Ice Network

Czech guláš: Ciprès learns how to lift from grandpa

Mishin keeps it professional with Kostner; Verner fields complaints
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The technique Morgan Ciprès uses to lift his partner, Vanessa James, is similar to the way Ciprès' grandfather lifts his luggage into an overhead compartment, reporter Jean-Christopher Berlot observed. -Getty Images

Svíčková (pronounced "Svishkova") is the most popular dish in Czech cuisine. You take sirloin and prepare it with vegetables (celery, onions, carrots, parsley root), and then cook it with double cream. The name applies to both the sauce and the meat. "It's delicious!" the young ladies volunteering in the rink explained while laughing. The following pieces, which come to you fresh from around the rink, have been marinated in the cream of skating. I hope they are to your taste.

Welcome to Ostrava!

Taking part in the European championships needs to be earned. You have to fly to Prague first, then take a one-hour bus ride to the main train station in Prague, and then ride for three hours on a train to Ostrava. (You may also come via Kraków or Katowice, in nearby Poland.) Anyway, you'll need a solid day to reach what will be the European capital of ice skating for a whole week. The good thing with skating is that it's always worthwhile!

Continuous improvement

"Good is not good, if better is expected." Visitors are met with this phrase as they leave the Prague airport. The giant ad is posted on the road. It was not meant for skating, but hopefully all skaters competing in Ostrava will take notice of it!

Pairs skating genes

Imagine yourself in the Prague main station, boarding a train headed to the European championships. You notice an elderly man easily lifting his heavy suitcase into the overhead compartment. When you hear the man speak French, you finally guess that he is going for the skating as well -- and you're right! That man happened to be the grandfather of France's pairs champion, Morgan Ciprès. In fact, he was lifting his suitcase the way his grandson lifts his partner, Vanessa James: with ease and class and a touch of gentleness. Now we know from whom Ciprès inherited his lifting talent!

D.J. Grandpa

"I've been following Morgan skate for the last 19 years," Ciprès' grandfather explained cheerfully. Ciprès credited his grandpa for inspiring him several times, which he confirmed: "I took Morgan to watch the Pearl Harbor movie some years ago, and he chose the music soundtrack for their free program the following year. I also suggested he skate to a tango some years ago, but that wasn't their best year. This year, the music suits them really well, but I'm not responsible for any of it!" he added.

A complex is...complex!

The European championships are organized in a huge complex. It comprises two rinks -- a smaller one for practice and the giant "Ostravar Arena," home of the hockey local team -- and an indoor athletic field, which houses the media center. Skaters and their coaches, as well as television crewmembers, may navigate from one to the other while remaining inside. The written press have to exit one building and find their way around the complex from the outside. Well, it's…complex (and cold)!

Bow, bow, bow!

Only two pairs from the third group came to practice Tuesday night: James and Ciprès, and Great Britain's Zoe Jones and Christopher Boyadji. At the end of their 30-minute session, skaters bowed to the (scarce) audience to one side, then to the other. Then they bowed to their competitors. And, finally, each team member bowed to his or her partner and had a good laugh together. Pairs skaters have developed quite a good friendship among themselves over the years. They are older than most other competitors, and their sport is so tough that they understand one another better…

Moonlight

The first skaters to reach Ostrava took the ice Monday and Tuesday for unofficial practice sessions. Tuesday night, the Russian pairs didn't go to the evening practice (they had had one earlier in the day), which left the practice rink empty. Only ice technicians stayed in the rink (plus one journalist!), along with the light over the ice sheet. The music from Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov's short program started playing in the empty rink, as is required by rule. The Russian duo has elected to skate its short program to Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune" this year. The stars were missing, but the moon was there, shining over the ice.

Mishinsisms

Carolina Kostner's return to competition is, of course, one of the biggest storylines of these Championships. Her coach, Alexei Mishin, has gained worldwide recognition for the many champions he trained over the years. He has also been praised as one of the funniest characters in all of the skating circuit. When Kostner left the ice after her flawless short program, he didn't hug her, as coaches usually do: He simply shook her hand. Asked why afterward, he answered sharply: "That's because I have a friendly relationship with her, not a [romantic] one," he said. The journalists in attendance erupted in laughter all at once. "This is typical Mishin," a Russian reporter laughed.

One minute later, Mishin grabbed Kostner by the arm and prevented her from talking with the press after the interviews she gave to Czech, Swedish and Russian television. Typical Mishin as well?

It's hot in Ostrava!

One of the main organizers of this year's European championships is the 2008 European champion and Czech star, Tomáš Verner. Alongside Stéphane Lambiel, who now coaches Latvia's Deniss Vasiljevs, and Javier Fernández, Verner receives the most requests for autographs from the crowd and volunteers.

"My accreditation says 'OC chief officer.' In fact, I am not -- I'm just the one who talks!" Verner explained, laughing. "I'm here to greet every skater. I'm also the one to receive complaints. Actually, we got one already: Several skaters asked us to decrease the temperature of the warmup area. Can you believe that? For the first time in history, the warmup area of a figure skating championship is too hot!"