Tag Archives: Figure skating

Sochi, continued

Well who would have thought Russia would be like the French Riviera? On our first free day we took 
the train west, to Sochi City, and walked down a palm-tree lined boulevard to the harbour to have
lunch in a French themed restaurant - sitting outside! The temperature was 17 C and the sun shone
out of a cloudless blue sky. You would think we’d come for a holiday.
While our warm wooden hut in Banana Street was tucked in the expanding suburbs north of Adler, not
the resort city of Sochi, the mind-blowing venue of the Coastal Olympic park is yet another 15 kilo-metres east. Unfortunately it was only after a gruelling route march from Adler town centre to the
Olympic Village that we discovered all rail transport was free for the duration of the Winter Games!And the specially commissioned trains are smooth, comfortable and very, very frequent. The level of security however would knock spots off any international airport. Everyone is scanned before
entering the station then searched and scanned again before going down to the platform. And if you
make the mistake of leaving the station, because you are a tourist and get easily lost, you have to go through the whole sequence once again. At one check-point (and not even the first of the day)
Lynne had to volunteer (the officer’s polite term) that her tiny glass bottle of Chanel perfume wentinto the bin or we couldn't proceed.  

There is an overwhelming sense, when you first arrive at the Olympic park, that you have stepped
into Future World. The scale is unimaginable. Imagine if you took the O2 arena with five equally
large venues and set them in a circle around a monolithic torch spewing flames then at the periphery place a high-tech, building worthy of Heathrow's Terminal Three, and dot the grand avenues between
with brightly-coloured stages and sponsors pavilions containing state of the art exhibitions and
food courts and you might begin to grasp the enormity of scale. And at night everything becomes animated with light as waves of colour flow over every arena, patterning the surfaces with huge three
dimensional videos.

But it wasn't all rosy. Someone should shoot the person who designed the safety rails in the ice palace. Huge white bars obscured our eyeline. So, in order to see the skating, we had to bob up and down….well that's how we watched….unfortunately some people didn't care that the people sitting behind couldn’t see at all if they stood and leant over the rails. And depending on the event our seats cost between 250 and 350 Euros each!

However the experience of being at Sochi for the Winter Olympics was magical. OK the kids didn't get the marks they strived for, but they skated so beautifully they received a fantastic reception from the Russian skating fans and the on-line distinction of their triple twist being listed 13th of
sports photographs illustrating how elements of winter sports defy the rules of gravity. They’ve
also been voted one of the twenty best-dressed skater teams of all time by Cosmopolitan magazine and listed as one of the ‘hottest’ couples competing in Sochi! 

And what a thing to be, Olympians not once but twice. And that despite having very little funding or support from their association and, at their first event, 12 hours of jet lag. The article in the Guardian newspaper clarified those very facts, and concluded that the fact they managed to get to Sochi was down to their amazing self-discipline and love for the sport. How very true!

It’s not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred with the sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause and who at best knows the triumph of high achievement and who at worst, is he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

 

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), 26th President of the USA and 1906 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

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Sochi 1

‘I’ve been waiting ages for you to come back Gran’ Reuben said as he flew through the door. I wanted to tell you I saw David and Stacey on tele’. Reuben’s eyes were shining as he wriggled out of coat and cardigan and tossed them onto the floor. Oscar, responsible older (by 16 months) brother interrupted with – ‘they did their very best’. But Reuben wasn’t going to be deterred, he had seen Stacey fall badly and wanted to be sure she wasn’t hurt. And he had worried until I got home. In fact I’ve never seen him so worried.

 

Because we were in Sochi for the Winter Olympics our local press couldn’t get hold of us so they went to my daughter instead. Sam was working that day so they asked if they could sit with our grandchildren as they watched David and Stacey’s perform their short pairs programme at Sochi. Now although my grandchildren know what David and Stacey do they are hardly experts (age 5 and 3 and five months) but babysitting them was my son-in-law’s mother, a retired headmistress perfectly capable of controlling a reporter or two.

 

But I do question the integrity. My grandsons were quoted in the newspaper word for word, words they repeated as soon as they saw me because they were upset. I am angry because the reporter made them feel David and Stacey did something wrong. While anyone unfamiliar with the skating world might consider they failed because they didn’t win a medal we always knew there was never any chance of that, not because David and Stacey haven’t worked their socks off, not because they haven’t got amazing skills, but because they have done it on a shoestring, taking one lesson a day instead of five, using a choreographer once a month (if they are lucky) when the top teams have the use of several choreographers every single day they train. And it all adds up. The top Russian pair (who won Gold) receive £30,000 per month to cover their costs! We manage to scrape by, just, on £200 per week. It’s a fact that David and Stacey are the only pairs team competing at International level not fully funded by their country. So how on earth are they expected to win?

 

I am so pleased that at long last the British press are beginning to direct their attention to the lack of funding rather than the lack of medal success. http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2014/feb/11/winter-olympics-david-king-stacey-kemp 

 

But ultimately it isn’t just the money directed towards training. The ISU is largely funded by television rights, therefore the countries where skating is popular inject the most capital. I don’t think it is any coincidence that British free skaters weren’t offered any Grand Prix competitions in the season running up to the Olympics. Taking part in a Grand Prix builds up points towards international standings. If you don’t do them you lack enough points to be at the top and worse, Grand Prix competitions make sure you are seen by the right judges? And if you haven’t been seen competing you can’t possibly score enough points no matter how well you skate, the more you are seen the better you are marked when half the marks are basically subjective!

 

If you are interested in the debate about judging read this article from the New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/06/sports/olympics/despite-revamped-system-for-judging-figure-skating-gets-mixed-marks.html?smid=fb-share

 

Of course I am proud of my son and his partner, they’ve fought hard every step of the way despite overwhelming odds. And just at this moment I’d like to shoot the reporter who introduced the idea to my grandchildren that their achievement is anything less than remarkable.

And I’m not the only person to think so, http://www.buzzfeed.com/hillaryreinsberg/olympics-photos-that-will-destroy-your-faith-in-gravity?sub=2996282_2429250

 

 

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Bavaria – Part Three

Oberstdorf is a clean-cut compact town where visitors have been arriving for two hundred years and more to enjoy the beautiful Bavarian Alps which enclose its periphery. Chalet-style houses line its streets, each laden with bright coloured flowers hanging from windows and balconies, brightening the bleached wooden fascias. In winter the town is packed with winter sports enthusiasts but in summer it’s full of (mostly middle-aged) walkers. The place has an atmosphere of syncopated prosperity, a sense of contentment rooted possibly in the values of its sturdy Lutheran inhabitants. At night the hostelries swing to the sound of accordions as the supping of Bavarian beer seems to elicit the need to sing loudly in chorus.

 

Overhanging the town like a huge concrete diving board is the giant ski-jump constructed for a previous Winter Olympics. The walk from our hotel to the ‘eissport’ (it’s easier to comprehend German if you say the word rather than read it) stadium took barely fifteen minutes. The path follows a tumbling mountain river that’s been carefully diverted around the town. Passing over our heads at regular intervals were sky-surfers (hang-gliders) and the mountain bus, a huge cable car that reaches high into the Bavarian Alps. We planned to take a trip up (to see the spectacular panorama that featured in The Sound of Music) after the skating competition ended and my nerves (good or bad) were firmly back on land.

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I had been nervous for weeks. The Nebelhorn Trophy was going to be my son and his partner’s last chance to qualify for the Sochi Winter Olympics. David and Stacey have been skating together for ten years, representing their country in European and World Championships and winning the British Senior title eight consecutive years. After competing in the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010 (finishing 16th) they were more than hungry to try again. For the last three years this has been their main goal but one catastrophe followed another until it seemed their chances of getting to Sochi were hopelessly remote. But never ones to give up (I wish I possessed half their determination) they came out fighting.

 

I’ve been going to pre-competition practises for ten years, shivering in ice stadiums all over the world, watching the best skaters in action. Each group practise lasts thirty minutes and each couple (up to four pairs allowed in each group) have their music played once, giving them one opportunity to run through their competition programme. It can be manic with so many teams on ice together but there is a code of etiquette (which most skaters adhere to) that they ‘give way’ to whichever pair’s music is being played. At Oberstdorf David and Stacey’s first practise was scheduled at ten in the morning, a very civilised time (it can be early as 6am or late as 11pm). I believe it’s a huge privilege to watch practises. In fact it can be more memorable than the final performance, not least because by then I’m usually too wrapped up in nerves to appreciate anything. And no matter where a competition is held, if it’s under the control of the International Skating Union (ISU) they are organised in close symmetry, which can be comforting, but sometimes there are surprises.  

 

At Oberstdorf the surprise was finding a swarm of news cameras surrounding the ice pad during that first practise. Generally speaking the media concentrates on final performances and it was more than disconcerting to find a wall of TV reporters hanging over the rail shouting encouragement to one particular team. Even more surprising that this team (representing Turkey) were completely unknown, rank outsiders. My nerves span out of control (with all this attention they must surely be worthy of top place) until I watched them skate. The gentleman of the pair was barely better than a beginner and watching his first attempt to lift his partner was scary. It turned out they had been entered after they won the German version of ‘Dancing On Ice.’ Olga Bestandigova was actually a very skilled (and extremely brave) skater but her partner Ilhan Mansiz, a Turkish football hero who scored a goal in the last World Cup, wasn’t in the same league (sorry). Such is the power of the media their presence brought spectators from all over Germany (and even further afield). Rather more frustrating was the way their supporters ‘popped’ in to watch them skate, raising the roof with very vocal support, but then aborted as soon as they stepped off the ice, even though another team were half-way through their performance. Not just bad manners but utterly unforgivable as far as real spectators are concerned.

 

There were 19 pairs teams competing in the Nebelhorn Trophy and four Olympic places up for grabs so in essence this was probably the most important competition of my son’s career. And by the time David and Stacey stepped onto the ice my nerves were jangling out of control. I could hardly speak never mind cheer. I have never been so grateful for the presence of a remarkable set of people – TRUE SKATING FANS – people who follow figure skating wherever, whenever and will travel across continents to watch. The couple sitting next to my husband (and yelling ‘David’ and ‘Stacey’ at the top of their voices) came from Munich and the lady on the other side waving a British flag was actually Spanish. As a lovely Italian gentleman later explained – if skating is your passion you support all the skaters all the way because you love what they do and wish with all your heart that you could do it too.

 

There are 20 places for Pairs Teams at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Sixteen of these are allocated after the World Championships, dependant upon which teams are placed in the top ten. After that it’s down to Nebelhorn, and the competition was pushed up a peg because this year, for the first time, there is going to be a new team skating event at Sochi. To qualify for this you must have competitors in a minimum of three figure skating disciplines so new teams were competing from countries already qualified in both singles events but lacking pairs or dance. There were also strong contenders from countries who haven’t broken into world league, countries such as the People’s Republic of North Korea. It was only after the competition ended that Lyndon Johnson, David and Stacey’s Canadian coach, confided that he thought the Koreans would come out on top. But it was David and Stacey’s night and they shone. The crowd went mad and I could relax, a little. But I knew they had to skate their long programme the following day with equal quality and style.

 

We have three unspoken rules during a competition. First, we never try to contact David or Stacey, if they need us they can phone or text; second, we only eat after they’ve skated (which sometimes means we go without) and third, we neither celebrate nor despair until the competition is over. As far as my nerves are concerned the second day is worst – there’s the carrot dangling, on the end of the stick, but will it remain out of reach? I find it best to be occupied and prefer to watch all the practises rather than sit in an empty hotel room trying to read a book or write my blog – anyway, by this stage, my concentration has gone to pot. At Oberstdorf the free skating didn’t start until evening and David and Stacey were 12th to skate. As preceding teams completed their programmes my knees began to knock harder and my hands shook to such an extent I couldn’t be trusted with a cup of coffee, never mind hot gluhwein. Their music began playing, a medley of Beatles songs, and I could feel the crowd lifting them with an enormous cheer but I could hardly bare to watch. And they played safe, David said afterwards he has never been so nervous, but they did it – scoring the highest score of their career and top out of the qualifying teams. Later, when David appeared behind the security barrier, I wanted to run down and hug him, but that would have meant disturbing every other spectator in our row……That night we had supper at eleven and for the first time in a month I actually slept all night. Who’d be a skating mum?

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