by Klaus Reinhold Kany
(25 January 2019) The first skaters to finish the European Championships in Minsk in Belorus were the pairs. As expected there were already record numbers of spectators in both parts of the competition, The Minsk Arena was sold out on both days with more than 12,000 people even there was no Belorussian pair and the competition did not take place on the weekend, but on Wednesday and Thursday night.
Vanessa James & Morgan Ciprès from France, winner of the Grand Prix Final in Vancouver in early December 2018, also became European Champions for the first time, gaining 225.66 points. They are the first French pair to win Europeans since 1932. Since a couple of years, James and Ciprès train with John Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana in Florida, like the French men’s champion and the French ladies‘ champion. At six o’clock in the morning after their arrival day and three hours after they had finally fallen asleep due to time lag, both skaters were woken up by anti-doping testers, which seems a bit unfair. Therefore they were tired during their first practice and did not come to the draw of the short program.
Nevertheless, they took the lead in a flawless short program to the music of "Uninvited“ by Alanis Morisette. GOEs of +4 and +3 dominated for all seven elements, the triple twist, the outstanding triple toe loop which got even three +5 because it was executed in perfect harmony, the triple throw flip, also with two +5 because James landed it exactly to the beat of the music. But four of the five level elements only had a level 3, and therefore their scores were not extremely high, but only 76.55 although the components had an average of 9.0.
James commented, “We’ve had a few errors in our short program in the middle of the season so we had to go back and rethink what was missing and what to make better. We needed speed going from the twist to the toeloop and from the flip, and today was the first time we found it. We weren’t sure how it was going to be seeing as we hadn’t performed it in competition but we are very proud and happy to have made these changes. We lost a lot of levels, but it’s a season‘s best and we’re very happy.“
Cipres added, “We made some adjustments with our choreographer Guillaume (Cizeron) over Christmas. We are happy today but we have to keep going.“
In their emotional and innovative free program to “Wicked Game“ and “The Last Feeling“, again without big mistakes, they extended their lead to almost seven points. Their hightlights were the three lifts and the two triple throws, all of which got mainly GOEs of +4 and some +5. The side by side combination of triple toe loop, double toe loop and another double toe loop was not ideal and James touched down on the side by side triple Salchow. Their components were around 9.2. with one perfect 10.0 from the Italian judge Marco Buttarelli for composition.
James commented, “It is a dream come true. We’ve dreamt of that forever. We’re so please to have skated like this for the audience. I am so happy and proud, I can’t even find words to express how much. We are indeed happy that we didn’t stop but kept skating because we finally accomplished our dream after I don’t know how many years. We worked on the creative lifts a lot in the summer, actually when we take time off. I’m thinking a lot and writing down everything that comes to my mind doable. Then we work it out with our coaches. It’s all team work, we have very good coaches. It is a continuous work.“
Cipres added, “We sacrificed so much and did so many efforts. We’ll keep going to hopefully win more titles. We’re going to enjoy this victory for the rest of our lives. We know Vlad (Morozov) and Evgenia (Tarasova) and what they can do and knew we need to fight tonight again. I’m proud of this little team (Boikova/Kozlovskii) who became a big team now. I remember I told them at Skate Canada they will be on the podium soon, and here they are, congratulations. It wasn’t easy today. I didn’t sleep well here because of the jetlag, so I have even more time to think about everything.“
Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov from Russia, third at the Grand Prix Final in December 2018, won the silver medal with 218.66 points. They had skipped their fancy short program from the fall because it did not fit to their classical style. Instead, they used again the Rakhmanonov program (Piano Concerto No 2) from last season. Their highlight was the huge and elegantly landed triple twist which got four GOEs of +5. But Tarasova landed the triple toe loop forward, which cost them about five points. The triple throw loop was excellent again, the other elements very good at least.
She explained, ”My mistake on the triple toeloop hasn’t anything to do with our preparation – our training was good and we wanted to skate well and clean but I made this mistake. It was a bad mistake and after that we couldn’t really show the full set of emotions that we would have felt with a clean skate. Returning to last year’s short program was a shared choice. We felt the program was more powerful to skate – we really liked it more compared to the one from the start of this season, so that’s why we made the choice.”
They opened their long program to "The Winter“ by Balmorhea with another outstanding triple twist, this time they were rewarded with six GOEs of +5. Their triple Salchow was excellent, but then Tarasova missed again a correct triple toe loop which was supposed to be the first part of a combination. The two triple throws were outstanding and the three lifts very good. Their components were around 9.1. Morozov said, “In today’s program we made the same mistake as in short. Overall we worked well in the program and did the first jump excellently, two throws and we’re very pleased with today’s skating. Just these two mistakes that we did yesterday and today were punished. We’ll prepare hard and thoroughly for Worlds to fix these mistakes that came out here.“ Their new coach and Olympic Champion Maxim Trankov said he tended not to coach them much longer and prefers the job of a TV commentator to a job as a coach.
Aleksandra Boikova & Dmitrii Kozlovskii from Russia won the bronze medal with 205.28 points. With only 17 and 19 years, they might become future stars. In their excellent short program to the Russian folk music “Dark Eyes“, all seven elements were very good and the components had an average of 8,0, which was a bit low because they are not yet so well known.
Kozlovskii likes to make funny remarks and would be a crowd and media favorite in the Western world, a bit like Adam Rippon in the USA. He commented, “Of course we’re very proud of that performance, it’s the first time we have got over 70 for a short program together at an international competition. The short program is obviously an eternal worldwide hit, it’s “Dark Eyes”. Natalia Bestemianova (choreographer) has suggested this music to us and together with her husband Igor Bobrin, she mounted this program for us. In the program, I am not a gypsy, but an aristocrat. I’m having a good life, like I really have, and don’t really have too much to worry about and I can allow myself all kind of enjoyments. On one party I find some distraction, while the gypsy girl follows her own interests. So in the whole program Sasha (Alexandra Boikova) seduces me and I’m not offering too much resistance.“ He looked at her like a young Romeo in love and the pair and many journalists at the press conference had to laugh.
In the free program to the classical version of "The Nutcracker“ by Peter Tchaikovsky, they could move up from fourth to third place. He stumbled on the triple toe loop and failed to add two more correct jumps for the combination, but all other elements were good or excellent. Their components went up to 8.3. Kozlovskii said, “To win a bronze medal is a miracle. Fate has forgiven me today - it gave me a scare and then it has saved me. It’s no secret I made a mistake and I don’t know why I did it. Maybe because the competition came quite soon after New Year (he laughed). I would like to say that my partner is amazing, she skated the program perfectly today and so overall we can be happy. These are surprising emotions to be at Europeans for the first time and to be on podium right away. It’s cool. We felt a special responsibility representing Russia here, Russia always had champions on the podium. Since one of the pairs, Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert, was not able to come to this competition, we felt we needed to do it and get on the podium. And we are happy that we managed to do this.“
Boikova added, “The program was choreographed by Peter Tchernyshev and we did it already last season, but we didn’t skate it to its full potential. I am in the role of Maria, Dmitri is the prince. We’re skating the part at the end, when Dmitri already has become the prince and everything is good, like in the fairy tale.“
Monica Della Monica & Matteo Guarise from Italy finished fourth, earning 205.14 points, just 0.14 less than the bronze medal winners. In the short program to “Never Tear Us Apart“, six elements were very good, but the twist a bit small. In the free program to Tristan anad Isolde by Maxim Rodriguez, they made no big, but three small mistakes which cost them the third place. Della Monica landed the triple throw loop on two feet, touched down on the triple throw Salchow and the triple toe loop was not clean. Guarise said, “It was a big fight. But we made it through to the end and I think we did pretty well. I’m a little bit disappointed actually, because we gave everything we had. We lost tenths of a point, but in this case 14 hundredth is the difference. Even like 2 tenths is a lot.“
The third Russian pair Daria Pavliucheko & Denis Khodykin, Junior World Champions and sixth in the Grand Prix Final 2018, sits on fifth place with 185.92 points. In the short program to “When Winter Comes“ by Andre Rieu, six elements were good, but Pavliuchenko touched down on the triple throw flip. In the free program to the soundtrack of “The Great Gatsby“, their side by side triple flip, a very rare element in pair skating, was relatively clean, most other elements good, but she fell on the triple throw loop.
Minerva Fabienne Hase & Nolan Seegert from Germany finished on sixth position in their best event ever, winning 180.56 points. They are still hungry because last season they were only Germany’s pair number three and not yet at Olympic Games. In the short program to "Say Something“ by Christina Aguilera, six elements were good, the triple throw Salchow even excellent, but both fell during the step sequence. Hase commented, “It was a really good skate until the fall. Everything went optimal and it was the best short program we ever skated until that unfortunate moment. What a pity, without this fall, it would have been a new personal best score.“
In their free program to “House of the Rising Sun“ almost all elements were clean, including a combination of triple toe loop and double toe loop as well as a triple Salchow, only the thriple throw loop was landed on two feet.
Laura Barquero & Aritz Maestu from Spain, who train in Italy, are on seventh position with 160.16 points. Lana Petranovic and Antonio Souza-Kordeiru from Croatia, who train in Souza-Kordeiru’s home country of Russia (even if his father is from the Caribbean), took the eighth place with 160.16 points. Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini from Italy are ninth with 147.75 points, Zoe Jones and Christopher Boyadji from Britain ended up tenth with 138.85 points.
Miriam Ziegler & Severin Kiefer from Austria, who had been seventh after the short program, withdrew before the free program citing emotional distress. They still mourned the death of their second coach Jean-Francois Ballester who had died on a heart attack in early December. They were on good shape before the competition, but during the short program and the practice on the morning of the free program, Ziegler suddenly began to cry because she thought of him. Later they wrote on Facebook that they felt emotionally so weak because of his death that they did not want to risk falls and injuries during the free program.
Several pairs who had planned to come could not compete. The Germans Annika Hocke and Ruben Blommaert withdrew because Blommaert had a sinus infection. The second French pair did not meet the required technical minimum score. The Isreali pair was injured. And the Finnish and the Hungarian pair split after not qualifying for the Olympic Games in 2018.