The Woman Of The Week
"I started by raising awareness among coaches to create the first teams in France"
This week, we are opening a new page of the synchro history book. Today we go to Normandy, France to visit the country house of Edith Ballester. Edith was a trailblazer who shaped the origins of synchronized skating in France. She worked to import and develop the discipline in France from 1990 until her retirement in 2001. Let's discover the birth of synchronized skating among our French friends through the eyes of this passionate woman who blew out 82 candles on her birthday cake this year.
You & synchro
How did you discover synchro?
At the time I was the technical manager of the figure skating federation in France. With my husband, we had created an international ice ballet competition (LaPomme d’Or) in Rouen to showcase an "artistic" group discipline on ice. Knowing my interest in these new disciplines, the French Federation of Ice Sports sent me to Helsinki to see one of the first international synchronized skating competitions in Europe in January 1990. At the time, it was known as "Precision skating".
What was your role in the world of French synchronized skating?
As a technical executive of the French federation, I had to develop this new discipline in skating clubs throughout France.
What is the synchro memory that has struck you the most?
My first competition in Helsinki! In this huge ice rink, there were 70 teams! There was an incredible atmosphere and energy
Since you have been involved in this sport for many years, what are your views on this sport today and its evolution?
The skating technique has evolved a lot, and the introduction of lifts and certain pair elements has enriched the discipline. The expression and the choreography are now essential components which brings synchro closer to the ballet, and one can wonder if there is a possible opening between these two worlds?
If you had to remember a program that moved you or touched you...
Team Surprise in the 90s to the music of Gershwin. They showed so much power and creativity. This team will be missed.
Do you have a favorite team?
My favorite team for a long time was Les Pirouettes de Laval. It was thanks to them and their coach in this period Lyne Forget that I was able to develop the discipline in France. In a very classical sense, the Russian team Paradise has a very good skating quality.
France and synchro
Seeing this discipline arrive in France, what were the first reactions?
There was a lot of enthusiasm on the part of some clubs because synchro allowed them to offer an interesting option to the skaters who did not skate or compete anymore. Others were attracted by the collective sport aspect. Of course, some were more skeptical...
Can you tell us about the beginning of synchro in France?
I started by raising awareness among coaches to create the first teams in France in addition to Les Zoulous of Lyon who were already established. Then I organized courses and seminars with Quebec coaches; there was no language barrier and their enthusiasm was contagious. A commission to develop synchro was created within the French federation. Judges from figure skating and ice dance were assembled to judge synchro. France had been organizing ice ballet competitions for several years, and the first synchro competitions were included in these events. At the end of our first season in 1991, we organized our Coupe de France with a dozen teams. In order to make the discipline known, we then organized the first French Cup.
In your opinion, how is the development of synchro in your country progressing now?
Since the beginning of this season, the federation has appointed a director of the French teams for synchronized skating, Mrs. Catherine Glaise. Under her leadership, systems were created so that our junior and senior teams are more successful on the international scene. You can see this work starting to pay off, as the standard of our teams during the last French cup showed clear improvement.
In your opinion, how can we develop this sport in France?
Continue the development of teams throughout the country and work on developing well-rounded skaters with experience in all disciplines.
The whole team at Jura Synchro warmly thanks Edith Ballester and her daughter Valérie for helping us to carry out this interview. See you next week to discover a new story about our sport.
Article by Remo De Tomi
Photographs courtesy of Valérie Ballester
Editing by Alyssa Norton