Ice Network

Karelian hot pot: Practice rink presents challenges

Fernández' skates left behind in Oslo; Chen dazzles with six-quad display
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The roof of the practice rink is so low that pairs teams do not have enough room to train their twists or throws. -Jyrki Pirkkalainen

Hartwall Arena, the site of the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships, was originally built for the 1997 World Ice Hockey Championships. It was constructed on a strip of unused land that had been left strapped by busy traffic routes -- an arterial road, railyard and freight depot -- right next to the principal railway line in Helsinki.

Spatially, the oval-shaped building replaces one looping ramp of a cloverleaf interchange.

Somehow, architects managed not only to design an Olympic-size rink that seats 13,000 spectators but also squeeze a six-story parking garage and adjacent conference center (now serving as the media center for worlds) onto the site.

But there is not a visible practice rink. When the arena last hosted this event in 1999, the organizers had to provide a practice facility to meet the ISU's requirements. With no exploitable land left on the property, the Finns had to look elsewhere.

The result: A practice rink was excavated into the rock underneath the main rink -- a rink so small that there is no room for seats, and with a ceiling so low that there is no room for the pairs to practice throws. (If Bruno Massot tossed Aliona Savchenko into the team's triple twist in the underground rink, she would simply hit the ceiling.) That is why even the all-event ticket holders can't be let in the practice rink: There is literally no space for spectators. And that is also why the pairs have their morning practices in another rink, located a couple of miles away.

Sprucing up the place

There is barely room for even a narrow sidewalk between the rink and the adjoining railway yard, and when the arena is at its full capacity, the indoor corridors are cramped as well. Surrounded by railways and a busy street, the arena is not exactly a treat for the eye. There is nothing green in sight -- only asphalt, concrete, rails and tracks.

But wait until you get inside the rink! The logo and signage for the championships consist of flowers in bright colors. On Monday, the decoration team was busy applying flower stickers everywhere on the corridors -- on the floors, on the walls, on the pillars -- turning the grey overall impression into a tropical garden!

'It's like a sauna in here'

Finland is known as the country of the sauna. In fact, almost every house or building has a built-in sauna. There are actually more saunas than cars in Finland!

Basically a sanctuary for ice hockey, the rink is no exception. There are rentable skyboxes at the arena, used for meetings and parties alike during hockey games. Two of the skyboxes, in fact, have saunas. So, you can watch the skating through the windows while sweating in the sauna!

Icenetwork asked ice dance coach Maurizio Margaglio to pose for a photo in the sauna, and the Italian happily agreed. The 2001 world champion, who has lived in Helsinki since 2011, said he likes going to the sauna. He used to have one at his home, but when he and his family moved to another apartment in Helsinki a couple of years ago, they had to exchange the sauna for a balcony.

Javi awaits his skates

The U.S. and Spanish men were to train in the same group Monday. However, two-time world champion Javier Fernández was a no-show at practice -- ensuring that everyone's eyes were fixed on Nathan Chen's sensational six-quad free skate run-through in the evening session.

The Spaniard arrived in Helsinki on Sunday, but his skates were left behind in Oslo, Norway. With no blades, Fernández had time for a different kind of activity in Helsinki. In his role as an ambassador for La Liga, the top Spanish football league, the Spaniard visited a Helsinki football team's training site instead.