Ice Network

Swedish fika: Sizing up the Russian ladies at Euros

Fernández keeps things loose; Crown Princess opens championships
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Jean-Christophe Berlot gets to the bottom of the question, Which of the three Russian ladies in Stockholm is the tallest? (not pictured: Anna Pogorilaya) -Getty Images

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!

Amazing maze

The Swedes have made a great effort to organize these European championships. Two rinks, the "Annex" and the so-called "Court," a permanent rink, are open to the skaters, within walking distance to the "Globe" main rink. The Court is actually used only two hours a day. Don't dare venture there outside of these two hours, though, especially in the early morning; the doors are open to let you in but not to let you out. If you are trapped there, however, you certainly will be able to find two very nice Swedish workers willing to help you out. "There is a switch at the first door," one will say. When reaching that first door, however, you will see them stare at each other when they realize that the door is indeed locked and that they are trapped inside as well! "This is a maze!" one security officer will admit afterward. "I know! It's very difficult to find my way around here!" Alexei Mishin said when trying to join his protégé, Elizaveta Tuktamisheva. Hopefully, the skaters will manage. And we as well…after a few days!

Shaky stands

One television boost, which Swedish television is using, faces the rink on its long axis, right above the kiss and cry area. Each time a new spectator enters the stands, you can feel them shaking. Hopefully, the image on television is not shaking as much!

Standing judges

The old skating pictures from Stockholm, and all over the world, show judges standing on the ice, watching skaters execute their figures in the freezing cold. Times have changed -- but have they really? On Wednesday morning, the technical panel of the ice dance event stood still by the boards of the Annex to watch the teams practice their short dance for the last time before the actual competition. It lasted about three hours and 30 minutes. Five hours later, judges were in the stands for the actual competition, this time sitting for about the same time watching the programs they had seen in the morning. For sure, judges also need to be fit before a competition!

The three Russian graces

The initial draw for the ladies short program took place Wednesday morning, and it provided a unique opportunity to see the three ice princesses together at once. Tuktamisheva, Anna Pogorilaya and Elena Radionova assembled after the draw around their team leader, who explained to them the way to go from one arena to the next and back to the hotel with a map. Radionova, as focused off the ice as she is on it, understood right away. By the way, who do you think is the tallest of the three? Television does not always give a good rendering of the size of the skaters. Well, Tuktamisheva, who skates with so much amplitude now, is the shortest, and Pogorilaya the tallest. Radionova stands in between.

Grand opening

Who could have better opened these European championships? Her Royal Highness, Crown Princess Victoria, pronounced the magic words after a 200-member choir sang a few of Sweden's (and the world's) ABBA tunes -- among which, of course, was the most appropriate of all for a major figure skating championship: "Dancing Queen."

"Applaud!"

Somewhere in the lower end of the rink, a gentleman in his 50s is holding a big drum beside him on the stairs. He wears a white sweatshirt, with a big post on his back, stating: "Deutschland Paarlauf Fan-Club" ("German Pairs Fan Club"). "I am supporting each German skater, of course," the gentleman explained in German, "but also the best skaters of the world. When they step on the ice, I enhance the audience's applause with my drum and try to give them the beat, so that it maintains the energy level in the audience. It worked quite well at last year's Europeans in Budapest, but I don't know how the Swedish audience will react," he said. The ambiance of a skating competition is indeed a true science. Watch out, though, Mr. Drum: Your drum is standing precisely at the place where the stands are shaky!

From skating to soccer…shoes

Russian ice dancer Ivan Bukin, a newcomer to the European championships, is wearing rather dark clothes when he steps off the ice...except for the incredible flashy red sports shoes on his feet. Are they meant to be the same color of his accreditation card, which is, as for each competitor and coach, of a similar red? "No," Bukin explained with a laugh. "I happen to be a great fan of the Moscow Spartak football (soccer) club, and they happen to wear those shoes!"

With one or two N's?

Javier Fernández came to the mixed zone after his winning performance in the short program Wednesday night, and a Finnish television crew captured him right away. "You want to know how I feel as I finish?" he kindly offered. The lady journalist started laughing all at once. "You mean…Oh, I thought that…You wanted to speak Finnish!" Fernandez is just as witty off the ice as he is on it, so he erupted in laughter along with her, before continuing. In English, of course.

Skating's next star?

Elena Ilinykh was particularly (and deservedly) exuberant and happy when she came off the ice after her and Ruslan Zhiganshin's splendid short dance. A dozen Russian journalists had rushed to the mixed zone to welcome the team. She entertained her audience for about 15 minutes with her comments, movements, laughs and mimics. Ilinykh has been known as a great ice dancer for the last five seasons; now she may be on her way to becoming a star in her own right. Given the applause and laughs she got from the Russian press in attendance, the world may get to know her soon! Especially if the team's results keep rocketing, as they have in the last few months.