by Klaus Reinhold Kany
(26 January 2017) The European Championships 2017 will take place in Ostrava in the Czech Republic the week after U.S. and Canadian Nationals. Ostrava is the third-largest city of this central European country (behind Prague and Brno) and is situated in the North-East, about 10 miles from the border to Poland. It is the first time since 1999 that Europeans will be in this country.
The competition will take place in the "Ostravar Arena“ (named after a local beer company) with a capacity of around 11,000 seats and a practice rink in the same complex, both a few miles south of downtown. In 2003 the ISU held the World Junior Championships in figure skating in the same rinks (Evan Lysacek won a silver medal). In 2015 the ice hockey world championships was organized there as well.
Ostrava had a lot of coal mining and steel industry, but this has changed in the last 25 years. The city has only a small national airport with only a few flights per day. Therefore many skaters, coaches, officials, media persons and spectators will either come by car or train or they land in near-by Katovice or in Krakow, both in Poland, and will be transported to Ostrava by shuttle bus.
The European championships have a history of almost 120 years and about 20 years ago the Four Continent Championships were mainly founded to have an equivalent to Europeans for all non-Europeans skaters. For skaters from Europe, the European championships are almost as important as the World Championships. No healthy European skater would think of not competing there if he or she has a chance to do so. Eurosport TV will cover many hours, which a lot of TV or internet viewers can see in North America with a British commentary.
In the ladies competition, a Russian sweep, like in 2015 and 2016, would be no surprise because the Russian teenage girls are dominant in Europe. The extremely high level at Russian Nationals in late December confirmed this. In the last two years no non-Russian lady in Europe came near them.
The 2016 World Champion and Grand Prix Final winner Evgenia Medvedeva is certainly the favorite for gold. At Russian Nationals she won 233.57 points and made no mistakes at all. But the next generation is coming.
Alina Zagitova, the winner of the ISU Junior Final, was second at Russian Nationals, but she is too young to compete in Seniors. Maria Sotskova was third in Russia, has less expression than Medvedeva, but her jumps are as good, so she has good chance to be on the podium as well. Anna Pogorilaya had fallen on her knee in practice and skated with a bandage, but in good shape and with her strong expression she also is a hot medal candidate if she skates almost clean.
The only European skater who might be a challenge for the Russian ladies is Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner from Italy who has returned to competition after two years, and now trains with Alexei Mishin in St. Petersburg, Russia. But at the Golden Spin and at Italian Nationals she did not perform all the triple jumps.
Other skaters who can hope for a position in the top ten are Anastasia Galustyan from Armenia, Loena Hendrickx from Belgium, Laurine Lecavelier (reigning National Champion) and Maé-Bérénice Méité from France (who trains in the Chicago area), Nathalie Weinzierl (reigning National Champion) from Germany, the second Italian Roberta Rodeghiero, Angelina Kuchvalska from Latvia, Nicole Rajikova from Slovakia (who trains in Hackensack, NJ) and Joshi Helgesson from Sweden (who trains in Toronto). Nobody is expected to try a triple Axel, but all of them can do triple-triple combinations. Thirty four ladies were on the entry list on Monday, twenty four of whom will reach the free skating.
Javier Fernandez from Spain, reigning and overall four time European champion, is the favorite in the men’s competition this year again although he was not in good shape at the Grand Prix Final after admitting to not have trained enough. But he was better at Spanish Nationals and won there with 300.95 points after performing two quads in each program.
His top contender is the new Russian champion Mikhail Kolyada from St. Petersburg who had won in Cheliabinsk in Siberia with 283.48 points. Other medal candidates are the two Israeli skaters Alexei Bychenko (who trains in Hackensack and was second at Europeans last year) and Daniel Samohin (who trains in San Diego, California) as well as the two other Russian skaters Maxim Kovtun (third a Nationals after an error-filled short program) and Alexander Samarin and the Czech skater Michal Brezina (who trains with Rafael Arutunian in California) in his home country. At Czech Nationals in December he dislocated his shoulder in the middle of the program and had to withdraw, but he is fit again.
Other skaters who can hope for a top eight or ten position are Chafik Besseghier from France (who lost Nationals against youngster Kevin Aymoz although he landed three quads in his free program), Jorik Hendrickx from Belgium, Italian champion Ivan Righini, Swedish champion Alexander Majorov and Paul Fentz from Germany (who was second at Nationals, but was nominated because he had the better season results than Peter Liebers). Thirty six men were entered and like at the world championships, twenty four will be allowed to skater the free program.
Two time European champions Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron from France have a great chance to defend their title with their magic style and perfection. The only couple who beat them in the last two years were Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir at the Grand Prix Final 2016, but they do not compete at Europeans. Their greatest rivals are Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloview, the Russian champions and fourth in the Grand Prix Final in early December 2016.
Second at Europeans in 2016 were the old and new Italian champions Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte who also have an eye to the podium in Ostrava. Outsider chances for a medal can also be attributed to the two other Russian couples Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin (second at Nationals) and Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov (third).
A placement between five and ten can be expected from the second Italian couple Charlène Guignard & Marco Fabbri, the Israelis Isabella Tobias & Ilia Tkachenko (who train in Novi, Michigan), the Danish couple Laurence Fournier Beaudry & Nicolaj Sorenson (who live in Montreal), the second French couple Marie-Jade Lauriault & Romain Le Gac (who also train in Montreal), the Polish couple Natalia Kaliszek & Maksym Spodiriev, the new Slovakian champions Lucie Mysliveckova & Lukas Csolley and the new Spanish champions Sara Hurtado & Kirill Khaliavin. Thirty teams are entered, twenty of whom will skate the free dance.
Two Russian pairs might fight a fierce battle for gold in the pair competition. The 2016 Grand Prix Final winners Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov have the technically more demanding elements. The 2014 Olympic silver medal winners Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov won Russian Nationals after a break of several months because she had a serious and constant ankle injury.
The German team of Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot had to skip the Grand Prix Final and the competition at German Nationals because her torn ligament in her landing foot had not healed yet. They plan to compete in Ostrava, but will reduce their level of difficulty on the throws and maybe jumps. Nevertheless they are a medal contender if they do not reduce too much.
The other top teams are the Russian pair of Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert who were third at Russian Nationals, the French pair Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres, the two Italian pairs Nicole Della Monica & Matteo Guarise (National champions) and Valentina Marchai & Ondrej Hotarek and last but not least the Czech reigning Junior World champions and second of the ISU Junior Final, Anna Duskova & Martin Bidar who will give their senior debut in their home country.
The second German team Mari Vartmann & Ruben Blommaert split three weeks before Europeans because of personal issues with each other, and, rumors say, with Blommaert’s girlfriend.