Ice Network

Bouillabaisse: Marseille not just about skating

Junior skaters taking practice notes from seniors; Team USA in strong form
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The junior dance team of Angélique Abachkina and Louis Thauron has been studying various senior skaters during the time leading up to the Junior Grand Prix and Grand Prix Finals. -Getty Images

Welcome to beautiful Marseille!

The city of Marseille is radiant under a clear blue sky and bright sunshine. The Mediterranean Sea is nothing short of gorgeous, and the French Riviera is in great shape to host the upcoming Junior Grand Prix and Grand Prix Finals.

The temperature suits the highly anticipated event as well, with the air crisp and chilly, particularly in the morning. Sunshine and cold are the two ingredients that made skating so special in its first decades, when it was held on the huge open-air natural rinks (or frozen lakes) in Davos or St. Moritz in Switzerland, and in Chamonix, which is roughly 300 miles north of Marseille.

Bouillabaisse

Have you ever tried a bouillabaisse, the culinary specialty of Marseille and its surroundings? The dish is a gathering of fresh fish from the Mediterranean Sea, which boats used to shuttle back to the harbor numerous times on a daily basis.

For the record, the official skaters' hotel is located on the "old harbor," as it is called in Marseille, and fans are already setting up shop there in hopes of receiving autographs and selfies.

"The view from the hotel is just magnificent," Canada's Julianne Seguin said with a big smile.

Canebière

The Canebière is Marseille's most famous street, where you'll find fancy fashion stores, restaurants and bars. Locals prefer the Canebière over Paris' Champs Elysées due to the vast options you have to choose from.

On the Champs Elysées of Paris, you'll probably order a glass of wine. Here, you'll take a 'can of bier' instead. In fact, the word comes from "cannabis," as Marseille was known for its rope-making industry.

Hemp ropes were used in the French navy and fishermen's boats, since Marseille was a major center off the Mediterranean Sea. Some might find cannabis on the Canebière, but rest assured: Hemp is no longer grown in the area.

Skating connections

Those who go behind the scenes at major skating events know about the Swiss Timing team. They connect all the information throughout each competition, while also managing the monitors, judging systems and mark displays.

On Wednesday morning, members of the Timing Team were busy installing cables in the mixed zone, desperately trying to set those cables over a beam close to the ceiling. They tied a tape dispenser to the cable ends and kept tossing the cables in an upward direction, in the hopes that the dispenser would catch the beam and circle around. Though it took quite awhile, team members finally succeeded after a dozen or so attempts.

"Each time you see a wire hanging, you can be sure to find a Swiss Timing technician underneath," a laughing volunteer expressed while running from the press room to the organizers' office.

An important note regarding these efforts: Thanks to the successful placement of the aforementioned wires, journalists interviewing a skater will be able to view the next exhibition and the detailed results on a screen simultaneously.

Old buddies

If you followed the Trophée de France, you may remember the interesting sofas that graced the Kiss and Cry.

"They are comfortable, but fake," many skaters said about the seating arrangements in Paris. "They are made of inflatable white plastic."

Well, the same couches have made their way to Marseille. Though not the most popular or comfortable of seats, we'll see how the couches stand up to the constant pressure of the Grand Prix Final!

Southern accent

Marseille is not just famous for its soccer club, but for its accent as well. When you listen to locals speak, you get a sense they're adding an "e" to each and every word. While an adjustment period may be needed by some to grasp the language, American skater Zachary Donohue -- who is becoming fluent in French while training in Montreal -- is comfortable in conversation.

"Here in Marseille, people seem to speak more round, and the Parisian accent is more flat," he rightfully noted. "To me, there is only Québec French and French French. Whatever the accent, this is French French. Definitely!"

Learning volume as a function of confidence

The competitors at the Grand Prix Final will test the ice throughout Wednesday's first official practice sessions, which will subsequently serve as a learning experience for many of the junior members in the field.

The French junior dance team of Angélique Abachkina and Louis Thauron returned to the stands after ending their initial practice to watch multiple senior teams taking the ice.

"We see the senior team who train with us in Novi," Thauron, who is studying engineering, explained. "This is a unique chance for us to measure the overall level of the best teams. Senior teams have more connection, speed and sureness, and they're more solid on the ice. They also have more volume, since their arm movements are more crisp than those of the juniors. The taller you are, the less self-centered you look, and that creates the volume."

"They make like a bubble when they skate, which makes them taller, surer, and more present on the ice," said Abashkina.

Flying skates

The dance teams of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir did not attend a practice session Wednesday, leaving Russia's Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev alone on the ice. The reason the teams weren't on the ice? Their plane had just landed.

"I still smell Air Canada," coach Marie-France Dubreuil, who traveled with Virtue and Moir, said while laughing. Papadakis reached the rink following the dance draw, and instantaneously learned where she and Cizeron would begin their quest for a gold medal.

"You're third," American skater Madison Hubbell said, although Papadakis did not immediately understand the context of Hubbell's statement. Both erupted in laughter when Papadakis finally grasped that she and her partner would skate in third position in the short dance.

Meanwhile, Team USA created its own practice session on the ice, and the skaters were quite impressive. Hubbell and Donohue, Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates were all showcasing the immense talent they hope leads to hardware in Marseille.