The opening ceremony of the European Figure Skating Championships in Espoo, Finland, made headlines this week as a 59-year-old transgender figure skater, Minna-Maaria Antikainen, captivated the audience with her performance. Minna-Maaria, who previously went by Markku-Pekka Antikainen, has been a lifelong transgender person, coming out at the age of 43. Since 2014, she has been an adult figure skater and ballet dancer and is a six-time-a-week practitioner in both sports.

Minna-Maaria was the first competitor in the unofficial Adult Figure Skating World Championships to perform in a female outfit in the men’s series in 2016. The press release for the European Figure Skating Championships emphasized the event’s focus on equality and diversity, with a theme of “Just be you.”

The “Just be you” theme was evident throughout the opening ceremony, which was designed by synchronized skating coach Helena Tienhaara and choreographer and coach Beata Leppilampi. The ceremony featured a diverse group of skaters from non-professionals to top athletes, including Minna-Maaria, adaptive skating performers, and a male synchronized skating team.

According to Outi Wuorenheimo, Executive Director of the Finnish Figure Skating Association, the “Just be you” slogan is a message for both the audience and skaters, as the sport is often considered elitist. Wuorenheimo stated that she hopes every country will start working towards equality and diversity in the field of figure skating.

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Equality and diversity were at the forefront of the half-hour opening ceremony, which was a visual representation of the theme with lighting elements and nostalgic Finnish music. The show was a magnificent display of single and synchronized skating, with performers who likely never imagined performing in the European Championships opening ceremony. The diversity was highlighted not only on the ice but also in the stands and up in the air with charming circus artists.

Minna-Maaria’s performance has become a symbol of hope and acceptance for all who participate in figure skating. Her breaking down of barriers has sent a positive message to the figure skating community, inspiring others to just be themselves.

The ISU European Figure Skating Championships® at Espoo Metro Areena will be held from January 25th to 29th and is sure to be a thrilling experience for all those in attendance. The energy bursting from the ice is a testament to the importance of equality and diversity in the sport and will leave a lasting impact on all who witness it.

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