Ice Network

Karelian hot pot: Uno mastering English language

Virtanen a man of many talents; Savchenko gives judges a big break
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Shoma Uno's understanding of the English language may be better than most -- including the Japanese skater himself -- give him credit for. -Getty Images

Canada's Kevin Reynolds and Sweden's Alexander Majorov skated back to back in the short program, both using Finnish folk music and similar costumes with traditional red waistcoats for their programs. After leaving the ice, the two skaters met backstage in the mixed zone, and Majorov had something important to say to his compatriot.

"I said to him that I was first," Majorov revealed. "It's crazy. The same outfit, and almost the same music as well."

Reynolds, for his part, was a bit surprised when he entered the ice after several years of not competing at worlds.

"It's my first world championships in a couple of years, and I was feeling the nerves a bit," he said. "Just to get used to this new system where they are introducing the skaters standing around and waving to the audience. It didn't really affect things too much, but it was just a different atmosphere than I'm accustomed to. Usually you step on the ice very focused and you do whatever you have to do."

Shoma's English

Evgenia Medvedeva learned the English language in quick fashion. China's Wenjing Sui surprised the world Wednesday night during the pairs post-event press conference when she answered questions directly in English. Sui even forced her partner, Cong Han, to try as well, and he graciously did.

In fact, when Sui was unable to train for a while after last season due to her ankle injuries, she reportedly used the time to study English.

While in the elevator leading up to the men's draw, Shoma Uno was asked (in English) if he had improved his understanding of the language. His reply was clear-cut: "No," he said with a smile.

"Learning English is much more difficult than learning a new quad!" a Japanese official said in English.

The whole lift erupted in laughter, including Uno, who may be understanding English more than he leads on!

Doctor in the house

Finland's Valtter Virtanen landed his first quad in competition in February, achieving the required technical score for worlds at the last minute. This achievment happened at the ripe age of 29! The four-time Finnish champion had competed at six European championships, but this is the first time he's qualified for the world championships.

"Last year people were picking on me because my face was on the advertisements for the 2017 World Championships, even though I wasn't even competing in Boston," Virtanen revealed.

Besides being a world-level skater, Virtanen is also a qualified medical doctor. Last week, he was still doing shifts at a hospital in Oberstdorf, Germany, where he lives and trains.

"You get more out of the training when you can distract yourself at other times," he said. "At the hospital, I see people who aren't doing all that well, and that gives me some perspective for training."

Daring ladies

Most competitors choose to open their short program with their biggest technical element, which in many cases is their jump combination. Only two ladies -- out of a field of 37 -- dared to showcase the major elements of their short program in the second half, hence gaining extra credit for "highlight distribution," as the ISU says.

Reigning world champion Evgenia Medvedeva and Japan's Wakaba Higuchi were two who chose to make the bold decision. Higuchi opened with a double axel but landed her triple lutz-triple toe combo and triple flip near the end of her program.

Though she finished ninth in the segment, Higuchi showed that she was in Helsinki to compete with the best skaters in the world and not leave anything on the table.

Tree of positivity

On the wall located in the concourse of Hartwall Arena, you'll find people lining up in front of a glass board, bearing hundreds of stickers. You may grab a blank sticker yourself and stick a smiley face or a positive word or two for your favorite skater.

Phrases such as "Good luck Yuzu!" "Nathan you're the best!" and "Javi you'll win!" were among the many statements of positivity stamped on the surface.

"This is to give power to your favorite skater," an event organizer said. "It's very popular, especially with the many Japanese fans in the rink."

Japanese corner

The Three Musketeers may also be Japanese. The three Japanese men competing this week -- Hanyu, Uno and Keiji Tanaka -- entered the press room together so they could all learn their starting position for the short program. All three went to sit in the front row, on the left side of the room, where about 20 photographers from the Japanese press were located.

Tanaka sat in between his teammates, and the number of clicks the Japanese stars received -- from photographers -- was astounding!

Skating Moomins

From all the stands selling various items in the corridors of Hartwall Arena, the Moomin Shop seems to be the busiest. The Japanese are known to love cartoons, so it should come as no surprise that the Finnish fairy tale characters found in the store sell like nothing else.

As a special treat for fans, they have made a batch of 500 key rings with the Moomin on skates, which are to be sold exclusively at the site of the event.

Almost half of them were gone on the very first day, so whoever wants to get a piece of this memorabilia better be quick to catch one!

"Thank you, judges!"

"I am not too satisfied because I made mistakes on both the solo jump and the throw," a disappointed Aliona Savchenko offered after she and Bruno Massot left the ice at the end of their short program Wednesday night.

"I'm really happy with the scores but not with my skate," she said a moment later in the mixed zone. "Thank you, judges!"

Savchenko has been known for the harsh judgment she imposes on herself, but at least she's not nearly as hard on the officials!

Prehistoric skating

The cave in which the practice rink was built, right under the main arena, opens through a long tunnel going down in the ground. As it is stone grey, the wall was decorated with hand paintings, made in a rather naïve style and color, resembling the stone-age rock paintings found at cliffs shoring some of the 180,000 lakes in Finland.

These caves, however, contain one difference: The ancient Finnish cliff paintings most often depicted elks or boats, but the paintings in "The Cave" depict skaters and hockey players.

An appropriate drawing, if I do say so myself!