Ice Network

Czech guláš: Kostner muzzled under Mishin's watch

Hotárek celebrates birthday; Everyone talking about Russia's Olympic fate
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Carolina Kostner has been forbidden from speaking to the press until after her free skate, as per the orders of her coach, Alexei Mishin. -Getty Images

In the old days, Ostrava was located on the "Amber Road," "a trade route used by medieval merchants to transport goods between the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean," as the guidebook states. In the second half of the 18th century, however, rich coal supplies were discovered around the city, which expanded fast. This brought in a rapid boom in the iron and steel production. Yet, no skating blade factory has been found as of yet.

Running news

The media center is located in an indoor athletic hall. On one side of it, skaters warm up, using the tracks to jog and soften their muscles. On the other side, 10 rows of tables are set up in the middle of a 400-meter track for journalists and photographers. News should travel fast in Ostrava!

Happy birthday, Ondřej!

Wednesday was Italian pairs skater Ondřej Hotárek's 33rd birthday. Right after the draw for the free skate, Tomáš Verner came to the draw room with a big box and paid a warm tribute to the Czech-born Hotárek. He opened the box to reveal a chocolate cake, and the crowd in attendance sang "Happy Birthday."

"Now, if anyone would like a piece of cake, please bring a knife, because I don't have one!" Verner said while laughing.

The short program of Hotarek and on-ice partner Valentina Marchei was nothing like a piece of cake. The duo had a rough practice in the morning, but they managed to regroup for the competition at night and finished in sixth place.

Pairs' maturity

Pairs is certainly the discipline that requires the most maturity. The age of the competitors supports that claim, as five of the participants this year are 30 or older. The oldest at these Championships is pairs skater Zoe Jones, from Great Britain, who turned 37 on Jan. 14. Jones is already the mother of three children! Germany's Aliona Savchenko turned 33 last week, on Jan. 19. Marchei turned 30 last May 23. France's Vanessa James will turn 30 later this year (Sept. 27).

"It takes quite some time to make a pair team," five-time world champion Robin Szolkowy explained. "You first need to develop as a single skater, and it takes you through 14 to 16 (years old). After that, you need to find a partner and learn pairs, change partners a couple of times, and by then you are way over 20. I think that's why!"

Mishinisms (cont'd)

Carolina Kostner has always been quite open about answering questions from the press. Wednesday morning she had to accept that she would not be that way in Ostrava. Alexei Mishin, her coach, was quite strict with her.

"I don't have the right to say anything," she said privately. "But I will after the free program," she promised.

When asked why he was so strict about it, Mishin was quite clear: "More skating and less talking!" he stated.

Fortunately, he still has the right to speak!

Bearing a bear

At the end of Anna Pogorilaya's stellar short program Wednesday, one fan managed to send a gigantic (nearly human size!) fluffed teddy bear on the ice, close to the place where Pogorilaya was standing. She didn't grab it to bring it to the kiss and cry -- maybe she could not have by herself! She grabbed a much smaller, yet beautifully costumed one instead.

"Actually, this is like a small dream come true," she said of her huge present. "I finally get a big stuffed animal. I honestly don't know how I'm going to take it back home -- and even at the hotel, maybe I'll need to buy an extra ticket? -- but I will!"

Want another bear?

"The Russian translation for 'bear' is 'medved,'" a Russian journalist offered during the post-event press conference. "Was it because of Medvedeva that the bear was sent your own way?" he asked inquisitively.

Sharing the moment

James was so emotional when she left the kiss and cry for the mixed zone, after her and Morgan Ciprès' second-place finish. Someone then jumped on her to hug her warmly. It was her teammate and best friend, Maé-Bérénice Méité. The two embraced for half a minute and started to trudge toward the TV booths some 20 meters away as a funny, four-legged human animal.

"It was so stressful!" Méité said afterward, with tears all along her cheeks.

Skating can provide the best friendships -- and the best moments to share, too.

Savchenko's multiplication factor

Usually, skaters tend to double planned triples -- not so with Savchenko. She and Bruno Massot had decided to land a throw double axel in their short program, in order to allow for full rehabilitation of Savchenko's injured ankle. But during the actual competition, Savchenko made it clear that it could have been a triple.

"I master the height of the jump," Massot said afterward, "but she masters the rotation."

Savchenko rose into the air and rotated slowly before landing the throw clean.

"I have no doubt that she felt like doing a triple axel," Massot laughed. "We know her by now! She is always so motivated: If it can't be a triple, she'll be thinking of a quad!"

Slippery grounds

Having to circulate outside of the complex proves to be quite a challenge. Beware! The ice may be slippery, but its surroundings are as well, as paths and roads are covered with frozen snow. Well, journalists are less trained than skating champions to remain on edge (except on the edge of the news, of course).

Ostrava's hottest topic

It has nothing to do with these Championships, and you will hear no official statement from any skater in attendance, but the main topic everyone is concerned about, from the corridors of the media center to the stands in both rinks, is the potential ban, by the International Olympic Committee, of the Russian sport teams from the next Olympics, after the doping scandal that was uncovered at the Sochi Games.

"It would undoubtedly mean a lot for skating," one ISU representative offered. "Russia is everywhere in skating!"

With three entries in every category and many more European-standard skaters staying at home (especially in ladies and pairs), Russia is one of the major players in skating on the global stage, and even more so at the European level. Just look at the results of the ladies and pairs short programs!