Aljona Savchenko, who was in demand in Espoo as a trainer for two couples from Sweden and the Netherlands who were in need of development, enjoyed the trimmings of a European figure skating championship without the otherwise often overpowering Russians.
Their stars, used to victory and confident of victory, had to watch from home this time as the others in the neighboring city of Helsinki were fighting for the medals because they were banned by the International Skating Union (ISU) because of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine.
"It's a nice atmosphere, I find the atmosphere friendlier here than in recent years, I don't miss anything here," said Savchenko, who comes from the Ukraine, has become a pair skating superstar in Germany and is now working as a bonds coach in Heerenveen Championship in Finland.
In Espoo no superiority dictated the course of events like recently Russia, and in addition a spirit of togetherness overarched the championship despite all the competition.
A medal for Germany
In the end, fellow favorites such as the Italian couple Conti/Macii and the Italian ice dance couple Guignard/Fabbri, the French season climber Adam Siao Him Fa and Anastasia Gubanova, who switched from the Russian to the Georgian association in 2021, won the titles.
But unlike the best Russian runners, and even more so their association, they did not associate it with a claim to leadership for the next few years.
Even recently shaken associations such as the German Skating Union could be happy for a change that the years of drought after the resignation of the acclaimed Olympic champions Savchenko/Massot and the many world and European championships that the combination Savchenko/Szolkowy won, sometimes again a medal was left for Germany: the bronze in pair skating, conquered by the courageous combination Hocke/Kunkel.
This cushioned the slight disappointments about the German champions Nicole Schott (ninth) and Nikita Starostin (fifteenth), who ended up in the gray midfield or even in the back of the competition.
The ice dance couple van Rensburg/Steffan from Oberstdorf made a decent debut at the European Championships, achieving the hoped-for top ten result with ninth place.
Sport wrote only one side of this strange yet memorable championship in European wartime.
The other had a lot to do with the Russian invasion of the neighbors and also showed that the exiled Russians were simultaneously absent and present in Espoo.
24 Russians started in Espoo for other nations, and a few Russian top coaches stood by the gang to support runners from other associations such as Italian Daniel Grassl, who was also the target of hostility at home.
Among the native Russians who tried their luck under other flags in Espoo were more than a handful of young men who, by fleeing their homeland, escaped the threat of conscription to the military and possibly to the war front.
There were also runners born in Russia who only belonged to the B or C squads in Russia and are the first choice elsewhere - such as Starostin, who came to Dortmund from Russia.
She from Russia, he from Ukraine
Audiences in the Espoo days also enjoyed surreal performances such as that of a Hungarian dancing couple spreading Russian-Ukrainian harmony: Maria Ignatowa, from Ekaterinburg in Russia, and her partner from Odessa, Daniyil Leonidovics Szemko.
In general: With one exception, the Hungarian team consisted only of adapted figure skaters from Russia and the Ukraine.
Another special story in particularly difficult times could also be told by Valtter Virtanen, a Finnish emergency doctor who was the oldest athlete at this European Championship at the age of 35, and the 18-year-old Ukrainian Kyrylo Marsak.
Virtanen and his German-born wife Alisa Meyer-Virtanen have taken the young Ukrainian, who left his country for now, into their home.
In terms of sport, Virtanen finished fourteenth in Espoo and was seven places better than Marsak, who was seventeen years his junior.
But he was cheered just as loudly – as everyone from the Ukrainian team, who won the hearts of the spectators.
Seen in this way, this European Championship was also marked by the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag held up all over the world.