The Canadian ice dancers who competed for France

Their unconventional style wasn't welcomed by the ice dancing establishment at first.

Brother-sister duo Paul and Isabelle Duchesnay skated at Calgary Olympics under another flag

The brother-sister duo created a sensation at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. 1:52

Siblings Paul and Isabelle Duchesnay grew up in Aylmer, Que., and began competing in figure skating at a young age.

But when they made their debut on the world stage, it was not under the maple leaf but the bleu, blanc et rouge of France's flag.

'Wild routine'

Isabelle Duchesnay and Paul Duchesnay of France perform in the Mixed Ice Dance Skating competition at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary. (Bob Martin/Allsport/Getty Images)

At the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, what really got the Duchesnays attention wasn't their citizenship. Rather, it was their bold ice dancing style.

"Their performance this week brought Saddledome fans to their feet," said Midday host Valerie Pringle before the pair was interviewed outside the Calgary arena. "But they left a few of the judges shaking their heads."

The Duchesnays debuted a new program, described by Pringle as "a wild routine to an African beat."

But, she added, the big fluctuation in the marks afterwards indicated the Olympic judges could not agree on their performance. The marks ranged from 5.0 to 5.8, landing the duo in eighth place.

Forbidden moves?

"We didn't know how people here would find this program," Paul Duchesnay told interviewer Peter Downie the day after the performance. "We knew people in Europe liked it, but we didn't know what the North American reaction would be."

Downie struggled to understand the finer points of what made the judges' task challenging.

"What are you doing?" asked Downie. "I mean, you're not breaking any rules, are you?"

"That's the funny part," said Paul. "Nobody has come to us and said 'well ... this particular move is forbidden.'"

Isabelle thought the divergence in judges' scores might be due to the routine's novelty factor.

"Nobody has actually skated on African music yet," she said. "Something this new has a tendency to be looked over twice before it's accepted."

"We try to always innovate as much as possible," elaborated Paul. "We think that ice dancing ... has been at a bit of a standstill."   

Ice dancers Paul and Isabelle Duchesnay discuss why they compete under the French flag. 1:45

Skating for France

The pair had dual citizenship because their mother was French; Paul was born in France and Isabelle in Montreal.

"How did you end up skating for France and not for Canada?" asked Downie. 

"Well, we got sent in 1982 for our first competition in Obersdorf [Germany]," explained Paul. "We liked the training facilities there so much and also the coaching was really good. Plus our coaches said..." 

Isabelle took up the thread. "'I suggest that you go skate for France.' They had many good offers for us." 

But that choice, once made, could not be reversed.

'Difficult decision'

"It's impossible," said Isabelle. "If we have skated one, minimum one international event for another country, it's then impossible to come back or to change countries again."

"It was a real difficult decision to take, to skate for France, because we knew that if we left Canada there would be no coming back," added Paul. "We made this commitment. We cannot go back now."

Paul and Isabelle Duchesnay placed eighth at the 1988 Olympics, but went on to win the world championship in ice dancing in 1991. They took silver at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France before retiring from the sport.