by Klaus Reinhold Kany
(3 February 2020) The ladies competition at the European Championships in Graz, Austria, had a good general level. As expected there was a complete medal sweep for the three Russian skaters from the Tutberidze school, who are one or two years older than the two time U.S. champion Alysa Liu.
The 2019 Grand Prix Final Gold medalist Alena Kostornaia (16) is the new European champion even without any quad because she has the best jumping exits, the best style, skates very elegantly, interprets the music often to the beat and has a triple Axel. In her short program she gained 84.92 points and was seven points ahead. Skating to “Departure“ from the soundtrack of “The Leftovers“ and to “November“ by Max Richter, her triple Axel was good, her triple Lutz and her combination of triple flip and triple toe loop excellent. The spins had mainly GOEs of +4, the step sequence was very good as well and the components were around 9.0. Therefore she won 240.81 overall points.
Kostornaia opened her free program with an excellent combination of triple Axel and double toe loop, followed by another good triple Axel. Five other very good triple jumps came later, including an outstanding combination of triple flip and triple toe loop which five of the nine judges rewarded with GOEs of +5 and four with +4. She only fell on the last jump, a triple Lutz. Her components had an average of 9.1.
The hope remains that she stays at the top for a longer period and becomes a big name in skating. Otherwise many people will fear that the presence of skating in the media will get smaller and smaller because no lady can make herself a name in the long run. Because two years later even younger new names beat the winners from one or two years ago. Young Olympic gold medalists who retired soon afterwards like Oksana Bayul, Tara Lipinski, Sarah Hughes or Adelina Sotnikova are quickly forgotten whereas successful skaters with a long career like Katarina Witt, Michelle Kwan or Carolina Kostner remain popular idols many years later.
Anna Shcherbakova won the silver medal with 237.76 points and also has an attractive and sparkling skating style, no triple Axel but quads (which are not yet allowed in a ladies short program). There, she skated to the soundtrack of “The Perfume, the Story of a Murderer“. All seven elements, including a combination of triple Lutz and triple loop and a double Axel, were excellent and had mainly GOEs of +3 and +4 and her components were around 8.8.
The first element of her free program was a stellar combination of quad Lutz and triple toe loop which got 19.31 points. Her quad flip was under-rotated and she fell on the second quad Lutz which she had landed forward and got only 1.95 for it including one point of deduction for the fall. But four more triple jumps were very good and a loop under-rotated. Spins and steps were very convincing. A trademark of her program of this season is the costume change from blue to red after two minutes when the music switches from composer Eric Satie to Stravinsky’s firebird.
Bronze medalist Alexandra Trusova (225.34 points) gained some elegance in the last few months because she and her coaches have seen that jumping alone is no longer enough for top positions. In the short program to “Peer Gynt“ by Edvard Grieg, her triple jumps were excellent, but her double Axel was very shaky. She seemed to try a triple Axel which she is learning now, but decided in the last second to keep to the double version. She said: “The younger kids are looking up to us and try to work harder and do what we can't. Even in our group I heard about a lot of girls and boys who don't only want to land quads but already want to do quints.“
In her free program, she fell on her opening quad Lutz, landed a very good combination of quad toe loop and triple toe loop and fell again on the second quad toe loop which was downgraded. Five more triple jumps were easy for her and the rest was at least good. Her components were around 8.4.
The best non-Russian skater was Alexia Paganini from Switzerland who finished fourth with 192.88 points. She was born in the USA, therefore also has U.S. citizenship because her parents lived and still live there and she trains in Hackensack, New Jersey. When she was 13 or 14 years old she even could do a quad Salchow, at least in practice, but no longer now that she is 18. Her short program with a good combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop and six good other elements was flawless and she had components of around 7.7. In her free program to the soundtrack of La La Land, she had five good triple jumps and two double Axel, but fell on the second triple Lutz. Everything else was clean.
Emmi Pelton from Finland is on fifth position, earning 181.79 points. The 20-year-old skater is the new Finnish champion because last year’s national champion and European bronze medalist Viveca Lindfors still suffers from an injury. Peltonen began her short program to “Caruso“ with a very dynamic combination of two triple toe loops, followed by a very good triple loop. The other elements were good as well and her components around 7.7. She opened her free program to the music “Vinegar and Salt“ by the Hooverphonic Orchestra with her short program combination, very good again, and a triple Lutz. Then she fell on the triple loop and stepped out of the Salchow in her sequence with a double Axel and a Euler. Her second triple loop was good, but she doubled the flip and had an edge call there.
Ekaterina Ryabova placed sixth, winning 181.49 points. She skates for Azerbaijan, but was born and lives in Moscow. One of her coaches is Evgeni Plushenko. The first element in her short program to "Tango de Roxanne“ was a so-so combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop, followed by a small double Axel and a triple flip which was near an edge call. Spins and steps were good. Six triple jumps in her long program were more or less clean, but she missed a flip. She said: “Unfortunately I had some mistakes but I am glad that I kept me placement in the top six. My parents were my coaches for eight years and now they sometimes give me advice. My father always comes with me to competitions, he helps me when my coach is not with me.“
Eva Lotta Kiibus from the Estonian capital of Tallinn finished on seventh place, earning 181.24 points. The 17-year-old teenager is coached by Anna Levandi who had been a silver medalist at Worlds 1984 for the Soviet Union under her former name of Anna Kondrashova. Kiibus had competed at the Youth Olympic Games in Switzerland the week before, where she had not skated very well. Her combination of two triple toe loops and her triple flip were very good, but she almost fell on the double Axel. In her free program, she performed the highest possible number of seven triples, most of them in good quality, if you have no triple Axel. She commented: "I feel amazing, it was such an experience. I skated with my heart, I didn’t think anything.“
Alessia Tornaghi is two time Italian champion and came eighth with 172.17 points. Six elements in the short, including the triple Lutz, were at least good, the spins excellent, but in her combination the second triple toe loop was under-rotated. In her free program, three jumps did not work as planned.
Mae-Berenice Meite from France finished on ninth position with 172.08 points. She got a standing ovation for her short program. The hot Latin music, her Copacabana costume in the Brazilian colors green and yellow, relatively clean elements including a combination of triple flip and (under-rotated) toe loop, an enthusiastic style and “the color of my skin“ as she commented smiling, reminded of a hot dancer at the Carnival in Rio. But in the free program, she made some mistakes. The second French skater Maia Mazzara (11th with 170.06 points) had skated for Switzerland for several years. She was second at French Nationals behind Meite because the other very good French skater Laurine Lecavelier (fifth last year) tested positive of Cocaine in the fall, does not skate at the moment and might be banned soon.
Ekaterina Kurakova is from Russia, but now skates for Poland and trains in Brian Orser’s Cricket Club in Toronto. She came tenth with 170.24 points. Dasa Grm from Slovenia ended up 20th. She was upset. Last season she had reached the 49 Technical Minimum Points in the free program for this year’s Worlds. But in early January the ISU decided to raise the minimum to 51 Technical Points, which Grm missed in Graz. Raising the points is officially allowed until two months before an event at the latest, but hard for a few skaters. The new Canadian champion Emily Bausback has the same problem with the short program, where the minimum was raised from 29 to 30 points. Therefore both skaters have to reach the new minimum at any international competition in February if they want to compete at Worlds. But these additional journeys cost money.