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Parisian ratatouille: Day One at Trophée Bompard

Bercy arena houses diverse guest list; Fernández makes pit stop
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The Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, site of this week's Trophée Eric Bompard, played host to a motocross competition just a few days ago. -Getty Images

Jean-Christophe Berlot checks in on the eve of 2013 Trophée Eric Bompard with updates on everything from the event's unique kiss and cry to the music that's played during intermissions.

Opening flag

The fifth stage of the Grand Prix Series has started. Only a handful of spectators are in attendance, mostly officials, as the arena is not even open to general audiences. The 15,000 seats are virtually empty. The ice is white, the boards are blue, the seats are red. White, blue and red are the colors of so many country's flags.

"I may be one of the most patriotic skaters," John Coughlin suggested Thursday morning.

He should love this arena!

Way above the red seats, in the axis of the rink, a long flag has indeed been posted. "Come, live, vibrate!" it states. Good idea: That's exactly what we intend to do. Welcome to Paris!

From tennis to motorcycle to skating

Ten days ago, the arena was still resonating with the sound of tennis balls being hit by Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and their likes. Then last weekend, the arena welcomed a huge motocross race.

"They had brought tons of sands!" said Gilles Beyer, a former French skating champion and now the arena's main director. "Sunday night they started to take all that sand off, and by Tuesday they started to make the ice."

Beyer himself supervised the making of the ice. Layer after layer of warm water (to make the ice stronger on its surface), it was finally ready by 3 a.m. Thursday morning. Then the boards could be covered and the ads were placed -- just in time for the first pairs, who were due to start their practice six hours later.

Hopefully, no skater should find a piece of sand under his or her feet.

Yeah, it's real stuff…

Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise, the Italian pairs skaters, decided to see the main arena upon their arrival, after they got their accreditation Wednesday night.

"It's big!" Della Monica whispered.

They are quite right. After all, this is the next-to-last Grand Prix of the Olympic season!

Look who is here!

One guest star has also arrived in Paris this week: Javier Fernández, the Spanish 2013 European gold medalist and world bronze medalist. Fernández is not participating in the event, however.

"Javier was in Japan last week, and he will be going to Russia next week, so we decided he would stay in Europe with us this week," his coach, Brian Orser, explained.

Fernández will be practicing in what was used as the practice rink before the competition rink opened, early Thursday morning.

Once his day was over, Fernández came to say hello in his usual kind way, to everyone he knows. That is, basically everyone in the rink!

French sitting

The French have always been quite creative in the fashion they try to promote. The kiss and cry of Trophée Eric Bompard is usually a show in itself, and this year is nothing different. Short and shiny white tables look like Jean Dubuffet's work, and a couple of plastic seats open their arms widely.

"You need to be cautious, though," Shanetta Folle (Florent Amodio's coach) said. "They rock a lot!"

Rocking after skating: Skaters should have fun in the following days while waiting for their marks!

So classical!

"Skating music reflects the mood of a time," someone once suggested. In former years, the elite skaters were rather eclectic in their musical choices, going from Baroque's Handel to the Black Eyed Peas. Is it just a coincidence? Is it the Olympic year? Is it indeed today's mood? Apart from the ice dancers' short dance, most skaters did select a piece of the classical repertoire. Even the movie soundtracks sound classical.

The organizers of the event seem to have missed the mood, though: Intermissions between programs are heavy with pop music. What about a Romeo and Juliet or Carmen intermission?

New York sur Seine

Samantha Cesario, the American skater from New York, is discovering Paris.

"It's awesome to be here," she said after her first official practice Thursday night. "With Ashley [Wagner] and Christina [Gao] (the other two American skaters in Paris), we went to explore Paris last night. Paris is a gorgeous New York City," she added: "You can feel the taste, but it's so pretty!"

An Eagle legacy

Paris is also the city of Pierre Brunet, who coached Mary Lynn Gelderman, Cesario's coach. Brunet lived here for 30 years, before relocating to New York, where he coached many world and Olympic champions, from Carol Heiss to Scott Hamilton.

"Monsieur Brunet was an engineer," Gelderman recalled. "He had devised a special machine to practice your spread eagle. You would put your feet and stay there for several minutes every day. You even had to do your homework at the same time! All Mr. Brunet's students had a good spread eagle."

Then, turning to Cesario, she added: "You have a great spread eagle yourself. This is what we can call a legacy … but you did not need the machine!" she added laughingly.

Space skating

Each time American skaters come off the ice after an intensive practice, the team doctor provides them with little hermetically closed plastic bags. It looks like the food the astronauts use in space. It is food, indeed -- either carbohydrates or proteins.

Anyone who has put skates on knows that skating champs are coming from another planet. Now we have the proof!

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