Ice Network

Swedish fika: Stockholm holds rich skating history

City was the site of many world championships in first half of 20th century
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An exterior view of the 12,000-seat Ericsson Globe, site of the 2015 European Figure Skating Championships. -Sören Andersson/

What is fika? 

A Swedish fika is a whole world of shared friendship: When you want to have a meeting with someone around a cup of coffee and a piece of pastry, then it's a fika. These tidbits I will send you from behind the scenes during these 2015 European Championships can be considered "fikas." These championships should provide for much ice (both in and out of the arena), talent and great competition! Let's start by sharing some anecdotes about Stockholm itself. 

Welcome to Stockholm!

Welcome to one of the most historic cities in international skating. Can you believe that Stockholm organized more world championships than any other city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? Worlds was held here in 1897, 1901, 1905, 1909, 1913, 1922, 1926 then 1933, 1934, 1938 (for one category or another, as all championships were not organized in the same city at the time) and, finally, 1947. Sweden has remained active in organizing International Skating Union (ISU) championships since, but Göthenburg has taken over for the state capital. In a way, Stockholm is renewing its roots this week, as it is organizing its first Europeans ever this year.

A founder of the ISU

Stockholm holds a rare privilege: The local club (the Stockholms Allmänna Skridskoklubb, to be precise) is one of the founding members of the ISU and is still one of only two ISU club members (most ISU members are the countries' federations and associations, like U.S. Figure Skating for the U.S.), the other being Davos.

The first Olympics also acted as worlds

In 1901, under the leadership of Viktor Balck, then the International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice president and ISU president, the Swedes established the Nordic Games. The Nordic Games were organized every four years and acted as the first Winter Olympics. But unlike the Olympics we know now, the Nordic Games also acted as the world championships. Stockholm being the organizing city for the Nordic Games, it was hence the venue for world championships every four years in that period. When the Nordic Games faded away and the IOC took over the organization of the Winter Olympic Games, worlds started to be organized in specific venues. Had the Nordic Games become the Winter Olympics, we would probably not have had worlds the same year as the Olympics.

A passion to skate

In the 1880s, the club of Stockholm started to organize its skating sessions better. It made an agreement with the Stockholm harbor at Nybroviken. When winter started, boats had to leave the bay to avoid being caught in frozen water. The ice formed, and skaters could take their new "field." Only sometimes, the ice was of poor quality, and it had to be broken and the pieces carried away into the Baltic Sea. Some years, winter came too soon and boats could not escape from the frozen waters. Whenever it did work, however, speed skaters had an oval track prepared for them, and the figure skaters could skate in the middle -- of course, in freezing cold. You had to really love it!

You said "pairs"?

As you know, everything is possible in skating, as long as it is for the sake of sport and art. By 1901, at the first Nordic Games, pairs skating still had no championship (pairs worlds would be created in 1908). Still, pairs did compete at the Nordic Games, in two categories. One category was the pairs as we know it; that is, a man skating with a woman. Austria's Christina von Euler and G. Szabo (first name unknown) won that category. The other category was -- would you believe it? -- a man skating with a man! Two Swedes, E. Wirström (first name unknown) and Nils Rosenius, won in that category. That category was never revived afterward, but still: Who ever said that skating was not a precursor of trends to come?

A tribute to master Dick Button

Worlds was organized in Stockholm for the last time in 1947. Dick Button came in second that year -- for the last time of his career, as he won each and every competition thereafter. At the end of his free skate, which he had won haut la main, an old man came to Button and handed him a cup in recognition of his stellar free program. The old man was Ulrich Salchow. Salchow was quite famous at the time. Not only had he created the jump that bears his name, but he was also a ten-time world gold medalist and the first Olympic gold medalist. He also had presided over the ISU from 1925-37. "This is a cup I received in 1901," Salchow said to Button. Button went on to win two Olympic gold medals. Button is not in Stockholm today, but Stockholm certainly does remember him with much respect and admiration. A big hello from Stockholm, Dick!

The world is round

The European championships are held in the Ericsson Globe, which is heralded as the biggest spherical building in the world. It is clearly distinctive in the Stockholm skyline. Inside, the 12,000-seat stands are quite steep from halfway to the top of the globe down to the ice. On Tuesday night, the moon appeared over the Globe, half round at this time of the month. Another globe above the skaters…

From India to Stockholm

The flights leading to Stockholm on Tuesday were filled with skating judges and journalists. Former European and world skaters boarded the flight from Paris: Stanick Jeannette (who won the European bronze in 2001 and 2003) and Alban Préaubert (who placed fifth in 2008) met with Nathalie Péchalat (who skated to the gold in 2011 and 2012 with Fabian Bourzat). Péchalat was as expressive with her words as she was on the ice a few months before. She was just returning from India, where she had visited her boyfriend, Hollywood Oscar winner Jean Dujardin, who is shooting a movie there. The trip was quite a change for Péchalat. Unlike in India, the ground is completely frozen and covered by snow in Stockholm. Watch your steps, Nathalie!

High numbers

One of the major moves the ISU took in recent years was to include a minimum technical score for skaters to reach during international competitions, prior to qualifying for a major ISU championship. Before then, European and world championships started with qualifications, from which about 30 skaters could pass through to the short program. Minimums have played a role in reducing the number of skaters present in Stockholm. There are now 30 in the men's and dance categories, 38 in ladies and (only) 14 in pairs. "This is good, though," said Mariusz Siudek, a former world pairs medalist, "The quality of skating is now much higher." This gives, however, a clear message to all skaters: There is room left for pairs skating! Pairs will also have the honor of closing the championships Sunday morning, at a time when the audience can be more numerous, just before the closing exhibition gala.

The Europeans have started

The official practice for the men's short program was held early Wednesday morning. Javier Fernández and Maxim Kovtun, two of the main favorite to win, have not skated too well. "But that's good!" one of the Spanish federation officials stated. "Usually, Javier is great in competition when he is not so good at practice." Meanwhile, Sergei Voronov has been his usual self. "I never saw him try a quad in practice," said Préaubert, now a TV commentator. "That must be yet another Russian trick!" he said, laughing. Indeed, Voronov did not try a quad during his practice. "Of course, he does try quads at home while practicing, but I think he is just shy during practice at competitions," explained Eteri Tutberidze, who coaches the skater in Russia. "I'm not going to break this habit; he is 27 and he knows what he is doing!" she added.

Forty minutes after Michal Březina had left the practice ice, the men were back for the start of the competition. The men's short program should last four and a half hours. The 2015 European Championships have started! It's an honor and a privilege for me to share the passion of skating with you from Stockholm, which one century ago was one of the hearts of the skating world.