The more I see of Stéphane Lambiel, the more I like him. He's somewhat less insane out on the ice than, say, Evgeny Plushenko, but he makes up for it by being a kind of cheery snarker in multiple languages. Conveniently, I speak three out of the four he admits to proficiency in -- so far I haven't caught him speaking Portuguese in front of a camera, and last I checked he was sort of casually making inroads on Italian. Weir got him to take a stab at Russian once; it sounded reasonable to me, but Lambiel seemed to think it was appallingly bad.

He is definitely francophone, as I was guessing; his French is the only language not accented with something else. He is pleasantly understandable in everything, which endears him to my linguist-y little heart.


Sportpanorama seems to be a Swiss program, so good luck with those subtitles. Standard written Schweitzerdeutch is not as bad as colloquial spoken Schweitzerdeutch, but I'm still sticking with the French on the soundtrack.

There's probably nothing surprising in the content, if you don't speak either language, but I find it fascinating to watch how very engaged he is with other people. He's very curious about them, picks up on personalities rapidly, and is quick to comment and ask questions about things that have caught his ear.

[Here's one for the strict anglophones:



Lambiel pays about as much attention to Ando as he does the interviewer, even though Ando's pronunciation is excellent and he doesn't need to check for cues to understand her English.

His English is actually better than his German, in the sense that he gets stuck slapping around for words less often, and it's much less pedagogically-perfect. This is probably because English seems to be the lingua franca of the figure skating world. So far as I can tell, pretty much all of them, when confronted with a room full of fans or press that they know are not going to speak their native language, will automatically switch into whatever English they have. Very few of them have no English at all -- Eastern Europe has gotten better about it as their economic situation has improved, and the French are typically stubborn about code-switching, but mainly it seems to be the Chinese competitors who still need interpreters for everything.

The skaters who speak English natively tend to be as ignorant as most international anglophones. One of the reasons Johnny Weir gets to basically be an honorary Russian is that they are overjoyed that he has bothered to learn their language.]

The program they're working on in Sportpanorama up there is this one, a patently beautiful flamenco-styled piece called "Poetá". Every time I see him on the ice, I adore him harder. His style of movement is unusual, particularly in a male skater; most of the men, even the Russians with dance influence, try to do their skating with such a military-straight stance it looks like someone's stuffed broomsticks down the back of their costumes. Lambiel doesn't. He wants to be curves in motion. The spins for which Lambiel is particularly famous are a collection of willowy arcs in three dimensions, rotating around an invisible axis -- the snapshot to the left is one of his characteristic twisted sit spins, and when he's moving, that top hand is rock-steady in space. He leads with his hands, his shoulders, his body, and his feet follow like magic.

I'm sure this is in no small part because I think I can do that, or at least I think I can teach myself to do that. I may never be particularly good at launching myself high enough for the rotating jumps, but fluidity like his is mostly a matter of proprioception and dynamic adjustment of balance. That, I know. I understand how it works intellectually, I've been trained in similar things off and on for most of my life, and I'm told I have some amount of native talent, although hell if I know -- I've never been anyone else, and can't really make an informed comparison.

This is not without its downsides. If you watch him in the Sportpanorama thing -- which is like eight years ago -- he's already started limping faintly before he's warmed up and after he's done. (Left knee. He favors it rather blatantly when marking things in rehearsals. And occasionally misses jumps because of it, as that's his usual launch leg.) Some of the shoulder stretches I've seen in candid shots suggest he's got back issues as well. He's been breaking himself, little by little, for a long time. Lambiel is one of the few who managed to get himself an education while skating competitively, so it's not as if he sticks with it for lack of a better career option; he just loves it to the point where he's going to keep skating until he physically can't.

He is also one of the least neurotic skaters I've run into so far. Lambiel's certainly driven, and he's apparently prone to hitting things with brains as much as work -- one of his coaches ran into this when Lambiel was about twelve and they were driving to a meet, and he inadvertently discovered that Lambiel had pulled the typical smart-kid '...I read it and it stuck?' bit with the (unpronounceably foreign) directions on the official invitation -- but watch how he handles it when the tech crew screws up his music at a Worlds exhibition. He just plays with the audience until it becomes apparent that the person running the sound board really does not know WTF, then he glides over to fix it.

His fanclub has started referring to him as 'Prince Charming'. They may or may not have told him this. He may be smart enough not to Google himself and find these things out.

Comments