THE flags are up and the ice is being chilled - now all that’s needed is the skaters!
Final preparations are being put in place for the European Figure Skating Championships, taking place in Sheffield for the competition’s first visit to the UK in more than 20 years.
Crowds of up to 15,000 fans are expected at each of the sporting events at the Motorpoint Arena, and audiences are set to be wowed by thrilling routines from some of the world’s finest figure skaters.
The Star visited the venue as the finishing touches were being put in place - and arena manager Simon Bailey said he was excited at the prospect of the ‘huge’ contest getting under way on Monday.
“Delivery of all the equipment took quite a while, and since then we’ve been getting everything set up, painting logos on the ice and things like that,” he said.
“It’s the third biggest ice dance competition in the world, it’s huge. It’s very different from putting on a concert, with an event like this there are lots of different elements.”
Simon said Sheffield was chosen to host the competition as it has two top skating facilities within walking distance of each other - the arena and iceSheffield, both in Attercliffe.
Colourful flags representing each of the 39 countries taking part have been hung around the arena, and staff have also been busy setting up a special catering area and facilities for around 100 journalists and photographers.
There are also rooms for medical treatment, anti-doping checks, make-up and ‘costume repair’ - in case of any unexpected accidents on the rink.
Luckily the artificial ice is already installed, as its kept in place for Sheffield Steelers ice hockey matches from September to April.
“It’s there when we have concerts, it’s underneath insulation boards which we put on top of the ice,” said Simon.
“It takes three or four days to put the ice down every year and it’s very expensive to keep it running, we’ve got a network of pipes to keep it cool as well.
“If the temperature warms up the top of the ice can get wet and watery, so we’re required to keep it frozen at a certain temperature.”
At last year’s championships in Bern, Switzerland, audience members wrapped up in winter woollens to keep the cold at bay, and organisers even handed out blankets.
But Simon said conditions should be more favourable at the arena.
“It’ll be relatively cold but not freezing,” he said.
Workers also paid special attention to setting up the ‘kiss and cry’ area - the podium where skaters hear their results under the glare of the television cameras, before literally crying and kissing their coaches.
Sisters Nora and Laura Sallay - daughters of retired skater Andras Sallay, who won silver at the 1980 Winter Olympics - were hard at work putting up crash barriers by the rink.
“There’s a lot of work to do, there are lots of signs to put up and we need to put up decorations in the lounges too,” said Nora, aged 25.
Andras, 56, who now works as an organiser for the International Skating Union, said the event runs to military precision.
He said: “Everything has to run on time and we’ve got to make sure we have everything we need here, so we don’t have to rush out and buy anything!”
Skaters will be participating in ladies, men’s, pairs and dance disciplines, and Wednesday will see a spectacular opening ceremony attended by Prince Edward.
The ceremony, choreographed by former Olympian Robin Cousins, features a skating display by 100 local youngsters.
“It’ll definitely be quite special - the Royal visit also boosts the profile of the sport,” said Lauren Sanderson, from the skating union.
n Ice spectacular: P15-17