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Euros 2009 One Finn’s impressions

One Finn’s Impressions from watching the EC2009 Live…

Well, the championships are now over, and I have to say it really was a lucky break for me that they were held here in Helsinki — actually, I live in a town Espoo but the two are really side by side. The Hartwall Arena, where the competition took place, was only about 15km away. With experience from national championships from a month ago, needless to say that the European Championships was something really different: lots of fans from all over Europe and even from North America were cheering the skaters on and creating pedestrian traffic jams with all the Finnish fans on the arena hallways in every zamboni break…

As in every event comparable to this, the atmosphere depends heavily on the size of the audience. Women’s short program took place on Friday, starting from 11 AM. The hall was half empty at the start, when the skaters were those who really had no chances to success and were mostly from countries where there is no major figure skating culture. Hence, not fan attendance from these countries to speak of. But as the afternoon went on more and more people could leave work and head for the hall, things turned out to be more lively and by the time the Finnish participants: Kiira, Susanna Pöykiö and Laura Lepistö (Laura’s webpage not updated since last year) were performing their short programs, the noise levels were very respectable indeed. On Saturday, for ladies’ free skate, when the audience was approx. 10,000 strong, the atmosphere completely hit the roof of the hall…

I think it has something to do with Finnish mentality, that I was dreaded beforehand that the audience won’t be “polite” enough for the skaters who are destined to be at the bottom half of the results; those who most likely won’t make it to the free program and who really are not that good… Luckily, I was proven wrong. Everybody was applauded properly and I hope and believe that even to the skaters from Armenia, Ireland, Greece and other nations not that known for their figure skating prowess, the event is now a pleasant memory. And I personally will never forget Clara Peters’ (Ireland) attitude… She was the first figure skater to ever represent Ireland in European Championships, and she was smiling from ear to ear all the time! She finished 38th out of 40 skaters, but she clearly couldn’t have been happier. Loved to see that. I was very pleased to notice, also, that Carolina Kostner got very warm welcome from the audience, and not only from the Italian contingent, even though she of course was the major threat to all three Finnish skaters – especially as Sarah Meier had to withdrew due to medical reasons.

All the Finnish skaters received thunderous welcome and applauds from the audience, which I think goes without saying. The video captures that have been uploaded to the YouTube can’t really capture it. It was something very special. In Finnish nationals the stands were half empty even when ladies’ free skate was on, even when the venue was much smaller. Back then I realised how small circles these really are, the people who want to see our stars live on ice. Therefore I was elated when that bigger arena was nearly filled on Saturday, but also a bit perplexed: most of the people came to see Kiira, Laura and Susanna (and in that order I suppose), paying 60-120 euros for their tickets per event. The same ladies were skating a month before in the nationals, also in Helsinki, where the tickets were 15-30 euros… maybe it requires the international competition level to kick these people to the halls, or perhaps the pre-competition publicity helped.

So, with that background, I was indescribably happy for Kiira, Laura and Susanna for the welcome they received. We couldn’t hope for better represantatives in our sport elite than those three in this country. From every single interview and other public appearance we have seen of Kiira, we get an image of a young lady who is not only a top athlete and a beauty, but very down to earth, kind and even humble person. At Valio, a company which is her biggest sponsor, they say that she is perfect in every respect and she takes care of her obligations as a supportee seriously and has never let them down. And just because of all this, I and everyone I can think of, really hope all the best for her. We are not looking for handouts because of her niceness and her beauty, but I am hoping that she at least gets a break she deserves. It was not to happen, again.

Figure skating is a sport of narrow margins. The difference between a succesful program and a failed one hangs in millimeters: you land your jump just a tiny bit in a wrong phase of rotation, and you stumble and perhaps fall. The difference between a succesful program and a catastrophy may be two mistakes of that kind. It’s not for the faint hearted and you WILL be let down even when you are in your best shape and even if you are much better than your latest competition skate might indicate. It will happen many times in your career, you just hope it doesn’t happen when it really matters… There were two mistakes in Kiira’s short program: one underrotated jump (she landed perhaps 1/100th of a second too early so that the blade of her landing skate was tiny bit in wrong direction) and one jump where she had to support her landing by hands on ice. That’s all – apart from other quality scores and levels that I haven’t studied – but it cost heavily. She was nearly 10 points behind the leaders Laura and Susanna and in 7th place. Still, this is not the gigantic unjustice that made me sad about the championships on whole (even when two Finns finished in top 3, and the winner is from my hometown Espoo and even shares my birthday, April 25th! Ok, there are plenty of years between me and Laura…). No, it wasn’t that. It was what happened in Saturday.

Everything looked so good… I didn’t believe in medal anymore, unless one of the top3 really failed in their performances. Laura and Susanna seemed to be too far away if they managed to skate clean, and Carolina Kostner, who was only 4 points ahead of Kiira and in third place, really is a better skater than Kiira technically, at this point of their careers. There’s no denying in that, but still, it wouldn’t need many mistakes by either of those three leaders in their free skates to give Kiira at least a chance to medal, and overtaking three other skaters ahead of her, in places 4.-6., wouldn’t be a surprise at all, if everything went fine. Of course, it didn’t…

I am not going to repeat everything that I saw from the stands, you have seen it many times on television or YouTube by now. It really is heartbreaking to witness the bad luck Kiira is hit over and over again. She had all kinds of illnesses last year before major competitions, this was repeated this season… In 2008 World Championships she fell down on ice in an easy skating sequence, not after a jump or some other element with risks involved, just a skating sequence. And unbelievably same thing hits her again. She must have skated her complete program dozens of times, and similar kind of backward circling thousands and thousands of times. And she falls in that one skate where it matters the most. And that is what is so heartbreaking: she is the one single skater people mostly hope for the best, and for her being happy with her performances. It is easier to say: “it’s her own fault” about what happened on Friday. You can’t really say that for her Saturday’s performance even when it technically is true. She bravely answered interviewers’ questions after the free skate, but when the camera’s were turned off and most of the journalists away, she broke in tears as did her coach. She doesn’t deserve the kind of bad luck she is getting. She was ill most of the season, worked her butt off to get in shape, sacrificed much more than others because she could really fully train so much shorter time. You can’t see any ice princesses in the training halls. You can’t see them there putting make up or fitting their princessy costumes. It is impressively hard work when you hear the numbers of hours they put in their training. Kiira sees herself as a top athlete, and she definitely is one. She is also bemused of all the talk of how pretty and beautiful she is, because many times it overweighs the sport side of her in tabloid newspapers. But I digress… the long and short of it all is that she had to work like crazy to get in shape for Finnish nationals so that she even had a chance to enter European Championships… and then she finally gets better and wins Finnish championships. It all seems that finally that hard work and positive outlook on life is being rewarded, I was SO happy for her as I’m sure everyone was, and then it all ends in tears again when the silliest of mistakes swings her crashing on the boards. She didn’t deserve this, again. Now, there won’t be World Championships for her either this spring.

What I really like about her is that even when Lady Luck punches her down like this, she gets over it soon again and regains her positiveness. There is time for disappointment and sadness for everyone who experiences something like she has gone through last year and in the championships here, but in Kiira’s case we can’t see the wallowing in self-pity or any accusations towards some other people. And I respect her for that. She is already pleased with her fifth place and genuinely happy for Laura’s and Susanna’s success. This is typical of her. It could have been much worse, and she knows it. She also must realise that the fall on Saturday, and that ridiculously bad luck again, didn’t cost her medal. All the top three skaters performed well enough so that it would have been very unlikely for her to catch Susanna even if she didn’t fall or pop her triple lutz as her first element after she continued her free skate. I guess the bad luck on Saturday is easier to cope with if you remember that, as a single accident, which didn’t cost the medal.

And finally, even when it ended so sadly for our Kiira, I am so overwhelmingly happy for the reception and reaction she got from the audience, which I am proud to have been part of. It was emotional, almost moving, to experience it all. After she finished her unlucky free skate it was as if the hall was rumbling on its foundations due to all the clapping, stamping of feet and shouting and yelling, not to mention of all the support she received during her skate, which she herself mentions in her interviews. She was first of the Finns to skate that day, and because of that it was of course the first time the crowd really came alive in a big way. Seeing that she was smiling again after her program, waving and sending blow-kisses to the audience, I was so happy for her. This was exactly the response she needed. People were not only cheering for her out of pity or in an effort to console her, but also out of respect for her perseverence and stamina. It is still incredible that she could skate so amazingly well after that fall. She deserved then and deserves now all the respect and admiration she gets. She really proved everyone what a top athlete she is. She looks like an ice princess, she looks to be jumping and skating effortlessly there on ice thanks to her skill level, but most of all, she is a top athlete for us to be proud of.

She will not vanish. She will join the national team already this week and I believe we can be 100% sure that she is already thinking about the Olympics next year…

Best wishes to everyone,

Mixi1 (here) / Roikale95 (youtube)

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