Paris welcomes the world

French figure skater Brian Joubert.
French figure skater Brian Joubert. (Getty Images)


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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to
(11/14/2007) - Every competition has its "behind the scenes" events. Without those big and little tidbits, a competition would not exist.

Yet, who knows about them?


The volunteers of French skating started a long day on Wednesday. At about 5:00 a.m., they were off to the airport to pick up skaters and officials. Those who arrived in the morning had a hard time traveling the 15-mile distance from the airport to downtown Paris. Train and metro-rail are completely paralyzed by a general strike, making traffic dense around the city.

Who's who

The United States has sent a strong team to Paris. Kimmie Meissner is at the competition for the third time, and she will square off against Mao Asada of Japan.

Ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White face Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder. Delobel suffered a major fall last Friday, when she was practicing in her home city of Lyon. She was taken to the hospital and was diagnosed with a skull injury. Doctors, however, were quite optimistic about Delobel's fast recovery, and she has been cleared to skate this weekend.

Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent are up against strong competition, with the two main Chinese pairs teams -- Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang and Qing Pang and Jian Tong -- competing this week.

As for the men, Ryan Bradley and Scott Smith meet current world champion Brian Joubert, and 2007 European championship silver medalist Tomas Verner.

No practice today

The organizers of the Paris stage of the Grand Prix announced yesterday that no practice would take place today. Both the French Federation and the city of Paris are in turmoil, hopefully the glamour will glitter again when it counts.

Early reflections

The ice is light blue and completely transparent in the main arena of the All Sports Arena of Paris Bercy. It looks like a big waveless lake and reflects only the projectors and the white boards around it. In fact, it is still water at this stage, there is still a hose on the ground nearby. The ice technicians have added a new layer of water, and they are waiting for it to freeze to add the next one.

Until last week, there was a motorcycle show at this very place. The arena was full of soil and sand, which huge trucks took away Tuesday morning. The week before, a major tennis tournament took place here.

The ice remains under protection during all the events (did Roger Federer, the Swiss tennis star who lost here in semi-finals last week, know that he was playing on ice?). After the ice was uncovered yesterday night, technicians had to adjust its temperature and thickness.

Little by little you can see the water turning into ice. The surface is not transparent anymore. All of a sudden, the reflection of projectors is fading away. Liquid water reflects bright colors, whereas solid ice reflects darker ones. Now you can see 10,000 red stands reflecting into the ice. The hazy lake is turning into an arena. You can tell from the ice that this is going to be a huge event. Saturday all seats should be full, and that fragile layer of ice will choose its queens and kings.

"The ice should be ready Thursday", the ice technicians have promised. The competitors of the Trophee Eric Bompard Cachemire are due to start official practice Thursday at 9:30 a.m. Competition is scheduled to start Friday at 1:00 p.m.

So much is needed to make a show...