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2016 European Championships

Russian Ladies Sweep Europeans Podium - Again!

by Klaus Reinhold Kany
Photos by Robin Ritoss

(30 January 2016)  It was no surprise at all that there was a Russian sweep in the ladies competition at the Europeans championships in Bratislava. All three are teenagers from Moscow, but from different schools and coaches. Russia has so many excellent female skaters that the federation even could afford neither to send the reigning world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, nor the 2014 Olympic Champion Adelina Sotnikova nor the 2014 European champion Yulia Lipnitskaia. None of them was in the top three at Russian Nationals and in excellent shape, but each of them would still have won a medal in Bratislava. The rest of Europe does no longer have any top and a bit glamorous female skaters. Carolina Kostner from Italy would have been allowed to compete again after the end of the sanction against her because she had known of her former boyfriend doping. But she decided to compete only at the Pro-am competition “Medal Winners Open” in Japan and did just double jumps there. Kiira Korpi from Finland finished her career as well and was in Bratislava for Finnish TV. About 9,000 spectators watched the event, more than at any Europeans champions in recent years after the organizers had made a lot of publicity.

No lady tried a triple axel or any quad. The new European champion with 215.45 points is 16-year-old Evgenia Medvedeva who was at this competition for the first time and had already won the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona in early December and Russian Nationals in late December. The student of Eteri Tutberidze and Sergei Dudakov skated her short program to the soundtrack of the Russian movie “Melody of the White Nights” by Isaak Schwartz, with great ease and always with a smile on her face. Her first element was a superb combination spin followed by a very dynamic step sequence with a lot of variety. All her jumps came in the second half which gave her a bonus of 10 per cent: an excellent combination of triple flip and triple toe loop with one arm over her head during the flip, a loop and a double axel with a step-out. Her components were around 8.5. “This is my debut at the European championships and I was a bit more nervous than usual. It was ok, but I could have done better.”

In the free to music of the soundtrack of “W.E.” by Abel Korzeniowski and to “Allegro” by Rene Aubry, all her seven triple jumps and her three spins were excellent and got mainly +2 and some +3 for GOE, including two triple-triple combinations. Her only mistake came when she fell on the second double axel. Her components had an average of 8.8 with one perfect 10.0 for interpretation as highest one. In six of her eleven jumps she raised one arm. Later she said: “Today in the kiss and cry it was the first time I cried from happiness. There was so much emotion, I was so happy I don’t even have words. When I fell on the double axel I thought I would be only second, so the first place is unexpected. I think this season I will not try to do the triple axel because you see that my double axel is not my best jump (she laughed). But after the season I will try to learn the quadruple Salchow. I have never tried it yet. My personal goal is to continue to work and to put all my soul into my skate and trust that my coaches exactly know what to do and what to work on.”

17-year-old Elena Radionova has grown a lot since last year where she was second at Europeans behind Tuktamysheva. She is coached by Inna Goncharenko and won silver again, this time with 209.99 points. She began her short program to “Je t’aime” (I love you) by Lara Fabian with a very good combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop which came very close to the board. The triple flip was a little bit shaky, but the three spins superb, especially the layback spin at the end which was rewarded by five +3 and four +2 for GOE. She said: “I am very happy today because I upped the difficulty by changing a planned triple loop to a triple flip. Before I skated I was worried I couldn’t do it, and right up to the last minute, I still had not made the decision. My coach said ultimately it would be my call, so during the program I made the decision to risk it. You have to take a risk sometimes, and I am glad I did it and it paid off. I think at European championships the atmosphere is more celebratory than at Russian Nationals.”

Her free program to a new version of the soundtrack of “Titanic” was flawless, with seven triples, two double axels, three level 4 spins and a level 4 step sequence which was a highlight and her only element with a +3. She skated a bit less expressive than Medvedeva and therefore her components were about three tenth lower. She explained: “I am pleased with my free program although I made some small mistakes on the jumps. I will try hard to reach my peak at the world championships. I have not tried the triple axel or a quad yet, we will see in the summer.”

There were no discussions about the first and second place, but some about the bronze medal of the third Russian Anna Pogorilaya (187.05) who is coached by Anna Tsareva. Her interpretation of the Bolero by Walter Taleb and played by Vanessa Mae in the short was very convincing. Her combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop, the double axel, the spins (all level 4) and the step sequence were very good, but she doubled the loop which was supposed to be be triple, and therefore got zero points for this element. The 17-year-old teenager began her long program (to Sheherezade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov) with two strong triple-triple elements (Lutz-toe loop and loop-half loop-Salchow). But then she fell hard on her face on the second Lutz land later again hard on the second loop. The two double axels were good again, but she got an edge call on the flip. Her style was very elegant and guaranteed the third place. “I have very mixed emotions”, she commented, “because it wasn’t a very good skate, but it was a good experience for me.” Some observers thought that she might not be nominated for Worlds after her mistakes, but another one of the top Russian ladies instead. We will see.

The best non-Russian skater and therefore on fourth place was Angelina Kuchvalska from Riga, the capital of Latvia, earning 176.99 points. Her short program (to Tosca opera music) was clean and had a triple Lutz and a triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination. “This was my best short program of the season”, she said. After her almost clean Tango-style free program, in which she moved up from fifth to fourth place, some people thought she would merit the bronze medal. But her style is not as exquisite as the style of Pogorilaya and therefore she got lower components and also more +1 for the elements than +2, even if the jury was dominated by Westerners (Spain, France, Germany, Finland, Switzerland, Britain, Sweden, Austria) and technical specialist Shin Amano from Japan (lives in Toronto). Five of her seven triple jumps were clean, but the flip and the second toe loop a bit under-rotated. Her elements had mainly grades of execution of +1, with many 0, but only a few +2. “Today I gave 100 per cent and I did everything I planned”, she said.

Roberta Rodeghiero from Milan finished on fifth position, winning 170.76 points. She had been second at Italian Nationals in Torino this season behind Giada Russio (who finished 14th in Bratislava). The short program of the student of Franca Bianconi was flawless and contained an excellent triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination and a good triple flip. In her free program to the soundtrack of “Evita”, five triple jumps were relatively clean, but she stepped out of the second triple flip.

French champion Maé-Bérénice Méité was sixth (161.23 points) after an almost clean short program with a combination of two triple toe loops and a triple flip. Instead of her Swan Lake music of the fall, she worked with British Olympic Champion Robin Cousins who choreographed a new short program to Michael Bublé’s ”Feeling Good” for her. She is finally in good shape after her knee surgery last spring, but still lacks of some elegance, smooth landings and soft knees. Five of her triple jumps in the free program (to “Tristan and Isolde” by Maxime Rodriguez) were relatively clean, the second toe loop was under-rotated and she fell on the second flip.

Nathalie Weinzierl, second at German Nationals behind Lutricia Bock who placed 25th in Bratislava, finished seventh with 160.64 points. Her sexy short program to Bublé’s “Feeling Good” was clean and had a safe triple Lutz and a combination of triple and double toe loop. Four triple jumps in the free were relatively clean, but she stepped out of the second Lutz. She had some problems with a team official because she did not come to a team meeting at 9 p.m. the night before her short program, but preferred to go to bed early instead, in order to be fresh for the early practice and the competition the next morning. Her good result proved that she was right.

Several other skaters live and train in North America. Nicole Rajicova from Slovakia who had been 7th at Skate America three months ago, finished 12th after a nervous and error-filled free program in front of an enthusiastic home crowd. A photo of her had been on hundreds of posters and some TV commercials in Bratislava and all Slovakia. Her parents are from Slovakia, but she was born in New Jersey and trains in Hackensack under Igor Krokavec. Fleur Maxwell, who ended up 18th, competes for Luxemburg and had also trained in New Jersey for the last two seasons, mainly with Igor Lukanin in Montclair University and Little Falls. Niki Wories from the Netherlands finished 20th and had moved to Montreal a few months ago to train with Bruno Marcotte. Aimee Buchalan competes for Israel, finished 31st and trains in Boxborough, Massachusetts.