The untold stories of PSOI 2006

Part 3: Breakfast buffets, sandwiches, after-midnight-interviews and hearts

By Mireille Geurts & the AS-Antwerp Crew

Photos ┬ę Absolute Skating

During our Antwerp stay, we kept running into skaters everywhere. In the elevator Tatiana N told us she very much enjoyed doing shows like this. Kevin liked our Sportpaleis office better than many other places so kept coming by. One time he enjoyed his sandwich so much he decided to sneakily hide and leave it in our office closet. Thanks a lot, dear! Isabelle Pieman was quiet but diligently practicing her programs and group stuff since she had as much to partake in as any of the others present. She told us skating in Belgium is complicated, and she is having a hard time getting sponsors. Well that is nothing strange in Europe, yes, we sincerely hope the elegant beautiful woman will manage to find her way and skate on for many years to come. Young Ruben Blommaert had grown into a man just since the year before and we hardly recognized him. He was delighted he was included in the group-choreographies for the first time this year, and so were we, he really deserves that! His skating had developed a lot and we hope to see him around soon.


Roman and the gang in the bar, we already told you about, and how about having a hand gesture conversation with a skater while being on the phone? Or being invited to the same skaters home; “always welcome, but I am never there, always on tour and my wife is always driving the kids around”. Humm nice, so we can just talk to... the Gardner???

Let’s see, what else is there to tell? Oh yes, hanging around in the hotel bar at night can lead to some funny incidents. Like doing interviews with certain skaters after midnight... yes, you read that right! Roman Kostomarov was very cool and simply moved his drink and ashtray to our table to give us the ten minutes we’d asked for. He may have earned a “bad boy” reputation, but books should not be judged solely by their covers. There’s a good reason why he’s a hit with the ladies, and we had a very good time talking to him. This talk by the way, turned out to last a lot longer than ten minutes. For starters, we had to know what he thought about skating in Belgium and the audience.

“Every place and audience is different. Here they have Kevin, he’s their national hero and I understand that [he got the loudest cheers]. The audience was good to us too; I like to still hear clapping when I’m taking the bows.”

For the Antwerp shows, Roman and Tatiana did skate their Carmen and Austin Powers programs, which are very different. One is dramatic and serious, the other funny, both suited the couple well, but Roman had a clear preference:

“Funny, I definitely like to skate funny. And Rock n’ roll and tango are my favourite OD:s, I don’t care for Waltz or slow stuff.”
Somehow, that didn’t surprise us. We then spent some time chatting about the Russian skating with the stars TV-show he and Navka both participated in. He liked doing the show although skating with an actress was a challenge.

“It’s hard to skate with a movie star, shit! Movie stars don’t normally skate. She’s not heavy so I can do what I want with her, lifts are fine but crossovers? It sucks! But it’s a game, it’s for TV.”

This year he’s doing the show again, so even the crossovers must not have been terrible enough to keep him away.

Then, like now, he also skated in the Ilia Averbukh Ice Symphony tour. He had fairly recently moved back to Russia after 7 years of training in the US.


He had a few candid things to say about the difference between the two countries.

“I like the US, it’s great, but I know Russia. When I first moved to America, I missed my friends and family so much, but after a couple of years, Alexander Abt moved to the US and also Vakhtang Murvanidze, you know, funny Georgian guy. They are my best friends. We slept on the floor since we had no money. I was just starting to reach the top [in icedance]. Sasha [Zuhlin] and Tatiana worked, they were richer than I was. When I moved back to Russia, it was so different. In America people say ‘hi, how are you?’ but they don’t wait for the answer. They sound like friends but they are only acquaintances. That was hard to get used to, but I think it’s nice there, nice cars, nice houses, it’s clean and beautiful and I don’t want to lose my connections there. But I’m happy in Russia!”

The sleeping-on-the-floor days are over.

“Yes, right now I have the opportunity to skate in shows and travel to different countries. That’s why I worked hard to become an Olympic champion; I get good job offers now!”

 

After the Olympics he hadn’t competed, and didn’t sound like he was going to.

“I already won everything, so for what? It’s like a book, you write more chapters, you can’t stay the same all the time. A new generation of skaters are coming and they get better and better.”

We even challenged him to predict who would win the next Worlds [2007] and without hesitation, he said:

“Staviski! They have good technique everything is good, and they look absolutely different. Their style is more mature, all others look like juniors.”

Of course, his prediction would prove right. Before parting, we were anxious to learn who his role models had been and again he answered without hesitation.

“Who created ice dancing? Torvill and Dean of course! I wish to get to know Chris Dean and work with him.”

Another bright memory is the Astrid Plaza Hotel, and even more so, Thierry Vermeiren who runs the place. The Astrid is a sponsor of the shows and the skaters always stay there. Thierry is a very professional visionary, and he treated us to the fantastic breakfast buffet. While we ate he told us about the hotel which was built in 1996. It still looked very modern to us but by now, it’s been renovated to match the present. Although the hotel already has the largest breakfast buffet we have ever seen, Thierry said it’ll expand even more to fit the health awareness of many of the hotel guests. Wow! The hotel has several kitchens and the food is “home made”. The breakfast personnel start at 6 am to be ready for the first breakfast guests.

We also found out that the annoying construction in front of the hotel should be gone soon. An official opening ceremony with the mayor of Antwerp was scheduled, we hope it happened. The construction mess belonged to the train station, which expanded the high-speed service to Amsterdam. Most of it was built underground, making the Antwerp station one of the most modern train stations in Europe. The next project is high-speed tracks to Brussels and the airport. Very good news for us!

Thierry also took us on a tour of Astrid’s next-door neighbour, a place called Aquatopia. This tropical underwater world also is used for conferences, dinners etc. Not that there aren’t rooms for conferences at the Astrid, it’s a huge, high class hotel and can accommodate just about everything, and it doesn’t cater to businesses only, so we’ll be back for sure!

 

One of the high points of our Antwerp 2006 adventure was watching and meeting Irina Slutskaya. She is a legend with more medals than most skaters dare dream of. With two Olympic medals, people were wondering whether she would turn to the pro ranks or stay eligible, and she told us she hadn’t quite decided yet. Of course, this was at a pre pregnancy and pre baby time. Since then she’s continued skating in shows, and in spite of the growing tummy kept her roll as host (together with actor Marat Basharov) for the Russian “Ice age”. She looked fabulous and radiant all through the pregnancy and by now, the world knows she had a baby boy. A year ago she was happy to be part of the Proximus Stars on Ice shows in Antwerp. Even there she was hunted by reporters and always busy, so she invited us to the show reception so we would have a chance to talk. She is just as charming and sweet as she looks!

“This is my first time with this show and I really like it. I like the group numbers and the atmosphere and the people here are really, really great.”

Irina spent years skating with the Champions on Ice tour and could compare the different types of audiences she’s encountered.

“This was a typical European audience. They are really patient. In Russia, they are different; they are getting crazy, screaming and jumping on the ice... but for me the Russian crowd is the best, of course because I’m Russian. It’s my country and everybody loves me there because I’m at home. And I like to see that people are watching and not eating during the show, or yawning.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone yawning during Irina’s programs. She’s witty and has action packed programs without a dull moment. We enjoyed watching her more than words can describe… and she was pleased as well.

“It was great. I like to skate in Europe because it’s not far from my home. I’m a home girl, It’s my first time in Belgium and I think I’ll come back some day to look around, I think it’s a beautiful country. I like to see the culture; the museums and the castles, there’s so much history here, old buildings...”

We hope she’ll be back some day so we can take her on a guided tour of the city, and have her try Belgian mussels.

“Yes, that would be great; so far I’ve only eaten the sandwiches we get here...”

Irina’s plate is always full and she was the first international woman to become the spokesperson for the American Heart Association.

“Yes, because not everyone knows what it’s like to have heart disease. I want to tell the women cause in the US heart disease is the number one killer for women. I just want to tell everyone who has problems, don’t get scared, check your numbers and contact the doctor. Take control of the situation and try to live like a normal person as much as you can. Even if you are affected, your life doesn’t stop. I will try to connect the two continents together. It’s interesting work!”

Irina has had such a long career and experienced so many things; a book about her life would be very interesting.

“I’ve talked to my agent about it and we’re thinking it over. Nothing is in progress but we’re thinking.”

Maybe the baby will keep her thinking; we’d sure want to read the Irina Slutskaya story!

All the stories we’ve shared with you brightened our week, and we’d like to hang out with skaters and related people any day. We went to Antwerp for the skating, and lots of skating we got! Watching the practice sessions were priceless experiences with gems like Roman doing Kevin’s steps, Maxim training diligently in a corner of the ice all by himself while others practiced their programs, Brian sweating over teaching the steps to the cast... and in the end we watched everyone’s united efforts fall into place and result in two spectacular, unforgettable shows. It doesn’t get any better than that and those are the images we will cherish and keep, stored in our hearts as the Antwerp 2006 adventure. We hope to be able to return next year and tell you all about the 2008 edition!







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