by Klaus Reinhold Kany
(14 January 2014) Most Europeans skating federations hold their nationals always in December, especially in an Olympic season like this one. The main reason: The European championships (where almost all of the best Europeans want to compete) are in mid-January instead of the end of January in other years. For the majority of the European skaters (unless in North America), their national championships is not the only qualification for Europeans and Worlds, but some international event count as well. But the best at Nationals mostly also compete in the ISU championships.
At Russian Nationals in the Olympic Iceberg in Sochi, there was a hard fight between the best ladies for the three spots for Europeans and the two for the Olympics. 18 ladies, mostly in the junior age, performed a triple-triple combination. Adelina Sotnikova, fifth in the Grand Prix Final in Japan two weeks before, is only 17 years old, but became national champion for the fourth time after a flawless short program with 3T-3T and 3F and a free program in which an under-rotation and a step-out in her combination of triple Lutz and triple loop was her only mistake. Julia Lipnitskaia, second at the Grand Prix Final, won another silver medal, but was the best in the free program. Both are candidates for a medal even at the Olympics, if they skate their best. Third was Elena Radionova, but she is too young to compete at Europeans, Olympics or Worlds. Lisa Tuktamysheva was out of shape and only tenth.
The only Italian ladies medal candidate for Europeans and Olympics did not compete at Nationals in Merano. Carolina Kostner was excused with back problems which had affected her already during the Grand Prix. So Valentina Marchei who mainly trains in the Detroit skating club, won the gold. In France, Maé-Bérénice Méité is national champion for the first time after being second four times, although she performed an error-filled free program after an excellent short program. At German Nationals in Berlin, Nathalie Weinzierl, 20th at Worlds in London/Ontario, gave two very good performances, became first for the first time and also qualified for Sochi at three internationals competitions in the fall. Sarah Hecken, who had been at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, was second and will compete at least at Europeans as well, but was far behind.
Old and new British champion for the eleventh time is Jenna McCorkell after a faultless short and a so-so long program. Austrian champion is Kerstin Frank, Swiss champion Russian-born Anna Ovcharova and Finnish champion Juulia Turkkila, but none of these last ones is expected to finish near a medal at Europeans.
Maxim Kovtun, fifth of the Grand Prix Final, won Russian Nationals in the men’s competition and beat Evgeni Plushenko. In the short, Kovtun landed a good quad Salchow and a shaky quad toe-loop, in the long both quads once and two triple axels as well. He only missed the second Salchow. Plushenko had been in the lead after a new short program to the famous “Tango de Roxanne” in which he had a combination of quad and triple toe-loop, a triple axel and a triple lutz, but his spins were slow. After a good quad toe-loop at the beginning of the long program to a mixture of former Plushenko music pieces, his second toe-loop was only triple. Then he tried axels, but three times they were only double. So the last one did not count because only two double axels are allowed. After two good triples he then added a double lutz. “I do not know what happened”, he said. “In practice everything including the axel was perfect.” In the mixed zone, he said that he plans to compete only in the team event in Sochi. When he was informed that this is not allowed, he said maybe he will compete four times, in spite of all his body problems. In order to save his energy for Sotchi he said he will not go to Europeans. Russia has only one spot for Sochi, and the federation wants to wait after Europeans to decide who will compete in Sochi. Plushenko is a big star in Russia and there are rumors that even President Putin wants him to compete. On the other hand Kovtun beat him and seems to have more power for four competitions in eight days. Third at Russian Nationals was Sergei Voronov, fourth Konstantin Menshov, both of who will go to Europeans with Kovtun.
At French Nationals Florent Amodio beat his all-time rival Brian Joubert, but it was very close and neither was excellent. The four smaller federations of Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary decided to hold their Nationals together. The only two high level skaters in Bratislava were the two Czechs: Tomas Verner won with 237 points, but did not risk a quad due to pain in his back. Michal Brezina has a quad Salchow in his free program, but fell three times and earned only 209 points. Both are qualified for Sochi. Peter Liebers easily won German Nationals, mainly thanks to his superior Lori Nichol choreography, ahead of Franz Streubel who was the only skater with a quad.
New Italian champion is the former Russian skater Ivan Righini, formerly Ivan Bariev. He changed his nationality and took his Italian father’s name. But according to strange federation rules, he was not nominated for Europeans. The reason: His rival Paul Bonifacio Parkinson, who lives and trains in Colorado Springs, had the higher scores in his national and international free programs. Third was Paolo Bacchini who said: “It is sad that no Italian skater will represent our country at the big events.”
Matthew Parr defended his British title with only 173 points. No individual British man has qualified for Sochi, but Parr will compete in the team event. Viktor Pfeifer is Austrian champion again and qualified for his third Games. Switzerland and Finnland have no skater at all in Sochi. Therefore neither the old and new Swiss champion Stéphane Walker nor the new Finnish champion Matthias Versluis will compete in Russia.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy easily won their eighth German title after being absent at the last three German Nationals. But this time they came because they had started their career in the same Berlin rink and wanted “to close this circle of our career with our last Nationals.” Still a bit tired from the victory at the Grand Prix Final a week earlier, they simplified their program a bit, but still were excellent. Second were Maylin and Daniel Wende who had competed in Vancouver in 2010 and qualified for their second Olympic Games. The bronze medal went to Mari Vartmann and Canadian citizen Aaron van Cleave who are also qualified for Europeans, but not for Sochi.
Savchenko/Szolkowy’s greatest rivals Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov said they needed a break after the Grand Prix Final and decided not to compete at Russian Nationals. Trankov, however, did a good job as a TV commentator for the first time. New champions are Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov after two good programs in which Klimov’s fall on the double axel was the only serious mistake. Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov on second position also missed side by side jumps and had, like always, a relatively weak performance.
Old and new Italian champions are Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek, winners of Skate Canada 2013 and again without any mistake.in both programs. Second were Nicole della Monica and the former fashion model Matteo Guarise who will also go to all important events. In France, Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès were the only pair skaters to compete and won without fall, but with a few small slips. For the first time, they tried a real combination of two triple toe-loops, not a jump sequence like some other pairs. The second French pair Daria Popova and Bruno Massot had to withdraw after Popova’s stress fracture from October had not heeled yet. She hopes to get French citizenship early enough to be allowed to compete in her former home country at the Olympics because France has two spots in pairs. If she does not get the passport the new Austrian champions Miriam Ziegler and Severin Kiefer might go to Sochi.
New British pair champions are Fancy Amani, whose father is from the Arabic country of Oman and her French partner Christopher Boyadji. They beat the long- time British champions Stacey Kemp and David King who made several mistakes, but will nevertheless go to Sochi because both are British. Both teams are allowed to go to Europeans.
The fight at Russian Nationals for the dance title ended with a clear victory for Ekaterina Boborova and Dmitri Soloviev. The team of Alexander Zhulin had much higher levels than Nikolai Morozov’s team of Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov and made no big mistake. They will skip Europeans because they want to prepare for the Olympics. Ilinykh/Katsalapov are more talented, got more applause and skated with more emotions, but they fell on a lift in the free dance. Third are Victoria Sinitsina and Ruslan Zhiganshin who will also go to Europeans in Budapest. There Zhiganshin will compete against his sister Nelli Zhiganshina who won the German title with partner Alexander Gazsi. But it was a relatively close decision because Tanja Kolbe and Stefano Caruso also performed good programs. Both couples will try to remain in the top ten at Europeans like last year, and are qualified for Sochi because the former Russian Zhiganshina and the former Italian Caruso got German citizenship early enough.
Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat had no problems to win in France even if they were tired just after coming back from the Grand Prix Final. Second are Gabrielle Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, but they were not nominated for the big events, because they are from a club in Lyon which the federation often criticizes. Pernelle Carron and Lloyd Lones did not skate at Nationals because they won the University Games at the same time and were nominated for Europeans and Sochi. Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte won in Italy with a big difference in points, in relaxed atmosphere and without any mistake. Second were Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri who also will go everywhere.