MOSCOW (AP) – They dance to Ed Sheeran and the judges are in love with the shape of them.
Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are the French ice-dance pair breaking records as they prepare to challenge for Olympic gold next month.
The soundtrack to their performances: Sheeran’s “Shape of You ” and “Thinking Out Loud ” for the short dance.
Speaking after they won gold at last week’s European championships , Cizeron told The Associated Press the choice of Sheeran could make skating more relevant to a younger audience.
“The more you can choose music that people can relate to,” he said, “the more it’s going to be interesting and catchy. ‘Shape of You’ is the music of the year.”
Papadakis interrupted: “Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve heard it.”
It was 1984 Olympic champion Christopher Dean of Britain who suggested Sheeran, the popular English rock and pop star, and his music caught on with the French pair immediately.
“We knew it was a little original, something different, and it’s something we wanted,” Papadakis said. “We wanted something modern, young, more urban, because that’s more like us.”
They tried out different approaches to his songs, she said, and “we were having fun.”
The music for their free dance is a little more traditional: Beethoven.
“Not a lot of people listen to it on the radio,” Cizeron said, “but most people know it or have heard it at least once. I think it’s also music that talks to people. People can really feel.”
The French pair has transformed its skating since the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Back then, Papadakis and Cizeron were struggling to make the step to senior-level skating, and weren’t selected for the Winter Games. The next season they moved from France to Montreal, began working with renowned coaches Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer, and embraced skating full time.
They were rewarded with the world and European titles.
“We weren’t taking skating as seriously as we do now,” Papadakis said. “It was just something that we did a lot, but we were also going to school and having normal lives. We weren’t completely dedicated to it as we are now. After that, we moved to Montreal and we started working with that amazing team that’s really professional. … Our skating, we improved a lot, and also our off-ice training, mental condition, everything.”
Still, they acknowledge that on-ice success has come at the cost of other areas of life.
“We started having not really that much outside of (skating),” Papadakis said. Still, “it’s a long road we went through and I’m happy we did it.”
Papadakis and Cizeron now have two world titles and four consecutive European crowns, the last of them won in Moscow last week with world records for the free dance and total score.
In Pyeongchang, key rivals for the gold medal will be their training partners, the Canadian pair of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who won gold in 2010 and silver in 2014.
Despite sharing the same ice, the French duo says the atmosphere is friendly.
“It feels very grounding to have that family feeling around you,” Cizeron said. “(The coaches) still push us to our limits. We’re always trying to improve and to discover things and learn from life, from training.”