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How the Pandemic Affects Figure Skating in Europe

by Tatjana Flade

While Russia managed to hold all their major planned skating events this season (2020/21) so far such as the test skates, the national Russian Cup series, the Grand Prix and Nationals, skaters in the rest of Europe had much less opportunities to compete at high level.

In spring most countries in Europe went into the first lockdown and ice rinks closed for weeks. In Germany (and other countries) National team members were then slowly allowed to start on-ice training again, but training was limited and depending on the region, there were many restrictions. In Bavaria, for example, ice dancers and pair skaters at first were not allowed to train elements where they are touching each other, while couples in Berlin were able to practice together. On ice training resumed in May in most places.

Germany then was the first country worldwide to hold an international and “real” (not virtual) figure skating competition, the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, in September. That was encouraging and optimism grew. However, infection numbers started to rise all over Europe again in September and the situation is now dire in most countries. Germany and others are back to strict lockdowns.

Nevertheless, some European countries organized not only their National Championships, but even smaller international competitions. Hungary hosted two international events in the fall and the National Championships on December 18 and 19. Following the success of Nebelhorn Trophy, Germany held the NRW Autumn Trophy in November in order to provide domestic and international skaters with an opportunity to compete. Belarus, although shaken by political unrest, had the Ice Star Minsk end of October and then, with the blessing of the ISU, turned their National Championship into an open competition, Minsk Winter Star, with international competitors in December.

Germany moved its Nationals from Hamburg, which was unable to organize an event under the Corona conditions, to Dortmund on December 18 and 19. However, the fields were very small as some skaters were sick (Covid-19 and other illnesses) or injured. Plus, the Berlin Skating Federation withdrew all their skaters saying it was too dangerous to travel to Dortmund and to compete.

Italy organized a national “Grand Prix of Italy” series consisting of three events leading up to their Nationals in December.  Poland, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic have been holding their Nationals together in the past years and did so again in Poland this year. Usually Hungary is part of this event as well, but due to the circumstances they chose to stay home this time.

Austria cancelled the international events they had planned, but at least had Nationals in December. Sweden cancelled their Nationals that were scheduled for December 10-13 but is preparing for the World Championships in March. Estonia has moved their Championships from December to the end of January. Switzerland and Finland for now have postponed their National Championships and no new date has been announced yet. France has cancelled everything so far, first the Grand Prix, then Nationals. Great Britain opened their rinks very late after the first lockdown and closed them again in the fall. British Ice Skating was one of the first countries to cancel their Championships. Their problem is that in Great Britain, ice rinks have been classified not as sports venues but as entertainment venues. The English Ice Hockey Association, British Ice Skating and the Ice Rink Managers Association have written a letter to the Prime Minister in the beginning of December asking him to classify ice rinks as sports venues.

So we have seen not many European skaters in action this season. A few got the chance to compete at Rostelecom Cup – Eva-Lotta Kiibus from Estonia and the Lithuanian ice dancers Allison Reed/Saulius Ambruvelicius. Kiibus also used her chance and went to Oberstdorf and Budapest. A few French skaters including Kevin Aymoz competed at the Minsk Winter Star. Latvia’s Deniss Vasiljevs, who trains in Switzerland, and Swiss Champion Alexia Paganini as well as Matteo Rizzo of Italy were at Nebelhorn Trophy as were most of the top German skaters.

The options for European skaters to compete were and are very limited. At least National team members can train in most areas as they are considered professional athletes and figure skating is an Olympic sport. However, in many places the younger skaters and children cannot train and in a worst case scenario many of them will quit the sport as a result. The danger is big that European figure skating except for Russia will feel the effects of the pandemic for many years to come.