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Duchesnays Quietly Prepare for Olympics

December 21, 1991

OBERSTDORF, Germany (AP) _ Since they jumped into public view with their innovative ″Jungle″ routine four years ago, Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay have been under pressure to outdo themselves every year.

They have been pursued in France, adored by Canadians and recognized in the United States as well as England after Isabelle married Christopher Dean last May.

So the French-Canadian brother and sister have taken refuge in this village in southern Germany while working on a new and more complicated program. Here there wasn’t much else to do but concentrate on the role as favorites in the upcoming Winter Olympics.

″Now we need lots of peace. We mustn’t think about anything else except skating,″ Isabelle said. ″It’s a special year.″

On the rink, Isabelle was nervous and irritated, trying to explain a movement to her brother. He listened but couldn’t avoid watching Dean practicing with his former partner, Jayne Torvill, at the other end of the rink.

Torvill and Dean have four world titles and an Olympic medal, while Isabelle and Paul are still trying to skate towards their first Olympic medals in the ice dancing event at Albertville, France, in February.

After his own experience, Dean, the choreographer of the Duchesnays, knows the problems that the brother and sister face.

″Because it’s a non-stop program, they have a mental barrier to get over. So they’ve got to achieve that point. They haven’t got to it yet, so this is why the pressure is on them now.″ Dean said.

″It’s not automatic, the mental effort is still there,″ said Paul. ″We still have to think.″

But adversity is nothing new for the Duchesnays. They prepared a new program in less than six weeks and won the World Championships with it last March in Munich.

The past two months, they’ve worked every day on their new Olympic program in this Bavarian village, their adopted home since 1982.

Once again, Isabelle, 28, and Paul, 30, are repeating, changing and redoing the routine while the opening strains of ″West Side Story″ goes back and forth on the tape like their movements.

The new routine is fast and breathtaking.

″We give all we have in the first 1 minute, 20. Get faster in the next 1:20 and end extremely fast,″ Isabelle said. ″So we don’t have time to regain our breath and if we lose it, it’s over.″

It is similar to the style of Missing II, which brought them the gold medal in 1991 World Championship.

The Duchesnays are known for their imagination and extraordinary moves on the ice. And their ″West Side Story″ promises once again to be full of extremely difficult movements that make their style so famous.

Dean describes one of the most spectacular moves of the routine.

″Isabelle carries Paul in a difficult move,″ Dean said. ″He leans on her knees and that’s quite a physical move.″

The move has Paul almost completely perpendicular to Isabelle’s body and she is carrying the weight on her knees in a continual movement.

″When you stand back and watch, you notice ... it’s constant and they never stop,″ Dean said.

It’s been a strange year for the couple. After gaining the gold, they were still rejoicing when Paul and Isabelle’s older brother Gaston died of cancer in Canada.

Then Isabelle broke her right foot last September when she slipped in the streets of Oberstdorf.

Since the accident Isabelle is skating with a screw in her damaged foot but she doesn’t mind it.

″I’m not going to have it taken out. It will go out on its own in one or two years. That’s the way it goes when you have a screw.″ she said.

Though they both hold dual Canadian-French citizenship, they will be skating for France at Albertville, and competing in their own country is another type of pressure to deal with. ″The public feels proud and is expecting a lot,″ Dean said. ″Before they had nothing to lose. Now that they’re the No. 1 the others become the underdogs.″

″It’s difficult to skate when you’re the best. But if we have the program in our legs it should be all right,″ says Isabelle.

″However it’s not the place that counts, it’s what the public likes. That happened with the Jungle in Calgary. We finished eighth but after we received many letters from our fans saying how much they liked it. And that’s the most important,″ she said.

The Duchesnays have only one thing in their minds, skate, skate more, work to do their best.

They had to begin with familiar music. Last year they tried to go a different route and ended up changing their routine after the 1990 European Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Their ″Reflections″ routine was ill-received by the public and judges. Although they gained the silver medal, they lost the lead with it.

″This year is very special because of the Olympics, so we can’t be experimental. There wasn’t the right piece of music for Isabelle and Paul so we had to go for a music that was successful in its own straight away,″ says Dean.

Before the Olympics, the Duchesnays have to repeat their program every day, every hour to be ready for the European Champions in January in Lausanne, Switzerland.

″Once the public sees our routine, it will already be the decisive test, and we will already have an idea of our results in Albertville,″ says Paul.

″If the public doesn’t like this program we won’t have time to change it,″ Isabelle said.

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