Abby the pre-Olympic home for Russian figure skaters

Representing the most successful figure skating team in the history of the Olympics, Sergey Kononykhin visited Abbotsford last week, casting a critical eye on the facilities where the Russian team will live and train in the weeks leading up to the 2010 Games.

Kononykhin, vice-president of the Russian Figure Skating Federation, said he wants a relaxed atmosphere surrounding the athletes as they enter this final stage of the competitive cycle, and found the Ramada Plaza and Conference Centre suitably “cozy and comfortable.” He was also happy with the ARC Arena, where the team will train.

“It’s a very nice facility, and there’s an important thing – the ice size,” he said.

ARC is one of only three rinks in the Lower Mainland that is Olympic-sized, and it was critical to the Russian team that they be able to train on the same size ice surface as they will compete on. Most rinks in B.C. are smaller, built for hockey.

Kononykhin has an athlete’s perspective on such matters, with a history in skating dating back to his days as a national-level competitor and medallist in the 1950s. He later earned master of sport credentials, and has been a judge at two Olympics – Lake Placid in 1980 and Calgary in 1988.

Figure skating is a popular event during the Olympics, and the Russians are the rock stars of the sport. Fans and media will be eager to meet them, or even watch them from ice level as they train at the local rink. But Kononykhin says the public should not be surprised if they find the athletes shy away from the attention.

Coaches and figures skaters prefer to train in relative secrecy. They need to protect the “wow” factor of their routines.

“It’s difficult to find a new element,” he explains. “Every skater has secrets. We’re thinking about (being) amazing during the competition.”

Kononykhin has been to Canada several times. Do Russians typically enjoy Canada, and does he expects they will have a good experience here? He answered with a grin: “The results will define the feeling.”

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