Ice Network

Bratislava Rolls: Bychenko, Samohin make history

Gold medals contain actual gold; Lengthy short programs; Legends gather
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Alexei Bychenko (left) and Daniel Samohin are the best 1-2 combo of men's figure skaters that Israel has ever had. -Getty Images

The Ondrej Nepela Arena is divided into several parts, all included in one single building, which makes it very easy to rush from one part to the other. Opposite to the main rink and its 10,000 seats, you can find the practice rink in Hall A and "Backstage" in Hall B. You can overlook both halls A and B at the same time from above the stands. Tuesday night, before their last practice of the day, two pairs were warming up: Italy's Valentina Marchei and Ondřej Hotárek, and France's Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès. Both decided to rehearse their lifts at the same time, turning toward the same side of the arena. They displayed a nearly synchronized demonstration of their lifting abilities, with both girls up in the air at the same time, way above the blue rug. When will figure skating revive four skating?

Mining in Bratislava

The ISU distributes a significant amount of prize money to the best competitors at the European championships, the first international competition it created: 20,000 Euros, or $22,000 U.S., for the ladies and men's champions, and 30,000 Euros, or $33,000 U.S., for the winning pairs and dance teams. In fact, the good fortune of the winners doesn't come alone. The gold medals they receive still contain a significant amount of gold, as ISU Figure Skating Sports Director Peter Krick confirmed. "And they are still made in Switzerland, by the Huguenin factory," Krick said. Huguenin is known as one of the finest medal makers in the world. "Mining gold" is not a meaningless word in Bratislava.

Reverse interview

Skating interviews (and, more generally, sports interviews) can sometimes turn really funny. Tanja Odermatt, the Swiss lady, had an interesting one with a member of the press Wednesday afternoon, after her short program in the mixed zone. The same journalist stayed with her for about 20 minutes, his notebook and pen in his hand -- except he never used them. In fact, he spent most of the time talking, and she listening to him, as if she was taking a lesson. One wondered who was interviewing whom. "He's known me since I was a little girl," Odermatt explained afterward, laughing.

The rose and the camera

At 16, Deniss Vasiljevs of Latvia is the youngest male singles competitor at the 2016 European Championships. At the end of his short program Wednesday night, one spectator threw a rose to him. The ice sheet is quite far from the stands in the main rink, and the rose fell over one camera in the corner of the rink. The cameraman grabbed it, stood and made a bow to the audience, who cheered him, and then he carried it to the nearby kiss and cry. For some reason, skating seems to always need to go through television to reach its target!

Who called it 'short'?

Anyone with common sense would think that short programs should be short, right? Not so at the European championships: 36 skaters (from 29 different countries) took part in the ladies short program, and 35 (from 28 countries) in the men's. All of them met the technical minimum standard required to enter the championship. For anyone who loves skating, the European championships are the place to be: the ladies and men's short programs lasted five hours each. If you add the morning practice session, you easily understand why a European championships requires two rinks to be used at once!

Star encounters

Major championships are a gathering place for the sport's legends. Wednesday morning, Robin Cousins, the 1980 Olympic gold medalist, was seen chatting with Brian Orser, the 1984 and 1988 Olympic silver medalist, before Javier Fernández started his practice session. In the same afternoon, Cousins was sitting a few seats away from his 1980 counterpart, Olympic gold medalist Anett Pötzsch of Germany, who is coaching German competitor Franz Streubel.

Universal skating

The Israeli team made history Wednesday night in Bratislava, as two of its members will skate in the last group of the free skate. Alexei Bychenko and Daniel Samohin are in fourth and fifth place, respectively. "We've never had that in history, so that's very good for our country," Bychenko offered after he watched Samohin's strong performance in the mixed zone. "We're working hard toward the Olympic Games," he added. Both train in the USA. At the draw following the short program, Samohin and Bychenko sat next to each other in the draw room. They speak neither Hebrew nor English to each other, as one might expect: They speak Russian. Bychenko was born in the Ukraine (for which he skated some years ago), and Samohin was born in Tel Aviv, of Russian parents.

A striking job

A solid tribute should be given to the volunteers of a figure skating championship, and these Europeans are no exception. Volunteers are everywhere, always ready to lend you a hand. You will always find one who speaks your own language, as many of them are multilingual. They are always found smiling, even though the duration of the event makes their nights quite short. "I'm just a regular student here in Bratislava," one volunteer explained. "I have no vacation at this time of the year, and I was not allowed to take my week off to come here." How then did he manage? "Well, our teachers are currently on strike to get an increase in wages, so that allowed me to take the week away without any trouble!" Some strikes are useful!