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2017 European Championships

Russian Ladies Sweep Europeans Podium - Again!

by Klaus Reinhold Kany


(28 January 2017) The ladies competition at the European Championships in Ostrava had a mixed level. In front of a sold-out rink with 11,000 often enthusiastic spectators, the three medalists and some others skaters showed first-class performances, but the second half was weak.

The biggest highlight certainly was the reigning and repeat European Champion and reigning World Champion Evgenia Medvedeva from Russia who ran away with 229.71 points. This is a new world record because the highest scores up to now had Yuna Kim in 2010 with one point less although at that time you had to do one more element in the program. In her short program, all elements got mainly GOEs of +2 and some +3, but nothing lower, including a combination of triple flip and triple toe loop and four level 4 elements. Her music was "River Flows in You" by Lorenzo de Luca and "Winter" by Balmorhea. The components had an average of 9.2. All her elements look easy and she uses a lot of mimikry to emphasize her interpretation.

She commented: "My performance was good, but I expected even higher scores. But I am satisfied and I do hope to show my best in the free program. There is always something to improve. The jumps could be higher, I could do it with both hands over my head. There a lot of things I canít do yet well enough and there is always room to grow. I also can do combinations with the triple loop, although it is much harder for me than with the triple toe. It is the first time in my life I compete with Carolina Kostner. It is very interesting to compete with such experienced athletes. There is always something to learn, like their attitude and focus. Today it is not only about jumping well. You also have to put your soul into each movement. You have to transmit the story and the emotions.  In the short I want to do all jumps in the second half of the program, so we found that long step sequence."

In her free program to the soundtrack of "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" and crying voices of victims of a terror attack, 17-year-old Medvedeva interpreted even more intensely and again made no real mistake at all. Seven triples were excellent and like at Russian Nationals she did an eighth triple jump, one too many, but it was intentionally performed. At Russian Nationals she had shown a combination of three triple jumps after doing the maximum number of combinations which is allowed before. She just wanted to show that she can do this even if she knew that the third jump would not count. This time the second jump, a triple toeloop, was not perfect, therefore she did not any third jump. Her components in Ostrava were around 9.4, with three perfect 10.0, one for performance from the Spanish judge Daniel Delfa and two for composition.

She said: "I did not beat the record in my short program, so I definitely wanted to do it in the free program. I was in a good mood today, everything felt fantastic - ice, audience, skating. I am really satisfied with my program and I was feeling the support of my fans. I just realized how much I like this competition, and wanted to enjoy to the fullest. Four triple jumps in a combination is my limit, I have to work more - there is room for improvement. I have to overcome myself, everyone in big sports has to. I want to try various things - this is the fun of sports. I will not have a long break after the Europeans - fly back home and one free day - then itís back to school and training. Iím really happy that I broke that world record. But this is not my main goal. My main goal I think is to have fun and please my fans. It was so nice to see this standing ovation at the end of my skate. Each time, this is an incredible feeling. I am working for these moments, like being on the podium and listening to the anthem. These moments are not very long, but all the hours that I am working on the ice every day are worth this."

Medvedeva won with a difference of more than 18 points to the rest of the field, so there were no discussions. But the difference between the second and the third place was less than one points. Many observers thought that Carolina Kostner should be second after being second in the long program. But the jury decided differently and the difference of two points in the short program decided between silver and bronze.

Anna Pogorilaya from Russia won the silver medal with 211.39 points. Her short program to a Smoku remix of the soundtrack "Scent of a Woman" was clean, the combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop excellent and she interpreted each beat of the music like an ice dancer. Her components had an average of 8.6.

"It was my best performance so far, it was clean and also emotional," the 18-year old skater explained. "But it does not mean that it was prefect. I made some small mistakes and have to work on them. My program speaks for itself, it is a Tango from "Scent of a WomanĒ. There is a lot of passion, it is a dance of the two people, a man and a woman. I dance it alone, maybe for the better maybe for the worse, I donít know, but I am imagining that I have a partner and there are even moves for that. With my choreographer Misha Ge we always try to improve the performance and add something. Weíre constantly working on the technique, the cleanliness of the skating and on overcoming myself psychologically, to make the program cleaner and sharper. The national championship was even more nerve-wrecking for me than the event here. In figure skating, the focus is more on the jumps than on the components. There are little girls that jump triple-triple-triple-triple combinations easily. Therefore I appreciate Carolina coming back, because not many skaters can be at such a high level for a long time. Today, the attention is on clean programs. If you skate clean, youíll get good components. We try not to make it kidsí skating, but womenís skating. I always enjoyed womenís skating, even when I was little."

Four of Pogorilayaís seven triple jumps in the free program to three different music pieces were good and high, but a toe loop in a combination with a triple lutz was under-rotated, a Salchow in a sequence with a triple loop a bit stepped out and the first Lutz had a deep landing. Her components were around 8.6. Later she said: "I am very happy indeed. I felt really good. The first Lutz wasn't perfect but I kind of corrected it by moving the planned triple-triple-combination to the second half of the program. At these European Championships I actually showed even more that I had planned. I did all my jump combinations in the 2nd half of the program, which made my program even harder. It wasnít planned like that. So I am really pleased with my performance and happy for support of my fans. The audience helped me a lot, they were very supportive. And as Evgenia said, they really got into the programs. I cannot describe these emotions. I went to walk around a little bit in Ostrava, to see how the people live. And I really liked it because everything is so calm and peaceful, and that helped me to focus on the competition."

The comeback of Italian skater Carolina Kostner, who will turn 30 years old on February 8 and won the bronze medal with 210.52 points, caught a lot of attention. Her last big competition was the World Championships 2014 in Japan. Afterwards she was banned for almost two years because she had hidden doping substances in her refrigerator for her then boyfriend Alex Schwazer, an Italian long distance walker, who was later caught having doped. But Kostner herself had never taken any forbidden substance, therefore it was a bit strange to ban her for 19 months. In the summer of 2016, she moved to St. Petersburg in Russia to work with famous coach Alexei Mishin. Her choreographer remained Lori Nichol. In December 2016 she did her first competition again to get the ISU minimum score for Europeans and Worlds and won the Golden Spin competition in Zagreb and Italian Nationals a week later, but in both competitions she did not perform all triple jumps.

Her short program in Ostrava was clean and included a good triple toe loop Ė triple toe loop combination, an excellent triple loop, two level 3 spins and one level 4 spins. The highlight was her energetic step sequence (Level 4) to a rhythmical drum music which had five GOEs of +3, but some people missed and melody in this program. Her components were around 8.9, with two 9.75 as highest ones.

Later she explained: "I am very, very pleased with my program today. I have started the journey not long ago and itís showing with each competition that it is going into the right direction. The joy I felt today was much bigger than being nervous or being scared. So that gives me a lot of confidence. Being directly involved in the skating it is difficult to say what has changed. You evolve as a person and your skating evolves as well. The combination of all these great personalities that gather together at the championship is amazing. That is what I love so much about our sport Ė itís not only about athleticism, itís about expressing ourselves and finding who you are and sharing it with the people.  I am very lucky to be able to do that. I went to Russia because I like if life surprises you and it usually surprises you when you expect it the least. Sometimes you can get to places, emotions and experiences that you will cherish your whole life and I feel lucky that I can do this and that I have the support of many people, my family, friends, coaches and my federation and that they trust me and that they have the confidence in our work. While I had to sit out two seasons, Iíve been training a lot, trying to improve everything I can. I tried to use my time to do things I didnít have time to before. I studied history of arts, I spent time with family and friends and this gave me a lot of power. It is not so much different now, the journey goes on."

Her free program was better than those two in December 2016. She skated to a religious song "Nisi Dominus" by Antonio Vavaldi, which is sometimes used in catholic worships in Italian churches. Her components had an average of 9.2, with one 10.0 for composition, again from the Spanish judge. This made sense because her interpretation is really mature and excellent, it is a pleasure to watch her and therefore she got a standing ovation, like Medvedeva. Five of Kostnerís triple jumps were very good, but the second loop under-rotated and the double toe in combination a bit stepped out. She did not try any triple Lutz which had always been her weakest jump.

At the press conference, she explained: "I am also very happy. It was not easy to skate after you, Evgenia. I am also very honored and happy to be part of such a strong group of skaters. I hope that we can motivate and encourage young people to follow their dreams and to fight for them. Why I chose this music? First of all, Antonio Vivaldi is from Italy and he is one of my favorite composers because his music has been written such long time ago and still feels actual. There is a long story behind this piece of music. I was reading about it and thought it was very inspiring. And the piece is very beautiful and I fell in love with it right away. Since it was my first time to be able to use lyrics in competition, the decision was not difficult to take. The atmosphere here in Ostrava was very warm and supportive. That is important for us, it gives us the strength and the motivation to go through program and skate our best."

Kostner had won her first ISU medal at the Junior World Championships in Ostrava in 2003 and now said: "Of course I remember that Junior World Championship. That year I skated in juniors and seniors. It was my first senior year. I remember being in a group of skaters together with Miki Ando and Yukina (Ota). At practice, we would challenge ourselves to do triple-triple-triple combinations. It was a start that showed me where I wanted to go and where I wished to be one day. It was my first ISU bronze medal, and now again itís a bronze medal. I donít think it is a coincidence.  I think itís more hard work behind it and not a coincidence. But it makes me very happy and it shows me that decisions I am taking bring me to the right direction. Having the honor to be host of Worlds 2018 in Milan is a big joy. If Iím going to be there, I cannot tell you 100 percent. I will try my best."

The third Russian skater Maria Sotskova, 16 years old, finished on fourth position, earning 192.50 points. All seven elements in her short program were at least good, including a combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop, the spins were excellent. Her expression is still a bit junior-like and therefore her components were not as high, but still had an average of 8.1. "This is my debut on the Europeans and I am very pleased that I did well and scored such a high score," she said. "My coaches are happy about this and so am I. I was nervous a little bit of course. For the free program I have to skate clean and I want to impress the public and the judges with my emotions. I have never competed on the same ice with Carilina Kostner before. I am very happy about her comeback. I havenít talked to her but I want to congratulate her for the comeback, she is my idol and I hope to skate like her one day."

In the free program, only three triple jumps were good, but she fell on the triple toe loop after the triple Lutz and again on the second triple Lutz. These two jumps plus a triple loop were under-rotated. She commented: "It was bad skating today. I cannot say what went wrong and why I made so many mistakes. I was not nervous, at least I did not feel that while skating. Maybe I was not just prepared well enough. I forgot the first fall immediately, so I would not blame that for such a bad overall performance today.  Bad experience is very valuable, I have to watch the video replay, discuss with the coach, and keep working."

The French National Champion Laurine Lecavelier is fifth, earning 188.10 points. This is her greatest success up to now and she could convince the jury and the spectators with her female style and also with many good jumps. Her short program included a good combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop and three level 4 spins. She said: "I had a really good preparation in this past week. I kept doing good short programs, so I knew I was in a good shape. But I kept the focus because anyway errors can happen quickly. My coach always gives me lots of confidence; she knows exactly what I need." In the free program to music from the musical "Grease" she caught the applause from the audience for a trick, a very quick costume change by uncovering a black disco dress before the dancy part of the music started. Five triple jumps were good, two a bit shaky. "I am very happy, same as after the short program," she commented. "I didnít feel too well on the ice in the warm up, but then I understood that the ice is different from how it was this morning with so many people in the rink now. Also I tried to control it too much. But I was very open to the reaction of the public tonight, they were really enthusiastic and that was amazing."

Nicole Rajikova from Slovakia, who lives and trains in Hackensack, New Jersey, ended up on sixth place with 179.70 points. She competed in a very fresh style and you could see how much she likes skating. Her short program was clean, but in the long, she stepped out of two jumps.  She explained: "Finally in the top ten at a major event. I am very glad that both programs worked out very well for me. Last year in Bratislava, I was the face of the championships and when I went out of the hotel, I saw my face everywhere. I was not ready for that, my trainings were not going well, I got nervous and it was very difficult for me. This year, I was ready for anything, mentally prepared, and I told to myself that I will show the best of me in any case. I worked and trained harder and it was visible in the end. This was my best free skate ever. Now, I want to try harder jumps, more difficult components, I want to improve myself. During my performance today, I felt the power from the audience. On Sunday, I go back to the USA as there are next competitions waiting on me."

17-year-old Belgian skater Loena Hendrickx, who is the younger sister of male competitor Jorik Hendrickx, finished seventh with 172.71 points. She had to sit out last season because of heel and knee problems and skated in spite of new pain. Ivett Toth from Hungary is eighth with 172.65 points, the second Italian Roberta Rodegiero ninth (161.00 points) and German Nicole Schott, who had been injured at German Nationals, finished tenth with 160.63 points. Joshi Helgesson from Sweden, who trains in Toronto, ended up on a disappointing 14th place, earning 152.86 points. Well-known French skater Mae-Berenice Meite who trains in the Chicago area, finished only 16th after two error-filled programs.