The skating rink is in a state of organized chaos. Six couples are practising—lifting, spinning, jumping, the men tossing their partners through the air like twirling Frisbees. Some of the skaters topple hard onto the ice, only to repeat the same bruising manoeuvres—trading punishment for slow progress. But one pair glides faultlessly, and seemingly effortlessly, among them. They are Lloyd Eisler and Isabelle Brasseur, the senior statesmen of Canadian pairs figure skating and reigning world champions. When a younger skater falls, they offer encouragement. ‘We know,” says Brasseur, “that it’s not easy to get up in the morning, skate for hours, fall and get up—and do it over and over and over again.”
For Eisler, 30, and Brasseur, 23, years of hard work and bruises—and an ongoing struggle to overcome the
jitters in international competition—finally paid off in March at the world championships in Prague. In fact, Brasseur now says, their victory came at a time when winning meant less than it ever had. A year earlier, at the 1992 Albertville Olympics, Brasseur fell and
the pair skated away with only a bronze. Then, Brasseur’s father died suddenly at age 56 of a heart attack. “Even now, I still cry over it,” she says. But the hardships of 1992 helped put skating into perspective. “It made us see skating as something we were lucky to do— but that life is more important,” Brasseur says. “It took the pressure away.”
Brasseur claims now that performing well is their only care. They practise three to five hours a day at a Montreal-area rink. Off-ice training includes sessions with the national team’s sport psychologist to prepare for the high intensity of next February’s Olympic Games. Brasseur also finds time for college business courses two mornings a
Gliders Are Golden
week. Eisler, who quit university to concentrate on skating, spends his limited free time back on the ice, but in a rougher pursuit: playing hockey.
Both Eisler and Brasseur grew up in small communi-
ties—he in Seaforth, Ont., she in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.—and both started skating competitively before the age of 10. Eisler was an experienced international pairs skater when he retired in 1986, after his third partner dropped out due to injuries. But a year later, when he learned that a promising young skater’s partner had also quit, he travelled to Montreal to meet her. “Isabelle didn’t speak English at all, and I didn’t speak much French,” says Eisler. But their skating styles meshed and communication, mostly in English, came later. At one point, they even considered dating each other, but decided not to. Now, while both date other people, Eisler declares:
We’re best friends. If there’s a problem, the first person we’re going to call is each other.” The pair have recently transferred that personal chemistry onto the ice. They always performed some of the most difficult lifts and twists in international competition. But because
of their sizes—Eisler is five feet, 11 inches and 180 lb.; Brasseur a mere five feet and 96 lb—some critics said that Eisler simply tossed his lightweight partner around. In Prague, the pair shifted the emphasis from Eisler’s physical strength to Brasseur’s natural grace in a much more fluid, artistic routine.
The couple will try to recreate that style at the Olympics in Norway. But hardship has taught them not to put too much stock in victory. And whether they win gold or not, their remarkable amateur careers have already earned them stellar status in Canadian skating history.
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