Ice Network

Le Cru du Jour: Many scenes of morning practice

Radionova impresses during training sessions; Ten boasts devoted fans
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Elena Radionova showed a tireless work ethic during her practice session at Trophée Eric Bompard. -Getty Images

Jean-Christophe Berlot checks in from the final day of competition at the 2014 Trophée Eric Bompard, hitting on everything from the skater's unique practice regimens to the devoted fans in the stands.

Just a morning thought

Attending the early-morning practices, roughly seven hours after the last people left the rink the night before, is always a treat. The ice sheet is a pure white, all fresh from the night, and skaters glide like angels. You can hear your favorite tunes in a complete silence, from Rachmaninoff to Frank Sinatra to Mozart, interpreted by great artists and athletes.

Athleticism can be seen at its fullest extent. You can hear the pairs shouting to indicate the tempo of their spins to their partner; you can witness the technique being rebuilt for the day; you can feel the sweat, doubts, wonders and efforts. You can sense how much each skater utilizes his or her muscles and mind, until the last triple-triple combination and quad has been mastered. A few hours later, when the time for the competition to start comes, none of that will be visible -- only mastery and artistry will prevail, or so they hope.

Radionova on her own

Elena Radionova, the 15-year-old phenom from Russia who seems to be defying the laws of gravity, was practicing quite early in the morning with the last group of ladies. Each left the ice a few minutes before the practice time ended -- except Radianova, who stayed on the ice until the last second. She went from one jump to the next, whether her music was playing or not.

Unlike most of her competitors, she skated the entirety of her program at each practice session -- jumps included -- with heart and soul, determined to give her best on every move. Who knows how many rotations she performed in just one practice session? That could be a new entry for The Guinness Book of Records: most rotations performed in an hour. If such a record exists, Radianova would have broken it without a doubt.

Pupils' politeness

Marie-France Dubreuil and Romain Haguenauer can be proud of the two teams they took to Bordeaux. France's own Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron sat in first place heading into the free dance. Spain's Sara Hurtado and Adrià Diaz managed to rally in their short dance, finishing in fourth place. Both teams skated the free in the same group, allowing them and their coaches to sleep a little later than usual.

"Also, they will be skating in first and fourth position of their group, and that will be quite convenient during their program," Dubreuil said with laugh. "With the kiss and cry two levels up, we won't have to rush back and forth from the ice to the kiss and cry and back!"

The logistics of the kiss and cry

When the kiss and cry sits two floors above the ice, special methods are required to help the skaters and coaches reach it. The organizers of the Trophée have devised an intricate path to reach the kiss and cry.

Once the skaters leave the ice, a volunteer leads them and their coach to the entrance of the mixed zone, where they are not allowed to talk to media. You follow me? Well, if you happen to be a journalist willing to go from the stands to the mixed zone, you are kept in the stairs by a strong security guard, until the skaters reach the elevator. Once they are in, you may pass.

The skaters easily reach the kiss and cry from there, since it is just outside the elevator. Once they receive their marks, they go back down to meet the press. Simple, isn't it?

None of the skaters had ever lived such an "uplifting" kiss and cry experience.

"Fortunately, we have the elevator!" world pair silver medalist Fedor Klimov said laughingly.

Blue or purple?

At the end of the last official practice session, a couple of Canadian team members were discussing the hottest political topic in the hidden corridors of the Mériadeck rink: Which color dress should Piper Gilles' wear for the free dance Saturday night?

"I felt fine!" Gilles said after her practice was over. "This dress is fine with me."

Gilles wore the purple during practice.

"But I like the blue dress, too. Anyone will be fine," she said.

The team kept discussing and weighing pros and cons.

"I tell you what," Gilles exclaimed after awhile. "I'll wear the blue one during warm-ups and then I will change to the purple one. I'll have enough time to change anyway!" 

Denis Ten teddy bear

Skating had its Sonja Henie dolls, and now it has its Denis Ten teddy bear. Several Japanese fans gathered in the stands after the men's final practice session. They were gazing at a big plastic bag one of them was carrying. Out of it, he took a very special teddy bear.

"He designed and made the costume himself!" a lady explained. "This is the exact replica of Denis Ten's costume," he said proudly. "This is for Denis Ten," he added.

"The only thing is, Denis changed costumes," a lady pointed out.

Denis should recognize it anyway!

Skating Moms

The crowd was not let into the rink before competition started. Flocks of spectators were looking for their seats when the first competitor of the day, France's Laurine Lecavelier, started her program.

"I'm looking for seat N. 783!" someone said impatiently. A rather breathless lady emerged from the flock. You could read panic on her face. "I'm her Mom!" she whispered, desperate that her daughter might start without her in the stands. She took the first seat available and watched her daughter's free skate in what was her first Grand Prix.

The tricky logistics of plush toys

This is very tricky: How do you bring the plush toys, cards, flowers and other gifts to the skaters, when the kiss and cry stands two floors above the rink?

Two Bambi plush toys were thrown from the stands to Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri, the Italian ice dancers. A boy and a girl stepped onto the ice once the performance was over. They brought the toys back to their seats and played with them for a while together. Then the process starts.

"We put them in a plastic bag with the name of the team," one of the flower girls explained. "Then, we bring the bag to the lockers. We leave it on a bench, so that the skaters can get it, and we come back."

And the final word is…

Rafael Arutunian could not sum it up any better. Adam Rippon came down from the kiss and cry after his third-place free skate. He was with Ashley Wagner, his teammate and friend. Arutunian looked at them and said: "Well, you guys…" and then he hugged them both together and said, "You tried!"

Thanks for following our coverage of this year's Trophée Eric Bompard. Whether you hail from Japan, China, Kazakhstan or anywhere else in Asia, or Canada the United States, Europe or Russia -- you have great champions. There is no better gift in life than a passion, and skating is just that. Thank you for sharing in it with us. This week was a thrill, and there are many more to come!