Backstage a sanctuary for skaters

SUSAN GREER -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

There's a parallel universe of figure skating beyond the boards that surround the ice surface at the John Labatt Centre.

It's a world the fans don't see, except in glimpses during televised broadcasts and even then the view is limited.

Here is where the skaters come to prepare before they step out on the ice in front of more than 8,000 fans (if the house is full) and a few million more watching the televised programs.

It's also a place from which the media is barred. Even on a day when the first competition doesn't start until 2:15 p.m., a request for a guided, morning tour is denied.

The only exception to the media rule is CTV, the broadcasting network, which has its office and an interview room back there.

But even CTV has to get permission to turn its cameras on in that area.

Backstage is the one spot where the skaters are free from prying eyes, explains Jackie Stell-Buckingham, chief officer of skating programs and events and an employee of Skate Canada.

Not even parents of the skaters are accredited to go there.

The best she can do is to offer a verbal tour.

At the John Labatt Centre, the skaters' area is at the west end of the building, mainly on the first floor, with a few facilities on the second floor.

The four rooms that more commonly serve as hockey dressing rooms now have other purposes.

Two are changing rooms -- one for the males and one for the females.

One is a medical room, where the chief medical officer and the chief therapist steer the activities of up to five medical personnel (all volunteers) at a time, including a sports medicine doctor, regular doctors, physiotherapists and athletic therapists.

The last is an officials' room for the judges, technical specialists, controllers and referees.

Beyond that is a collection of "pipe and drape" rooms, created with metal pipe frames and drapes for walls, to serve a wide variety of functions.

One is the operations room, "the heart of the administrative aspect of running the event," says Stell-Buckingham.

It is from here that the jobs of the close to 300 volunteers are co-ordinated, for example.

There is a results centre, where "manual data verification" takes place, lists of starting orders for the events are produced and results are printed for distribution to the media.

And there is a small printing room filled with large photocopiers.

There is a "ceremonies room," where the young skaters who form the flower brigade put on their costumes and where the medal presenters get ready for their moment in the spotlight.

There is a carpeted, pipe-and-drape off-ice skaters' warmup area, where the athletes can do their stretches and warmups.

This is one of the places you might see skaters with tape or CD players and headphones, leaping, turning and posing as they practise run-throughs to unheard music.

But they'll do that anyplace, says Stell-Buckingham, who says a favourite spot is the wide corridor behind the top tier of fan seats on the third floor, where there's lots of room to move around and few people.


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