I’m writing today’s post from Helsinki (accent on the first syllable if you want to sound like a native), where the annual World Figure Skating Championships are being held. It was my intention to take lots of pictures and then post them each night, but unfortunately, there is just so much skating going on, with large numbers of skaters in each of the four disciplines, that I’d have to stay up all night just to edit the photos from this, the second day of training. In fact, I had to bail early after my camera ran out of flash storage — and the competition hasn’t even formally started yet! (Actual judging begins tomorrow, with Ladies’ and Pairs’ short programs — these are used to narrow the field, so that the “free skate”, what used to be called the “long program”, can be run in a fixed length of time with a winner announced before bedtime.) This was my first time going to a competition like this where the public can attend practice sessions (some but not all — only those practices that take place on the “main rink”, at Hartwall Arena). It’s also my first time back in Finland, or indeed Europe generally, since 1989, and a lot has changed — I’ll be taking some non-skating photos later in the week when the schedule lightens up, and you can expect those posts to appear some time after I get back home.
Just how heavy is that schedule? For this event, there are two days of solid practices, from 6:15 in the morning until 10:45 at night, with breaks every hour to resurface the ice, on three different rinks. There are additional practices scheduled in the morning on competition days. (I paid about EUR 650 for an “all events” package which included tickets to the practices and the closing exhibition, although my schedule didn’t allow me to see the first morning practice sessions. I’m also horribly jetlagged, from being seven hours ahead of my normal schedule, which I compounded by deciding to do a stopover in Iceland on the way out, when it involves an overnight flight, rather than the way back with a much more favorable schedule. It was for the best, though — it took so long to get through passport control in Reykjavík that I would have missed my connection to Helsinki anyway.)
In any event, I’ve had a chance to edit two bits of these practices so far: the first group of men that I saw, and also the fan-provided banners hanging in the arena (this is a tradition in figure skating). I say “that I saw” because the men were the first group to practice each day, far earlier than I could get to the arena in my current sleep-deprived state, so I didn’t see any of the men’s singles until later on in the first session on day 2 — which is just as well considering the state of my camera with only eleven hours in the arena to take photos. (These photos, by the way, are all freely available for non-commercial use — the latter being a condition placed on non-accredited photographers like me by the International Skating Union, the organizer of the competition.) My photos of the men’s practice start with group 4, which included both Americans (Jason Brown and Nathan Chen — last year’s national champion, Adam Rippon, was injured prior to this year’s nats) and both Spaniards (Javiers Fernández and Raya). So far this is all I have edited, but the final group of men included the three Japanese competitors, Hanyu, Tanaka, and Uno, and I do expect to post those photos at some point (albeit well after the results are known, in all likelihood).
Speaking of the Japanese, you’ll notice that about half of the banners are either in or for Japanese skaters. The popularity of figure skating in Japan is keeping competitions like this afloat; seven of the ISU’s ten worldwide sponsors are Japanese companies, and five of them are virtually unknown outside Japan. This is reflected in the in-arena advertising as well as the fan-club banners.
One final note: most of the skaters chose to practice in regular athletic gear rather than the costumes they use for their routines. There were a few exceptions, but that made it difficult at times to track who exactly was who, when there were six white dudes all wearing the same shade of black on the ice at the same time. I hope I got all the attributions right, but I can’t promise. Anyway, on with the show.
Jason Brown (USA)
Nathan Chen (USA)
Brendan Kerry (AUS)
Julian Zhi Jie Yee (MAS)
Javier Fernández (ESP)
Javier Raya (ESP)
More to come…