Ice Network

Bratislava Rolls: Watch out for falling plush toys

Stepanova, Bukin display connection even in jogging; French entertain
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The great distance the fans at the Ondrej Nepela Arena sit from the ice has caused plush toys to rain down on cameramen and into the kiss and cry. -Getty Images

Swiss skaters may not be leading the standings at the 2016 European Figure Skating Championships, but they have found another way to come in first. It's been a near constant during these championships: Swiss skaters have often skated first, either according to the ISU rankings or by draw. Katarina Paice and Yuri Eremenko opened the short dance, and Stéphane Walker kicked off the men's free skate. Friday evening, after the small medal ceremony for the pairs event, Alexandra Herbricova and Nicolas Roulet did the same: They drew No. 1! Each time a skater or a team draws first, the room explodes in applause. The Swiss have been particularly applauded this week!

Fame and warmup

How do you warm up before competition? Well, you do like most skaters: You start jogging as soon as you arrive at the arena. If you're not famous enough (yet) to draw massive crowds around you, and you enjoy long and wide sidewalks, then you stay outside. If you prefer to be inside and are not frightened by journalists, then you can jog between the "backstage" hall and the practice rink. If you belong to the elite, then you need to go downstairs, where only coaches and officials are admitted. There is less space, of course, and you will not be disturbed by journalists. But beware: Journalists (and your less famous competitors) are observing you from above!

Warming up connection

Russia's Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, the 2015 European bronze medalists, belong in the "downstairs" category. They have a special way of doing their jogging session. For most other teams, skaters jog separately, with their headphones on. Stepanova and Bukin jog together, side by side or hand in hand, always at the same pace and on the same foot. They chat gently, always smiling. No wonder they display such a unison on the ice.

Shouldn't cameramen wear helmets?

And the plush winner is…Nicole Rajičová, the Slovakian skater who ended 12th in the ladies event. During her free skate, she received tremendous support from her home audience -- to say nothing of the baskets of plush toys that rained down from all over the stands, directly over the rink or…on the cameras. Being a cameraman at a skating event is a risky job these days.

To be smart or not to be smart…

…remains a question. France's Laurine Lecavelier was so upset after her mistake-riddled free skate Friday night. "If only I could think and wonder a bit less, my life would be so much easier," she said. "I ask myself too many questions. Sometimes I should put my mind in 'pause' mode for a while. That would do me good!" Shouldn't one give oneself a break from time to time?

Drummer boys

They have come again: Three elderly (and rather large) men have set up shop just above the kiss and cry (right behind the duckling, to be precise) with a big drum. Their drum initiates the applause each time a German or a notable skater appears on the ice. "We are a fan club for the German skaters," one of the men said. "We are a whole row of us. We come from all over the world, from Honk Kong to England to the various parts of Germany. We are three to operate the drum, so each time the main operator has to leave, there is a substitute. After the competition, we can celebrate with the skaters. That's how we could celebrate Bruno Massot's birthday Thursday night!" Happy birthday, Bruno!

More plush toys

It took a while, but the spectators in the corner of the rink have finally come to understand: The ice sheet is too far from the stands to reach with a throw. So, they are now tossing their toys and flowers to their preferred skater…directly into the roofless kiss and cry. Only now, they do it before the skater and coach arrives!

Green Room

The ISU has invented a new punishment for inconsistent skaters: the so-called "Green Room." Those who miss their short program enough to skate their free in the first groups, and then skate brilliant enough to remain on top of the overall standings during the free program have to stay for ages in the Green Room. Each time the rankings appear on the screen, you can see the skaters playing with glasses or fake beards, or posing on the sofa. If you are a journalist, you have to wait for the next warmup group to get a word from them. At that point, the skaters are freed for a few minutes and may come to talk in the mixed zone. The French have been particularly brilliant at that game these two last days: Both Florent Amodio and Maé Bérénice Méité stayed there for more than an hour, entertaining the audience and television viewers with their antics. The French may not be the best in the short program, but they make for good entertainers.

Endless plush toys

One poor little yellow thing missed its target: It's a duckling, with big orange legs and palms. It landed on the white tissue between the Green Room and the kiss and cry. It feels lonely, although there are thousands of people around. Staying there overnight was not fun at all. The good thing, though, is that it has the best seat in the house, even in front of the first row. That's a decisive advantage, when the arena is sold out. We don't know what will happen afterward. As skaters say, let's take it one day at a time.