2004 European Championships

Budapest, Hungary
 February 2 - 8, 2004

by Tatiana Flade

The European Championships came back to Budapest, the capital of Hungary, after 20 years. However, in the interim, Budapest has also hosted the World Championships in 1988 and Junior World Championships in 1991 and 1995. Originally, the ISU allocated the event to Budapest for 2002, but as a fire had destroyed the old arena ("Nepstadion") and it wasnít rebuilt in time, the Championships were moved to Lausanne, Switzerland. The new Budapest Sports Arena is a huge and modern building that offered all facilities to competitors and officials. There were 10,000 seats for the skating event, but only the free dance and the exhibition gala were sold out.  Attendance was also good for the Ladies and Menís free skating but rather poor for Pairs and the afternoon events.

The Pairs competition focused on a fight between the two top Russian couples Tatiana Totmianina & Maxim Marinin and Maria Petrova & Alexei Tikhonov right away. Totmianina & Marinin took the lead in the short program with a solid but not very emotional performance to "Variations on a Theme of Paganini" by Sergei Rakhmaninov. Petrova had to fight for the landing of the throw triple loop, but their lift was more difficult than the lift of their direct rivals. However, they placed second (with two first place ordinals).  Veterans Dorota Zagorska & Mariusz Siudek of Poland finished third. He had a shaky landing on the triple toeloop. The new Russian team of Julia Obertas & Sergei Slavnov (she competed last season internationally with Alexei Sokolov and he competed at the junior level with Julia Karbovskaya) left a very good impression. If she hadnít had a little bobble on the side by side spin (she explained that she got stuck in a little hole in the ice) they might have been third in the short.

Totmianina & Marinin were handicapped by a knee injury that Totmianina had sustained during Russian Nationals in early January. "My knee is overworked", she said while Vasiliev referred to the injury as "tendonitis". Unfortunately, the pain made it difficult for Totmianina to train her jumps, and the couple decided not to risk the side by side triple Salchow in the free program. They did a double, but they landed the side by side triple toeloop-double toeloop combination, a triple twist (that wasnít great), a throw triple loop (nice) and throw triple Salchow, but their carry lift looked labored, and overall their new program to "Art on Ice" by Hungarian violinist Edvin Marton lacked emotion and power. They looked like they had to think through the performance and they seemed cautious, which is not surprising when you think of the injury.

Petrova & Tikhonov, on the other hand, skated with much more confidence and expression. The 2000 World Championsí routine to "The Circus Princess" by Emmerikh Kalman featured a double Axel-triple toeloop sequence, a throw triple loop, triple twist, a double Axel and excellent lifts. They made just a little error when Petrova two-footed the throw triple Salchow. But in spite of this mistake, they still should have won, alone with the second mark. But the judges didnít seem to be ready for this, only two had Petrova & Tikhonov in first place.

Zagorska & Siudek put out a good program to "Warsaw Concerto" by Richard Addinsel, including a throw triple loop and Salchow, triple twist and their trademark lifts, but Zagorska stepped out of the first side by side triple toe and their side by side spin was out of sync. The husband and wife team claimed the bronze medal, their first European medal since 2000.

Obertas & Slavnov had a chance for a medal, but she stumbled on a throw triple flip and both had to fight for the third (!) triple toe. They started with a triple toe-triple toe sequence followed by the third triple toeloop. The audience cheered for their spectacular carry lifts, but overall the couple looked still a bit unpolished. But they progressed very quickly when you compare this performance to their first international showing at Skate Canada last fall.

After the group of five couples at the top (with Katerina Berankova & Otto Dlabola, CZE), there was a small middle group (Sabrina Lefrancois & Jerome Blanchard, FRA, Germanyís Eva-Maria Fitze & Rico Rex and Marylin Pla & Yannick Bonheur, FRA), whereas the couples ranked ninth and lower were rather weak. From these couples, only Rebecca Handke & Daniel Wende of Germany looked promising.

In the predictions of the Menís event, probably everybody had defending Champion Evgeni Plushenko first. In spite of his knee problems (meniscus injury in the right knee, pain in the left knee) the 21-year-old Russian looked like the clear winner. While Brian Joubert (FRA) and Ilia Klimkin (RUS) are talented and have everything they need to reach the top including a quadruple jump, they both have been held back by inconsistency in the past.

Plushenko won his qualifying group A easily, he even reeled off a quad toe-triple toe-double loop combination and two triple Axels (one with triple toe). Well, if he had just skated like this in the free skating, the result would have been different! Joubert claimed the victory in group B that was harder. He had a few shaky jumps, but he hit a quad toe and a triple Axel. Actually, his teammate Frederic Dambier looked stronger in the qualifying, but his jumps are small, and the judges donít appreciate him so much as it seems. Dambier finished second in Joubertís group, while Klimkin fell on his quad in qualifying group B, but it was enough to place second.

Plushenko was a bit less confident than usual in the short program. He barely saved the quad toe and added just a double toe for his combination. His triple Axel and Lutz were solid, and while his circle footwork is excellent, the straight line is a bit short and contains too much posing. A 6.0 he received was very generous, but the first place could be justified, although Joubert looked convincing.

Skating last to "Time" by Pink Floyd, the Frenchman nailed a quad-triple toe loop combination, a triple Axel (which could have been better), and a triple flip, but he touched down with his free leg on the flying sit spin and his spins in general could be better. Joubert was second and very pleased with his performance.

Klimkin put out an excellent short, and if somebody would have deserved the first place over Plushenko, it would have been him and not Joubert. The former World Junior Champion completed a triple Axel-triple toeloop combination, a quad toe, a double Axel, and his spins as well as his interpretation of "Swan Lake" were the best of the day. The Russian earned a partial standing ovation for his performance.

In fourth place was Dambier with the only quadruple Salchow (with double toeloop as his combination). Young Andrei Griazev (RUS), who skated well in qualifying (3rd), bombed.  He fell on the Axel and stumbled on the flip, and plummeted to 13th place!  Stefan Lindemann missed the quad that he had been landing consistently in practice in Budapest, but he held his ground and was 7th after the short. Kristoffer Berntsson (SWE) pulled off a clean program with a triple Axel and triple Lutz-triple toe which put him in fifth place and subsequently earned a place in the last warm-up group for the free skating. Andrejs Vlascenko (GER) did only a triple Axel-double toeloop and was sixth.

In the free skating, the two Frenchmen skated first in the last group. Dambier decided to play it safe and went only for one quad, his Salchow, right at the beginning, followed by a triple Salchow-triple toeloop combination. He also landed two triple Axels and three more triples, but he doubled the loop and his program to "Moulin Rouge" looked empty in places. Dambier remained in fourth place, his best finish at Europeans.

Joubert looked focused and was ready to attack. He opened his "Matrix" program with a solo quad toeloop, a triple flip and a triple Axel (the Axel never looks entirely confident). Then he hit a quad-triple toeloop (he had planned to move the combination to the second quad but he didnít even tell his coach about it) and the remaining triple jumps, but his spins were mediocre and the program itself is rather simply constructed. But never mind, he skated it well and clean.

Vlascenko couldnít do a triple-triple and popped his second Axel to slip to 7th (and the only berth at Worlds for Germany went to Lindemann who skated well, only missing his quad toeloop attempt and finishing fifth).

When Plushenko produced an effortless looking quad toe-triple toe-double loop combination in the first seconds of his program, everybody seemed to lean back and wanted to enjoy another strong performance of the old and new European Champion. But it changed dramatically when the Russian popped his triple Axel attempt and had a weird fall! It looked like he hadnít been able to take off for the jump. Plushenko tried the Axel again right away, and again, popped it. He didnít give up yet and finally did a triple Axel-triple toeloop-double loop on the third attempt, only to crash again on the triple flip. The two-time World Champion then held it together until the end.  He landed a triple Lutz and even another triple Axel in the fourth minute of his performance, but his spins looked labored and the exquisite choreography of his balletic tribute to Vaclav Nijinski was partly lost. With two first place ordinals (not deserved), five seconds, one third and one fourth place (these two werenít deserved either, it wasnít that bad), Plushenko lost to Joubert. It was the first European title for a Frenchman since Alain Calmat had won in 1964.

Klimkin skated last and started out like he wanted to challenge for the title. He completed a triple Axel-triple toe loop, a quad-triple toe loop and a beautiful camel spin, but then he went down on his second quad toe attempt. He also stumbled on his triple flip (twice), but his routine "Dr. Diesel" was highlighted by a triple Salchow out of a camel spin and interesting transition moves. Klimkin even got a first place ordinal (that was uncalled for, maybe a judge wanted to save the gold for Russia, no matter what), but mostly thirds and captured the bronze, his first medal at Europeans.

The ice dancing event promised to be an exciting competition. Tatiana Navka & Roman Kostomarov (RUS) have been on the rise this season, winning all three of their Grand Prix events and the Grand Prix Final. Albena Denkova & Maxim Staviski (BUL), last yearís silver medallists, lost narrowly to them at Skate Canada but later in the season, they made some unnecessary mistakes in their programs.

Navka & Kostomarov took the lead in the "Austrian Waltz" compulsory dance. They do have great lines, but the timing of the Waltz poses a problem for them sometimes. The Bulgarians looked very precise in their Austrian, dancing close together. They were second on a six to three split against Navka & Kostomarov.  Elena Grushina & Ruslan Goncharov (UKR) usually have solid compulsories, and the Waltz was no exception although they seemed to lose speed in the corners.

The Original Dance (OD) then, unfortunately, took the excitement out of the competition. The Russians won with their difficult side by side footwork and strong expression in their Blues and RockíníRoll routine. Their spin and their lift are good but not the most impressive ones. Denkova & Staviski have a wonderful Blues with great interpretation, a difficult lift and spin. The Swing part of their routine isnít as well interpreted, but it features a demanding side by side footwork that like Navkaís consists of twizzles in both directions and is mostly on one foot. But the judges thankfully used the opportunity when the Bulgarians were a little bit out of sync at the beginning of their side by side. They slipped to third which meant they wouldnít win, even if they had the best free dance.  Grushina & Goncharov produced a nice and clean dance to Swing and Blues to place second. They have improved their program constantly throughout the season.

In the free dance, Denkova & Staviski delivered one of their best performances this season with a captivating, difficult dance to Georg Friedrich Haendelís "Suite No 4 in D-minor". Their program not only contains interesting lifts and spins but also the best transitions. It should have earned them the first place in the free dance, but it didnít. Skating to "Pink Panther" and "Austin Powers" Navka & Kostomarov entertained the crowd, but their dance isnít as difficult and seems somewhat flat in the middle part. They won the free dance with four first, four second and one third place ordinal. Grushina & Goncharov skated their "Hanging Escape" program well to win their first medal at Europeans, the bronze.

Isabelle Delobel & Olivier Schoenfelder of France finished fourth. The OD is their strongest part of the competition this year, but Delobel fell, unfortunaly, on a twizzle in the side by side footwork. Galit Chait & Sergei Sakhnovski (ISR) were very energetic as usual in their OD and they were disappointed to remain behind the French in spite of the fall. Their "Clowns" free dance looks too frentic and the rotational lifts are repetitive. They came in fifth. Frederica Faiella & Massimo Scali finally skated their Tango free dance without stumbles or a fall and were sixth in Budapest. They are very expressive but need to improve the technical aspects of their skating.

The Ladies competition started with a surprise when Elena Sokolova (RUS), one of the top contenders, was ranked only sixth in the short program. Due to the withdrawal of two competitors, the qualifying round had been cancelled, and there was a free draw. Sokolova had bad luck and drew to skate first, but many other strong ladies also skated early. The defending silver medallist looked slow and hesitant in her program "Strange Paradise" (a modern adaption of the "Polovetsian Dances" by Bond), and she double-footed her triple flip. The judges gave her marks as low as 4.7 for required elements.

Julia Sebestyen of Hungary grabbed the lead with a solid performance to a Waltz by Shostakovich. Her triple Lutz is very high, and her spins are also excellent.

Elena Liashenko (UKR) took second place in the short program. The veteran competitor skated a clean and mature program to "Otonal" by Raoul di Blasio.

The third place for the second Hungarian, Viktoria Pavuk, was probably the biggest surprise in the Ladies event. The 17-year-old nailed a triple Lutz-triple toe loop (but the second jump of the combination was under-rotated), and also a triple flip anddouble Axel. Her skating, however is still junior-ish, and she was marked too high.

The always composed and elegant Susanna PŲykiŲ of Finland was fourth in the short with a good program to "Henry V", while Italyís Carolina Kostner hit a triple flip-triple toe loop combination, but stumbled out of a doubled loop, to finish fifth.

Sokolova had nothing to lose in the free program, and so she risked everything she had. The Russian Champion opened her program with a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, followed by a triple flip and a triple Salchow-triple toe loop (the second jump appeared cheated). She also produced a triple loop and a double Axel, only her second Lutz was a double. The "Notre Dame de Paris" program could have been a bit more dynamic, maybe. Overall, Sokolova needs to work on her spins and the transitions. But she soared from sixth to third to claim the bronze medal.

Liashenko was bothered by a foot injury (infected toe), but she pulled herself together and delivered a strong program that contained six triples (she deliberately left out the loop, her weakest jump) a double Axel, nice spins and she had good presentation. The Ukrainian was ranked third in the free program and second overall. It was her first medal at Europeans since 1995, when she had taken the bronze!

Sebestyen looked solid in her Tango program that contained a triple Salchow, triple Lutz-double toe loop combination, triple loop and triple flip as well as good spins, but she didnít risk a triple-triple combination.  Her first flip was a double and she stepped out of the triple toe loop (in combination with double toe). But the 22-year-old won the free skating and the title, the first European title for a Hungarian lady. You could find arguments for all three to place them first Ė Sebestyen, Liashenko or Sokolova, and the ordinals were mixed.

Pavuk skated well, but the judges took the lack of maturity and her sometimes scratchy jumps into account, and she finished fourth (marks as high as 5.8 for technical merit and 5.7 for presentation, still, were too much). Kostner remained in fifth place. She landed her triple flip-triple toe loop combination (with a three turn), but most of her jumps looked shaky. PŲykiŲ made just a little mistake, she doubled the flip but repeated it successfully later. The Finnish skater could have been ranked higher, because her presentation is beautiful, although her spins are a bit simple. She came in sixth.

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