In the spring of 2022, senior synchronized skating team Les Suprêmes struck gold at the ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships in front of a home crowd in Hamilton, Ontario. This marked the third time in history that a Canadian team would stand on the top step of the podium since the event’s inception 22 years ago. The previous team to win gold was NEXXICE in 2015, seven years prior. So, how did they get here?
Believe it or not, COVID-19 helped catapult the team to this level of excellence. When talking with Marilyn Langlois, one of the three members of the coaching team along with Pascal Denis and Amélie Brochu, she attributes their success to the training constraints they had to adhere to during the pandemic.
Marilyn paints a picture of what their training was like: “The pandemic forced us to focus more on individual skating skills and we had to get creative with our trainings, using sticks to maintain distance which allowed for more room to skate and to skate bigger.”
This unique training environment created a strong base for the skaters and allowed them to put together a much stronger program. Heading into Worlds in 2022, Les Suprêmes were not well ranked internationally, a direct result of limited opportunities to compete internationally due to the Omicron outbreak in January 2022. A few months later in Hamilton, the hometown crowd shook the building each time Canadian synchronized skating teams took the ice. It felt more like a hockey game than traditional figure skating. It was a special moment for this Canadian team as they skated lights out and captured the gold medal on home soil.
The 2022-2023 season was slightly different for the reigning world champions due to the fact that synchronized skating was added to the
2023 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships program for the first time alongside all other skating disciplines.
This was a special moment for the synchronized skating community and fans welcomed the discipline with open arms. Throughout the event, spectators were heard saying things like “I didn’t know synchronized skating was like this” or “It’s come so far technically from when I last watched.”
However, this change also meant that synchronized skating teams would be competing for their national title a month earlier than in the past. Historically, synchronized skating teams participated in their own National Championships which took place in February, with the ultimate objective of peaking at the World Championships in late March. Going into nationals as World Champions the previous year, Les Suprêmes were the strong favourite to win, but ended up placing third.
According to Marilyn Langlois, it wasn’t a bad skate and they were not planning to peak at nationals. To not perform at your best at the National Championships seems counterintuitive, but sports are a building game and each competition prepares you for the next. The team was focused on getting the technical elements, good GOEs and building mental strength so they could peak when it counted.
Following nationals, Canada’s synchronized skating teams began their international season and the work to qualify for the World Championships. This is a time of “believing and trusting the process and being confident in the program you are building,” shared Marilyn.
At their first international competition of the 2023 season, the team was just looking to improve and build confidence. These competitions are good preparation for Worlds as athletes compete against other international competitors. The focus is on winning one element at a time. The coaching philosophy always being, ‘You do not have to be perfect; you just have to be awesome.’
Indeed, they were awesome and in turn accomplished something amazing: the team won medals at both of their international competitions leading up to the World Championships, finishing first at the 2023 Challenger Series Spring Cup and claiming bronze at the 2023 Leon Lurje Trophy. This momentum carried them into the 2023 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships, where they accomplished something incredibly awesome: back-to-back World Championship titles, a first for Canada.
Competing at this level of the sport requires strong mental skills, which is a main area of focus within the coaching team. They constantly tell their team that they just need to be awesome because perfection is impossible and regardless of the outcome of the season, “they are still going to be able to achieve something awesome by the end.” In addition to instilling this mindset within their team, they take proactive approaches to preserve athletes’ health. The coaching team regularly checks in individually with each athlete and Marilyn confirms that for their coaching team, “the health of the athlete, mentally, physically, comes before any performance.
For Les Suprêmes, winning in a healthy way is a mindset they would like to bring to the forefront of competitive sport. “Doing it in a healthy way is doable, it just takes a lot more communication and listening to the needs of your athletes, as well as, finding just the right balance between hard work and fun.”