You can count the ice rinks (of Olympic dimensions) in Romania on the fingers of two hands – and only if you’re generous enough to count the rinks that function a couple months per year, in tents or in balloons.
And no Olympic size ice rink is yet functional in the capital of Romania after „Mihai Flamaropol” rink was closed, more than a decade ago, and entered a lengthy process of rehabilitation (read: a process of rebuilding it from scratch) that still isn’t finalized.
Under these particular circumstances, to even think of organizing an international skating competition in Romania, and to actually do it, feels a courageous endeavor, almost like a dream.
And a dream it was when the first edition of EduSport Trophy took place, in January 2017, in the modern, recently opened Telekom Arena in Otopeni, near Bucharest.
Over 70 participants from 12 countries came to Otopeni at the time, to take part in the event organized by EduSport Sport Club Association and the Romanian Skating Federation.
And for the Romanian skaters in particular, the competition was – and still is – a chance to be seen, heard, noticed, in spite of their chronically difficult training conditions. „The lack of infrastructure affected so many of our young, talented skaters – performing at EduSport Trophy, they show they don’t want to give up on their dream to be champions”, the organizers noted in 2017.
Fast forward to the 6th edition of EduSport Trophy, in December 2023, at the same rink, now called Allianz-Tiriac Arena, with over 200 participants from 19 countries.
Apart from the host country, large delegations came from Italy, Israel, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Turkey, but also skaters from South Africa, Australia, Austria, Czech Republic, EAU, France, Georgia, Greece, Lithuania, Great Britain, Peru, Serbia and Slovenia travelled to Otopeni (which is literally two-steps from Henri Coanda International Airport, a big plus for the event itself).
One of the four international competitions happening on the same week of December (2023/2024 ISU Grand Prix Final, 2023 CS Golden Spin of Zagreb and 2023 Latvia Trophy), Romania’s EduSport Trophy got bigger and bigger with every season that passed – and we say Hats off and congratulations to the small team of enthusiasts that keeps on dreaming, keeps on giving chances to perform to our own Romanian skaters but also to competitors from all around the world.
And this particular event, and its counterparts in Croatia and Latvia were also a last opportunity for skaters to get their much-needed TES-minimums for Europeans next year, and some took that shot, got their minimums and burst into tears as soon as they had the official confirmation.
Now let us tell you in details how EduSport Trophy went, with focus on the overall results, and photos to capture the air of competition, a homey, relaxed air that makes you want to come back season after season.
by Florentina Tone / Otopeni, Romania
And some of those competitors that keep coming back to EduSport Trophy and Allianz-Tiriac Arena in Otopeni are the young Nikita Sheiko and the younger Kirill Sheiko of Israel, accompanied by their parents and coaches Julia Sheiko and Sergei Sheiko.
Nikita Sheiko (15 years of age) repeated as EduSport Trophy junior champion (he won both 5th and 6th edition of the competition), while his brother Kirill (12) repeated as advanced novice champion.
Israel’s Nikita Sheiko, EduSport Trophy junior champion
8 skaters took the ice in the junior men’s event – and the winner of both segments was, as we already mentioned, Israel’s Nikita Sheiko.
And if you find the name familiar, let us remind you that last season Nikita was the surprise winner of European Youth Olympic Festival 2023 in Italy.
And that this season, the 15-year old debuted on the junior Grand Prix Series circuit, finishing JGP Cup of Austria, in Linz, on the 11th place, and JGP Osaka, in Osaka, on the 7th place.
In Otopeni, Romania, at the 6th edition of EduSport Trophy, Nikita Sheiko was followed by Ukraine’s Vadym Novikov (silver) and Turkey’s Mehmet Cenkay Karlikli (bronze).
Romania’s representatives, Razvan Cionac and Anelin George Enache, finished on the 5th place, and 8th place respectively.
Italy’s Irina Napolitano, EduSport Trophy junior champion
Junior women were four-time numerous than their male counterparts at this season’s edition of EduSport Trophy: 32 skaters registered for the event, two of them withdrew beforehand, and health-related issues made Romania’s Ana Stratulat exit the ice before finishing her free skate; she was 9th after the short program, but also really sick a week before competition, and that seriously impacted her performance during the free skate segment in Otopeni.
A hard-working and talented young skater, showing a lot of progress in recent years and representing Romania at the Junior Grand Prix event in Budapest this September, Ana will surely come back stronger the following seasons.
First after the short program in Otopeni and coming second in the free, Italy’s Irina Napolitano won the overall junior women’s event at EduSport Trophy – and, throughout her performances, this young Italian really reminded us of the legend Carolina Kostner.
Same air, same feel for the music – and, hopefully, a future that resembles Carolina’s.
And what you also need to know is that Irina Napolitano also competes in pairs, alongside Edoardo Comi, and the two were 6th at JGP Budapest and 5th at JGP Solidarity Cup in Gdansk this season.
Performing as a single skater in Otopeni and winning the gold medal, Irina was followed by her teammate Carlotta Maria Gardini (winner of the free skate) and Slovenia’s Zoja Kramar, another young talent that ran away with our attention.
Showing a lot of promise for the future, the 15-year old Zoja from Ljubljana has both her programs this season choreographed by Jorik Hendrickx – and, through her skating and personality, she really made them shine in Allianz-Tiriac Arena; short program to “Santeiro Blanco” and “Uccen”, long program to music from the soundtrack of “King Arthur”.
No less than 11 representatives had Italy in the junior women’s event at EduSport Trophy – finishing on the 5th place was another promising young skater, Anita Mapelli.
All in all, it was an Italian fest at the end of the junior women’s event – and the below photos will only prove it.
Romania had 12 junior women in the event – the highest-placed three were Natalia Runcanu (14th place), Maria Smaranda (16th) and Tara Maria Ienciu (18th).
And the skater that impressed us the most was the 15-year-old Maria Smaranda, coached by Andreea-Cristina Pascu in Otopeni, who had a good competition overall, in spite of performing with a right-knee injury that kept her off practices the weeks leading to this event.
Italy’s Marina Piredda takes the senior gold at EduSport Trophy
In the senior women’s event, it was Italy’s Marina Piredda who won the gold medal (and both segments of the competition), followed by Romania’s Julia Sauter (silver) and Lithuania’s Aleksandra Golovkina (bronze).
But for the Romanian audience, for the Romanian skating and the organizers themselves, this edition of EduSport Trophy had an additional meaning: it was Romania’s last chance to fill its second spot in the women’s event at 2024 Europeans in January.
Remember, placing 10th at 2023 Europeans in Espoo, Julia Sauter qualified two spots for the Romanian women.
And the deciding competition proved to be EduSport Trophy this December – this international competition also included under its “hat” the National Championships of Romania.
Who will go to Kaunas in January?, everyone asked beforehand.
Up until the beginning of this competition, only Julia Sauter had her TES-minimums for both the short program and the free.
Another Romanian skater, Ana Sofia Beschea, had the TES-minimum for the free skate, but not for the short, and the third Romanian skater, Andreea Ramona Voicu, would try and get both TES-minimums in Otopeni, at EduSport Trophy.
How did this story unfold? And did it have a happy ending?
It definitely depends on who you ask – but the (general) good news is that Romania will be able to send two skaters at the start of 2024 Europeans.
The two representatives are Julia Sauter – and you know who Julia is – and the 19-year old Ana Sofia Beschea, in her first season in seniors, and you’ll get to read their thoughts, their plans in a featured story that has them in focus, soon to be published.
Up until then, there’s this smiling photo of Julia and Ana Sofia, Romania’s skaters in Kaunas less than a month from now.
Ana Sofia got her TES-minimum for the short program after trying to get it at her previous three competitions; EduSport Trophy was her last shot, so imagine the pressure.
And then imagine the relief when seeing the scores: coach, mother, friends, everyone wanted to congratulate her.
[Another happy skater on the short program day in Otopeni was Australia’s Victoria Erin Alcantara, who managed to get her SP TES-minimum for 4 Continents; but not (yet) the one for the free skate, a day later. There’s still some time though, and a few other competitions.]
As for Andreea Ramona Voicu, with her fluid, beautiful skating (she does skate to “River” in her long program – a program that suits her perfectly), she too managed to get her TES-minimum for the short, and only missed 0.80 points to make the one for the free skate as well.
And you know what?
We have a lot of trust in these women’s talent and abilities, seniors and juniors to debut on the senior stage, and we’re hopeful that, next season, the battle for European spot(s) will continue to set a fire within.
More photos to be uploaded from EDUSPORT TROPHY, 6th edition