Ice Network

Tapas Grandes: Spain's skating future is bright

Host country passes with flying colors; Pairs show value of practice
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Javier Fernández has much to be proud of following his silver medal and his country's admirable job as the host city of the 2014 Grand Prix Final. -Getty Images

Jean-Christophe Berlot wraps up his thoughts and observations from a memorable Grand Prix Final from Barcelona, Spain.

Rattling flowers for fighting skaters

A young lady arrived in the packed stands during the competition, holding a huge cardboard box that was making a rattling noise. She tried to squeak through the seats, until she reached the row just above the kiss and cry area. She opened her bow and took three beautiful bunches of multicolor flowers, all cellophane-wrapped (hence the rattling noise). She took the time to rearrange each bunch (hence a persisting rattling noise in this part of the rink. The echo in a rink is incredible.) "One is for Tatsuki [Machida], one is for Yuzuru [Hanyu,] and one is for Alex [Shibutani]," she explained with a smile. "She is a big fan of Alex!" one of her friends explained. We are, too!

Viva la siesta!

The Spanish organizers chose to start the competition at 4 p.m. Saturday. The four disciplines of finals followed one another on the ice, with the competition ending at 10 p.m. That schedule allowed practice sessions to start at 11 a.m. Saturday morning. In other countries, competitions start earlier, of course. "Nap time!" someone suggested. We're in Spain, of course!

A performance is nothing magical

Practice sessions are made of chunks of skating programs, with skaters practicing elements and wandering around the rink in between to take a breath. At one point during their final official practice Saturday morning, all three pairs on the ice were found taking a breath at the same time, in the same spot of the ice and heading toward the same direction. Yuko Kavaguti, Alexander Smirnov, Xiaoyu Yu, Jang Jin, Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang were just walking from one skate to the next, heads down, breathing heavily with hands on their hips, like an army coming home for a break. All of a sudden, their bodies recomposed, and they launched themselves into edge work, gaining speed and, just like that, the pairs were back together to practice yet another chunk of their programs. A performance is born from individual discipline.

Those boys!

One question has been rising more and more acutely these last seasons: How has Russia nurtured such a depth of talent in the ladies field? When asked, Julia Lipnitskaia gave a commanding answer: "No, this is not true. Russia has a real depth of talent in every category. Take the pairs! Take ice dancing! (She paused a second.) Of course, it's less true with the men ... men are running behind," she said. "As always." Many people heard, and the people around her started laughing, and her juvenile face started laughing with them. Those boys!

Where are the French?

France qualified only one team to this Final, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who won both of their Grand Prix assignments this fall. They then won the bronze medal in the ice dance event. But at least the French can be heard of in every category through their music. Take a look at the senior men's field. No fewer than five of the world's elite skaters elected to skate to French music in their short program: Hanyu skated to "Ballade No. 1 op. 23 in G minor" by Frederic Chopin; Sergei Voronov to "Danse Macabre" by Camille Saint-Saëns, Takahito Mura to Georges Bizet's Carmen (What kind of skating competition would it be without Carmen? There are quite a few who skated to it here.), and Maxim Kovtun to "Bolero" by Maurice Ravel. French music could even be found in Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford's theme. The medley of Muse's music they use in their free skate includes a modern rendering to Saint-Saëns' Samson and Delilah. Incidentally, the only French team of the competition did not opt for French music. They preferred Mozart, a Viennese composer. "No one is a prophet in their own country," as one knows.

Barcelona's shortest night

Who is the more popular of the two: Javier Fernández or Hanyu? At the end of the final press conference, the Spanish press had a few minutes to interview Fernández, and the Japanese media had the same amount of time to interview Hanyu. Hordes of journalists invaded the foreground of the press room, chasing away the poor journalists who were still typing their reports (yes, I was one of them). At the exit of the rink, where it reads "Athlete entrance," a 50-meter-long line of people awaited for Hanyu's exit of the rink. "The problem is, we don't even know if he is still in!" a young Spanish fan said. In the official hotel of the competition, a 50-meter-long line of fans also gathered. "We want to make a picture with Javier!" a young Japanese lady said. Fernández was there, as charming and kind as ever, going from one fan to the next. "Tonight, I will celebrate with my family," he said. When will he be able to do that? The night will be long in Barcelona. It will be short for those who have to sleep!

Hasta luego!

The organization of this Grand Prix Final in Barcelona was a treat. It was a little rough at the start, but the Spanish federation and the volunteers were so friendly and so motivated to do well. Some worked from before dawn to late into the night throughout the week, always willing to help, always smiling, always with a "Hola! Que tal!" on their mouth. They learned quickly. The arena filled up as soon as working hours ended, even for the last practice session Saturday morning. The contestants emphasized how great the crowd was, cheering and encouraging them, sending their hurrahs and bravos each time a step seemed improbable to a culture more geared toward walking on the beach than gliding on the ice.

Spain can be proud of its champion, Fernández, and Fernández can be proud of his fans and his country.

"I want to thank everyone who organized this event. I am proud of the people who made this competition come true. Many external observers would not have believed that it was the first time this country hosted this event," Fernández said.

His opinion was widely shared, and many suggested that Spain could have started earlier in its skating history. It did great! Hopefully, skating will come back to Spain in the not too distant a future!

The Final is now over, and skaters will enjoy visiting the Palacio Guell and the Sagrada Familia cathedral, or admiring Miro's or Dali's paintings before starting to practice again. Thanks to all. I've been honored to share your passion of skating throughout the week.