Ice dance clean sweep could ease the pain of Turin Games for coaching couple

A crashing fall ruined Patrice Lauzon and Marie-France Dubrueil's Olympic dreams in 2006 -- now the husband and wife coaching team is guiding a potential clean sweep of the medals in Pyeongchang. FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Marie-France Dubreuil's own Olympics ended in an ambulance. But on Tuesday in Pyeongchang, 12 years later, she will get her Olympic moment, even if not in the way she had envisioned.

She and Patrice Lauzon, her ice dance partner-turned-husband-turned-co-coach, could oversee the entire podium in ice dance. All three couples who lead after the short dance on Monday -- Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron and Team USA's Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue -- train under the Canadians at Centre Gadbois in Montreal.

Dubreuil and Lauzon were one of Canada's most beloved and successful ice dance pairs in the 2000s, known for romantic routines that showcased their obvious connection with each other. They won five Canadian titles and two silver medals at world championships, but their Olympics didn't go according to plan. In the original dance at the 2006 Torino Games, where many tipped them to medal, Dubreuil fell during a final move in which Lauzon hoisted her in the air horizontally and spun them both. She slammed onto the ice on her hip, finished the routine but was in too much pain to even curtsy. They withdrew from the competition.

They retired in 2008, married that fall, and opened the school two years later after some time on the touring circuit. They modeled Centre Gadbois after their own experiences in Europe, where they had moved after a disappointing 12th-place finish at the 2002 Salt Lake Games. They trained with skaters from around the world, an atmosphere that simulated international competition and drove the skaters to work harder.

Lauzon and Dubreuil accompanied their first couple to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Spanish dancers Sara Hurtado and Adria Diaz, who finished in 12th. There, Lauzon started talking with Virtue and Moir, who were then working with legendary Russian coach Marina Zueva. The two-time Olympic medalists planned to retire after Sochi, but Lauzon told them they'd be welcome at his rink should they ever choose to return. They did.

Lauzon, whom his students call "Patch," is the technician, focused on dissecting programs to maximize points. Dubreuil is the more emotional of the two, working on the choreography to best tell a story, connect with the audience and capture the emotion of the dance. A third head coach, Frenchman Romain Haguenauer, who joined the rink in 2014 and brought Papadakis and Cizeron, adds the decades of coaching experience that Dubreuil and Lauzon lack.

"The combination of the three, they really balance each other out," said Hubbell. "I feel like we're not missing anything."

Together they help their skaters craft distinct identities on the ice, bringing out the unique dynamics of each partnership and honing in on each couple's strengths and vulnerabilities.

"It's hard to put definite words to it, but I always compare Gabby and Guillaume to air and water and Tessa and Scott to earth and fire, and I think Maddy and Zach are very velvety and leather. It's something really organic about them," said Dubreuil. "They have different colors and different textures, and it's fun to be able to play with all those qualities."

At 5-foot-8 and 6-foot-2, Hubbell and Donohue are the tallest ice dancers at the Olympics, even before adding a few inches for skates. That wasn't always easy for Hubbell in a sport that tends to value petite women. Dubreuil helped her accept her height and used it to shape Hubbell and Donohue's alluring presence on the ice. Their bluesy free dance is accentuated by their long lines and projects an old-school romance between two evenly-matched partners.

"I've always felt like an athletic woman, a very powerful woman," Hubbell said. "Marie-France really helped me embrace that, but to also allow myself to be vulnerable and a little bit more feminine. It seems like that balance we've been able to create, where it's really man and woman, is something that not every team in ice dance has. It's been part of our success."

What Lauzon and Dubreuil, 42 and 43 respectively, lack in coaching experience they make up with their own competitive experience.

"They're so fresh out of it that every cue they say, every piece of coaching advice, whether it's technical or artistic, it's so clear that they've lived it recently," said Virtue. "They know the turmoil and the tumultuous nature of what it feels like to live an Olympic Games. And that understanding is really validating."

Their students insist that the rivalries created at Centre Gadbois are amicable, and that all three couples are good friends despite jostling for the same gold medal. That's not always the case. In 2014, after he and Virtue lost the gold medal to American training partners Charlie White and Meryl Davis, Moir accused their shared coach, Marina Zueva, of "not being in their corner."

But on Monday after the short dance, all three couples seemed to get along just fine. Hubbell rested her head on Frenchman Cizeron's shoulder, while Donohue gave Papadakis a long hug after her unfortunate wardrobe malfunction. All three couples cheered loudly at the news conference when asked about their coaches. Moir applauded Dubreuil and Lauzon for creating a warm atmosphere at the rink. He remembered that when he and Virtue joined in late 2016, the other couples welcomed them instead of seeing them as unwanted competition.

"I want to quickly talk about what it was like to walk into a school full of people you knew you'd be in a dogfight with to try and win that Olympic gold medal, and how they welcomed you with open arms," he said. "We'd never seen that before in our career. That stems from the culture the coaches have created at Gadbois. They just don't put up with anybody who isn't a team player."

NBC Sports analyst Tanith White, who competed against Dubreuil and Lauzon during her career, said that positive vibe was already present during their skating days.

"I remember them always taking time before they competed to just read each other's energy. They had that moment of calm where they would hold hands and stare into each other's eyes," she said. "They're very aware of the energy they put out and how it affects the people around them, so all of their students say that it's a pleasure to go to the rink every day. When the work you have to do is so demanding, to know that you can look forward to spending time with your coaches and your peers makes a difference."

If the standings stay the same after the free dance, Lauzon and Dubreuil will have achieved coaching history. No ice dance coaches have ever taken all three medal spots at the Olympics. Zueva, who coached Virtue and Moir as well as Davis and White to alternating gold and silver medals in 2010 and 2014, would come closest.

When asked after the short dance if she plans on ruling the ice dance world for years to come, Dubreuil laughed and said, "Let's go through tomorrow before I go any further."

Lauzon said that he keeps his skating and coaching careers separate, but Moir was willing to put the two together. "I just think they are the perfect Olympic story," he said. "Their Olympic moment didn't go the way they planned it, but they still have so much love for their athletes and they still believe in the Olympic values."

Come Tuesday, that story may be perfect.