The business end of the season has begun. The first ISU Championship event took place over the weekend with the European Championships being held in Bratislava, Slovakia, from January 25 - 31. For many of the European skaters, this will have been their last competitive outing prior to the World Championships in March. For skaters from some European countries, this event will determine whether their season will continue beyond this point.
And for other skaters, this was the end of the road; a long, well-travelled road that some have been treading for many years, while for other skaters it has been a tumultuous journey that could yet change direction again...
Spanish skater and reigning World Champion Javier Fernandez became just the second skater in history to break through the 300-point barrier, sealing a dominant victory and his fourth European title. Fernandez started the event powerfully, debuting his new two-quad short program layout on the international stage. He was slightly wonky on the landing of the quad Salchow-triple toe combination, but flawless on everything else to break the 100-point mark for the first time. His free skate was marred only by a late fall on a triple loop, but was otherwise superbly executed to see him earn a smidge over 200 points and canter to an easy win.
Alexei Bychenko of Israel continued a remarkable turnaround in form by taking the silver medal here. Bychenko had had a miserable early season, struggling in both Grand Prix events, and had initially looked a shadow of the skater who had taken fourth here last year. But he has improved, winning the Nestle Torun Cup in Poland at the beginning of the month and then turning in two solid performances here, landing a quad toe in both programs and a triple Axel in each as well. The silver medal here meant he has held off the challenge from his young countryman Daniel Samohin (7th here) for the right to Israel's only spot at Worlds.
After shaky performances on the Grand Prix and at Nationals, Maxim Kovtun will be breathing a heavy sigh of relief to escape with the bronze medal here. His short program - easily one of his best choreographically, was marred only by a fall on the triple Axel and was good enough for second. However, his free skate was a minor disaster, taking a hard fall on his second quad attempt (the first was also shaky) and popping the third to a badly-downgraded double Salchow. His free-skate was sixth overall, beaten by his promising young compatriot Mikhail Kolyada, and barely scraping ahead of his other promising young compatriot Alexander Petrov, but other results went his way and he held on to be the highest finisher of the Russian men.
For France's Florent Amodio, it was the end of the road. Amodio has always been inconsistent, but a fan favourite with it, and there were plenty of tears when he announced earlier that Europeans would be his final competition. And what a finish it was: for once, Amodio landed every jump, nailed every spin, and delivered easily one of the best performances of his career. His second-placed free skate was not quite enough for a medal, but the fourth place was an excellent, and fitting, finish to his career.
Russian Champion Evgenia Medvedeva's dominant season continued with a victory in Bratislava. Medvedeva led a Russian podium sweep in convincing fashion, but her rivals will be quick to notice that the double Axel gave her issues in both programs, including a fall in the long program. However, her other elements were of such high quality - she earned a level four on every single spin and step sequence - and her performances so charming that even with the fall, her nearest rival lagged six points behind. At this stage, it is difficult to see who could possibly topple her in Boston.
Elena Radionova continued her upswing in performance with two impressive programs here, and there were several who thought she should perhaps have beaten her teammate. Her strong short program saw her less than two points behind Medvedeva after that phase of the event, however, her free skate left her trailing further behind. It was an almost-flawless performance, however, and given that Radionova has the experience of a prior outing at Senior Worlds behind her, she could be the one to spring an upset on Medvedeva.
Everyone knew that the third Russian ladies' spot for Worlds was wide open coming in to Europeans, with reigning World Champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva waiting in the wings. On the surface of it, Anna Pogorilaya's bronze medal here should be enough, but a quick look behind the placement reveals its own set of problems. Pogorilaya is notoriously inconsistent, and her performances here did nothing to dispel that tag: she popped her triple loop in the short program to an invalid double, and in the free skate, suffered two of her trademark horrifying falls and received an edge call on her flip. Tuktamysheva is due to skate at the Russian Cup Final in just two weeks, and whether Pogorilaya will be in Boston remains to be seen.
Olympic and Russian champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov have shown no signs of slowing down in their comeback season, taking their fourth European title with ease and finishing more than twenty points ahead of the silver medallists. Their short program had only one small error when they performed a level three death spiral instead of a level four but was otherwise extremely well done. Their free skate was just as good, with their side-by-side jumps all clean and the throw jumps solid, and it sets up a mouth-watering battle for the World title in Boston.
Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot continue to make a splash in their debut international season, showing that the long wait for Massot's release from the French federation was entirely worth it, as they took the silver medal here. They too had a superb short program, albeit also dropping a level on the death spiral, and were only four points behind Volosozhar and Trankov after that segment of the competition. However, two invalid lifts in the free skate hurt them badly, and they were only able to post the third-highest score in the free skate to hold on to second overall.
Young Russian pair Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov impressed here as they took home the bronze medal with two composed and mature performances, missing the silver by just three points. Their short program was very clean, with just dropped levels on the death spiral and the step sequence, keeping them in touch heading into the free. Their free skate was a wonderful performance, with only a slight stumble on their impressive side-by-side three jump combination, and their quality here will have given their compatriots plenty to think about...
Do you remember the dramatic mid-competition split of the British pair Amani Fancy and Christopher Boyadji that I wrote about after the Nebelhorn Trophy back in September? Well, after that competition, the pair reconciled, and went on to not only earn their TES minimums for Europeans and Worlds, but become the British National Champions. Unbelievably, however, just the day before this event began, the pair split again, forcing them to withdraw, and leaving British pair skating with some pretty glum prospects...
All eyes were on reigning World Champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, in the French couple's first international outing since Papadakis suffered a concussion early in the season, which forced them to withdraw from all of their international events. They didn't disappoint, starting off their short dance with a superb twizzle sequence and hitting all six keypoints in the Ravensberger Waltz. Only a level three on their partial step sequence kept them from the lead after that segment. It was not for long however: they earned level fours on all but one of their free dance elements to storm home with their second European title and light up the dance battle going into Worlds.
Italian couple Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte were also very impressive, though they had to settle for silver. They did miss one keypoint in their Ravensberger pattern in the short dance, but made up for it by earning level fours on every other element to take the lead into the free dance. Unfortunately, their free dance was not their best, earning only four level four elements, slipping them back behind their French counterparts. Nevertheless, they also clearly in fine form at the right time, and the podium in Boston just got very small...
Bronze went to the reigning Russian National Champions Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev. They nailed down all six keypoints in the prescribed pattern, but were let down by only earning level threes on their twizzle sequence and partial step sequence. They more than made up for it in the free dance, however, turning on a wonderful performance that saw them earn six level four elements to post the second-highest free dance score, keeping them in third overall.
You can watch highlights from the European Championships on SBS at 2:00pm on Saturdays! The men and pairs will be shown this weekend (February 5) and the ladies and dance will be shown on February 13. Don't miss it!