Ice Network

Pot-au-feu: Revamped arena readies itself for event

Ciprès' skates arrive just in nick of time; Massot tests kiss-and-cry seating
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An exterior view of the AccorHotels Arena, site of the 2016 Trophée de France. -Getty Images

Do you know pot-au-feu? It's a special treat the French like to cook when it's cold outside. You can put all kinds of different ingredients into a pot-au-feu. Just like in skating, it all adds up and combines to blend into one savory flavor -- that of art and sport enhancing one another.

The fall is turning into winter in Paris, at the time this French Grand Prix is about to start. I'll try my best to give you a behind-the-scenes look at this Grand Prix, through the haps (and mishaps) skating is so generous in providing its fans. I am most honored and pleased to share this passion of skating with you for the three days to come. Welcome from Paris!

Flying skates

Flying with skates can turn into a nightmare, and many skaters have experienced it throughout the years. France's Morgan Ciprès, who left France to train in Florida with his partner, Vanessa James, had decided to fly back to his home country Sunday in order to adjust to jet lag and start practicing again before the start of the Grand Prix. When he landed in Paris, he realized that his skates were missing. Good news: They finally arrived Wednesday morning...just in time for official practice!

In the old days, it was possible to bring one's skates into the cabin, but after 9/11, air traffic security started forbidding this practice. "It's starting to be authorized again," some coaches and team leaders said this afternoon. "You have to know it! But it still depends on the airline." Skates should be flying again…on the ice, in just a few hours!

A star in the night

The rink was almost empty, and completely silent, Thursday in the early morning. French and Japanese TV crews were cautiously setting their camera systems. Some workers were assembling tables for the judges. One of the main heroes of the event was left alone, shining bright like a star in the early morning darkness: the ice, still covered with water. In a few hours, life will explode in the arena!

Big changes in the rink

Trophée Eric Bompard was moved to Bordeaux the last two years because the regular venue, the Bercy arena, was undergoing major revamping. It's now called the AccorHotels Arena. The corridors and dressing rooms were repainted. The stands, which used to be red, have been turned into dark grey. The first skaters to enter the arena Thursday morning were Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot. "You need to come here if you want to project yourself into the setting," explained Jean-François Ballester, who coaches the team with Alexander König. Other skaters followed them. "It's so classy now!" one said. Photographers are quite happy, too: It will be better looking for their pictures.

Getting ready

The mixed zone was being organized Thursday morning. The only problem was that there were no stairs going back to the stands. How will journalists and skaters come back to the stands after they are done with their programs? "Well, no one knows yet, not even the crew of the arena," an official said, smiling. "It's the first time the arena is being used for skating, so we need to figure that out!" Please…

Don't blow it up!

The kiss and cry area has been set at the end of the rink. It runs along the width of the arena. "It's massive!" a skater exclaimed. Three big king-size armchairs sit on the scene. Most skaters came to try them. "They are comfortable, but they are fake!" one skater noticed. The skater was right: The chairs are made of inflatable plastic. Please skaters, don't knock them with your blades -- you risk finding yourself sitting on the floor!

Team spirit in an armchair

Then came another problem: None of these armchairs, however big and wide they are, will hold three people at the same time. "How will we sit there?" one skater asked. "Oh, maybe one of us could sit on the edge?" a helpful Massot suggested. Massot tested his idea right away and soon realized the chair was wobbling under his weight. "Well…uh…no, it's not a good idea, actually," he concluded, half smiling.