World Champion Figure Skater Gabriella Papadakis: Going for Gold in the Next Olympics

Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Following an Olympic silver and top wins in three World and four European Championships in couples categories, French figure skater Gabriella Papadakis has reached the top pretty fast for a 23-year-old with a whole future ahead of her.

But the champion figure skater of Greek descent is aiming higher: gold in the next Olympics.

“We want to remain world and European champions for the next four years,” she tells Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) in her first in-depth interview for the Greek press. “We know it sounds crazy,” she says of herself and her skating partner Guillaume Cizeron, “but the world belongs to dreamers! We have just completed a fairly long vacation, which we needed because we were exhausted and had a lot of things to do in France. We are going back to Canada to prepare in new choreographies and train intensively before the new round of events.”

Papadakis was almost literally “born on the ice,” as her mother, coach Catherine Papadakis, kept training ice skaters at the rink of Clermont-Ferrand in France up to a few hours before giving birth to Gabriella in 1995. “You could say I was born on the ice. The very first gift they brought me at the maternity hospital was a tiny pair of ice skates,” the younger Papadakis says.

Her mother was responsible for bringing her together as a figure skating pair with French partner Guillaume Cizeron, and trained both until Gabrielle turned 17. “She is responsible for our success,” the younger Papadakis says of her mother, adding her appreciation for her mother, her partner and all her coaches, “without whom I could not make it on my own.”

Talking to ANA about her Greek heritage, she says “I love Greece in general and try to visit at least once every one or two years. But I adore Crete! My relatives live in Chania, after all, and I am very fond of ‘staka’,” a local dairy specialty.

Four years ago, Papadakis and Cizeron decided to leave Lyon and move to Montreal, to be near their trainer Romain Hagueanauer, a former competitive skater who coaches and choreographs figure skating. He had moved to Canada to work at the training center of Canadian former world champion couple Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon.

Was it hard to make such a life-changing decision at 19? “We knew that in order to get to the next level, we had to put a priority on figure skating over everything else, therefore the decision was not so hard, we made it in full awareness,” Papadakis says. “Montreal is a pretty area to live in and we enjoy it, along with the rest of the team.” She said that she and Cizeron “want to continue to reach and exceed our limits and break our own records. We know it’s very difficult, but it’s a challenge we are ready for.”

Is there a particular secret to reaching the top at such a young age? “I don’t think there is a secret, it’s just hard and endless work. It’s not enough to train and exercise constantly, you need to do it in a smart way. And, of course, you also need to suppress your ego and always remember the goals you’ve set,” she explains.

Asked to comment what it means to be performing with the same partner for many years, she laughs, “We have been in figure skating for more than half our life. We can’t imagine a career without one another. We are like a couple of old-timers.”

Although figure skating is not widely practiced in Greece, a child that picks up “this beautiful sport” would feel “the freedom to express himself or herself through art, which is very important – and the feeling of speed on ice is addictive,” Papadakis observes.

What is her message to children today? “Keep pushing yourselves with anything you are working on. Find something you love and work on it, even if it sounds crazy, even if it’s very hard. Because one day, what you fought for will become the best thing that ever happened in your life,” she concludes.