Ice Network

Hungarian Goulash: Welcome all to Budapest!

Russians make early fashion statements; No day of rest for pairs
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German fans want to see Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy skate on Sunday. -Getty Images

Welcome to Buda!

Welcome to beautiful Budapest, the "Pearl of Danube", as the state capital of Hungary is also called. Here, Sissi used to live and reign, here it is said that only lovers can see the blue color of the Danube (unlike Johan Strauss's popular waltz suggests, regular people see it brownish).

It is quite an honor for me to take you along on and behind the scenes of the practice and the main rinks during this week. These 2014 European Figure Skating Championships promise to be a thrill, just a few weeks before the Olympics. Unlike the U.S. or Canadian championships, which qualified the one, two or three best skaters or teams of their country for Sochi, the Europeans are non-qualifying (which could one day be argued, by the way), and many of the skaters seen here will be in Sochi as well. So, please follow us! Some of the Olympic medalists to be are skating in Budapest!

Bolshoi upon Danube

The Europeans have always been a special ritual. Historically, the first championships created by the ISU (back in 1892, whereas the first world championships were organized in 1896), they gather an incredible number of skaters -- this year, 170 of them coming from 33 different countries. Year after year, Russia has emerged as the most powerful nation on the European scene, providing a significant number of European medalists for about 40 years, especially in the pairs and dance categories.

Europeans are always like a Russian fashion show. This year is no exception, with beautiful blonde-haired Russian ladies whirling around the arena, their long hair underlining their ankle-long black fur coat. Are they assistant coaches, choreographers or just friends of the Russian team members? No one really knows. They are just around, bringing their classy grace to the event, as if it were a special evening at the Bolshoi.

Welcome the athletes!

The official hotels are all gathered around the official practice and main rink of the European championships. Just imagine: The main venue of the event, the Syma Hall, is in fact an exhibition center. A rink was set inside, as were the 6,000 seat stands and the press and conference centers. When you leave the Syma Hall, you need to walk for about 15 minutes around the Ferenc stadion, an old stadium from the Soviet era, to reach the practice rink.

You can imagine the athletes entering that stadium, as strong as iron bars when it was brand new. You wish skaters would go jog around the stadium in the morning to work on their physical condition. That would be a neat time for unofficial interviews, for sure. None of them have been seen so far, however. Most of them take the shuttle to come from their hotels to the rink and warm up in the upper level of the building. It has to be noted, however, that the weather is really gray and wet in Budapest at the moment.

Six hours of ladies short

Another ritual of the Europeans is the number of skaters. Technical minimums were introduced to limit the number of skaters qualifying for the events, and they did. Not quite, though. The ladies field is the largest of all, with 37 competitors enlisted. They will all skate their short programs Wednesday afternoon. Nearly six hours are planned for the event. Hope you like ladies short!

Secret weapon

Ice dancer Pernelle Carron, who represents France with her partner, Lloyd Jones, took the ice Tuesday for her official practice session. The duo elected to rehearse their free dance to Swan Lake. Prior to entering on the ice, Carron applied a gel that looked like a cosmetic roll over her chest and neck. Was it to prevent perspiration, or to accommodate her partner? Or a refresher of some kind? Not at all.

"It's glue!" one of her followers explained. "Glue helps fixing her costume."

In case some of the swan's feathers would want to fly away around the frozen lake. There are no small details in skating!

The pairs' Sunday sin

For years, we journalists were told that skating venues were too expensive because championships were so long. Hence, the decrease of program skating time, and hence, the reduction of the number of events in one given category (the compulsory dances being the last victim).

This year, Europeans introduce a never-before seen practice: There will be official events from Wednesday morning to Sunday afternoon included, as the pairs will start skating their final free at 11:00 a.m. local time on Sunday.

Peter Krick, the ISU Sports Directorate Chairman, was quick to answer.

"Warum nicht?"

That, for sure, was an answer, "Why not?"

A less official, though more newsy answer, was given by fellow icenetwork writer, Klaus-Reinhold Kany.

"One of the reasons is that the German TV channel ARD wanted to broadcast the event, and they have a tradition of broadcasting sports all day Sunday," he explained.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, the four-time world champions, are coming from Germany, so the pairs would be the key event for the German media.

One thing is for sure: There will be no church for pairs skaters of any European country this week.