Ice Network

Russian Solyanka: Hotárek a model of consistency

Lauriault gains French citizenship in time for Games; Uçar celebrates 33rd
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Ondřej Hotárek has been a steady performer at Europeans during his career, finishing in the top five at his continent's championships on seven occasions. -Getty Images

"You've won five already?" Italy's Ondřej Hotárek asked Javier Fernández before his free program. "Really, five times? (Now it's six!) By the way, do you get anything when you end up fourth or fifth five times in a row as well?"

Hotárek has finished in the top five at Europeans seven times, first with Stefania Berton and now with Valentina Marchei (only in 2017, when he and Marchei placed sixth, did he and his partner miss the top five).

Some actors never win an Oscar for any one single movie, but they, nonetheless, get an honorary Oscar for their whole career. If, similarly, a European title were created for the whole of a skating career, then surely Hotárek and both of his partners (not including Laura Maggiteri, with whom he skated from 2006-09) would get it. They will have given so much fun to their fans!

Dancing wheel

After skating a lively and energetic short dance at practice, Italy's Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte remarked on how fast the new guard is approaching.

"You see all these babies and you wonder: Were you the one there 10 years ago? And you say, 'Yes!'" Cappellini offered.

"You see my white hair?" Lanotte said. "I'm really proud of it. I wish it would follow the pattern of a light in my hair, though -- that would be so neat!" he added with a laugh.

Even the more recent teams can feel how fast their sport is changing.

"There are teams I didn't even know," Gabriella Papadakis noted.

"This is only our second Europeans, but we already look behind and we can see youngsters coming up," her teammate, Marie-Jade Lauriault, added. "There's no question about taking it easy. They'll push hard! Some of the older teams may retire, but the pack behind them is dense and strong. We'll have to fight to belong to it."

The wheel turns fast in ice dance. Well, it's dance, after all!

Silence and speed

"We have worked so much on flow, especially on the short dance," admitted Laurence Fournier-Beaudry, who skates for Denmark with Nikolaj Sørensen, after the duo's smooth and suave short dance.

"I must say, it helps to train with Gabriella and Guillaume [Cizeron]," Sørensen quickly added. "Every team has its strong points, but in terms of speed, you can't beat them. Of course, when you see them on television, you can't notice, because cameras travel at the same speed. But come to the gate, or where the judges are: When you see Gabriella and Guillaume, you won't hear their edges, but you'll feel the wind of their speed, and you'll say, 'Wow!'"

Train-ing for the Games

Lauriault was quite ecstatic as she arrived in Moscow. Born a Canadian, she finally obtained French citizenship just in time to compete at the Olympics.

"[My citizenship] arrived on December 28th," she said.

It was not an easy journey, though.

"We launched several processes to make it work," her partner and husband, Romain Le Gac, explained.

"First, I needed to take an exam in French proficiency," Lauriault recalled. (This should not have been a problem for her, as she is originally from Québec.)

"It was interesting, however, as I had to take a four-day course about French history and culture, like what to do if you are unemployed or how to get your driver's license. At the exam, I was required to read a TGV ticket (TGV is France's intercity high-speed rail service) and say which car I was in. I never took that train before, so I guessed, but I failed that question -- I gave the number of the seat instead!"

"We tried another way, though," Le Gac added. "There is a possibility to get French citizenship also if you work for the honor and glory of the country. In a way, that's what Marie-Jade is doing with her skating career. We were still far behind last November.

"All of a sudden, just by chance, my mom found herself on a train where she recognized the French secretary of state. She felt so embarrassed, but she went to tell him about our story. He knew a lot about skating and dancing, as he used to be the mayor of Lyon, where several world and Olympic medalists trained at (including Lauriault and Le Gac's coaches, as a matter of fact). He kindly asked (her) to send him an email. You can imagine it was done within a minute!"

Lesson No. 2: Knowing to read a train ticket can be really useful if you want to qualify for the Olympic Games!

Russian mix

Take an ice dancer with a British citizenship who skates for France. Take an Australian boy who skates for his country. Have them go through the sometimes difficult paths of life. Tiffani Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro found each other in 2015 and decided to skate for Russia, as both were of Russian descent (Guerreiro is the son of former prominent Russian skater Svetlana Lyapina). They managed to make their way to the elite class of ice dance, winning Cup of Russia in 2016 and then, one month ago, the bronze medal at the Russian championships.

Now, they call Russia home.

"It's definitely easier to skate in front of a home crowd," Zagorski said after their eighth-place finish in the short dance.

Russia has provided so many skaters (not to mention coaches) to countries around the globe -- it was only a matter of time before other countries returned the favor!

European Turkey

"I love you all!" exclaimed Turkish ice dancer Alper Uçar when he was presented with a birthday cake at the end of the draw for the free dance.

Uçar's kindness has become legendary among his peers, and his 33rd birthday was warmly applauded. Turkey may not geographically be a part of Europe, but Uçar and his partner, Alisa Agafonova, have managed to put their country on the skating map.

"Turkey will continue to be in ice dance after we retire," Uçar explained. "We've made a start for the next couples, and they will have an example in front of them, which we didn't have."

The skating world keeps expanding...through the efforts of skaters!

In any language…

"How is your Russian, Carolina?" a journalist candidly asked the Italian maestrina.

"Ya lyublyu katanye!" she replied with a smile (or "I love skating!" in Russian).

Either on skates or with words, Kostner will only talk love.