by Klaus Reinhold Kany
(28 January 2017)
The first decision at the European Championships 2017 in Ostrava (Czech Republic) was the pairs competition in front of an enthusiastic crowd of about 10,000 spectators (in the free program) although the event was not on a weekend but on Wednesday and Thursday night. The level of the competition was excellent, at least for the top seven pairs. The organizers had made excellent publicity, especially former European champion Tomas Verner who is the official ambassador of the competition and a kind of marketing boss of the Czech federation. With his friendly and diplomatic way of talking, his language skills (he speaks Czech, Russian, English and German) and his modern way of communication (on Facebook, Instagram, on TV and radio) he was present everywhere and attracted thousands of local people to come to the competition. He is also a candidate for the new ISU athletes‘ commission which will be elected at the world championships in Helsinki. The tickets for the event were cheap: An all-event ticket was available for less than 100 dollars.
Seven weeks after winning the Grand Prix Final for the first time Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov from Russia also won their first European title with 227.58 points after being third in the last two years. They had already been in the lead in the short program with almost seven points and the second place in the free program was enough to win. In the short program, all seven elements were very good, the triple twist (with level 4) outstanding and eight of the nine judges awarded it with GOEs of +3. The triple throw loop had seven GOEs of +3, four other elements, including the side by side triple toe loop, had a level 4 and mainly GOEs of +2. They interpreted the modern music "Glam" (Electro Swing Remix) in a very energetic way and their components were around 9.1, with some 9.5 as highest ones. They earned 80.82 points.
Morozov, who speaks better English than most other Russian skaters, commented: "From competition to competition this program is working better, the emotions are stronger and the marks are higher. We are moving forward. We have analyzed our mistakes from Russian Nationals and we don’t want to repeat them. Today we were doing well. I think today we skated even better than in our previous competitions. We did a big job (hard work) before Europeans and this is the result. I don’t know what makes our program so magical. We just do our program and have a lot of fun. I hope that everyone can feel this. We really like our program and to skate it is really fun."
Competing their free program to the music "Music is my First Love" by John Miles, their first element was the same outstanding twist as in the short program (eight GOEs of +3). Originally they had planned to perform a quad twist, but Morozov later said that they had problems with this element the week before the championships in practice and therefore trusted their coaches (Nina Mozer, Andrei Hekalo and Robin Szolkowy) who recommended to reduce the level of difficulty. Next was a side by side triple Salchow, followed by a huge triple throw Salchow and a good combination of triple toe loop and double toe loop. Lifts and spins and the other elements were good as well, in spite of having two elements near the end with only a level of 2. The interpretation of the music and their general artistic impression was good but not outstanding. Nevertheless the components had an average of 9.2 with one 10.0 for performance as highest one which was exaggerated.
Morozov said: "I think today was great day for all of us, we had a good skate and a good place (laughs). I think we did a good job, we skated well and we had a lot of fun. Our next competition is Worlds, we don’t have other challenges before. We have a special plan for our preparation. I think it’s a good plan to be in good shape in Helsinki. We were emotional while skating, but feel empty now, like squeezed lemons, this is a pleasant exhaustion though. We are very satisfied as we demonstrated good skating in both programs, even despite a tiny mistake at the end of the free program today. We certainly did not think about our advantage in points when preparing for the free program, it did not have any impact on our performance today. Our skating becomes more mature. I think that even judges' perception is different now, as our skating has been evolving from competition to competition, we are not juniors any more. We show senior level technique, we just need to be more mature in mind and emotionally." Tarasova added: "Gold at the Europeans means a lot to us, we have worked a lot to win it. We believe that our main victories and gold medals are still to come, this motivates us to grow."
Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot from Germany were extremely happy about their second silver medal at Europeans, winning 222.35 total points. Until one or two weeks before the event they did not know if they can compete at all after Savchenko had injured her ankle at the Grand Prix in Paris in November and could not jump nor land throws for weeks. But she did a lot of physiotherapy in her hometown in Oberstdorf and the doctors allowed her to start jumping again the week before coming. But they still reduced the level of difficulty and did not try any triple throw Axel, let alone any quad or the combination of two triple Salchows.
The music of the short program is a rhythmical Lindy Hop dance called "That Man" by Caro Emerald and motivated the crowd to clap with their hands right from the first beat. British choreographer John Kerr, who is working in Florida, suggested it and everybody liked it from the very first day. Savchenko and Massot began this entertaining program with an extremely high triple twist, but as Savchenko does not get off in a split position they only get level 2. All nine judges awarded GOEs of +3. The side by side triple Salchow was good, then they performed a double throw Axel, because Savchenko does not want to risk another injury on a bad landing of the triple throw Axel. Three other elements were excellent, but Savchenko fell during their otherwise outstanding step sequence, which nevertheless got a level 4, but GOEs between -1 and -3. The components had an average of 9.0.
Savchenko commented: "The music is fun already. The music gives this motivation and invites to have fun every day on the ice. You just have to love what you do. In practice, I just do it like in competition. We had a preparation of two weeks following German Nationals where we performed without jumps. One week ago we started doing throw jumps. Coming back was hard but also easy at the same time, because I have a lot of experience and I know how to prepare. It is too bad we lost a lot of time, but we are strong athletes and we are always giving a 100 percent. I am really excited to be here. This fall on the steps has never happened to me before. I think I relaxed too early, because it was going well. Falling is easy, but getting up is harder. The important thing is to get up again."
Massot added: "I think it was a pretty good comeback for us after this bad injury. So we are really happy to be here and pretty happy also with this program despite the fall in the step sequence. Anyway, it’s good to be back. It was important to do all the other elements clean, just the throws we can’t do yet the way we want. It was tough for Aliona, but she fought through it to the end. She is so motivated that sometimes you have to slow her down. I know she is thinking about the quad throw Salchow and the throw triple Axel, but she knows it is important to be careful now so we’ll be ready for Worlds. We’ll be at Worlds with throw quad Salchow and throw triple Axel."
In their free program, they interpret the romantic song "Lighthouse" by young North American singer Patrick Watson. Massot chose this music and Silvia Fontana and John Kerr choreographed the program to this music. Only a couple with a strong presentation and ability to interpret can use this music, because it might sound too slow and boring if you do not fill it with suitable movements. But Savchenko and Massot interpreted it so well and poetically that they won the free program and received the highest components of their career up to now. The average was 9.4, but they got three perfect 10.0 for composition. After the same stellar triple twist as in the short program (her head is around 15 feet high in the air) they did a sequence of two toe loops, but Massot doubled the second jump. But this remained the only mistake in the program. The side by side triple Salchow was good, the lifts excellent, the double throw Axel and the triple throw Salchow as well.
Later Savchenko explained: "What we showed today is 100% at the moment. Our goal was to come back and skate clean and we managed to do so. For me this silver medal today means more than gold. Every medal has a special story, every year is a different year, every year there’s something behind. It’s amazing memories. I am really happy for today too. We did the program with same choreographers as last year. They’re an amazing team. We’re really happy we went to the U.S. and put these programs together. Especially the short program which is from Silvia Fontana, John Kerr and John Zimmermann, they said it would be good for us. As for the long, we wanted something like what we have now. We came up to John Kerr and Silvia with our idea and told them how we wanted it to be. For the short program, we didn’t know what we wanted. So that was really a decision from our coaches and we trust them if they say "it’s good for you”. After Europeans, we will go to perform in "Art on Ice” and skate in the shows for two weeks to cool down and to have fun with 10,000 people every day. We’re really excited about this and to share the emotion. After that we will come back to Oberstdorf and work even harder for Worlds. The free program music is like the light at the end of the tunnel. When you’re injured, you see a light, when you fall you stand up. This music gives us so much energy and makes us emotional."
"It was a very good competition, very good programs from everyone," Massot added. So it wasn’t easy. We felt pretty good today because we are back from this long time injury. We came here with a soft program, so it was pretty hard for us but we fought. I was indeed very emotional after our skate. The last three months and the comeback were really difficult and painful for us. We are overwhelmed, everything went better that we could have imagined. It was hard for Aliona, but also for me because I was behind her and tried to help her. Now we’re back. We do everything to win and this is the message we want to share."
The bronze medal for Vanessa James & Morgan Ciprès from France with 220.02 points, which are 24 points more than their personal best up to now, was not expected, but well merited. They are around for years but have never made big progress and never won a medal at Europeans or Worlds until they moved to the USA last July and have trained with John Zimmerman in Coral Springs, Florida since. They have the same choreographer as the German team and Fontana and Kerr selected comparable pieces of music. Their short program to the music "Earned it" by "The Weekend" and Maxime Rodriguez was flawless and skated in high speed. The triple twist, the side by side triple Salchow, the triple throw flip, everything was well performed and interpreted and the components were around 8.2. Therefore they were second eith 74.18 points.
James said: "We are very proud of how we skated today. With a nice clean short program, we got a personal best score and we are proud of that. We’re going to try to stay concentrated for tomorrow. We heard the score of Evgenia and Vladimir (80 points), but we stayed focused. And we did our job. I don’t think anyone is happier than us right now. I didn’t expect any placement, but I expected us to do as well as we did in practice. I told Morgan that after this skate, we would be happy no matter what scores will come up. Last year, we were not prepared to be in a medal position, but we are much stronger and much more mature now."
Cipres added: "For sure it’s a little heaven for us today, the score was a little surprise for us and we’re really happy. But the competition is not over for us and we’re going to stay focused to show what we do every day. We’re going to show what we have in the pocket. That was a really good performance, we could finally prove what we are capable of."
Their free program music is a modern version of the romantic evergreen "Sounds of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel, adapted by "Disturbed" and Maxime Rodriguez. The French pair interpreted it with a mood and cleanliness which they have never shown before, and got a standing ovation, like the German pair. Their components had an average of 8.9, which they have never had before. After an excellent triple twist, their combination of one triple toe loop and two double toe loops were good. They were the only pair to try a quad element (the throw Salchow) and James stepped out but did not fall and the element still got 6.49 points. The rest of the program was very good, in parts energetic, in parts romantic and included a side by side triple Salchow and a triple throw flip.
Later James said: "This music really builds. So it helps push us and I think the audience helped also. It was an amazing experience. You never get tired of this song, so we can play it as much as possible and still be as motivated to skate to it. That was a really good pick from our coaches. We are really happy and proud to skate to this music and it’s getting better every competition. We have one week break after this competition and I think we need it after all these emotions we have this week. Then, we’ll be back to Fort Lauderdale to skate with our coaches and start planning what we’ll be doing for Worlds. We have no shows planned because we’re going to rest, stay focused on the end of the season and the Olympic season. We were not expecting anything really, especially today, because two years ago, we were third in the short program and then we had a catastrophy. I forgot the program in the long program. But we have learned from this. Today we just stayed very calm and focused on what we had to do, on what we’ve been doing in practice. I told Morgan after the program, it doesn’t matter what the result is because I am very proud of us. I wasn’t waiting for it, I didn’t want to expect anything. I was prepared for anything and just to fight. We’ll continue to progress I hope. This is also the first medal for a French pair skating team in 14 years."
Cipres added: "It was an amazing day for us. The level of the competition was really, really high today and also yesterday. It was not easy, and it was also not easy for us to skate last. The audience was amazing and we are really proud of us to be on podium with these guys. We have trained a lot and we believed in ourselves. Our new team believes in us and we believe in them. Also the federation believes in us. I think it is because of everybody who believes in us that we try to do our best. The standing ovation was just amazing for us. Standing ovations – it’s not like this every day. In France we could have this sometimes because we are French. But here it was a dream that came true. I wanted to stay on the ice forever. I want to thank this amazing audience today and yesterday."
Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov finished fourth, earning 216.51 points. They could not skate for around a year because first Klimov had serious back problems and then Stolbova had a longtime ankle injury, perhaps a similar injury as Polina Edmunds. But they came back at Russian Nationals strong and even beat Tarasova/Morozov there. In Ostrava, six of their even elements in the short program (to "Clair de Lune" by Claude Debussy) were clean or very good, but Stolbova fell on the triple throw flip. Klimov commented: "We showed a good program but we made one big mistake, so we are a bit disappointed in the end. Of course, we would be happier to show a better result. But there are still some things we need to work on." In the free program to music by Rene Aubry, most elements were good, but Stolbova fell again on the triple throw flip.
The third Russian pair Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert who were fourth in the Grand Prix Final, finished fifth with 200.75 points. In the free program, Zabiiako singled the side by side Salchow, otherwise their programs and elements were clean. Valentina Marchei and Ondrej Hotarek, second at Nationals, were the best of the three Italian pairs and ended up sixth, winning 191.93 points. Hotarek got a big applause because he was born in the Czech Republic and lived there until the age of 21. Their short program was clean, but they had two wobbles in the long.
The Czech reigning World Junior Champions Anna Duskova & Martin Bidar, both only 17 years old, gave a very good senior debut in their home country and finished seventh with 189.09 points. In the short program, Bidar fell two seconds after landing the triple toe loop, otherwise both programs were faultless. They performed all usual triple elements, but they still look a bit juniorlike and therefore did not get as high components as the top pairs. After the short program, Duskova said: "It was a big thing to compete after such a great personality as Aliona Savchenko as it is our first major competition in the senior category. In the end, we were laughing at it and did not think of it too much. I was even scared to say hello to her as I did not know whether she would say hello too. I was shy. Our result overcame our expectations. We did not think of the placement and we were a bit nervous from the beginning. But the crowd was supporting us so loudly and that helped us too." After the free program, she said: I am so glad we managed to show a clean program. We had an accident about two or three weeks ago. We both fell down on a lift. I hurt my head and I had a big bump on my forehead that I looked like Frankenstein. But the doctor told me that I had no complications." Bidar added: "It is a pity we got this deduction for the late start, but this is a lesson for us. We got almost eaf from the oud screaming of the crowd.
The Italian champions Nicole della Monica & Matteo Guarise struggled more than normally in both programs and therefore finished only eighth, earning 180.99 points. Guarise said he had stomach problems and lost some weight, therefore he might have lost power. The Austrians Miriam Ziegler and Severin Kiefer are ninth with 165.63 points. The new British champions ended up 14th with 143.42 points had two stories of their own: Zoe Jones is 37 years old and has three children. She finished her singles career 16 years ago and skated only in adult competitions. But when French-born Christopher Boyadji, who is 27 years old, split from his former partner, he found Zones in the summer of 2016 and they were were a good match quite quickly. She is comparable to Deanna Stellato in the USA. During their short program in Ostrava, he had a costume mishap, because his shirt opened and he continued with a bare chest and only his arms, shoulder and back were covered.
Jones said: "I am very, very happy with our performance. Pair skating was always my dream but it never happened. Then after I had my children I chose skating to get back into shape, I have never lost the passion for figure skating. When Chris first asked to for try-out, I didn’t think it could work." Boyadji added on his open short, laughing "I think it must have happened after the lift, Zoe must have ripped it off. When I saw that, I thought I couldn’t do anything about it and therefore I began to play with it and added some choreography. I liked skating half-naked and the audience seemed to like it too." Three judges wanted to deduct one point for a costume failure, but it was not the majority, so they did not lose any points.