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2015 European Championships

Russia Sweeps Pairs Podium, Kavaguti & Smirnov Take Gold

 by Klaus Reinhold Kany


(1 February 2015)  Until 2013 at Europeans, and until now at the World Championships, the Pairs’ event had always been the first of the four competitions to finish at the championships. But this is no longer the case, and like last year it is the last event at the 2015 Europeans in Stockholm. The written press and especially TV requested a competition on Sunday in addition to the gala exhibition because there are long winter sport TV shows looking for content. Also, the Monday papers want some competition stories to run. Therefore, the ISU decided to hold the pairs free program, which is the shortest of the four free programs, on Sunday late morning and noon, though not the best time of the day for a free program competition.

This year in Stockholm there were only 14 pairs present which meant that everybody reached the free program. There were unusually many mistakes on lifts, especially those near the end of the competition. Many pairs have their lifts and throws in the second half of the program. When they choreographed their programs in springtime, they still got a bonus of 10 per cent if these elements were shown in the second half. At the end of June the ISU changed this rule, but many pairs did not wanted to change the sequence of the elements any more.

Like in the ladies competition there was a Russian sweep, but nevertheless there was a surprise. Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, the favorites, did not win. Instead, European champions in 2015 are Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov from St. Petersburg, long time students of legendary Tamara Moskvina, with 207.67 points, five years after their last victory at European championships. They had to skip the whole last Olympic season because of Smirnov’s knee surgery after a bad fall in September, but this season they are back. In a clean short program they were second, about 1.5 points behind the short program winners. Their individual jump was the triple toe loop and the triple twist better than usual. The triple throw loop had an excellent quality and got eight +2 and one +3 by the jury. They interpreted the well-known romantic music “Meditation” from the opera “Thais” by Jules Massenet and had program components with an average of 8.4.

For the free program they used the heavy “Manfred Symphony” by Peter Tchaikovsky, interpreted it very well and had components of about 8.8. The first nine elements were very convincing, among them a good sequence of two triple toe loops, a clean quad throw Salchow and two excellent lifts. Their choreographic steps were another highlight because they performed a kind of dance lift. At the end they lost a bit of power. Kavaguti stepped out of the throw triple loop and Smirnov could not finish the last lift correctly, but in a quite abrupt way. But they were quite happy about their performance nevertheless.

Afterwards Smirnov said: “I felt great throughout the performance – until the last lift. I had given everything I had and my last strength went for the throw jump, so I had no energy left for the lift. Finally we did all difficult elements clean today.”

Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov from the school of Nina Mozer (20 pairs) won the silver medal with 201.11 points and were very disappointed with this place. It is the fifth time they are second at an important international competition: Last season at the European Championships and Olympic Games behind their training mates Volosozhar & Trankov), at last year’s World behind Germans Savchenko & Szolkowy and at this season’s Grand Prix Final behind Canadians Duhamel/Radford. But they have never won a big international event.

Skating to the Asian soundtracks of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and House of Flying Daggers”, they had taken the lead in the short program. They started with a good triple twist, followed by an excellent side by side triple toe loop. The triple throw lutz was very good as well as the other four level 4 elements. Klimov said: “It’s not so easy to skate to this drum-based music because we are looking for the rhythm. It suits our fast skating style and we feel comfortable with it.”

After a good triple twist at the beginning of their free program, Stolbova stepped out of the triple throw flip. The combination of a triple and two double toe loops was excellent but the loop lift a bit slow. The next elements were very good, but at the end of the program Klimov fell on an easy step before he could start to throw Stolbova for the planned triple throw Salchow which normally is the last highlight of their program. Their interpretation of the musical “Notre Dame de Paris” was good and they had a high speed, but Stolbova almost never smiles. Later Klimov said: “There is nothing positive I can say about our performance today. It was our worst performance of the season, so there is no joy about this medal. There is no reason, everything was good in practice this morning and before.”

The third Russian pair of Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, also from Nina Mozer’s school, won the bronze medal with 183.02 points. Their biggest highlight in the short program (to the music of Sarabande Suite”) was the huge triple twist right at the beginning which got five +3 and four +2 from the jury. But then Tarasova doubled the toe loop which both had planned triple and stepped out of the throw triple loop. Morozov said: “We tried not to think about the importance of this competition. I do not think that nerves affected our performance. We will discuss it with our coach Robin.”

The first element in their free program to “Hello” by Lionel Ritchie was an even better triple twist which got six +3. The side by side triple Salchow and triple toe loop combination were in very good harmony. The two triple throws and the first two lifts were successful, but the third lift at the end was shorter than planned and they finished it in an inelegant way. Nevertheless their performances were good enough to win bronze with a difference of almost eight points to the fourth place. Their second coach is Robin Szolkowy (besides Andrei Hekalo) who works with them since September 2014 and is new as a coach, later wrote on Facebook: “My goosebumps and wet hands were rewarded with a third place at the end.”

The fourth place of Valentina Marchei and Ondrej Hotarek from Italy, earning 175.39 points, is quite astonishing. They have been training together only since last July and 28-year-old Marchei had never done pair skating before. She was a successful single skater who competed at many international championships. But she learnt the pair elements very quickly and had no fear of the lifts. “I relied on Ondrej’s long time experience and he was my best teacher”, she said. In the short program to “Malaguena”, the side-by-side triple Salchow and the triple throw flip did not cause any problems. Their twist was only double, which is no surprise as this is often the last element the pair skaters learn triple.

The first element in their free program was a very good side-by-side triple lutz. They along with Duhamel and Radford are the only pairs to have this element in their program. The two triple throws were excellent, the lifts good as well, Marchei only doubled the side-by-side Salchow which was planned triple. She later commented: “Everything is new for me and if it started like this, I’m so much looking forward to what is coming. We’re going to have a little rest and then prepare for Worlds in Montreal with our coaches Richard Gauthier and Bruno Marcotte. They have been part of our team right from when we started in July. We asked them if the partnership was crazy and they said it is possible and so we have done it.” Hotarek, who by the way is going to marry ice dancer Anna Cappellini in June, added: “It’s been awesome. Today everyone made mistakes. We have been practising for six months and we made only one mistake in the whole competition.”

Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès from France finished on fifth position, earning 167.29 points. They changed their short program after their Grand Prix and now skate to the soundtrack of Moulin Rouge. There, they made no real mistake. They started their free program with a relatively clean triple twist, followed by a very good combination of a triple and two double toe loops. Then James doubled the Salchow. At the beginning of their Axel lasso lift, they did not know where to grab each other and he could not lift her at all. The other elements were almost clean. She said: “It was a misunderstanding on the lift. I was on the wrong side of Morgan, I was prepared to do another lift.”

The second Italian pair of Nicole della Monica and Matteo Guarise are sixth with 155.77 points. Mari Vartmann and Aaron van Cleave from Germany finished seventh (155.27 points). They plan to split soon and Vartmann plans to skate with German and Belgian skater Ruben Blommaert who left his partner Annabelle Prölss in December. US skater Caitlin Yankowskas (sixth at Worlds 2011 with John Coughlin) and British skater Hamish Gaman ended up ninth (123.42 points).