Thursday Finnish skater Kiira Korpi
was the most photographed of the almost 2,000 guests at the President's Independence Day reception in Helsinki, and was voted "Queen of the Palace" by readers of Finnish tabloid newspapers.
This weekend, the 2007 European Championships bronze medalist will fight for the crown that has so far eluded her: despite her international success and celebrity status in her home country, she is yet to win the national senior title in Finland.
A central part of Finland's Independence Day celebration on December 6, the President's reception and ball at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki is also one of the most watched broadcasts on national television. Basically, it is the Finnish equivalent of the Academy Awards gala - the guest list includes all the most notable celebrities, and everyone and their mother seems to be interested in what kind of evening dresses they are wearing.
Korpi's silky peach-colored evening dress certainly didn't go unnoticed. The dress was designed and made by Elina Kivioja who also stitches her skating costumes. In fact, due to the skater's busy schedule, fittings of the dress had to be arranged between training sessions at the ice rink in Tampere.
Ever since the Torino Olympics where she made it to the general public's TV screens, Kiira Korpi has reached a superstar status in Finland. A reporter who was present at the Presidential Palace said that you simply needed to follow the cameras to know where Kiira Korpi was.
Biggest party of the year or not, dancing and partying the night away was not an option for the 19-year-old. Early the following morning, Korpi and her fellow Presidential Ball invitee and on-ice rival Susanna Poykio traveled together to Rauma, a town on the west coast of Finland where the 2008 National Championships take place this weekend. There is a special excitement surrounding the event as the level of the competition is higher and the battle for medals harder than ever in the history of Finnish figure skating.
The selection for the Finnish team for the European championships in January is not based on the results of Nationals, but on the Seasonal Best score achieved by each skater. Coming to Nationals, Korpi is only third in the Finnish ranking, even though she achieved her personal best (154.26) and also the highest Grand Prix placement of all Finnish ladies by placing fourth at Cup of Russia in Moscow in November.
The current leader of the Finnish ranking Jenni Vahamaa. She is not competing in Rauma but at the Junior Grand Prix (JGP) final
in Poland instead, but her SB (163.29) will be hard to beat, even though Poykoi has come close (162.26). So deep is the ladies field in Finland that Korpi better look out for a challenger for the third spot.
Laura Lepisto (SB 152.15) has everything at stake this weekend. To make it to the Finnish team for Europeans, Lepisto has to beat Korpi's SB score, and Korpi herself at Nationals. Both ladies know it, and both also have room for improvement in their personal bests.
Finland has three ladies' spots for the European Championships in Zagreb, and only the two best will proceed to World Championships. Even more than in the Presidential Palace, Kiira Korpi wants to shine in those two venues.
For a recap and photos from the Finnish Nationals, check back on icenetwork.com after the weekend!