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Skaters deal with painted ice in Paris

Field tests the rink at the Trophee Eric Bompard

Patrick Chan will try to build off his win at Skate Canada earlier this month and defend his 2007 title at the Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris.
Patrick Chan will try to build off his win at Skate Canada earlier this month and defend his 2007 title at the Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(11/13/2008) - The competitors at the 2008 Trophée Eric Bompard had a chance to hit the ice for the first time in Paris on Thursday. With the competition shortened to three days now -- one day training and two days competing -- the organizers could schedule the whole event on the rink of the main arena, rather than juggling between the two rinks of the Palais Omnisport de Paris Bercy, the usual venue for the Grand Prix' French leg.

Most skaters arrived Wednesday afternoon and had only one night to get acclimated and prepare for the competition. This was of course more difficult for the American team, who had to overcome between six and nine hours of jet lag. Practice sessions, however, went quite well for most of the team, and they were ecstatic about being in Paris.

"This is my first time in Paris," said Caroline Zhang after her practice session. "I want to go shopping and visiting. I want to see it all!"

"This is my favorite place," Tiffany Vise added. Her partner, Derek Trent, was ready to go spend the rest of the afternoon in the Louvre museum a few metro stations away.

"I love to be here," Emily Hughes said. "When I told my friends at the University [Hughes is a sophomore at Harvard] that I was going to Paris, they were so jealous!"

With such a short competition period, however, time will be scarce for shopping and visiting. Hughes has even more to worry about: "I am missing a mid-term exam today at Harvard. It is for my Comparative Government class, so I have brought several books because that class requires many readings, and I have to catch back on that mid-term next Thursday."

Ice dancing

The ice dancers opened the training session this morning and were welcomed with a few bad surprises.

First, early competitors realized that their cloakrooms were still locked when they arrived at the rink. Some had to use side rooms to dress. More importantly, the ice was not as smooth at it could have been.

"We had a motorcycle racing show in the arena last Sunday," an official explained. "As soon as Sunday night, trucks loaded with sand left the arena. When they uncovered the ice beneath it on Monday morning, they realized that there were some colored spots on it, so they had the poor idea of covering them with white paint. The paint floated on the ice and now it prevents it to freeze."

Skaters wondered what those strange plates were in the middle of their ice sheet, and if they would glide properly. No one really paid any more attention to it after a few resurfacings.

Jennifer Wester and Daniil Barantsev of the U.S. had a good training session. They could rehearse both their compulsory and free dances.

Ladies

Mao Asada of Japan and Joannie Rochette of Canada clearly led the pack in Thursday's practice session. The first has gained new amplitude under Tatiana Tarasova's tutelage. The latter had the most solid jump combinations of the field. Hughes, Zhang and U.S. teammate Bebe Liang had all recovered most of their jumps at the end of their training session.

The Trophée Bompard will be Hughes' only Grand Prix assignment this year, after her hip injury forced her to miss most of last season, including the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

"In fact, this is the first time I have really competed internationally this year," she said. "I am getting back into competing, and I really hope to skate a clean program and do better than I did last year. I really love my new long program."

Hughes feels her first year at Harvard has matured her. "I am living on my own now. I have to drive myself to the rink every day, so there is a lot more responsibility on my part."

Men

Ryan Bradley celebrated his birthday just one day prior to coming in Paris.

"My season started well," he commented. "We'll try to keep it up this week!"

Asked what his ambitions would be for the upcoming season, he mentioned that "going back to worlds and having a good end of the season" would be his personal goals.

"The month of October was really difficult," Brian Joubert of France said when he arrived in the rink this morning. The French skater has not competed since early October, when blade problems made him lose to teammate Alban Préaubert at the French Masters.

"I am here to win," the 2007 world champion said. "I am excited to be back to international competition, and I am eager to show my new programs to an international audience."

His training session did not reveal any particular weaknesses in his skating, but he seemed nervous each time a jump seemed to elude him.

On the other hand, Patrick Chan of Canada seemed to be both concentrated and relaxed.

"I train much more than last year," he explained. "I have relocated in Florida [where he skates under the guidance of Don Laws], and we have multiplied the time I spend off and on ice by a factor of two."

Chan expressed his satisfaction to be here again (he won the 2007 Trophée): "In Florida, I am skating alone most of the time, so I am quite excited when I go to a competition where I find some real emulation."

Chan has not attempted his new found quad yet. "I landed one during the training session at Skate Canada," he said. "It is something I really want to have for the Olympics. When I can land it one, two or three times a day, it will be good."

As for Préaubert, who now works in part with ice dancing guru Muriel Zazoui-Boucher in Lyon, he said that he hoped to be able to maintain the momentum for the next two weeks. He is flying directly to the Cup of Russia at the end of the Trophée.

"I will try not to party too much!" he said in laughter.

Pairs

"This year, we definitely want to go to worlds," a determined Trent said. "That's our goal."

The couple has worked a lot this past week: "We changed the two last minutes of our free program," Trent explained. "The end of our program was pretty, but it was not building up enough."

He and Vise were not completely satisfied with their training session. "It was a first training," Trent said with a smile.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, the current world champions, have really gained a new class this season. They made it clear that they came here to win.

Tonight, after the last skater cleared the ice, a few workers came back with a lawn mower to scrap the white paint again, before the ice would be consolidated during the night. Hopefully it will be ready to carry the hopes of the skating world early Friday morning for the last training sessions before the actual competition begins.