"This time it's set," wrote the French sports daily L'�quipe after the Duchesnays prevailed in Munich. "It's sure. They will be Olympic champions. Nothing and no one can get in their way, except perhaps destiny."
Ah, yes. The French are very big on destiny. Le destin had reared its Gallic head in August, when Isabelle broke a bone in her right foot while in training, and again in January, when Paul pulled a groin muscle, which forced the Duchesnays to miss the European Championships in Lausanne. As for the so-called home-ice advantage, Paul wasn't having any of it. "In the past I don't think the public has had much effect on the judges," he said last Thursday, the eve of the competition. "They're pretty resilient."
They proved to be just that in Albertville. In the compulsory dance portion, which accounted for 20% of the scoring, the judges placed Klimova and Ponomarenko first and the Duchesnays third. No argument there. Ballroom stuff like the paso doble has never been the French pair's forte. However, the Duchesnays now had to beat Klimova and Ponomarenko in Sunday's original dance segment, a polka that accounted for 30% of the scoring, to control their own destiny during Monday night's free-skating program.
They didn't do it. By one vote, five judges to four, Klimova and Ponomarenko outpolkaed the Duchesnays' nervously perky rendition of The Lonely Goatherd from The Sound of Music. Klimova and Ponomarenko weren't just more polished; they were more interesting than the Duchesnays, who moved from third to second.
Knowledgeable skaters in the audience—Brian Boitano, Brian Orser and Katarina Witt, to name three—saw the original dance competition as far more lopsided than the judges did. The Duchesnays had looked tense, uncomfortable and, dressed as they were in traditional Tyrolian garb, even a bit trite. They cut a far different swath than they had four years earlier, when they were no-names, unburdened by expectations and looking to make a mark.
Afterward, knowing they had to beat Klimova and Ponomarenko by two places in the free skate—something they had never done—Paul said, "It's not easy living with daily pressure. The evenings are very stressful. We'll be glad when it's all over." He began backing away from reporters. Then he was hauled off by the scruff of his neck by Isabelle, his self-described "nag" of a sister. Paul opened his palms in resignation. "I'm sorry, my sister's giving me a hard time," he said.
And will continue to, for both Duchesnays have said that they will skate together as pros in the future. You ice dance with the one who brung ya. Certainly in the less restrictive realm of professionalism, the Duchesnays will return to their earthier roots. As for their Olympic career, it was something to watch. The Duchesnays got where they were by pushing the envelope of their sport, but they backed away when the gold was within reach. " France wanted a medal, and we wanted to be innovative," Paul said. "We were caught between the two. If you listen to too many people, you wind up taking out so many things from your program, there's nothing left."