2008 European Championships

Zagreb, Croatia

Reports by Alexandra Stevenson

Day 5

Ladies Free Skate

“I am very, very happy with my gold medal,” said Carolina Kostner, after retaining her title by a narrow margin, 1.84. “It has been a tough week. My performance was not the best but I feel confident for Worlds. I will work really hard and I’m actually looking forward to the championships. I was upset about doubling the triple Lutz in both short and long programs. I like the Lutz. I love technical stuff. It is one of my favorite jumps. I love to train it. Because I missed it yesterday (in the SP), I really wanted to do it today and that made me a little scared of it. When it came, I was just like ‘Ooops!’ The Lutz has been going well in practice, and now I’ve screwed it up in competition enough so that I’ll be able to know what to do to adjust next time.
“Not winning is not the end of the world but now that I have won, I don’t know what to say. I tried to stay calm and focused all week. Now, I’m just so happy. Having fought for the title again, has given me experience. I love to be able to do new stuff. Maybe I’ll have another triple-triple combination for worlds but that is probably more for next season. It’s a problem of your health. You need to be healthy in order to train difficult jumps otherwise the risk of injury is high. Skating’s fun and it’s my passion. I know the rink in Helsinki (where the 2009 Europeans are) so the situation will be familiar. But now I can have a little party!”
Kostner drew to skate first of the top six. Her routine, set to Antonin Dvorak’s lovely Dumsky Trio, was beautifully choreographed (by Lori Nichol) and full of interesting little touches and surprises that make the four minutes fly by. They help to smooth over the little problems. Kostner began with a big gun: a +1.29 triple flip to triple toe to double loop, earning 1.29 over the base value of 11.00. Just as you catch your breath after that firework, Kostner leaves the viewer puzzling over why the Lutz was doubled. But that was followed by a base value triple flip, a +0.29 triple loop, and a Level 3 change foot combination spin which earned an extra +0.21.
Then another little bauble struck – double Axel to single toe. Kostner got back on track with a +0.14 triple Salchow, a Level 4 flying sit spin with a very slight +0.07 GoE, a base value Level 3 combination spin and +0.71 Level 3 straight line steps. Then back come the gremlins and her spirals destructed to Level 1! The last two moves were a slightly shaky double Axel (-0.11) and a Level 2 (-0.39) somewhat slightly erratic flying change foot camel spin. Maybe it was good enough for a European title, but not for Worlds.
In the Free Skate Kostner was only second, beaten by Sarah Meier by 1.03, although the Italian was awarded 1.94 more component marks for her Free than Meier and held onto the title. Meier was fourth in the Short and had to be content with second place. She has won the Swiss title for many years. “Last year I was a little disappointed I won silver. This year I realized it is harder to win a second medal. Everyone was stronger this year than last. Last year, I ran out of energy after the European championships so this time we’ve put more emphasis on peaking at worlds. I have been improving my programs from competition to competition. This silver gives me confidence and I hope I’ll improve my placement from Worlds last year, where I was seventh.” Last year Meier’s silver for Switzerland was the first medal in the European championships gained by a Swiss woman since Denise Biellmann was European champion in 1981.
Meier was next to last to skate performing to two piano and violin works by Tokuhide Niimi, La Folia in Black and Red Autumn. “The half hour after the warm-up was the worst in my life,” Meier confessed. “I was so nervous. The others’ routines seemed like they were going on for ten minutes in slow motion. I didn’t feel good at all. So, I am happy with how I did and very happy to have the silver medal. I thought, ‘I have to fight until the very end, even if I drop dead on the ice at the end!’ I wasn’t sure I could do it. But I did, and so I’m really pleased.”
She began with a triple Lutz to double toe to double loop combination which earned 0.14 over the base value of 8.80 but then she received the dreaded “e” signaling an outside instead of inside takeoff on her triple flip which she stepped out of and ended up with only 2.79 for this move which was meant to be combined with a double toe.
She recovered with a base value triple Salchow and improvised to attach a double toe to that jump. Then came two spins, a Level 3 +0.43 change foot combo followed by a another combo which got Level 4 +0.07. After the ten percent bonus point for the jumps clicked in, she did triple Salchow (+0.57) followed by Level 4 spirals (+0.14). Then came a very strained second triple Lutz which got -1.00 taken off the base value. She then sprang through a +0.29 triple toe and a double Axel to double toe which got the base value but nothing extra. She finished with three Level 3 moves, a flying upright spin (+0.07), straight line steps (+0.43) and a layback (+1.0).  
3. Laura Lepistö won the bronze medal in her debut appearance without presenting either a triple flip or a triple Lutz. However, she does have a combination of two triple toe loops in her repertoire. “This season has been good to me,” said Lepistö. “One month ago I won the National Championship and I was very happy that I could come here. This is my first time in this event. I knew that with good performances I had the chance to be on the podium, but I didn’t expect it. I’m speechless now. Skate Canada (where she was in first place after the Short) was a good experience. I skated my very best short program there but I was nervous going into the Free. I learned from that experience. I saw Julia Sebestyen who started well and I thought I would be fourth. I crossed my fingers and I’m happy it went this way. I was the one who was lucky. I’m looking forward to my first worlds. My goal is to get more experience. Being on the podium here gives me a lot of self-confidence. I will train hard and try to be in good shape. It seems very funny that I am now competing against Susanna Poykio and Kiira Korpi. The competition between us pushes us all. Also, I look up to the American skaters. I think they skate very beautifully and with good quality.  
The difference between silver and bronze was 3.79 and between third and fourth 2.76. Lepistö, dressed in black, skated immediately before Meier to Don Juan de Marco. She began with a +0.86 double Axel followed by a great triple toe-triple toe which earned +1.14 over its base value of 8.00. Then came a straight base value double Lutz and a +0.36 Level 4 flying sit. Then she had her only mistake, a fall on a triple loop. Following were two moves which merely earned the base value, Level 4 spirals and a triple loop to double toe. At the point where the 10% bonus for jumps checks in, Lepistö did a second double Axel which was so good it received an extra +0.71 on the GoE. Her Level 4 combination spin earned +0.29. Her layback got a good GoE, +0.43, but it was only Level 1. Then came a highlight – triple Salchow combined with two double toe loops which got an extra +0.14 over the substantial base value of 7.81. The Level 3 circular steps got +0.36. Her final move, a Level 4 +0.43 change foot combination spin, delighted the audience.
4. Julia Sebestyen from Budapest rose a place to finish fourth. She has been up-and-down for so many years. Though she won the title in 2004, she was 14th in 2006 but she keeps fighting. She finished only a sliver, 0.67, above the Finn, Kiira Korpi. She attacked her program, which was set to a violin medley by Edvin Martin beginning with a triple Lutz to double toe to double loop, a triple flip to double toe, a triple Lutz and two Level 4 moves, a flying camel and the spirals. All these moves got positives (1.00; 0.86; 1.57; 0.29 and 0.14).
But then she tired and did two doubles, a base value Salchow and a +0.07 flip. That cost her the bronze. (Had she done either move, she would have been third. A base value triple Salchow is worth 4.95 while a double is only worth 1.43; a base value triple flip gains 5.50 compared to a double which has a value of 1.87.) Though she continued with a Level 4 combination spin it earned only the base value. A double Axel and a triple toe both received negatives (-0.80 and -0.29). Then came a Level 2 base value layback, Level 3 +0.43 steps and her final move, a +0.29 Level 2 change foot combination spin.
Kiiri Korpi was fifth in the Free and dropped from second to fifth overall just behind Sebestyen. “I am a bit disappointed,” said Korpi. “because I did too many mistakes.” Although she began with a good triple Lutz to double toe to double loop and a +0.71 triple loop, and had only one slight negative, she singled her triple flip and later doubled instead of tripled both a Lutz and a toe loop.  And her layback was only Level 1.
Valentina Marchei was sixth in both sections and overall, a considerable gap, 8.88 below the others. “I’m not that satisfied, although it was my season’s best. I’m not disappointed, either. I was really excited because I was skating in the last group. That never happened before, not even in junior competition. There was no sleep for me last night. I couldn’t wait to get on the ice. At the practice it was good but not so good in the competition (the Free).
Elene Gedevanishvili was eighth in both sections and seventh overall. She suffered from an “e” on her doubled flip to toe and from having her second Lutz downgraded. She was 6.25 behind Marchei and 1.62 ahead of Jenna McCorkell who finished the highest a British woman has accomplished since Joanne Conway in 1991 was fourth. However, she was only tenth in the Free after being penalized for two falls, one from a downgraded triple loop and the other from a triple flip.

Day 4

Dance Free Dance

1. Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, second in both CD and OD, overcame their small deficit of 1.82 points to win the FD by a significant 3.04 and claim the gold with 1.22 to spare. The enthusiastic audience did not fill the three sides of the small Dom Sportovna hall, which has alternating blocks of cheap purple and bright yellow seats. The very partisan fans enjoyed cheering for routines that were so contrasting. For the first time, Domnina and Shabalin received all Level 4s and their GoEs rose from +0.79 for both their first move, the Synchronized Twizzles, and the last move, their reverse rotational lift, up to +1.71 for the second move - their midline non-touching steps. In addition three other moves gained +1.0 or more. Their silver last year was their first medal in the Europeans in which they have now competed for six years.  
“I don’t have any words right now, and no emotions either. I left them all on the ice,” said Domnina. “I am just happy we survived this competition. I want to congratulate Maxim on his birthday today and I thank him for his courage and strength.” Her partner added, “It was the hardest competition of my career. We knew this from the beginning because of my (meniscus, left knee) surgery (on December 24). It was a risky decision to come and compete. I made the decision on January 9 when I tested myself on the ice and felt I could run through our routines. The doctors did not want me to skate. They said I could swim or ride a bicycle for two weeks and watch the event on television!”
He also explained, “You know the story of our music. It was Tatiana Tarasova’s idea. She suggested we skate to this music (Khatchaturian’s famed Masquerade Waltz) at the end of last season. The routine was done by our choreographer, Sergei Petukov. The story is that poor Oksana is being forced to marry Maxim who is not a nice character.”  Oksana is dressed in a cream-y, foam-y creation and he is in a heavy rich red with much gold embroidery. The skated fourth of the top warm-up group of five.
2. This silver is Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder’s only medal of this color in this event. Prior to winning last year, although they earned a bronze in 2005, they were a disappointed fourth in 2006. They finished a large 8.86 ahead of the bronze medalists, Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski. “We are happy with how we skated,” said Schoenfelder. “We tried to give it all the power we had.” However, they received a Level 3 for their midline non-touching steps. The difference between the base value of Level 3 and 4 for this move is 0.80. The lowest GoE they received was +0.36 for their synchronized twizzles. But, they also received three +1 GoEs and a mighty +1.43 for their circular steps.
Delobel and Schoenfelder skated second of the top five. They wore less historically accurate, more spectator-friendly outfits with her in a more sophisticated dress with peek-a-boo shoulders and he in a plain white shirt. Delobel explained, “We changed the color of my dress (to a dark, muted red) because the brown was too sad. Red is the color of passion and it’s a story of passion and love.” Their story is from the movie The Piano and concerns the love that develops between a deaf woman of social standing and a manual worker in the Victorian era. She said, “Despite all the stress, it was a moment of pure happiness to perform this dance tonight. We are no longer European champions tonight. That’s sport! We will fight again in Goteborg .”
3. Skating sandwiched between the top two couples, dressed in black as a witch and a demon and dancing to Mussorgski’s Night on Bald Mountain and Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King, Khokhlova and Novitsky went at full hilt for almost all the entire four minutes. This was their third European championships and, last year, they made a major improvement, zooming all the way up from tenth in 2006 to fourth. “We still don’t realize we made it,” said Novitski, about winning a medal. “It was fantastic tonight. It probably was the best performance of the season. But (after the OD) there were less than two points between us and the Italians and that’s not much in ice dancing so we were very nervous.”
The Russians’ Free scored well and they finished with 6.71 higher than Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali. Both their circular and midline non-touching steps were only Level 3. The latter element received their highest GoE (+1.43). Their lowest GoE was +0.50 for their twizzles.
4. The Italians, who performed to the soundtrack of Barbra Streisand’s Yentl, have competed in this championship since 2002 with a previous best finish of fifth in 2005. There were no heart-stopping moments as happened last year when she dropped him on his head. Scali said, “I think we did a great job in the Free Dance. It was hard for us to skate last of the group.” The straight line part of their long lift was Level 3 as was their serpentine steps which received only the base value. There was just one GoE over +1. That was 1.14 for their non touching mid line steps.
5. Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who had dropped behind the Kerrs after the OD, recovered that ground to finish 5.69 points behind the Faiella and Scalli in fifth and 3.20 ahead of the Kerrs. Pechalat and Bourzat, who had been runners-up for the French title three times, had to withdraw from nationals this December due to his knee operation. In their previous four entries in Europeans, their best was 12th. They presented a Free Dance of great novelty in which she descends into madness and takes him with her. At the end, their grey outfits entwine and turn into straight jackets. Their music was DJ Shadow’s Organ Donor, and Maria and Space Monkeys by Michael Simpson and John King.
Pechalat said, “It was a bit hard to go out for the Free Dance because of the lack of practice after Fabian’s surgery. It’s physically difficult. But it’s good that we fought until the very end and we did a good competition without any major error. Considering that we started training only ten days before the championships, I am pleased that we have come through although I would have wished for a higher placement.” Bourzat added, “Physically we can improve and also the Levels.” Both their steps, circular and diagonal, were only Level 3.
6. Sinead Kerr fell flat going forward round the end in their first sequence of the rink. “It’s always hard to recover from a fall,” said her brother John. “I think we handled it well, getting back into play as quickly as possible. Fortunately, it wasn’t on an element.” They skated first in the top group and presented an impression of unisex aliens from Mars complete with black leather suits and silver hair. The routine was set to The Landing by Enigma. They were the top couple to receive deductions, 1.0 for the fall and 1.0 for an extended lift.

Ladies Short Program

Emma Hagieva from Azebaijan dropped out before the draw leaving 40 competitors from 32 countries. It took a marathon from 11:30 am to 5:55 pm to par them down to the 24 who got to Free Skate. In addition, the rules provide that a local competitor can skate at the beginning of the free skating if the host country does not qualify. Maria Dikanovic, who is from Zagreb and is the small country’s second ranked junior, got the thrill of her life, giving locals something to cheer for even though she had placed 40th. The youngster said, “I found out only three weeks ago (that she would compete because long time competitor Idora Hegel was too injured). I immediately went to Budapest where I train. It’s a wonderful experience. I think I will remember it forever. I’m only 16 and I already got a chance to compete at this level. There is no doubt that these Europeans will motivate me and push me further. I’m sorry Idora is not here. She was number one in Croatia for a long time. I’m honored to be here instead of her as the replacement. Everyone in this sport is my role model. We all work hard. Some are better and some are worse, but we all share the same passion and destiny.”
The 40 were initially divided into two groups. The 20 with either no ISU ranking or a low one had an open draw for an early skating slot among that 20. The other 20 were divided by ranking into two groups and each drew for places within their 10, so that the “names” were kept until the last two warm-up groups of five.
Only one skater, who competed amongst the top 20, failed to progress to the Free Skate, Teodora Postic of Slovenia. The five who made it from the lower group to the Free Skate are, in order of Short Program finish: Ksenia Doronina, 17, (lying 10th) who is the twice Russian champion and was only 28th in this event last year; her Russian teammate, Nina Petrushova (19th), who is 15; Olga Ikonnikova from Estonia (21st); Katherine Hadford (22nd) who was born in Virginia and competed in the United States until returning to her ancestry in Hungary, and Viviane Kaeser of Switzerland (24th).
Doronina said, “Even if last year was a bad experience because I didn’t qualify, it was still experience and there was much I learned, about the ambience and about how these events are run. I wasn’t as nervous as last year. I was supposed to skate to the Dying Swan but I went back to last season’s Flamenco program. I decided it’s better not to die. I decided to live (figuratively) in Spain .”
A number of the top competitors made major mistakes and were kept up in the top positions by the component marks. The reverse happened with British champion, Jenna McCorkell, who earned the top technical marks, 33.40, 1.16 more than the next highest element score which was gained by Laura Lepisto of Finland . Dare we suggest it – McCorkell’s vibrant showing, which was both powerful and graceful, was worthy of more than only the 13th best component score and that she was given such low components merely because she skated second of the top twenty! Overall she lies seventh going into the Free.
McCorkell was over the moon. “This was the best short program of my life,” she enthused. “I’m relieved. It’s something I’ve known that I can do for so long and I’ve been trying to push it out of me. I think, sometimes, I was trying a little bit too much. This time with working through Vera (Vandecaveye, her coach) and Kevin (van der Perren, her fiancé), I pulled it all together. I’ve never had 53 (actually 53.68) in the short. I know I am capable of placing in the top. I’ve got to keep from panic-ing so I don’t lose my focus.”
McCorkell presented a beautiful showing to Sarah Brightman’s Harem with a +1.14 soaring high and long double Axel followed by a triple flip to double toe which earned the base value. Her triple Lutz looked fine with two judges giving +1 and four awarding 0 (which is presented when the judge thinks the move has been adequately performed in all of its facets). However, five officials thought it only worthy of -1 which indicates a mistake and one slammed down a -2 which is for a major mistake. So who’s right and who’s wrong? Two of her spins were Level 4. Her layback, straight line steps and spirals were Level 3.
1. In the lead is the defending champion, Carolina Kostner, who skated 38th. The Italian opened her routine set to The Doors’ Riders on the Storm with a tornado of a triple flip to triple toe which is worth 9.50 and received +1.57 GoE. But she doubled her next move, the Lutz, and gained only 0.90 for that element. Kostner wasn’t really able to explain why she had the problem with the Lutz. “It happened so fast, doubling the Lutz. I guess I just lost concentration.” Her spirals were Level 4 and +1.29 but she received a slight minus (-0.34) on her double Axel and on her Level 4 flying sit spin (-0.09). Her layback spin was only Level 2 and +0.07. The Level 3 straight line steps gained +0.86. Her last move, a Level 3 change foot combination spin received the straight base value. Kostner was awarded the highest components, 27.75.
Kostner, who turns 21 on February 8, said, “I was very happy to finally start the competition today. Everybody is kind of ending their competition and the waiting was a little hard. I had a great skate but I made some small mistakes. You have to concentrate and I hope to do better tomorrow. My choice of music was kind of an accident. We were looking at different pieces of music with my choreographer and the first time we listened to it, it stayed in our hand because it was strange. At the end, I had three choices and I said, ‘I’ll go to bed and I’ll choose the one that will be in my head when I wake up.’ And this was it.”
2. Breathing over Kostner’s shoulder is Kiira Korpi, who won the bronze medal at this event last year. Korpi skated first of the last five, and is only 0.71 points behind the defending champion. The 19 year old Korpi, who comes from Tampere, which is north of Helsinki where the Europeans will be held next year, gave a lovely showing with a triple Lutz to double toe, which earned the base value, a beautiful +1.0 triple loop and a +0.71 double Axel. Her flying sit was her only Level 4 and it earned only 0.07 over base. Her change foot combination spin was Level 3 as were the straight line steps but her spirals were only Level 1 and the layback Level 2.  
Korpi skated to Triunfal by Astor Piazzolla. She said, “I had a great feeling on the ice. I was relaxed. I was a bit nervous in the warm-up. There were supporters and noise, but I was prepared for that. I gave it 110% in the last step sequence. I have always been a fighter. I don’t give up if there are setbacks. I’m annoyed that I only got a Level 1 for the spiral sequence. Maybe I didn’t hold one of the positions long enough. Also two of the spins were a bit slow.”  
3. Lying 1.64 further behind is another 19 year old Finn, Laura Lepistö, who is competing in this event for the first time and is currently the national champion. (Lepistö caused a sensation in October at the Skate Canada Grand Prix where she won the Short Program.) She is from Espoo .
“I thought I would be more nervous but I felt relaxed and confident. I am annoyed with my jump combination,” said Lepistö who planned to do a combination of two triples instead of a triple toe-double toe. “But otherwise it was a good skate. In the warm-up, I noticed that my legs were shaking and I stepped out of jumps and had bad landings. Maybe, I was trying too hard. But in the competition I was relaxed and very confident.” Lepistö, who skated to The Legend of 1900 did Level 4 spirals and two spins, but her last two moves, the straight line steps and Layback spin were only Level 2. All her moves, including the double Axel and triple loop, received GoEs between 0.29 up to two 0.86s.
4. Last year’s runner-up, Sarah Meier, lies only 0.54 behind Lepistö. Performing to music from Patch Adams, the 23 year old from Bülach, near Zurich , did a very good triple Lutz to double toe but made a complete mess of her next move meant to be a triple Salchow. It was downgraded to a double and saddled with a large GoE so she ended up getting only 0.30 for the attempt. “Obviously, I am not happy,” said Meier, “because I made a mistake. We changed my solo jump from flip to Salchow because I got a deduction for the edge change and then I get only 3.5 for my flip. I feel more comfortable with the flip, but, anyway, this mistake could have happened with the flip as well. I just tried to rescue as many points as possible.” Her spirals and her last change foot combination were Level 4 but the other three moves received Level 3.
5. 2004 European champion Julia Sebestyen from Budapest , was 0.90 behind the Swiss miss. Sebestyen, who performed to Serenade by Franz Schubert, began well with a triple flip which gained the base value. Then came a superior triple Lutz to double toe which earned +1.14 over the base. Two Level 4 spins followed. She seemed to be skimming along on full sails. But then the 26 year old made a major error, singling her double Axel. “I rushed it a bit and I was ahead in my head,” said Sebestyen. Her layback was only Level 2 but the circular steps and the final change foot combination spin were both Level 3 and both got +0.50. Sebestyen said, “I like this place because it is only three hours drive from Zagreb and many people came to see me win in 2004.”  
6. Valentina Marchi was 1.85 points behind Sebestyen but only 0.01 ahead of McCorkell. The 21 year old, who won the recent Italian championship in Kostner’s absence due to a bad cold, skated to opera music by Verdi. She did a good triple Lutz to double toe and triple Salchow but her double Axel got a slight minus as did one of her spins. Marchi received two Level 4 moves, one 3 and two 2’s.
Just one quarter of a point behind McCorkell lies Elene Gedevanishvili, in eighth place. That was despite falling on her triple Lutz and getting an “e” for wrong edge for the triple flip to double toe. Her other eight moves all received positive GoEs and she was awarded three Level 4s and two Level 3s. The Georgian now trains in New Jersey . 1.08 further back in ninth is Annette Dytrt of Germany . Tugba Karademir, who lives in Barrie , Ontario , and represents Turkey , lies 0.63 out of 10th place. Karademir said, “I’ve been doing great in practices all week and I was glad I could show everyone what I can do. This is her sixth time in the Europeans and she is hoping to match last year's tenth.

Day 3

Men's Free Skate

It didn’t make a difference to the placing, but there was a confusing change in the scores for Stéphane Lambiel after the men finished their free skate, creating havoc with newswire services and live television. Many transmitted stories, which later turned out not to be true, about how Lambiel and Brian Joubert were virtually tied overall with only 0.18 between them and that Lambiel had finished second to the new champion, Tomas Verner, by an enormous 13.04. Retractions had to be made. Lambiel was second overall but he pulled up from third overall to finish “only” 7.43 points behind Verner. Joubert, who was only fourth in the Free Skate behind the Russian, Sergei Voronov, took the bronze with a total score of 219.45, a significant 9.32 ahead of Voronov.
The changing situation came about because the Technical Specialist initially classed Lambiel’s flawed seventh move as a triple flip sequence to triple toe instead of a combination. It was initially believed Lambiel, in addition to turning a double three between the jumps, had also put his foot down and so could no longer be classed as doing the combination. Careful review proved otherwise.
1. Skating second of the top six, Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic earned a Technical Score of 75.92 + 77.72 for the components for his Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon routine. The landing of his initial move, a quad toe was scratchy. He got the rotations but also put his hand on the ice and wasn’t able to do the planned second jump of the combination. But, the rest of his 14 elements all received base value or better. His first triple Axel was a splendid +1.14 version but he singled the second attempt.
The blond many times Czech champion, who trains in Prague with Vlasta Koprivova and in Oberstdorf , Germany , with Michael Huth, had not expected to win after he came off the ice. “No, I don’t think I’ll win. I was a bit shaky today. I didn’t do the first quad the way I wanted and also I lost a lot of points because of the second Axel. I started to lose power towards the end but I fought through it. For the world championships, I have to improve a few things.”
When he heard he had won, Verner looked overjoyed and a little puzzled. He said, “I’m speechless. I’m so happy although this wasn’t my best performance. I left my heart today on the ice and the judges and audience recognized that. I have had so many injuries in my young life. My form grew through this season. Paris (at the last Trophée Eric Bompard where he finished sixth) was a total disaster. It couldn’t have been worse. It was better at the NHK (in Japan where he finished second). But now look at me! I’m European champion. I couldn’t be happier.”    
2. Lambiel has never won this title. He did gain an earlier silver (in 2006) and this one but no other medal in this championship in which he has competed for many years. He drew to perform fifth of the top six and presented his entertaining Poeta Flamenco by Vincente Amigo. An ominous shadow seemed to cloud above him as he skated through an excellent double Axel. Then came the amazing combo of quad toe to double toe to double loop, although he had originally planned for the second jump to be a triple. He then threw off a triple loop, Level 3 circular steps, a second double Axel and a Level 4 combination spin. Then came the problem move.
Lambiel explained, “I decided if I got the quad toe to triple toe at the beginning, I would try the second quad but it didn’t workout that way. So I turned (the seventh move) into what was going to be a three jump combination but it didn’t work out very well either.” After executing the miscalled -1.00 GoE triple flip to triple toe, Lambiel tried another combination which turned into a -1.57 triple Lutz to downgraded triple toe. After a good +0.43 triple Salchow and a +0.43 flying sit spin, he doubled a flip. Then he came back to life and did +1.0 Level 3 straight line steps with a lot of energy and two great Level 4 spins (+0.64 and +1.36). The last one concluded with his great “headless” version where he puts his head back and spins so fast his whole body blurs completely and you don’t see his head. It’s just wonderful.
Lambiel didn’t seem too upset by his eclipse by Verner. He said, “I am very happy with my performance, even though it was not the best. I accept that Tomas was better today. I know I only did a double Axel in the beginning, but I did a good combination after that. There were some mistakes on jumps but the program was very dynamic and I skated it with a lot of energy. In my six minute warm-up my triple Axel was great and I knew I could do it but it didn’t happen today. Tonight was a special night and I enjoyed skating here. It was a great fight and you could feel the stress in the dressing room. I hoped to win until the very end but it didn’t happen. These will not be my last European championships, so I’ll be back next year and fight to win.
3. Last on was Joubert, who looked thinner than before his illness. He skated his upgraded Metallica routine from last season. He began, unusually, with an off center pose, then skated through some interesting transitions which included a bracket before he got into an element. But right away the popular French man looked uncomfortable. He appeared not that confident on his first landing on the quad toe and was forced to execute a double three turn to hold the landing, which was very quite close to the barrier. Then he threw off a +1.29 triple Salchow followed by a faulty triple Axel on which he was forced to put his hand on the ice. Things looked a little better as he presented his very interesting Level 3 circular steps, his Level 3 change foot sit spin and a +1.0 triple flip to triple toe. However, his three jump combination of triple loop and two double toes was incomplete with the last jump being under rotated. “That mistake,” Joubert explained, “on the double toe really cost me energy. Until then I was fine but that really pulled me down.”
Next up was a mess of triple Lutz and he got a deduction of -1.0 for a fall on this. However, he pulled himself back together and pulled off a good +0.57 triple Lutz to double toe. Two spins followed, a Level 3 flying sit and a Level 1 Upright. His straight line steps were Level 3 and he ended with a +0.43 double Axel and a +0.21 Level 3 change foot combination spin.
Joubert confessed, “This season is really hard physically for me. I’m the defending champion and that’s not a great score. For me it’s difficult since the beginning of the season. I’m very disappointed about third place. I was not in good condition to be ready for this competition, although today it was better. I look forward to the world championships. I don’t like to be third. I want to be first. I didn’t do a good job but I gave everything 100%. As I am now, I could not have done better. But now I’m thinking about worlds. There is two months to get ready.
4. Sergei Voronov, a 20 year old from Moscow who is the current Russian champion and is trained by the 1994 Olympic champion, Alexei Urmanov, was lying sixth after his triple Axel was down graded and his triple loop was badly executed in the short program which he performed to Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2. He had, however, managed a +1.0 quad toe to double toe.
His Free Skate to Astor Piazzolla Tangos had only one minus GoE, for a triple loop, though his final jumping pass was only a triple toe to double toe to single loop. He began with a +0.86 quad toe, a +0.57 triple Axel, a +0.14 triple flip and a +0.86 triple Axel to double toe. He earned only one Level 4 spin. In his only other appearance in the European championships, he finished 19th last year. That’s quite a climb to fourth overall, over ten points higher than Kevin van der Perren.
Voronov said, “This was my best skate of my career so far, emotionally and technically. I skated after Lambiel. I was really competing with him on the same level. I admit that. It was very hard for me to skate after him, but it’s good that I was able to deal with it. I practically did everything that I planned with my coach.”
5. Last year Kevin van der Perren became the first male skater to medal for Belgium in this event in 50 years. This time, he dropped from fourth after the Short Program to fifth overall with a Free Skate set to Lawrence of Arabia that was ranked fifth best. He fell on his first move, a quad toe, and then singled an Axel. He also had a problem with his upright spin, which was given Level 3 but also a -0.39. The rest of his moves all earned base level or better. He explained, “I never seem to pull off the (triple) Axel in both programs in one competition. I felt great today. I did so well on the practice and the warm-up. It’s too bad it didn’t happen in the competition!” Van der Perren, who will be getting married to British champion Jenna McCorkell this year, will go for surgery after Worlds. “The recovery is supposed to be three months so whether I will compete next season is questionable (at least not at the start). But I hope to make it to worlds in Los Angeles and to do the Olympic Games.”

Original Dance

 The top 12 couples drew for the last two groups, which were separated by a warm-up. Once again Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin were not favored by the draw, and performed 17th while the defending champions, Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, drew the last slot, 25th. (However, in tomorrow’s Free, the French skate 21st (second on in the final group of five after Sinead and John Kerr while the Russians are 23rd after their teammates, Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski, and the Italians, Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali, are last on.)
1. The French added 0.82 to their lead of 1.00 after the compulsory but with only 1.82 separating them from the Russians, they are still by no means sure of victory. They presented a Breton Gavotte, attired in genuine country folk outfits complete with red scarves attached to their sleeves. Their first four elements gained the maximum Level 4 but the circular steps and the rotational lift were 3s. Everything received above positive GoEs with their spin getting the lowest (+0.50) and their circular steps the most (+1.14). Delobel said, “We can be very satisfied with what we did today. We really got into it. I was a bit tense in the beginning, and then it’s easy to make errors. But then we relaxed. There’s always room for improvement. We had great practices here all week.” Schoenfelder added, “We skated strongly and clean. We chose a French folk dance because we liked the rhythm because it is fast. We worked with a woman who is an expert in this and she taught us well. We transferred the steps on to the ice. This was our best performance so far this year. Winning both sections gives us a good feeling for the free dance. It’s very close as it was to be expected. That makes it exciting for the audiences.”
2. The French were helped by Shabalin making a clearly noticeable error on their second element, the non-touching midline twizzles, which were given Level 2 and -0.14 GoE. (Only four judges caught the error. One, incredibly, thought the element was so good it deserved +2! Another gave +1. Six thought the Russians had executed the element sufficiently well to earn the base value!
The Russians’ non-touching midline steps were Level 3 and this received their next lowest GoE, +0.57. The four other elements received Level 4 and GoEs up to +1.00 for their circular steps. Shabalin refused to blame his recent knee operation. “My knee is fine. It had nothing to do with the error on the twizzle. On the contrary we did the twizzles so well in the warm-up that maybe we lost a bit of control and relaxed too much. The music (said to be Guys, Put a Harness on Your Horses, a Cossack dance from the Don River area) was the choice of our choreographer, Sergei Petukov. He danced it in other countries and said it was always very well received.” When asked to compare their performances with that of the Grand Prix Final, Shabalin said in both cases they were giving 100 percent.
Domnina dismissed talk of the twizzle problem. “It was our mistake. It was too bad. There is no more to say about it. You never know what will happen. If something doesn’t go well on the warm-up, you start to worry and to get nervous. But, if the warm-up goes well, you start to lose control. I felt our performance was better, emotionally, here.” They wore very elaborate bright red and royal blue satin red outfits.     
3. Like their Russian teammates, Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski also received a Level 3 for their non-touching midline steps but they got a +0.50, which was their lowest GoE. They also received a slight negative (-0.14) on their non-touching midline twizzles but they were given Level 3, one higher than Domnina and Shabalin. The other four elements were all Level 4 and two received +1.0 GoEs. Novitski said, “Overall, we are pleased with our performance compared to the last competition. Nevertheless, I made a small mistake in the twizzles as well." They presented a Russian Gypsy Dance with great attack and speed to place third 1.87 points behind Domnina and Shabalin in this section and 4.75 behind them going into the free.
4. The Italians, Federica Faiella and Scali, showed an Italian Folk Dance to music called Pizzaca. Scali said, “We felt really confident and we enjoyed this dance. We were not nervous. We were excited to show everyone and ourselves that we can do it well. We are a bit disappointed at the marks because we only got Level 3 for two elements even though I think we did good edges (on both sets of steps, the non-touching mid line and the circular one). They are now 1.74 behind Khokhlova and Novitski.
5. Sinead and John Kerr were the only couple to receive all Level 4s. It was the first time they had accomplished this. They created a great deal of favorable response with their Scottish dance to bagpipes including Auld Lang Syne. They both wore kilts, he with distinctive black shorts underneath, which aroused a lot of supportive comments. Sinead said, “I think the audience like the man in the skirt more than me. Any country understands that doing your own national dance and wearing national clothes is something special and we felt very special. Our pride was mixed with the adrenalin and we enjoyed representing our country. Their GoEs ranked from zero for the non-touching midline twizzles up +0.86 for their spin. They climbed a place to fifth. In the original, they were 1.57 points ahead of Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France who dropped from fifth to sixth and now lie 0.54 behind the Scots.
[The poor 25th placed Azebaijans, Nadine Ahmed and Bruce Porter, who only teamed up in 2007, were the only couple not to qualify. Yes, from his name, you may have deduced the just turned 27 year old Porter is American born (in Fort Leonard Wood in Florida ). Ahmed, 22, was also born in Florida , in Miami . They trains with Genrikh Sretenski in Washington , DC .] 

Day 2

Pairs Free Skate

Pairs representing Russia , the former Soviet Union and Germany have won this division of the European championships exclusively since 1959. Last year’s silver and bronze medalists, Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov of Russia and Dorota and Mariusz Siudek of Poland have retired.
Fortunately Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy drew to skate last of the top four pairs because the Germans were in a class of their own completely eclipsing the others to win the free by 25.35 points and retain their title by 32.98 points. Nevertheless, although she was near flawless, he messed up two elements. After they opened with a splendid throw triple flip which received +1.66 GoE, he messed up the second jump in their sequence of two triple toe loops. Later he singled his triple Salchow.
“The first time winning (last year in Warsaw with 199.39 points) was surprising,” said Savchenko. “To be honest, that was nicer. We skated our best and we were so pleased. This is also great but it’s different. It is a more difficult program and it wasn’t perfect but we have something to work on for Worlds. It was probably my best showing this season. The pressure is the same whether you are at the top or are less strong. It’s always hard but the more experience you have, the more secure you are.” Her partner said, “It was the second time we’ve scored over 200 points. (Their total was 202.39.) The first time was at German nationals but nationals have their own laws. Points don’t really count for us. It’s how well we skate that’s important. I have one more chance this season to show I can do the triple Salchow (at Worlds in March).”
Skating to “L’Oiseau” from Cirque du Soleil, dressed in two tones of purple, they were exotic birds soaring, sailing and swooping joyfully around the Dom Sportova, in front of remarkably few fans. (Although the tickets are cheap, the locals didn’t even turn up for the Opening Ceremony attended by the country’s President.) They received Level 4 for all three of their lifts, their spirals and their solo and pair spins. The straight line steps and back outside death spiral were Level 3 and the throw triple Lutz Level 2. Their final move was an audience pleasing +0.80 throw triple Salchow. With the Chinese world champions, Shen/Xhao not defending and Savchenko and Szolowy beating both the 2006 world champions, Qing Pang and Jian Tong and their teammates, the non-related Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang, at the Grand Prix Final in December, the Germans have to be favored to take the world title in Goteborg.
2. Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov, were in a virtual tie for second place in the free skate only 0.68 ahead of their teammates, Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov. They were a full point ahead on the components but Kawaguchi and Smirnov gained 0.32 more on the technical score. Overall, however, they took the silver by 2.16.
Skating to Rachmaninov’s Prelude, Mukhortova and Trankov, the 2005 World Junior Champions, began with a solid +1.0 triple toe loop-double toe loop jump combo but the following triple Lutz throw was only Level 1 and they were given a slight minus GoE (-0.10). They next completed side by side triple Salchows which earned the base level. Their Axel lasso lift was Level 4 and earned +1.0 but their planned throw triple loop turned into a single. After their Level 4 spirals, they tried another throw, a triple Salchow and she went down WHAM on her back. Even after the routine, in the Kiss and Cry area she was obviously hurting and looked dazed.
She managed to complete the routine with a Level 3 forward inside death spiral and a Level 4 pair combo spin but their flying camel solo spins were only Level 1 as was their straight line steps. They perked up for their last two moves, a Level 4 Group 3 lift and a Level 3 Axel lasso lift. Tankov, who was observed icing his shoulder immediately after coming off the ice because of an old injury, said, “I don’t know what happened with our throws. Maria usually never falls. Maybe we were nervous and focussed on our jumps. At the moment, the jumps aren’t easy elements for us. Maybe we concentrated on them and they were too relaxed for the throws. We didn’t skate well. We are not so happy with our skating but we are happy with the result. Not everything worked out today. We feel drained from our performance. To be second in our debut at the European Championships is not bad. Obviously, though, we would have preferred to skate clean. We don’t believe the Germans are unbeatable because we did beat them once (in a minor competition, Coupe de Nice, in France in 2004)."
They have gone through a series of coaches in recent years and are now with Oleg Vasiliev, the 1994 Olympic champion, who has gone back from the US where he lived and coached for many years, to his hometown of St. Petersburg . Mukhortova said, “We have a great coach.” Trankov added, “We must not forget our choreographer, Alexander Mateev. He also worked with current Olympic champions Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin and he made us skate faster and cleaner. We will try to improve our skills even more.”
3. The Russian champions, Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov, overtook Tatiana Volorsozhar and Stanislav Morosov representing Ukraine , advancing from a close fourth to take the bronze. They began with a throw quad Salchow which Kawaguchi landed with clenched teeth and controlled the steep edge with sheer will power, and great muscle control and, a split second later, a delighted smile. Kawaguchi said afterwards, “We were trying it in almost every competition and I’m so happy.” Credit was given for the rotations but, although four of the 12 judges gave the move its base value, six officials though it deserved only -1 GoE because of the strained landing. Two others decided it was flawed enough for -2. This brings up an interesting point. Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent landed the first ever throw quad in international competition when they received positive GoEs for the move at the 2007 Trophée Eric Bompard in Paris . Under the new system, should a move be called completed if it doesn’t make base value? What about if you do the rotations but then fall or put your free foot down?
After their understandable excitement over this move, Smirnov stepped out of the first triple toe loop in what was meant to be a sequence of two of these jumps. Later he singled his intended double Axel. He said, “After our performance, I didn’t expect to medal at all. I was very upset, because I didn’t do my job at all tonight, not even 50 percent.”
4. Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morosov received a small advantage of 0.76 over Kawaguchi and Smirnov for the components but technically were 4.62 behind which put them 3.86 marks in fourth in the free and fourth overall behind them by 3.82.

Men's Short Program

The 35 competitors from 24 countries, plus a couple of resurfaces, took over five hours to complete the short programs this afternoon (23 Jan). The “stacking” method of drawing was used. The top 12 in ISU rankings draw for the last two groups of 6. The next 6 on the ISU ranking, draw for the third from the end group, and all the unranked and lower ranks draw for the first three groups of five, six and six.
1. By chance, just like he had last year, Thomas Verner, drew to skate last, and the 21 year old from Borovany in the Czech Republic capitalized on others’ major mistakes to amass a substantial 3.78 point lead. “They say I was supposed to learn something from last year (when he dropped behind Brian Joubert to finish second overall). But the truth is I didn’t. I skated last and I finished first again but every year is different. The situation felt even worse than last year. I just knew two weeks before that I would skate either after Brian or Stéphane, and that I would skate last.”
Skating to two pieces by Django Reinhardt, Melodie en Crépuscule and Gypsy Swing, he provided a good ending for an event which was fraught with errors. But he wasn’t perfect. "It was a wobbly performance. I did a few little mistakes in the program, so I didn’t really feel satisfied. Today, it was not easy. I don’t like the ice here. It’s very hard and I was the last to skate. We need to skate clean edges and if you do it fast, there is a chance of 90 percent that we slip. These are costly mistakes. I skated slowly.”
He began with a +0.57 GoE triple flip to triple toe but then landed his triple Axel on his toe and was penalized with a -0.43. “I really regret the (triple) Axel because it was good in the air, and I wanted to land it securely, without any extravagances! It was hard for me to skate. I knew that Brian didn’t have such a high score and, also, Stéphane didn’t have such a high score. I didn’t see it, but I saw his face and I knew that he wasn’t perfect. Then you know there is a chance, but as soon as you think about it, everything is over. You have to stay focused and that’s what I plan to do tomorrow.”
His triple Lutz was super (+1.43). The change foot sit spin (+0.36) and straight line steps (+1.43) were both Level 4. The other three moves were Level 3 with the flying sit getting a slight negative (-0.13), the circular steps (+0.29) and, his final move, the change foot combination spin (0.14). Although last year he dropped to second overall, he became the first Czech to medal at Europeans in 15 years. In March he finished fourth in the world.
2. The defending champion, Brian Joubert, skated 27th, first of the top guns, presenting his routine to All For You, a work composed and recorded especially for Joubert by Sesbastien Damiani. The routine contains a great deal of intricate moves and is extremely well choreographed. However, Joubert looks thinner than when he won Skate Canada, and he seemed to lack strength. After Canada , he was forced to pull out of the Trophée Eric Bompard with a mysterious disease which sapped his strength and made his heart pound, even when he was at rest. At one point, he couldn’t even climb the stairs to go to bed in his home in Poitiers in mid-France. He recovered enough to win his national title but, obviously, is not completely back on top.
The 23 year old, who caused a sensation when he first won this title dethroning an uncharacteristically off-form Evgeni Plushenko in 2004, began with a bracket and some interesting footwork leading to his first element, the planned quad toe to triple toe combo. But although he got credit for the four plus three rotations, he could not control the first landing and had to do a double three between the jumps, incurring a -1.14 GoE. His next move was a great (+1.43) triple Lutz but then his triple Axel went wrong and he came down nastily falling on his hip. Everything else got positives but he had only one Level 4, for his change foot combination spin and the straight line steps were deemed only Level 1 by the Technical Specialist Ricardo Olavarrieta and his assistant, American, Lisa Ervin-Baudo.
“I was very disappointed with my performance,” said Joubert. “I had two big mistakes. The mistake on the quad wasn’t so bad. I didn’t lose too many points on it. My triple Axel was very bad. I was slow and nervous and that is why I didn’t make it. During the warm-up, I took my time but when the program started I became very nervous. Another problem is that I’m lacking competitions this season. But tomorrow is a new day. There’ll be a big fight tomorrow and already I’m looking forward to it. All week I had no problems with the triple Axel. My warm-up was perfect but between the warm-up and the competition, I started to get nervous.”
3. Stéphane Lambiel, wearing a multi-color outfit which included an orange sleeve, skated to Carne Cruda by Fernando Egozcue immediately before Verner. He fell on his first move. He explained, “The triple Axel was a good attempt but I couldn’t catch it. Then I just hesitated on the quad and only did a triple toe (combined with only a double toe). It was a big mistake. It’s hard to get into the program after that kind of start. 3.47 points (behind Joubert) is not a big difference. I just want to do a clean program tomorrow. The most important thing is to do the elements and the result will come.”
His triple Lutz earned 0.57 over the base value and the second half of his routine did perk up. He presented two level 4 spins and the other spin and the circular steps were Level 3. He really sold it. f energy into owever, The 22 year old Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion (2005 and 2006), who chose not to compete in this event last year and then finished only third in the world championship, appeared to have a painful hip. “I have overstretched some muscles and they are really tight. I just want to do a clean program tomorrow.”
4. Kevin van der Perren , Belgium , is 5.45 points behind Lambiel. Skating to Xotica by Rene Dupere, the 25 year old did not fall but received a -1.00 GoE on his quad toe to double toe and all the judges gave him -3 on his double Lutz because the element is supposed to be a triple. “It’s the first Lutz I missed this week. But I’m still very happy with the way it went. As the competition approached, I became more and more nervous. The warm-up was really, really bad. If I want to medal, I can’t do any mistakes in the free.” He received Level 4 for all spins. His straight line steps were Level 3 but the circular ones were only Level 2. Last year, when he earned the bronze medal, it was the first medal for Belgium from the European championships in 50 years.
5. Kristoffer Berntsson, a 25 year old who will be skating in his home city of Goteborg in Sweden at the upcoming world championships, lies fifth, less than a point (0.71) behind Van der Perren and 1.36 ahead of Sergei Voronov of Russia who is lying sixth. The Swede completed a good triple Axel but had minuses on his combo, triple Lutz to triple toe and triple flip and also very minor minuses on two of his spins. However, he received Level 4 for all three spins. Voronov accomplished a good quad toe to double toe but his triple Axel was downgraded.
Gregor Urbas of Slovenia , who has never been higher than 22nd in seven appearances in this event, lies seventh. Berntsson’s Swedish teammate, Adrian Schultheiss lies eighth and the Russian Andrei Lutai ninth. The popular Frenchmen Alban Preaubert and Yannick Ponsero lie 10th and 11th. Preaubert tripled his quad and Ponsero fell on his quad.   

Day 1

Compulsory Dance - Yankee Polka

Defending champions, Isabelle Delobel, 29, and Olivier Schoenfelder, 30, from Lyon , took showmanship to new heights and hold a full point advantage after the Yankee Polka. They earned 0.82 more technically and 0.18 more for components. She wore a red and black bordello bar girl outfit. He wore a Sheriff’s badge, leather chaps over his blue jeans and a gun holster. “But,” said their coach Muriel Zazoui, “at the last minute I changed my mind, so no gun.”
“We wanted to create a saloon atmosphere,” said Delobel. “We know the competition isn’t over yet, but it was a very good start for us today.” Before the dance started, Delobel did some fun, sexy posturing and, during the execution of the two sequences, Schoenfelder threw his arm over his head as if lasso-ing with a rope. Schoenfelder explained, “We wanted to catch the spirit. This made it easier for us to work on this dance as it’s not so much fun to do for us otherwise. Some of the other skaters had costumes that were Austrian or Polish but it’s the Yankee Polka.” She did not add but it was true that some of the couples had outfits that seemed to have nothing to do with a Polka at all. The French duo skated 18th of the 26 couples from 18 countries.       
 Their principal opposition, last year’s runners-up, Oksana Domnina, 23, and Maxim Shabalin, who will be 26 on January 25, from Moscow, drew to skate fourth, in the first warm-up group, and established a 2.88 lead over their teammates from Moscow, Jana Kholokova, 22, and Sergei Novitski, 26, who were fourth last year. Missing from the mix are the current Bulgarian world champions, Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski, whose career was side-railed after the car he was driving was involved in a fatality.   
Asked what she thought of skating so early in the proceedings, Domnina merely shrugged and said, “That can happen with an open draw. It’s unpredictable. It doesn’t have any meaning. But now we can watch the others.” Shabalin was observed on several occasions limping and struggling to climb stairs. He had meniscus surgery on his left knee on December 24 and the team doctor said he had to be in pain.
Nevertheless, he growled, “I was not in pain. I am not in pain. I WILL NOT BE IN PAIN.” That appeared to be a ruse to get through the event with the power of positive thinking. They were dressed in white satin with his blouse cracked open loosely laced up with a vertical sexy sliver with a hint of chest hair. Her dress was adorned with a rose and her hair was in two pony tails. Asked what he thought of the Yankee Polka, Shabalin did not answer immediately. After looking thoughtful for some seconds, he said, “I think it is very odd to have a 30 year old man dancing around with a woman in a childish hair style.”
Novitski said, “We dedicated a lot of time to the Polka. Basically, we skated it in each morning practice for two hours. We put a lot of effort into it and it seems like something came out and we didn’t work in vain. Many feel this dance suits us well as it’s fast and happy.”
But he and Khokhlova lie only half a point in front of the Italians, Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali. Last year these Italians were lying fourth going into the free dance but Faiella, 26, dropped Scali, 28, on his head when they were doing a spectacular reverse lift (in which the woman lifts the man). Although, they were able to continue, they dropped to sixth. Naturally they no longer do this lift. The Italians train at the Detroit FSC with Pasquale Camerlengo and Anjelika Krylova.
Scali said, “We felt confident on the ice. We’re glad to be more than two points ahead of the second French team (Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat who lie fifth). We lost to them at Skate America. It’s an improvement for us from the beginning of the season. We worked a lot. Our goal for the next couple of days is to medal here but it could be a hard Europeans for us because we don’t have a judge here.”   
Sinead and John Kerr, the Scottish brother and sister who finished fifth last year, lie sixth, 1.03 behind Pechalat and Bourzat but only marginally (0.43) in front of another brother and sister team, the seventh placed Alexandra and Roman Zaretski of Israel. Also in the mix are Kristin Fraser and Igor Lukanin who represent Azebaijan but live in Montclair , New Jersey and now train with Nikolai Morozov. They are only 0.10 behind the Zaretski’s. They finished seventh last year which allowed Azerbaijan to have a second team this time. “I hope she is not as nervous as I was when I first skated in the Europeans,” said Fraser. “I was so scared I was crying in the warm-up. Igor didn’t know what to do with me." Nevertheless, in that first Europeans, in 2001, they finished 16th.
Anastasia Grebenkina of Armenia showed how difficult t on her back and didn’t get up for some time. He eventually helped her off the ice and went to the referee, Halina Gordon-Poltorak, who allowed themhe Yankee Polka is. She and her partner, Vazgen Azrojan (Tiffany Hyden’s former partner), were executing a relatively easy step in Waltz position with her going backwards and he forwards towards the end of the first sequence. Her free left foot hit her partner’s skating right foot. She went down hard to restart from where the fall happened. They were 17th after finishing 14th in this event in 2006 and 2007 and subsequently withdrew. He said, “It was a really unfortunate and hard fall. She hurt her back. She is sick with a cold anyway and doesn’t feel well at all.”

Pairs Short Program

Three of the pairs who were to place in the top four drew to skate in the first group of three teams making the event somewhat anticlimactic. There were 15 pairs from 10 countries. Second on were the defending champions, the glamorous blonde Aliona Savchenko, who turned 24 on January 19, and Robin Szolkowy, 28. They train in Chemnitz in the former East Germany with Ingo Steuer (who has had problems with his current government because of his former affiliation with the Staci, the East Germany secret police). They looked great in the warm-up.
However, “It didn’t go as we had expected,” said Szolkowy. “There were quite many wobbles and errors. We wanted to be in first place with a good skate. I don’t know why we got Level 1 on our last element (the straight line steps). We normally get a Level 3.”
Savchenko did a great triple toe loop in the warm-up but in the championship she landed with a bend knee and had to step out of the jump. She explained, “That doesn’t happen often. The beginning of the program felt good.” (Their first two elements were a superb throw triple flip and triple Lutz twist. But then came the solo jumps.) “I was simply too slow going into the jump.”
She is a driven personality who says she will never be content with anything less than perfection. She was not pleased, even though they lie 7.63 marks ahead of Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov, who are currently second. The Germans skated to Asoka, an East Indian movie soundtrack by Anu Milak. She wore a two-piece very sexy turquoise and gold harem creation while he was in white with some black ovals and cut-out circles down his outer sleeves. The spins were a little out of synch. The duo had a very upsetting start to the competition when their skates did not make their flight connection in Munich .
Mukhortova, 22, and Trankov, 24, from St. Petersburg who train with Oleg Vasiliev performed first to the very beautiful Otonol by Raul di Blasio in light blue and white, including her in light blue satin tights. They are the 2007 Russian champions but were recently dethroned by their teammates, Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov.
However, in Zagreb, Mukhortova and Trankov lie second, 1.44 ahead of the Ukrainians, Tatiana Volosozhar, 21, and Stanislav Morozov, who has his 29th birthday on February 2. “We had good practices,” said Trankov, “but we need to cope with our nerves in competition. We made an error on the side by side spin. We are pleased with our marks.”
The Ukrainians, who now train with Nicolai Morozov (no relation) in Hackensack , NJ , are in a near tie with Kawaguchi and Smirnov. (The Russian champions, who skated third on, lie just 0.04 behind the Ukrainians.) Morosov previously competed with Savchenko for Ukraine before she emigrated to Germany . The Ukrainians, who skated to The Feeling Begins by Peter Gabriel, were fourth in the world championships in Tokyo but fifth in the European championships last year. Volosozhar said, “We got a season best score, but actually we performed much better at the NHK Trophy in Japan in December, (where they finished fourth). We had some errors. Stanislav was shaky on the (triple) toe loop. I put my hand down on the throw triple loop and I left a Choctaw out in the step sequence. I was nervous in the warm-up. My legs were shaking and I don’t even know why.”
Kawaguchi , 26, who has trained for a considerable number of years with Tamara Moskvina, has represented Japan with Alexander Markuntsov and briefly skated with the American Devin Patrick. She began skating with Smirnov in 2006. They did not compete in this event last year and finished a disappointing ninth in the world championship dropping after doing much better in the short program. Kawaguchi said, “There were some small errors, but overall it was ok.” Smirnov, 23, said, “I am even happy with this kind of performance. We could have done better, of course, but this is our first time at Europeans. We feel a lot of responsibility.” They skated to Camille Saint Saens’ Rondo Capriccioso. 

Day 0


157 skaters from 33 countries are entered for these European championships, which get underway on Tuesday afternoon with the Yankee Polka, at the Dom Sportova, a somewhat faded Grande Dame of an arena complex with a sagging, crumbly backside in Zagreb, now the capital of Croatia, one of the countries which sprang out of the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.
Though Croatia had an organized skating club 130 ago, they didn’t have artificial ice until 1961. Six years after that, the Golden Spin international was organized and has run continuously ever since. Croatia has produced only one skater of note, Sanda Dubravcic, who won silver in the 1981 European championship and carried the torch which lit the flames for the Sarajevo Olympics in 1984. Dubravcic became a doctor and now serves as the ISU’s medical adviser.
It is critical that the defending ice dance champions, Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoefelder of France , establish a lead in the compulsory. Last year’s runners-up, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, of Russia , beat them in late December’s Grand Prix Final, which does not have a compulsory section, despite Shabalin being in great pain.
“I was injured at the very end of the last practice at home (in Moscow ),” Shabalin explained. “I put my foot down in a wrong way and it hurt so much I could hardly walk.” Immediately they returned to Russia , he had meniscus surgery on his right knee. They had to skip competing in their national championships but were back on the ice on January 4.  
Earlier in the year he had had two other surgeries, on his right knee, also on meniscus, in May and then to have his appendix removed in September. He jokes, “I have a lighter body now.”
The French seem cautious. “When we won, it was a surprise,” said Schoefelder. “We were not the favorites. We skated especially good. It will be difficult but we have the chance to win again. We are certainly going to try.” His partner does not talk about their chances. “If I think about it, I will collapse,” said Delobel.
The Opening Ceremony and the pairs’ short programs are also scheduled for Tuesday. Expected to attend the ceremonies is the 73 year old President of Croatia, Stjepan Mesic.
It will be a major upset if the flamboyant blonde Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany do not successfully defend their pairs title. “I want to win everything this season and I want to skate flawlessly,” said Savchenko who is rarely satisfied even when they receive gold.
After Dick Button and Barbara Ann Scott won the European singles titles in 1948, the ISU officially closed this event to non-Europeans but North American are competing. Taking part in the pairs are a Toronto born husband and wife, Amy Ireland, 24, and Michael Bahoric, 33, who is of Croatian descent.
Brian Joubert of France is after his third European title. He says he is fully recovered from the mysterious energy-sapping virus which kept him from defending his title at the Eric Bompard Grand Prix and therefore out of the Grand Prix Final. His main rival must be former world champion Stephane Lambiel, of Switzerland .
Also defending her title will be Italy's Carolina Kostner. Last year’s runner-up, the Swiss Sarah Meier, hopes to prevent that happening but Kostner looked very relaxed when competing in the Grand Prix Final and Meier did not qualify for that event.

When Chaos Ruled

When Brian Joubert steps on the ice at the Dom Sportova in Zagreb on Wednesday to begin defending his European title, his coach, Jean Christophe Simond, will be reminded of the night in this same event in this same arena 29 years ago when his country's judge awarded Simond a mark that resulted in mass chaos.

Dutch television coverage of the event concluded stating that Vladimir Kovalev of the Soviet Union was the winner. They had to break into the 11 p.m. news to announce apologetically that the real victor was Jan Hoffmann from East Germany. They were at a loss to explain this flip-flop. Some early edition newspapers had Kovalev as the winner while their later editions had the gold medal going to Hoffmann. 

Today detractors charge that the current system of judging figure skating is confusing. But, at least the competitor with the highest marks wins. That was sometimes not the case with the "majority" system in which a single mark could, and did on several occasions, change the overall result.

Those were the days when each judge's marks were added for the three sections but kept completely separate from that judge's eight colleagues on the judging panel. The overall order in which each judge marked each skater became the skaters' ordinals and these ordinals were used to determine "majorities".

On that Thursday night, nearly three decades ago, Simond had drawn to free skate last. It was later determined that before Simond skated, no skater had an overall majority of firsts i.e. five of the nine judges did not agree who should win. But seven of the nine judges had awarded the Moscovite Kovalev either first or second place. That meant he was in the lead. Six judges had awarded Hoffmann, from Karl Marx Stadt, either first or second place which meant he was second. And five judges, a lesser majority, thought Robin Cousins from Great Britain should be first or second so the soon-to-be Olympic champion was lying third. 

When Simond's free skate marks were held up by the judges (there were no electronic scoreboards in those days), the backstage accountants (working with pencils - no personal computers then) deduced the French judge, Dr. Alain Calmat, had given his overall second place to Simond. All but Calmat and the British judge, Sally Stapleford, who thought Simond should be third, had placed Simond fourth overall. 

Calmat's second place for Simond overall meant Kovalev lost a second place. This resulted in both Kovalev and Hoffmann having six votes for first and second. That tie was broken on who had the most first place votes. The East German had four and the Russian only two. So the gold went to Hoffmann.

The other three judges gave their first place to Cousins who stayed third. Under the current system Cousins would have won because he gained the top marks, 184.54, while Hoffmann had 184.04 and Kovalev 183.98. Simond was awarded 180.70.

Hoffmann had won none of the three sections. He was second in the figures, third in the Short Program and fourth in the Free. Kovalev had won the figures, was second in the Short Program and third in the Free. Cousins was only sixth in the figures but won both free skating sections. Simond was fifth in the figures, fourth in the Short Program and second in the Free.

Shortly after this unfortunate incident, the "proportional" system was adopted, but that, too had its faults.  And this new system - Well, it isn't soup yet but at least you don't have to explain why 184.54 is lower than 184.04!

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