Figure skating, Worlds in reduced mode
They should be the unwitting heroes of the competition. Five Ukrainian athletes, long uncertain for these world figure skating championships, which begin this Wednesday March 23 in Montpellier (Hérault), but finally announced on the ice. The skater Ivan Shmuratko, the couple Sofia Holichenko-Artem Darenskyi, and the ice dance tandem Oleksandra Nazarova-Maksym Nikitin will be greeted at length. “We plan a minute of applause in support of the Ukrainians and for peace”underlines Nathalie Péchalat, the president of the French Federation of ice sports.
Their participation was not won, of course. If the couples, fairly soon after the start of the conflict in their country, had been able to move to Austria and Poland, Ivan Shmuratko, 20, only left kyiv, his hometown, last week. Of course, not everyone was able to train normally. The Nazarova-Nikitin dancers, originally from Kharkiv, a city devastated by the bombardments, have nevertheless developed their short program with new music. They did not see themselves skating on the same hopping partition as during the Winter Games in Beijing. With the help of Canadian musician Hugo Chouinard, who also works with French Olympic champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, they will offer a poignant and circumstantial evolution.
These championships in Montpellier will in fact be very marked by the international context. The decision of the ISU (International Skating Union) to exclude Russians and Belarusians from competitions affects the world event much more than other disciplines. Because the Russians are reigning world champions in three of the specialties (ladies, couple and ice dancing) and won 6 of the 15 medals awarded at the Beijing Games. If we add the packages of the world champion and American Olympic Nathan Chen, injured, and the Chinese couple Sui Wenjing-Han Cong in gold in Beijing, it is clear that these Worlds offer a singularly reduced plateau.
Party ruined? “To say that is to show a lack of respect for the athletes present, Nathalie Péchalat gets annoyed, and it also means asking a question that is not up to the moment. The sanction decided by the ISU is justified and I fully support it. The world of sport has responsibilities. It’s an anti-Russian sanction, not an anti-Russian one, you have to understand this distinction. For the rest, we will still celebrate the title of our Olympic champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, and this communion with their public promises good times. »
The tricolor tandem, deprived of their duel-revenge with their Russian rivals Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, reigning world champions and silver in Beijing, should win again, but also want to put this championship in context, by highlighting Ukrainian skaters. Gabriella Papadakis has been particularly dedicated to mobilizing the skating community. The Federation, for its part, asked the clubs “so that the volunteers make themselves known to welcome skaters beyond the delegation for this World Cup, and we have received many positive responses”, assures Nathalie Péchalat.
Some clubs did not wait for this call to take their part. “Last week, at the initiative of our teacher Dominique Kennerson, we organized an evening of support with exhibitions of our young skaters dressed in the colors of Ukraine, and our fundraising made it possible to fill a truck with donations which will be sent the low “says Laëtitia Barrau, president of Castres Ice Sports, Nathalie Péchalat’s debut club.
The clubs thus oscillate between solidarity and enthusiasm. Because for many, this world championship is also an opportunity to turn the page on the pandemic, which has resulted in the loss of many licensees, and to revive a discipline that has been losing momentum for too many years. “Many things need to be rethought and rebuiltconcludes Sylvain Privé, former champion of the 1990s, today technical director of the Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole club, which hosts the World Cup. A vast project that can take years. But from this angle, this World Cup can also be placed under this sign: hope. »