Ice Network

Bratislava rolls: Europe's best descend on Slovakia

Russians get decked out in fur; Fernández dazzles; Sabovčík rehearses
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
A view of the outside of the Ondrej Nepela Arena, site of the 2016 European Figure Skating Championships. -Getty Images

Welcome to Bratislava, the capital of the Slovak Republic and site of the 2016 European Championships!

The day was crystal clear in nearby Vienna, but fog took over after crossing the Danube River. Snow is melting in Eastern Europe, and the streets are wet. The ice in the Ondrej Nepela Arena is gorgeous, however.

Bratislava is famous for its cuisine. Bratislava rolls are a butter pastry, with nut or poppy filling. They are the most famous desserts in Slovakia. The competition should be exciting all week, but there is so much more to see during a championship than just the action on the ice. I will report on anecdotes and behind-the-scene stories in these chronicles. Let's hope that they read as sweet as a Bratislava roll tastes!

Finding Jimmy

"Go to Jimmy!" the old Slovakian man said. "Jimmy means ice," he suggested in his broken English. (Could you put a Jimmy cube in your whiskey in this country?) In fact, Jimmy spells "Zimny" in Slovakian, and it means "winterly cold," not "ice." There are several "Jimmy stadiums" in Bratislava, so don't get it mistaken! Finding the famous Ondrej Nepela Arena, named after the 1972 Olympic gold medalist, was quite easy, however. It is considered the ice hockey mecca in Bratislava, and several trolley buses, buses and trams pass by it.


Bus line N. 205 is one of the aforementioned lines. Its last stop is named "Radiova," way beyond the arena. But there is no risk that Elena Radionova, one of the main contenders for the ladies gold medal here, stops her career here: Her practice sessions have been stellar so far. Her jumps are solid and her run-throughs are completely consistent.

Fur coat grand outing

The Russians have always seemed to consider -- and most of the time, rightfully so -- that the European championships are their own playground. Russian coaches, officials, families and fans have spread out through Bratislava. Beautiful, long-haired ladies can be seen around the rink, with incredible fur coats. U.S. champion Gracie Gold would be so happy to compete here: "In California, the weather is always warm. I never have a chance to wear sweaters and boots and jackets and scarves that pile up in my wardrobe!" she told icenetwork at Trophée Eric Bompard. She is certainly not a fan of fur, but in Bratislava she could wear all she likes!


Italy's Matteo Rizzo elected to skate his short program to "Malagueña," just like Spain's Javier Fernández. Chance had it that the Spaniard and the Italian shared the same practice group until Wednesday. Fernández was polite enough not to mimic the Italian's program when he rehearsed his own routine, but he could not resist feeling great practicing to Spanish music: He landed two huge quad salchows, two quad toe loops and two beautiful triple axels during Rizzo's program, each one preceded by a fast and long edge across the length of the rink. Javier is in great shape!

Local heroes

The organizers have posted huge posters of skaters from yesteryear around the rink. This is the fourth time Bratislava has welcomed the European championships. Some photos show U.S. legend Janet Lynn's radiant smile after her silver medal-winning performance at the 1973 World Championships in Bratislava. Some other photos show Karol Divin, the 1960 Olympic silver medalist, Nepela and Jozef Sabovčík, the 1984 Olympic bronze medalist (behind Scott Hamilton and Brian Orser). In their times, they skated for Czechoslovakia. "As a matter of fact, all three are Slovakian," an official suggested. "I also consider myself at home here!" former European champion Tomáš Verner added with a smile. Verner retired from competitive skating in 2014, but he is here as a television commentator.

One man

Early on Wednesday, the practice rink was unusually empty. On this morning, only one single blond-haired man was skating to pop music. Sabovčík himself was rehearsing his moves and jumps, including his trademark delayed axel. While he was one the ice, he was interrupted quite a few times, as several friends came by to say hello. As generous and friendly as ever, he came over to greet each one of them. Welcome back home, Josef!

Settling in

"Thank you to my first victim!" Rudi Lavall, the mixed zone director, said when the first reporter was denied access to the mixed zone Wednesday morning. The security officer did not allow him to approach the black curtain behind which the skaters would pass after their programs, a few minutes later. "Of course they can!" Lavall kindly explained to the officer. "That's what the mixed zone is that they can get their interviews!" Good: Icenetwork readers should be able to read quotes from their favorites skaters.

We should be all set now!