For five entire days, I lived in a bubble. Didn’t know what time was, didn’t know what day was. It was the time of skating, actually – a suspended time, made of beauty, emotions, graceful silhouettes, scenes and bits of stories. And goosebumps, lots of those. Those being said, I warmly welcome you into my week at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona. For the second year in a row, the highlights of the city weren’t Antoni Gaudí’s marvels, Joan Miró’s colors or the intricate work of Lluís Domènech i Montaner. For the second year in a row, all the magic was in there, inside CCIB arena. For all of these: Moltes gràcies, Barcelona. And here you have, random emotions, as my mind (and heart) set them apart – beautiful, lavender butterflies, like the ones resting for a while on Mao Asada’s shoulders.
by Florentina Tone
Oh my, Kaitlyn Weaver’s dress for the short dance is even more gorgeous in real life! – those must have been my thoughts when entering the CCIB arena for the first time, at 2015 Grand Prix Final. It is, it surely is a jewel of a ballroom dance dress, that of Kaitlyn’s, and, for seconds on end, my eyes were glued.
The accomplice smile shared by Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno during practice, after China’s Boyang Jin had nailed a gorgeous quadruple Lutz just beside them; and the admiring look between teammates, Yuzu and Javi, having the exact same cause – the truth is the 18-year-old Boyang Jin is really pushing the boundaries of the sport, with the insanely courageous technical content of his programs this season.
The warrior look (and attitude) of Yuzuru Hanyu during practices – all the practices – at this year’s edition of the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona. One should definitely study the art of war (in skating) in Yuzuru’s case – and the Japanese’s tactics to shatter his opponents’ confidence even before the actual competition. No doubt about it: this young man is a redoubtable competitor, and his determination in Barcelona (and anywhere else in the world), to die for.
The pure emotion in the arena when Mao Asada lands a perfect triple Axel during practice – as if everyone in the audience rises and descends with her; as if everyone has, for a couple of seconds, Mao’s beautiful wings.
The Michael Jackson fan in me really loves Nathan Chen’s short program to a Michael Jackson medley. A wonderful routine, skated with spark and confidence in Barcelona, beautifully highlighting all the nuances of the music, including that cover MJ did on his favorite song, Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”. “I always loved his music, and, as kids, we were all doing Moonwalk on the floor…”, the soon-to-be 2015 Junior Grand Prix Final champion recalled in the Mixed zone, after his short program. And then Nathan praised Boyang Jin’s quad Lutz and his efforts to push the sport forward: “The quad Lutz is beautiful, I’ve watched over and over. It’s a very nice quad – and I hope to do that someday. He [Boyang Jin] is definitely pushing the boundaries of figure skating and I’m really glad he’s doing that, because a lot of skaters are wanting to do that now – push the sport forward”.
During lunchtime, skaters, coaches and fans altogether move to the mall across the street. A happy, noisy razzle-dazzle in the restaurants – and people wearing the pink-mauve official badges of the competition anywhere you look. You might run into your favorite skater eating pasta in the mall – and ask him for a picture; as it was the case with Canada’s Eric Radford and an American couple, sharing smiles, encouraging messages and, of course, a photo. How do I know that? Well, Qué Pasta! was my lunch-restaurant too, whenever I had the time to insert that into my schedule.
Skating their short program to “Monde Inversé” (from Cirque du Soleil) in Barcelona, Canada’s Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau took the crowd with them – each and every one of the 5.000 people in the arena, I’m sure. A joy of a program that was – funny, contagious, skated with the utmost excitement – coming from the pair that won the junior crown last year in Barcelona.
Yuko’s smile and my goosebumps. “I Finally Found Someone”, the song says – and Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov finally found a way to enjoy the Grand Prix Final experience. After last season’s disappointment – with the Russians finishing the event in Barcelona on the 6th place out of 6 – Alexander was convinced: “The Grand Prix Final is simply not our competition”, refusing any kind of chit-chat with the journalists when seated in the press stands, alongside Ruslan Zhiganshin, to watch the ladies’ event. Well, this year’s edition of the GPF, hosted again by Barcelona, proves Alexander Smirnov wrong: this is their competition, since he and Yuko finished the pairs’ event on the third place overall, after skating with joy, confidence, emotion. “You’re smiling now, what changed?”, Yuko was asked in the press conference after the short program; and she answered simply and, yes, with a smile: “What changed? The music changed!” And the truth is Barbra Streisand and Bryan Adams’ voices really put the Russians’ skating skills into spotlight…
During his short program to Michael Bublé’s “Mack the Knife”, Patrick Chan is drawing arabesques on the ice – and I’m completely sold. And since I’m watching Patrick from the last row of chairs in CCIB arena, I am now convinced: the best place to see his performances might very well be from the sky. And I imagine God is happy watching Patrick skate: gliding effortlessly on the white surface of ice, as if he were skating in the clouds. It took me years to understand, but now I know: when it comes to the intricacy of his gliding, the Canadian is second to none.
At home, in front of the TV, you only see the performances on the ice – but in the press stands at any skating competition there’s a parallel performance on display, with the journalists being the main characters. After each and every routine, while a skater is still in the Kiss and Cry, waiting for the scores, a varying number of journalists leaves the press stands and heads to the Mixed zone, this being, more or less, a corridor the skater goes through while talking to the press. The algorithm is (somehow) simple: if a Russian skater has just skated, mainly the Russian-speaking journalists are the ones heading to the Mixed zone; if a Japanese skater finished the routine, it’s the Japanese media going backstage.
And the interest in the Japanese skaters is so big, and the number of Japanese journalists in Barcelona so high, that after each of these skaters’ performances, there’s this wiry, warlike noise, with tens of people climbing down the metallic stairs, in order to reach the Mixed zone and surround the skater/s with questions, cameras, recorders. A true cavalry in action, let me tell you. And I won’t even try to describe the fuss, the effervescence in the press stands after Yuzuru Hanyu or Mao Asada’s skates in Barcelona… I’ll only tell you that: it is, it was heart-warming. Just as it was to encounter Nobunari Oda on the moving stairways, while heading to the press room: the Japanese media had improvised studios on site, and Nobunari Oda was part of the commentators’ team at GPF.
Funny scenes backstage at 2015 GPF: who said interviews, chats and photos in the Mixed zone are all serious and…boring? Well, it’s quite the opposite – and these photos do nothing but prove it.
And when it comes to Yuzuru Hanyu’s short program in Barcelona – that moving, World-record breaking performance to Chopin’s “Ballade no. 1” – it was truly a performance for the ages; and I loved being one of the 5.000 people in the arena giving a standing ovation to the Japanese. Not to mention all the other skaters from Team Japan came to witness the masterpiece, some of them right from the press stands – like Satoko Miyahara and her coach, Mie Hamada, coach Hiroshi Nagakubo, or the lovely, porcelain dolls from the junior ladies’ event: Marin Honda, Yuna Shiraiwa and Mai Mihara.
Yuzuru Hanyu’s eyes – all warmth, respect and curiosity – while listening to his teammate, Javier Fernandez, answering the journalists’ questions during the press conference after the short program. The Spaniard has been asked what was it like to skate after Yuzuru’s World record score performance – and he answered with a smile: “To skate after Yuzu is always hard and tricky, as there is always so much stuff on the ice and he always skates really well, and people are amazed… It’s hard to say if I was a little bit more nervous skating after Yuzu, seeing those scores and thinking: It doesn’t matter what I do, I’m not going to get higher than that. It is hard. And the first thing I did stepping on the ice was fall. Put my toe pick on the ice and Boom! But you never know, every competition is different… Yuzuru is a lot of points ahead – and I hope I’ll have a good performance tomorrow. I know he is very consistent, but I’ll try anyway”. The teammates share smiles and affectionate glances – and you know their off-ice bond will never be challenged by their on-ice results.
On the morning after Yuzuru Hanyu had skated his short program at 2015 GPF, I feel like congratulating every Japanese journalist in the press room; but this would be a really courageous endeavour, since there’s so many in Barcelona. Instead, I let myself drop on my chair and listen to the happy noise near-by – I’m only surrounded by Japanese media. The lady across me is giving me a cookie and I can’t help but adding with a smile: „Eating this cookie would make me land a quad, right?”. My remark gets translated into Japanese and everyone laughs heartily. It’s a good week to break more records in Barcelona.
The heart-warming (and, at times, heartbreaking) discussion with Sara Hurtado, one morning during the Grand Prix Final: what a wonderful girl, what a beautiful soul, deserving absolutely the best. An emotional get-together, with Sara talking about the hardest decision of her life – “I had to choose between myself, my happiness and the potential me and Adri had – either way, I was losing something…” –, but looking boldly, optimistically, at her future: “I want to keep skating, I still have a lot to learn, I’m not done with it. And if I’m going back, I would like to be at least at the level I was, or better”. Make sure you’ll read on Inside Skating about Sara’s new life – we’ll be publishing the story next month.
A tea cup in my hands, to keep me warm, I’m watching the men’s practice in CCIB arena. I’m in the photographers’ area, as usual during practices, one meter of the boards, but, just for the day, I’m not taking any pictures – instead, I’m thoroughly enjoying the incredible amount of talent on display in front of my eyes. I’m looking at the faces, the gestures, I’m soaking up the atmosphere. And, during times like that, I feel like one of the luckiest people on the face of the earth.
There’s magic in Maia and Alex Shibutani’s skate – whether is the short dance to Leo Delibes’ “Coppélia” or, a day later, the free dance to “Fix You” by Coldplay. They skated their hearts out in Barcelona, Maia and Alex – and the audience truly felt that, giving them standing ovation for both of their programs. There are girls in the arena shouting “Olé!” after the short dance, there’s Alex doing a trademark Paso Doble gesture while leaving the ice rink, as a response to the warmth of the audience, there’s this and that – but, unfortunately, the scores doesn’t seem to match their performance: the Shibutanis finished the ice dancing event in Barcelona on the 4th place, exactly as last year; and, from where I stand, they should have been higher.
Let me tell you, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov were imperial during their long program in Barcelona – and that’s that. The 2014 Olympic silver medalists are back and their programs might very well prove their biggest ally this season.
Encountering Ms. Sonia Bianchetti just before the third and final day of competition in Barcelona and sharing impressions on the junior men’s free skate (quite disappointing, really, given the large number of mistakes), but mostly on the skating skills of Mao Asada. You can read Ms. Bianchetti’s recap of this year’s edition of the GPF on her website; to me, our encounter was one of the dearest moments of this GPF.
The enthusiasm of some of my colleagues in the press room with the debut of synchronized skating at this year’s edition of the Grand Prix Final. Leena, a Finnish journalist, is letting me know, a huge smile on her face: “You’ll get to see now the sport that Finland loves so much…”
Swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth? I do – and here’s my confession to you: no greater joy at this year’s edition of the Grand Prix Final than to see Mao Asada skate. I’ve been a fan of this wonderful lady for years on end – and, coming to Barcelona, I already knew this would be my highlight. And it was, it truly was, despite Mao finishing the ladies event on the 6th place. But her programs this season, her maturity and arms in the air, her skating skills, her butterflies, my butterflies – there’s truly no comparison to that. And I do envy the Italian journalist who took a picture with Mao at the end of the press conference after the short program – and then boldly kissed her on her cheeks, sharing the excitement with everyone in the room: “Bellissima, bravissima Mao! Questa foto e per la mia mamma!”.
At the end of the press conference after the free dance, while heading to the exit, the wonderful Kaitlyn Weaver tells you that she loves “the work you do at Inside Skating” – and you’re so happy and proud that you can’t even say back, as you would, as you should: “No, I’m the one loving what you and Andrew are doing on the ice”. Because the truth is that: the Canadians are the embodiment of elegance and beauty on (and off) the ice – and their programs this season do nothing but prove it. And me, myself and my work at Inside Skating are more than thrilled with the compliment. [smiling faces here – lots of them]
Red dots in the arena – loads of them – every time a skater from Japan takes the ice for her/his routine; and an equal share of dots at the end of each of those performances. The truth is CCIB arena looked a bit like one from the Land of the Rising Sun, with, more or less, 2.500 people of the 5.000 in the audience coming from Japan to cheer for their skaters. And they did have reasons to celebrate, that’s for sure, with Japan winning 5 medals at this year’s edition of the Grand Prix Final: 1xgold (Yuzuru Hanyu), 1xsilver (Satoko Miyahara), 3xbronze (Shoma Uno, Sota Yamamoto, Marin Honda). And the truth is I loved each and every one of these performances – and if I had had a red-dot flag, I would have waved it too…
The men’s free skate is about to start – and the press stands in CCIB arena become scanty in a matter of minutes; for an hour, journalists from all around the world and skaters from other disciplines share the emotions of a glorious night for figure skating, a celebration of the sport altogether. At my left, like a couple of bees, talented bees, are the four Russian girls in the junior pairs’ event: Ekaterina Borisova, Amina Atakhanova, Anastasia Gubanova and Anastasia Poluianova. Aged 13 to 16, the “devochki” have come to see the star-event of this year’s edition of the Grand Prix Final, the senior men in action, and they do follow the six routines with passion and commitment; they all share a deep sigh when Daisuke Murakami fails to land his second quad and then Ekaterina Borisova’s voice rises and descends with Yuzuru Hanyu in the air during each of his jumps. It’s a wonderful feeling to see the champions of the future admiring the champions of today and their efforts…
…and it’s equally touching to see Kaitlyn Weaver sitting on the stairway, her feet underneath her, her hands on her knees, utterly swept in Shoma Uno’s free skate to Puccini’s Turandot. Kaitlyn, Andrew Poje, Ksenia Stolbova, Evgenia Medvedeva, Elena Radionova will eventually find some room in the press stands, with the help of Tatjana Flade, the heart and soul of the ISU events – as for me, I’ll forever cherish the memory of living this historical event literally amidst the champions.
Some of the moments of this year’s edition of the Grand Prix Final bring back beautiful memories from last year – as it was the case with Yuzuru Hanyu pinching Shoma Uno’s cheek, during the press conference after the free skate, in order to make the 17-year-old smile. Shoma was really very tired after his performance at GPF – you could see that during the entire meeting with the press – and the official pictures of the medalists would have lacked his smile if Yuzuru hadn’t made one of his jokes – which could be very well interpreted as learning experiences…
…because with Shoma Uno, you always get the sense he really needs a mentor when it comes to his off-ice experiences – and, good for him, Yuzuru Hanyu is always near. Last year, during the exhibition in Barcelona, the same Yuzuru raised Shoma’s hands in the air, to make him wave to the audience – and, seeing the Junior Grand Prix Final champion looked somehow uneasy, Yuzuru took Shoma’s right hand and put it on Sergey Mozgov’s shoulder, while posing for the official picture of the gold medalists at 2014 GPF. But the stubborn hand still remained a bit suspended in the air… so further lessons from Yuzuru Hanyu are definitely needed. And welcomed.
It’s early in the morning in Barcelona – the morning of December 13, the closing day of 2015 GPF – and some of the medalists are on the ice, practicing their routines for the exhibition. The practice is almost done – but then Evgenia Medvedeva keeps repeating her triple-triple-triple combination under Yuzuru Hanyu’s eyes. The 2015 Grand Prix Final champion notices the efforts, laughs and joyfully applauds her. A couple of hours later, they’ll end the gala with some of the jumps they practiced: as usual in Yuzuru’s case, he’ll attempt and land the quad loop….
…and the Japanese will even send Javier Fernandez to repeat his final jump, as the Spaniard had only landed a triple at his first attempt. Encouraging him, and asking the audience to do the same, Yuzu will make Javi go back on the ice and jump again – this time, a quad; and if this is the authentic atmosphere during practice hours at Toronto Cricket Club, I might have just understood the success formula in their case: these two push each other.
On the final day of 2015 GPF, I get to meet Alla Loboda and Pavel Drozd – the silver medalists in the junior ice dancing event. Their story will be published on Inside Skating in January 2016 – but for now I’ll only say that: they’re a beautiful ice dance team, Alla and Pavel, one for the future, and they’re counting their years together in the free programs they skated so far. You’ll love them, I’m sure. I already do.
Meeting your friends, from all around the world, in the arena and the press room, exchanging gifts, warm looks and smiles – and making new and precious friends; because, let me tell you, figure skating friends are for life. No less rewarding for heart and soul was identifying familiar faces in the audience – such was the girl sitting one row above me at 2012 Worlds in Nice, such was the grey-haired lady watching the men’s practice in Budapest, at 2014 Europeans…
Ever wonder what happens with the toys the fans throw on the ice? Well, you should have seen then the 2015 Grand Prix Final champion in the ladies’ event, Russia’s Evgenia Medvedeva, carrying her blue, plastic bag, toys within it, in the duty-free in Barcelona’s El Prat airport, tens of minutes prior to her flight to Moscow. Actually, that particular duty-free hosted, on December 14, around 10:40 in the morning, countless skaters, waiting to board their planes to Beijing, Moscow, Toronto: among those, Evgenia Medvdeva, Polina Tsurkaya, Alisa Fedichkina, Boyang Jin, Yang Jin, Cheng Peng… And, on the benches, Ekaterina Bobrova, Elena Radionova and many, many more. For a figure skating fan, this would be the definition of heaven, I’m sure.
As for me, I’ll surely miss the effervescence outside CCIB arena too, with tens of people waiting for the skaters to come out. A full display of joy and emotions, parallel with the one inside…