn’t officially their coach yet. Yes, I put them on a pair, but they were free to choose their coaching staff. And I let them go – both they and the whole situation.

Not every coach can do that.

Barbara Fusar-Poli: Yes, especially letting them go to Montreal, haha. They are our main competitors, and every season I try to come up with something to challenge them. But I know my strengths as a coach, I’m confident in what I can offer to the athletes, and I know that Denisa feels comfortable training in my group. As for Dario, I doubt he remembers much from our time together – he was around 10 years old, and I was just starting my coaching journey.

We don’t have a large school – only three coaches and not so many skaters, but we love what we do, and we already have excellent results.

In short, we are happy that everything turned out this way. There’s a lot of work ahead, but we have a great atmosphere on the ice rink, Dario has gotten to know all the guys in the group. They like Milan, they live close to the rink, so everything is good. I love both Denisa and Dario – we’ve known each other for so many years that we’re practically like family.

What are your plans? After all, there is no release from Russia.

Barbara Fusar-Poli: Yes, and it hasn’t been finally decided yet which country Dario and Denisa will compete for: the Czech Republic or Italy. Dario has an Italian passport, and Denisa has been living here for several years, so it would be strange not to consider it. Let’s wait a bit; I don’t like making guesses.

If I understand correctly, the Russian national team is not very interested in having Dario, considering you have many good skaters. But we will act within the existing rules, that’s clear. Yes, because of all these events, Dario hasn’t competed internationally since October 2021. At the same time, he is a senior skater, and it would be disappointing to miss out on competitions for two seasons.

It’s important for skaters to compete, and I understand how difficult it is for Russian athletes right now. Yes, I understand the ISU’s position – and I agree with it – but I feel sorry for the skaters. They dedicate their whole lives to these competitions. I’m a former athlete myself, and I know well the drama of not being able to participate in competitions, whether due to injury or lack of release. So it’s sad.

Therefore, for Dario, staying in the Russian team probably doesn’t make much sense. He has an Italian passport, which is a good factor to consider.

What language do you communicate in? Does Dario speak Italian?

Barbara Fusar-Poli: For now, it’s faster for us to speak English. He understands some things and can say some things, but the language will come – Dario plans to work with a tutor, so I have no doubt about his Italian. He is a very determined guy. Denisa is also learning the language, but as far as I can see, they try to speak in Russian with each other.

Are there any plans regarding the program?

Barbara Fusar-Poli: Not yet. They haven’t received a release, so we have nowhere to compete. So for now, the skaters are getting used to skate together, and we’re working on individual elements, listening to music – it’s calm, regular work. Yes, we don’t want to waste time but we have plenty to work on.

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The stars of your group are Italians, Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, and you had an incredible season with them: victories in the Grand Prix events and the European Championships, and then silver at the World Championships…

Barbara Fusar-Poli: Yes, it took us a long time to get there, and it was an incredible feeling. Charlene and Marco had never reached such heights before. For me, as a coach, it was a moment of true happiness. The result for us was tremendous, but we don’t want to stop there. Yes, they are a mature pair, but they are full of enthusiasm, and they skate at such a level that it would be strange to stop. So we are ready to fight and have no intention of giving up.

So the duo is entering the new season? They previously said they hadn’t made a decision yet.

Barbara Fusar-Poli: No, no breaks. The skaters went on vacation for two weeks, but they have already returned to the ice, and we are working on the programs for the new season. We have almost finished the free dance – and I’m thrilled with how it’s turning out. We chose the music together, and I can see how much Charlene and Marco enjoy what they skate to.

Last season, you choreographed a very dramatic program for them. Can we expect something similar this year?

Barbara Fusar-Poli: I would say that it was a very dark program, something they were not accustomed to be seeing doing – it was a new and unexpected image for them. In the upcoming season, they will present something different again – we decided not to repeat ourselves. And believe me, it will be something incredible! We will start working on the rhythm dance in the next few days, so we’re immersing ourselves in the music of the 80s.

You have always emphasized that this pair is special to you. Why?

Barbara Fusar-Poli: They have been skating with me for 14 years; I put them in a pair back then. Marco started as a single skater, and when he switched to ice dance, he found Charlene online. She was also looking for a partner at the time.

They became a couple on and off the ice almost immediately, so they feel and understand each other without words. You can’t take your eyes off them; see how tenderly Marco takes care of Charlene. Plus, they are incredible hard workers, and what’s important is that they know how to listen to their coach. Working with them is a pure pleasure. We have a real team: we decide everything together, from choosing music and costumes to the nuances of choreography.

The next Olympics will be held in your hometown, Milan. Is it challenging to work under the pressure of expectations for the home Games?

Barbara Fusar-Poli: We try not to speculate and not to live in the future. We work quietly, day by day, from one competition to another. We have just decided about the next season, but what will happen afterward is hard to say. However, yes, of course, we have certain ambitions, and the home Olympics mean a lot to us.

It’s not easy for us; like everyone else, we work a lot, and securing a place in the spotlight is a constant battle. Yes, in ice dance, there is no clear leader like in the days of Papadakis-Cizeron or Virtue-Moir. But let’s take the example of the Montreal academy: they have so many duos, so many coaches, so many judges. It’s challenging to compete with them because they are a true powerhouse. To surpass them, you have to be a head and shoulders above. But our sport is subjective; it’s the judges who make the final decisions.

When there is such a powerful skating school in figure skating, it tends to dictate the trends: in choreography, skating style, and even costumes. But you and Guignard-Fabbri manage to maintain your own identity. How?

Barbara Fusar-Poli: That’s our strength. We cannot expect to win if we copy someone else. And besides, European ice dance has always had its own identity, its own style. The Montreal academy is an excellent school that achieves the highest results, and I understand why skaters aspire to be there. But sometimes I feel like I’m fighting against a rock. No, I’m not complaining; I’m fighting and not giving up because I believe that a monopoly is not beneficial for anyone.

Look at ice dance in Europe: we don’t have many strong schools left. Even our European duos are moving to Canada, which wasn’t the case before. Currently, duos from Ukraine, France, Estonia, and Azerbaijan train in Montreal. But the absence of proper competition kills the sport, and that greatly concerns me.

In Italy, there is Matteo Zanni and his school.

Barbara Fusar-Poli: Yes, that’s great, I repeat: competition is wonderful. Matteo is my former student who grew up into a great coach. Italy has a history of success in ice dance, so I’m glad that Zanni and I are not giving up.

Your former partner Maurizio Margaglio is also a coach, but you don’t work together. Do you maintain a relationship?

Barbara Fusar-Poli: Yes, of course. Maurizio is involved in the development of ice dance in Finland, and we all see the results (the Finnish duo Turkilla-Versluis won bronze at the 2023 European Championships – But we work in different countries and with different national teams, so we only see each other at competitions. Besides his coaching career, he was also involved in the technical committee for ice dance.

Have you ever considered a career in the ISU for yourself?

Barbara Fusar-Poli: Oh, no. I already struggle to balance between family and work; I don’t have time for anything else. I have two wonderful children: a 19-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son, and I’m a true Italian mom, haha. And there’s also my husband, the skating school – sometimes I feel like I’m going crazy.

You always have a stopwatch in your hands; it’s impossible to imagine you at the boards without it. Is it like a talisman, or do you really need it?

Barbara Fusar-Poli: No, no, I use it all the time. You know yourself, lifts in dance are tricky; you can’t hold them longer even for a second, so I keep an eye on it.

Based on your experience, can you say whether ice dancing has become more difficult or, conversely, easier in some aspects?

Barbara Fusar-Poli: Oh, ice dancing has definitely taken a big step forward. Yes, we had patterns, and maybe we skated at higher speeds at times, but look at the level of lifts, twizzles, and step sequences today. All the elements have become much more difficult, and the quality of their execution has also improved.

In our time, the quality of elements wasn’t given as much attention. We had more freedom, space for expression and self-expression. And now we have the Grade of Execution (GOE), and you never forget about the technical side for a second. It has become more interesting, but comparing it might not be entirely fair. Everything was different, even the trends in choreography and costumes. We chose different music and created completely different programs.

I apologize for taking you back to 2006, but I can’t help but remember that legendary scene after the original dance at the Games in Turin. It was like a silent movie.

Barbara Fusar-Poli: Unfortunately, the movie turned out to be too dramatic.

Everything happened so suddenly: we lost our balance at the very end of the program and awkwardly fell, and our reaction was very natural. We had no words. We didn’t realize that we stood on the ice for almost a minute after the program ended. Time stood still, and it felt like only a few seconds had passed. We didn’t notice anything; it was as if we weren’t in the center of the Olympic rink at that moment.

Do you remember your thoughts at that moment?

Barbara Fusar-Poli: Oh, yes, in the tiniest detail, and you know what? I really don’t want to remember it, haha. For us, it was a tragedy. We lost the chance for an Olympic medal. We understood that we, with our own hands, gave it away, and we had no one to blame but ourselves. But what happened, happened. And now I understand perfectly well that a tragedy is something completely different. This was just sports.


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