Ice Network

Tallinn tidbits: Young nation with Middle Age roots

City boasts youth; Skaters, curlers mingle; Chen plans triple Axel in short
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A picturesque view of Tallinn from the Baltic Sea. -Tallinn City Tourist Office & Convention Bureau

Tallinn, site of the 2015 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, is the capital of Estonia, a young, innovative country of 1.3 million people. It is the birthplace of Skype as well as some of the technology used in smartphones. Youthful techies and venture capitalists flex their financial muscles throughout the city of 400,000.

Up until 1990, Estonia was part of the Soviet Union, and Tallinn was just another harbor city at the shores of the Baltic Sea. When the Soviet Union split into many states, Estonia's strong, independent culture made it one of the first to declare its independence. It joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 2004 and adopted the Euro as its currency last year.

Today, a high-speed ferry takes travelers from Estonia to Finland in 2-3 hours. The Finnish skaters and South African coach Oula Jääskeläinen, who is of Finnish origin, arrived in Tallinn via ferry.

Many houses and churches in the city date to the Middle Ages. The skaters' and coaches' hotel is only 5-10 minutes away from Toompea Castle, which now serves as parliament, as well as some of the main churches in Tallinn.

Skaters, curlers share Tondiraba Arena this week

Tallinn hosted the 2010 European Figure Skating Championships in a relatively old rink. With money from the EEC, the city built Tondiraba Ice Arena, a suburban rink with about 6,000 seats that opened in August 2014. Hundreds of children train there, and learn-to-skate classes are taught there in non-competition weeks. It is also the site of concerts.

"This arena is amazing, with three practice rinks in the same complex," ISU Council member Phyllis Howard said.   

Elena Glebova, 25, is the primary rink manager. The seven-time Estonian champion represented her country at three Olympic Games and nine world championships. After training for several years in Hackensack, New Jersey, she finished her competitive career and returned to her home country in 2014. She is also a member of the Tallinn city council. 

Concurrent with the World Junior Figure Skating Championships, the World Junior Curling Championships are being held in two of the three practice rinks. All accredited curlers, coaches and officials are allowed to watch the skating practices and competition for free.

Some skaters visited the curling rinks, where they met their countrymen and took selfies. The U.S. dance teams chatted in the common off-ice, warm-up area with some U.S. curlers and asked them which sights they should visit, as the curlers have already been in town for a few days.   

This and that

-- When he placed eighth at the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January, Nathan Chen was bothered by a heel injury and did not do a triple Axel in his short program. In Tallinn, the 15-year-old may put the three-and-a-half revolution jump back into his arsenal.

"I arrived later here in Tallinn (Monday), because I had to care for my other students," said Rafael Arutunian, who coaches Chen in Artesia, California. "Nathan is not yet in perfect shape, but he is OK. He has been in full training [mode] for a week or two now after recovering from the problems with his body. We will probably try the triple Axel in the short program. In the long, we also might try the quad, but we will see."

-- Serguei Zaitsev, who coaches U.S. junior pairs champions Caitlin Fields and Ernie Utah Stevens in Carmel, Indiana, plans to up his team's technical ante in their free skate to Minkus' Don Quixote.

"Since we came back from nationals, Caitlin and Ernie have been dedicated to hard training and are ready to include two triple throws (loop and Salchow) in their free program," he said. "Additionally, we are planning to test the triple Lutz twist in the free."

-- Aaron Lowe, who coaches ice dance in Vancouver with wife Megan Wing, reports that Nicole Orford and Thomas Williams split after the 2015 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, where they placed fourth.

"Both are looking for new partners. They are doing tryouts at home," Lowe said.

-- Igor Shpilband and his assistant coach, Fabian Bourzat, are in Tallinn coaching three teams: Elliana Pogrebinsky and Alex Benoit of the U.S., Angelique Abachkina and Louis Thauron of France, and Carolina Moscheni and Adam Lukacs of Hungary. Shpilband believes his top senior team, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, are in good hands at home preparing for the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships in three weeks.

"They are working with four different coaches, including Greg Zuerlein, my wife (Adrienne Lenda) and our mime coach (Michael Lee, a pupil of the legendary Marcel Marceau), who is in Novi at the moment," Shpilband said.