CERGY, France — In many ways, Florent Amodio is a man with everything: good health, a good life, the love of family and friends, and a job-cum-passion – ice skating – that takes him all over the world and could lead to a medal at the Olympics in February.
It all sounds fabulous. Until, this summer, it suddenly wasn't.
On a plane carrying him across the Atlantic, having bid a reluctant farewell to France for what was supposed to be a month of intense training in Palm Springs, Calif., the 2011 European champion broke down.
"I didn't want to leave. I flew from Paris to New York in tears, which shows how hard it was," Amodio says. "It was terrible."
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third story in a series exploring how an Olympian prepares – mentally, physically, athletically and otherwise – for the biggest rendezvous of a sports career. The Associated Press is periodically checking in with Amodio to track his progress toward the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. In Part I, Amodio oozed confidence that he can win a medal. In Part II, he was laid low by a back injury.
Amodio calls himself a "world citizen." Born into poverty in Brazil, he was raised in France, in the Val d'Oise region northwest of Paris, by adoptive French parents. Like many other skaters, who go where their coaches take them, Amodio became something of a nomad. He traveled widely to compete and train – Russia, the United States, around Europe and elsewhere, absences totaling many months.
When athletes talk of making sacrifices for their sport, often they're thinking of time spent apart from loved ones. The miles are clearly starting to wear on Amodio, making him sometimes sound world weary at age 23.
On the eve of that tearful flight in June, he wore a hangdog expression and sounded glum. He'd still not packed his bags. That, in hindsight, showed how reluctant he was to fly off again. His father surviving a heart attack earlier this year made leaving harder.
"Time flies by so quickly. I wouldn't say that it kills to me travel but it is starting to weigh on me," he said. "I've been traveling since I was 17. I want to live my life here. My girlfriend, my parents, my sister, many things are here for me."
"If, when I was a kid, someone had said, `You're going to Los Angeles,' it would have been crazy. But now I've already experienced things like that and it's a long way away."
Sure enough, this proved to be a trip too many. From California, he posted photos on Instagram of street scenes, of palm trees and a beautiful, vintage American car. Outwardly, everything seemed fine. But behind the scenes, his three-year relationship with coach Nikolai Morozov was hitting a wall. Within days, Amodio announced he was returning to France.
Dumping a coach so close to the Olympics is fraught with risk. Michelle Kwan split with longtime coach Frank Carroll and worked alone for four months before the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. She wound up with a bronze, not the gold she was favored to win. World silver medalist Patrick Chan split with Don Laws a month before the 2010 Vancouver Games and finished out of the medals. Morozov guided Amodio to the 2011 European title. Before their relationship soured, "I'd always imagined that Nikolai would be my coach to the end of my days," Amodio said.
He's reluctant to dredge up details of what went wrong. "He gave me so much. I adored him. I don't bear any grudges," Amodio explained.
"There was a clash, a rupture, it felt like a divorce," he said. "I had a choice: Either I stay with Nikolai, where I was unhappy, things weren't working on the ice, they didn't suit me – it would, quite simply, have been the end of me – or I, quote, unquote, `live again.' It was a renaissance."
"Separating from him felt like finding oneself alone in the middle of the ocean. I said to myself, `Oh, crap. What do I do? How will I cope? How will I live?' But I also knew it was the only solution."
Time and the ice in Sochi's Skating Palace will tell if Amodio was right.
Since the split with Morozov, Amodio has taken stock and regrouped. Back in France, he first spent two weeks working on a rink alone, determined to make up for lost time. With help from France's skating federation, he then put together what he calls "a very fine team" of new coaches.
Katia Krier, who coached 2007 world champion Brian Joubert, is giving Amodio the extra discipline and rigor in training he says he long craved. The federation announced last week that it also hired Shanetta Folle to work as Amodio's head coach to Sochi. Amodio feels Folle is quite a catch, because "there aren't 1 million elite coaches who are free five months out from the games."
Folle worked with Mao Asada when the 2010 women's Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion trained with Tatiana Tarasova. Name recognition could help impress the judges who will pick the medalists in Sochi.
"That's the way it is in skating. I need someone who resonates internationally," Amodio said.
Amodio has pieced together the choreography of the programs he'll skate in Sochi. Now, he must perfect and inhabit them. He worked with double world champion Stephane Lambiel on the short program. For music, Amodio will skate his long program to "Mack the Knife," "La Vie en Rose" and the foot-tapping funkiness of French DJ band C2C. A seamstress, introduced to Amodio by his girlfriend, an ice dancer, is finishing his costumes.
The icing on the cake: Amodio can commute by train to the rink in central Paris that is now his training base to the Olympics. No more solitary months far from home.
"Everything is falling into place," he said.
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