Ice Network

Tapas Grandes: Art of skating arrives in Barcelona

Barcelona's convention center readies to host venue's first sporting event
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Yuzuru Hanyu will look to rebound from his violent collision with Han Yan at the Cup of China when he performs at the Grand Prix Final. -Getty Images

Jean-Christophe Berlot checks in on the eve of the Grand Prix Final and Junior Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, Spain, giving a unique behind the scenes perspective of the events.

Skating forever

An airport is usually quite busy in the early morning. The Paris airport was even busier than usual starting at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning.

"All flights will be overbooked throughout the day," the lady at the counter explained through her sleepy eyes.

A crowd of enthusiastic young people flocked into the halls and alleys of the airport.

"There is a big sporting event in Barcelona tonight," she added. Of course, I know -- we all know! The Grand Prix Finals are starting in just one day.

"No, I'm sorry, actually this is the Champions League in soccer," she corrected with a neutral voice. "Barcelona plays Paris SG tonight. The sky will be full of supporters throughout the day. If you would like to delay your flight, you could get a good refund," she concluded.

Barcelona F.C. happens to be one of the best soccer teams in Europe. Delay a flight to the Final? Never propose this to a figure skating aficionado!

Welcome to Barcelona!

The city of Barcelona is an art masterpiece unto itself. At a time when most of the Northern Hemisphere was under the chilly rain of winter, Barcelona was radiating under clear skies and sunshine, next to some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world. No wonder Barcelona has never hosted any major skating competition before.

And yet, Barcelona has inspired so many artists. Tourists flock everyday to the Sagrada Família, the (still) unfinished monumental cathedral Antoni Gaudi designed one century ago. Juan Miró and Salvador Dalí called the city home, and Pablo Picasso drew inspiration from the city.

A city of the arts had to welcome one of the best competitions that figure skating has to offer at some point. Here it is. As you approach the shore, you soon recognize overcoats and accreditation cards around their necks. Welcome in the huge Centre de Convencions Internacional de Barcelona, where the event will take place. One rink will be the scene of it all. The art of skating is finally joining one of the main scenes of painting and architecture in the world.

Medical center?

The arena where the Final is taking place is by no means an arena. The Barcelona International Convention Center, where the stands were erected and the ice was placed, usually hosts "business shows and medical conferences," one Spanish press officer explained.

"This is the first time it is hosting a sport event," she added.

The doctors who usually gather here should be happy to see skating in these premises. Hopefully skaters won't need too much exposure to medical science, though!

Paso doble and sardines

Practice started Wednesday morning at the Barcelona International Convention Center. Security guys were joking around outside of the rink while ice dancers were practicing. As soon as they heard the paso doble playing loudly in the rink, they started to act with almost as much character as the dancers were on the other side.

"This is a typical Spanish dance," one explained in Spanish.

"It is not the main dance here, however," another added. "The typical Catalonian dance is Sardana."

"Oh yeah, Sardina," a third one added jokingly ("sardina" is the Spanish name for the sardine fish).

"Sardina a la plancha, with ice!" the first one added, also laughing. The mood is good in Spain!

The skating world has invaded the Convention Center

The warm-up room was already packed with skaters -- the best of the world at this time of the day. Security had not finalized all of its procedures yet, so a regular press journalist could sneak in without disturbing any one.

Pairs were rehearsing their throws and lifts. Hao Zhang was certainly the most impressive of all, lifting his partner Cheng Peng way above the walls surrounding the room. In those moments, which make up the daily life of any pairs team, you can appreciate how strong these guys can be.

At the same time, diminutive Elena Radionova passed by like a tiny David coming close to a giant (though friendly) Goliath. She came into the room jogging, left it, and kept running around the huge building. Radionova seems to have found her own running routine around the building. She is lucky: She can jog for hours, as the corridors of the convention center are just endless!

Smurfing in Barcelona

One excellent aspect of any sport competition in Spain is the huge number of volunteers present. They may not know every detail of the event (which is quick to change anyway), but they are always willing to help you.

You easily recognize the volunteers for the Final: They wear a beautiful Smurf-color sweatshirt. The Spanish skating federation had a change in leadership just two months ago, and the new team had to finalize all of the organization of the Grand Prix Final. Fortunately, volunteers will make the job easier. Hats off to the volunteers throughout the world.

Yuzuru's quads are back!

One could say that Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu arrived on the ice for his first official practice in pieces. Jumps were elapsing him one by one, and he popped up a few along the way.

"I don't have much time, but I will do my best to prepare for [the Final]," Hanyu had promised after his disappointed showing at the NHK Trophy.

Hanyu appeared to be quite ready, however, as he used made the most of his practice time. At the end of the hour, as agile and fast as a leopard, he had recovered his quad toe and quad Salchow, as solid and reliable as ever.

"He has found his confidence," coach Brian Orser added with a nod.