J. Barry Mittan, the Electronic Photojournalist

Sarah Abitbol and Stephane Bernadis by J. Barry Mittan (1996)

France's Sarah Abitbol and Stephane Bernadis are not the typical pairs team and they don't want to be. "We try to be different," Bernadis claims, "We don't think of a placement. We want to show that we are good and skate well so that our teammates can always count on us. But we don't like to be constricted. Too often we invent a new move and the judges say 'No, no, no, no no." "With more rules, skating stays always the same, nothing new," Abitbol echoes.

The pair have the artistry and expression of ice dancers, but didn't want to be dancers. "I want to jump," Sarah says, "I don't like to just keep my skates on the ice." "To be World pairs champion, you have to be half dancers, half pairs, " Stephane thinks. "Like Gordeeva and Grinkov (Sarah's favorite pair." Bernadis emulates the skating of Artur Dmitriev (His favorites are Artur with Natalia Mishkuteniok), but he doesn't want to do any of the famous pair's trademark moves. "Every pair has their own moves. It's hard to invent new things, but we are always trying, " he says.

The pair specialize in throw jumps. Their free program includes a double axel, triple salchow, triple loop, and triple toe loop. "We can do any kind of throw triple jump," notes Sarah. "But the triple loop is my best. I always hit that one. This summer, we were practicing the throw triple axel and landing it two times out of five, but I fell and hurt my back so we had to stop." We hope to practice again this season and maybe add it to the long program," Stephane says. "We are thinking of changing the program we have now because the last lift comes right after a spin and I felt like I was drunk. I missed Sarah's hand at Skate Canada and that was that. We didn't do as hard a program when we tried the long at Continents Cup so we didn't know it would be a problem. I really don't like spins." Abitbol and Bernadis finished fifth at Skate Canada this year after coming in 11th at the 1996 Worlds. They have consistently moved up at Europeans from 15th in 1994 to third in 1996. They are also the French national pairs champions.

Their long program is to Ava Naguila from Schindler's List. "We did an exhibition to Jewish music long ago, so we wanted to try a long program to a medley of Jewish music, including some Jewish techno music." The long program was choreographed by Natalia _______________, who also does Philippe Candeloro, but the couple have recently switched to Claude Bajaze who did thier Bolero short program. "It didn't work out as well as we had hoped, so we will work with Claude to change both programs later this year," Sarah says. They are currently coached by Rolland Racle and train in Paris and Bercy.

Sarah started skating when she was 6 when she had a choice of swimming or ice skating for physical education. Stephane started at 8 because of his mother, English skater Donna Davies, a competitive skater who had made the British national team before an injury ended her career. The pair started skating together in 1992 after ter a national pairs tryout, a difficult job since France had no pairs training center. "We have nothing in France. Skating is not a popular sport there," says Stephane. They hope to continue to compete at the 1998 Olympics, then skate for a year or so after that. Their dream is to open the first pairs training center in France. Both skaters have passed their coaching tests after attending a sports education training center and are taking additional courses to reach that goals. "We are officially coaches now," says Sarah, "But we don't have time to teach yet."

In their spare time, Stephane is quite the sportsman. "I like every sport," he says. "I play golf with Phillipe Candeloro, swim, play tennis, everything. I even took martial arts for several years just for fun - kung fu, tae kwon do, ju jitsu. I also try to do a little bit of weight work every day." Sarah is not so energetic, but does swim a little. "We don't have a lot of time except for skating," says Sarah, "We train all week long and then we're dead. We want to sleep on Sunday." The duo also like to attend the theatre, "But Sarah doesn't like the same movies I do," Stephane laughs. "I like action pictures; she likes romance." "I also like science fiction movies, " says Sarah, " Alien and Star Trek." They also listen to almost any kind of music, although Stephane prefers moderm, techno, rap, and funk (The Fujis are his favorite), while Sarah likes Elton John.

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