2010 European Championships Men

by Alexandra Stevenson

Free Skating

Repeat of 2006 European podium; Plushenko brilliant if not perfect Ė wins by 4.20;
Lambiel second, presents very enjoyable routine with matchless spins to earn top components score;
Joubert gets bronze but his free receives only seventh best technical marks

1.Total Score 255.39 Evgeni Plushenko, Russia; 1.Free Skate 164.09 (80.99 Elements + 83.10 Components)

Plushenko skated 18th of the 20 allowed through to the free skate (down from 24 last season), immediately following Brian Joubertís flawed showing, Plushenko was in a class by himself, winning his sixth European crown but first since 2006. He took the ice looking supremely confident, dressed in black including gloves with red sparkles. The ensemble was enlivened with a silver tie. He opened his Tango of Love with a Wow Ė a solid quad toe to triple toe, which has a base value of 13.80 and he got +0.80 Grade of Execution added to that.

That dynamic start was quickly followed by a +1.40 triple Axel, a +1.0 second triple Axel combined with a double toe and a +1.40 triple loop. That meant he had accumulated 35.10 points in just over a minute! His first spin, a flying sit got the maximum Level 4 with +0.30 and then came the mistake with the triple Lutz. He didnít take off correctly, did only two rotations and had to struggle with the landing. "I am disappointed with that," said Plushenko, who turned 27 on November 3. "Maybe itís because Iím working on the quad Lutz and I just need to do the quad and not a triple." That proved to be his only error.

His first spin was a Level 4 +0.60 change foot sit. That was followed by +1.0 Level 3 circular steps during which he flamboyantly threw kisses to women in the audience in keeping with his character as a sleek, lovable Don Juan. He had no problems with the second triple Lutz which was combined with a double toe, timed to take advantage of the point when the 10% bonus for jumps clicks in. With his +0.80 GoE and the bonus, he earned 8.83 points for this move, then 5.95 for the triple Salchow which followed and 4.85 for his last jump, a double Axel. At that point he pumped his fists in the air knowing he probably would win. He summoned all the energy he had left for his Level 2 straight line steps. Two of the nine judges thought they were so well performed, they awarded him the maximum GoE of 3. Four others gave +2 and the remaining three punched in +1. Plushenko wrapped the routine up with a +0.60 Level 4 combination spin. Two of the nine judges awarded it the maximum +3 GoE, four others gave +2 and the remaining three punched in +1. As he skated towards the kiss and cry area where he would wait for his marks, he followed his usual procedure of scooping up some churned up ice which he kissed. Itís his way of thanking the ice for helping him skate well.

Afterwards, he reviewed his showing. "Iím not OK with my performance today, because I missed one jump, the triple Lutz. It was not yet an Olympic performance. At the Olympics I need to do two quads and I need to skate much better. I am proud of myself that Iíve won today and that I beat strong competitors. Itís nice to have my sixth European gold. Itís nice to have all the titles and what comes with that. I have money. I have a great wife (Jana Rudkovskaia, a television personality), the best one. (He and his first wife had a brief marriage and his son Egor was born in the summer after he won Olympic gold.) My spins and steps are much better and I feel better now. Thatís the difference between the 2006 Europeans and now. Of course I was watching what has happened in the sport since then. At the last two World Championships people won without a quad but I donít believe that is possible today. Today, there are people doing two quads, and thatís good. They were pushed to do it and they realized that you canít win without a quad. Nowadays, all the skaters are skating in a similar way. We all have to do the same spins with the change of edges, and the steps with the rockers and counters.

"My wife insisted on me coming back. Itís a great feeling to be in competition and maybe I was feeling a lack of that feeling of adrenalin surges. I had trouble in the warm-up with the triple-double. But, apparently, I still benefit from my experience and can pull myself together when it counts. Iím very happy for myself that Iím still competitive after such a long break. Winning feels a 1,000 times nicer as the other competitors are younger than I am and they came much later to the top than I did. I am really proud everything went well. Of course, the most important competition will be the Olympic Games. Iíll need to skate better. I want to do two quads."

2. TS 238.54 Stephane Lambiel, Switzerland; 2. FS 160.79 (76.79 + 85.00 -1.0 for a fall) Lambiel climbed from fifth after the Short Program with second place in the Free and the top components score, 1.90 over Plushenko, who was second in this area. Lambiel skated last, knowing that Plushenko had performed to a high standard. Lambiel said, "This competition was ĎWOWí. It was a hard one. After the Short Program, I was wondering how Iím going to make it work. I was ready to fight. I was in good shape. I didnít have doubts, but you never know. When I got out on the ice, I told myself, just follow the music." He had changed his routine from earlier in the season and now uses well loved music from Verdiís opera, La Traviata"

The 24 year old many time national champion retired in 2008 due to persistent pain, and nobody replaced him. Although he still has the pain, he says he now manages it by simply not performing his famous spins except in competition or in exhibition. He has returned, he says, simply because, "The Olympic Games are very special for all the athletes. I wanted to challenge myself once again at the Olympic Games when Iím healthy enough."

He began with a planned quad toe to double toe. However, the landing of the first jump was flawed and he was unable to get airborne for the second jump. He received credit for the full four revolutions but was given a -1.92 Grade of Execution. Since the base value of the quad toe is 9.80, he still banked 7.88 points. He explained, "I had to put my hand on the ice on the first quad or I would have fallen." He recovered and executed a +0.40 triple Lutz followed by a successful +0.60 quad toe to double toe. That element earned him 11.70 points. A +1.20 triple flip put 6.70 points into his bank. His circular steps were Level 3 and +1.00 and the flying combination spin the maximum Level 4 and +0.80.

At the bonus time, he executed a +1 double Axel, then a +1.40 triple Loop. However, in his triple flip to triple toe, which was planned as a three-jump combo, the landing on the second jump was a bit dicey, and -0.20 was removed from its base value plus 10%. His flying sit spin was a +0.80 Level 4 but the serpentine steps were only Level 2 and -0.54, because he fell. "I lost my concentration and the edge," he said when asked how he could have gone down on such a simple step. "I was sad I wasnít able to show the Waltz in the serpentine step sequence, because of that slip, but I will make it even more beautiful in three weeks. It could have been worse, but it could have been better. Now I feel very confident with the silver medal and I want to win the gold in Vancouver."

On his last jump, the triple Salchow, he had to land on a very bend knee which resulted in a -1.20 being taken off the base value. However, he finished on a very high note with a change foot combination spin which concludes with his head flung far back which gives the illusion of him being "headless". Four judges punched in the maximum +3 GoE and the others all gave +2. The audience went wild and he was given a standing ovation. The cost of doing such fast spins which create a "blur" was obvious. His face as he stood receiving his applause was very red. The centrifugal force created in spinning sends the blood cells towards the skin surface and, in extreme circumstances, can break blood vessels. Just ask another great Swiss spinner, Lucinda Ruh. Lambiel explained, "For me it is important what you express on the ice. For me the music is right when I feel the vibrations. It was good, but this performance wasnít perfect. I felt great this week in Tallinn. But the competition is very tough. The level is very high. There is a lot of stress."

3. TS 236.45 Brian Joubert, France; 3. FS147.90 (68.10 + 79.80) Joubert dropped from second to third with a technical score which was only seventh best. He said, "Iím very disappointed with my free skating, but itís not a big surprise. I knew that I wasnít ready for the free skating (because of his foot injury). I was confident for the short program, because I worked a lot on that. But I wasnít confident enough for the free skating." Both Joubert and Plushenko had a bad warm-up but since Joubert skated 17th, he didnít have the advantage of knowing how either of his leading rivals had performed. At the end of the four and a half minute routine, the 25 year old three-time holder of this title (2004, 2007 and 2009) bowed to the audience shaking his head.

He opened his routine, set to Ancient Land by Ronan Hardiman, with a quad toe loop but had to do a double three turn to hold the landing and had -1.60 taken off the base value. He immediately tried a second variety of quad, the Salchow, but doubled it and received the base value of that move, just 1.3 points. Asked what happened, he said "I wasnít relaxed enough and I didnít have enough speed." Things went better for a while. He received +1.0 GoE for his triple Axel to triple toe, +0.50 over the base value for his Level 4 flying sit spin and +0.60 extra for his triple Lutz to double toe. A second triple Lutz followed as the bonus marks clicked in and he earned a total 7.8 points for that. However, then he landed his triple loop with a bad lean and was unable to execute the two other jumps planned for this combination. His circular steps were given +0.90 but deemed only Level 2. He presented another Salchow, stepping out of this triple. A triple flip followed but he is not taking-off from the correct "inside" edge and because of that, the move was saddled with the dreaded "e" which resulted in a minus 1.20 GoE. He finished the routine with a Level 3 +0.40 change foot combination spin, Level 2 +0.70 straight line steps and a Level 4 +0.30 change foot sit spin. He said, in a dejected voice, "I am disappointed. This was practice for the Olympics and now I donít know how to proceed. Maybe Iím still not ready for this program, and thatís why there were mistakes. For sure this was not a winning performance. I donít have any problems with the technique. It is more a physical problem. I feel ready mentally, but I can be more confident.

4. TS 224.74, Michal Brezina, Czech Republic; 5. FS 145.14 (72.54 +72.60) The 19-year-old held onto fourth place despite ranking only fifth in the free, a big advancement from his 16th and 10th places in the previous two years. Brezina, who trains in his hometown of Brno and in Oberstdorf in Germany, said, "I felt a bit nervous before the event, because I was skating in the last group (after Plushenko and before Lambiel) with these big names! But now I feel great and, on the ice, I was comfortable." He skated to An American in Paris, opening with a triple Axel although he was forced to do a double three turn to control the landing and was not able to combine it as planed with a second jump.

All but two of his other elements gained the base value or better. He brought off a good triple Axel to double toe loop which earned an extra +0.60 just as the bonus marks click in although the following triple flip to triple toe had a slight minus. "Yes, I made one big mistake in the last jumping pass," Brezina admitted. "I did a single Axel and I lost about eight points."

5. TS 221.33, Samuel Contesti, Italy, 4. FS 145.43 (76.33 + 69.10) The former Frenchman who changed nationalities because of quarrels with the French Federation, was last yearís silver medal. Here, he rose two places from seventh. "It was a great performance," he said. Skating to an interesting selection of music by Pan Pipes of the Andes, he began with a +1 triple Axel to triple toe followed by a +0.60 triple flip, a +0.8 triple Lutz, two Level 4 spins earning +0.10 and +0.30 and +0.50 straight line steps. His only negative was -1.0 on the triple Salchow to triple toe. Just as the bonus marks clicked in he executed a second triple Axel which earned a full point over the base value. He also did a triple loop and a double Axel which earned their base values. His last jumping pass was a double Axel to two double toes which gained the base value. He finished with a Level 4 +0.20 flying sit spin. He said, "Iím very happy. I was fighting for the last three-jump combination, because every point is important. One point can make a difference, like it was in short program. The public was wonderful. I also want to thank all people who helped me, my coaches, and my coachís wife, my family and many others. The pressure is always there, because all competitions are important. It is impossible to not feel pressure. If you donít, it means you donít care. Now I will train, train, train and maybe train some more to get ready for the Olympics."

6. TS 219.52, Yannick Ponsero, France; 7. FS 137.12 (63.12 +74.00) Ponsero, who has been 12th twice and was fourth last year in this event, dropped from third to sixth. Skating to a mixture of four pieces, Caravan, Summertime, Porgy and Bess, and Sing, Sing, Sing, he started well with a speedy +1.60 quad toe which had great height and a +1.0 triple Axel, but then he did a double Lutz. There were only two more triples, a +0.40 Salchow combined with two toe loops and a triple toe in which he stepped out of the landing. All his Level moves were 2 except for the first spin, a change foot sit which got a Level 3. He said, "It was a very good competition with Brian, Evgeni Plushenko and Stťphane Lambiel who returned. Everyone was skating well tonight. So it was hard for me physically and mentally to hold it together. I gave all my energy in the first minute and I was tired afterwards. Thatís a little disappointing."

7. TS 207.61 Alban Preaubert, France; 9. FS 131.24 (64.84 + 66.40) Preaubert was also disappointing, dropping a place to seventh with a ninth ranked Free to a medley by the Rolling Stones, Paint it Black, Angie, Mannish Boy and Start Me Up. He said, "Iíve made it really well through these Europeans. It has been a pleasure to skate here. The audience, especially, was great. I carry a positive feeling with me to the Olympic Games. Although Iím an old hand, the Olympic Games are a new step for me. It was the first time I tried a quadruple toe in a competition in a long time. Unfortunately, it didnít work out." It turned into a triple, but the following triple Axel to double toe earned +0.20 over the base value and a three-jump combo of triple flip to double toe to double loop earned the base value. Then, after a Level 4 change foot combination spin which earned +0.2 over its base value, he brought off a second triple Axel which got its base value. The triple loop which followed was downgraded and a triple Lutz was saddled with a -1.20. He then brought off a triple flip to double toe and a triple Salchow both of which earned their base values. The 24-year-old admitted, "I was a bit nervous and my legs felt heavy. But towards the end of the program, I improved. This event has been an important test for me. Iíve gained a lot of confidence here. Now, I have to put emphasis on the quadruple toe, and I have to work on reducing my nervousness."

8. TS 204.83, Javier Fernandez, Spain; 6. FS 138.33 (73.43 + 64.90) Fernandez rose from 13th after SP. This was the 18 year oldís fourth Europeans. He has advanced steadily from 28th in 2007, 17th in 2008 and 11th last year. He now trains with Nicolai Morozov in Hackensack, NJ. Skating to Pirates of the Caribbean, he tried a quad and succeeded with the rotation but messed up the landing and received a -2.88 deduction. His second jump, the triple Axel, earned 0.20 over the base value but his triple Lutz got -1.60 taken off. After a Level 3 flying sit spin and Level 3 circular steps, he did a triple Axel to double toe just as the bonus clicks in and earned +0.60 over that base value. A triple flip, triple loop, triple Salchow to two double toe loops and a triple toe to double Axel all earned their base value plus 10%. He said, "Iím satisfied and happy with my performance. It was good. Yes, I made some mistakes in the first part, it is also the hardest part. I donít feel anything special before the Olympic Games. Iím too young to hope for the first place there, so Iíll just go to get the experience and letís see. I want to train good for that, my training is different every day."

9. TS 203.95, Stefan Lindemann, Germany; 8. FS 133.76 (68.76 + 65.00) stayed 9th although he was 8th in Free. Lindemann is also a returnee. He doubled his first jump, an attempt at a quad toe, but his second was a +1.2 triple Axel. He later presented a second triple Axel combined with a double toe when the bonus point clicked in. He also brought off a triple loop, a double Axel to triple toe loop, a triple Lutz and another triple toe. His three-jump combo of triple Salchow and two double toes got -0.40 taken off the base value, but everything else got the base value or better. However, of his five "Level" moves, only one was a 3. The others were called as 2s. The 29-year-old said, "Iíve made it really well through these Europeans. It was the first time I tried a quad to in a competition for a long time. Unfortunately it didnít work out. I was a bit nervous and my legs felt heavy. But towards the end of the program, I improved. This event has been an important test for me. Iíve gained a lot of confidence here. Now I have to put emphasis on the quad and I have to work on reducing my nervousness. It has been a pleasure to skate here. I carry a positive feeling into the Olympic Games. Although Iím an old hand, the Olympic Games are a new step for me.

10. TS 203.18, Tomas Verner, Czech Republic; 10. FS 130.43 (58.03+73.40-1.0 fall) Verner won this title in 2008 but this time he dropped two places after the SP. He fell on his quad toe loop attempt and then tried a second one but messed up the landing. Both were given credit for the full rotation. He brought off a triple Axel with +0.20 GoE. But then he singled his second triple Axel. He explained, "For the second triple Axel, I was a little unfocused, I focused too much on my physical state. My legs were tired, but I know that I can skate the second part of my program, no matter what happened before. My other error was the single loop (his 10th element). Before that I thought all the time about how many jumps I can repeat as I didnít do combinations. I thought I still can do a triple-triple to pick up some points, and then it was too late, my shoulder was gone and I couldnít save it. For my next competition, I really need to take each element separately and to focus on each one. I have to check them off one by one and move on to the next one. Europeans wasnít a practice competition for me, this is always an event at a high level. It was a good experience for me. It is good for me to know that I wonít be a champion without hard work. I really learned that I have to focus on the one important thing."

11. TS 195.48 .Kevin van der Perren, Belgium; 11. FS 127.76 (65.06 + 65.70) 11th throughout . Van der Perren, who is 27, said, "Considering whole season, I am very happy with my performance today. I said to my coach that I want to skate clean today and thatīs why I did a combination of 2 triple jumps and a double (instead of triple-triple-triple). I worked with a choreographer and the choreography didnít work out. I ended up with an injury so I decided to go back to this (Robin Hood) program. In the Short Program only the Axel didnít work out. This is the worst preparation for Olympics I ever had. I always considered Vancouver as my last competition, but maybe Iíll come back for next European Championships."

12. TS 188.79 Adrian Schultheis, Sweden; 13. FS 122.24 (59.94 + 62.30)

13. TS Anton Kovalevski, Ukraine; 14. FS 121.64 (58.94 +62.70)

14. 185.38 Sergei Voronov, Russia, 12. FS 125.11 (65.61 + 59.50) Voronov, who was 4th in his debut in this event in 2008, and 9th last year, pulled up from 17th after the SP. He said, "I was aggressive today. My marks were not so high, but, first of all, I made some errors, and secondly, I skated in the first group, and itís hard to get high marks in the first warm-up group. To be honest, when you are skating for Russia you should not skate in the first group. I am ashamed of myself and I disappointed my coaches. I had to motivate myself. I tried to forget about yesterday, the day that turned into an ice nightmare for me. Today, I started from scratch. I talked with my coach (Alexei Urmanov, 1994 Olympic champion) and I decided to do just a quad toe and a triple Axel-triple toe instead of a quad-triple toe as it (Axel-toe) was going well in practice."

Short Program

THE KING IS BACK. BRILLIANT PLUSHENKO WIPES THE FIELD.  SETS RECORD SHORT PROGRAM SCORE

BRIAN JOUBERT REDUCES DIFFICULTY OF COMBO

STEPHANE LAMBIEL PRESENTS GREAT SPINS BUT WEAK JUMPS

Thirty eight entries from 30 countries were reduced to 20 for the Free, down four slots from last yearís 24 for reasons of "economy". Once ousted, the host country does not pay for the skatersí accommodation, and, only those skaters giving exhibition will have their hotel paid past the morning after their event. Sources say this is turning out to be a costly nightmare. Flights have to be changed for both competitors and officials. Some countries are just having the ousted bunk in with other competitors but then there is no food allowance, and it is unclear whether their credentials will even get them into the rink to watch the rest of the competition. This is a policy which will be in effect for all ISU championships

In what is the strangest change, the first group of five men will perform their free from 6:45pm Thursday till 7:30 and then there will be a gap of 45 minutes until the next group takes the ice at 8:15. Whatís that all about? There are similar gaps between the beginning group and the rest of the competitors for the Free in the other three disciplines.

1. Evgeni Plushenko, Russia, Total Score 91.30 (51.10 Elements + 40.20 Components) Plushenko has made time stand still. Now 27, he performed second of the top 19, skating just as brilliantly as he did when he won the Olympic gold in 2006. Dressed in black and silver with black gloves, his straight blond hair flapping away as he swept smoothly, confidently and easily though the eight required elements choreographed to Joaquin Rodrigoís Concerto de Aranjuez.

His initial move, a textbook quad toe to triple toe was followed by a triple Axel and triple Lutz. The rest of the program was window dressing. The three spins, a change foot combo, a flying sit and a change foot sit, were awarded the maximum Level 4. His circular steps were Level 3 and the straight line steps executed towards the end of the two minute 50 second routine were Level 2. All the judges gave him Grades of Execution that were +1 and +2 with the exception of one 0 for his final spin and one +3 for his triple Lutz. The 3 was out of line with that judgeís colleagues who all gave Plushenko +1 for this jump. His components ranged from a low of one 7.00 for the ĎTransitionsí cateogory, up to two 8.75s for ĎPerformanceí and two other 8.75s for his Interpretation. His component score was only the third best, with the judges tying both Joubert and Lambiel in first place for this section with 40.75, but that was by only 0.55 over Plushenko.

Plushenko said, "I think it was the best performance of the season. Everything went well, except for a little wobble on the combination spin. I did the quad-triple and that was REALLY important! For some reason, the quad wasnít so consistent in practice here. I had an early practice, at 8:30 in the morning. I got up at six and the quad didnít go so well. So, I worried about my jumps. I had a few inner doubts. The jumps are, after all, the most important things in Menís figure skating, in my opinion. But I told myself just to go out and do it. I pushed myself. Today, I beat my personal best score but I wonít be euphoric. Tomorrow is another whole day Ė an important day!

"I am very happy with my performance today, and with my feeling. Iím not flying to the moon right now, because there will be a big fight tomorrow. It is a great feeling to be in the middle seat be given the Ďsmallí gold medal for the short program." He was asked about the knee for which he had hospital treatment in December. "I feel healthy. I didnít have a problem today and I hope I wonít have a problem tomorrow. Of course I watched Joubert. I skated before him. I saw all the skaters. They are all very strong."

Nodding towards Joubert and Ponsero, who lie second and third, Plushenko said, sportingly, "Good job!" He also said he didnít know how many quads he will do in the Free. Since he has drawn to skate third in the last group of five skaters, following Ponsero and Joubert, he said he (or more likely his coach, Alexei Mishin) would wait to see how they skate. "Weíll see how Brian skates. I have my strategy, but I actually plan one quad. I want to win."

Plushenko had to wait two and a half hours after he skated to be sure he had won and who would claim second and third going into the following nightís free. His score is a new ISU SP worldís best. He set the previous best of 90.66 when he won the Short Program in Torino on his way to winning Olympic gold. If he achieves his goal of becoming a double Olympic medalist, he will be the first to do that in mens figure skating since Dick Button won his laurels in 1948 and 1952. Plushenko has won the European title five times, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2006. He has been dethroned twice: by his Russian teammate Alexei Yagudin in 2002 and by Joubert in 2004.

2. Brian Joubert, France, 88.55 (47.80+40.75) skated last. In addition to his 2004 win, he held this title in 2007. He was dethroned by Tomas Verner in 2008 and took the crown back last year. Dressed in black with red sparkles, Joubert, 25, performed to Rise by Safri Duo. But his planned quad triple combo turned into a quad double. He said, "It wasnít easy for me to skate last, especially after the kind of program that Evgeni Plushenko did. I felt the pressure and I was nervous. I watched his program in my hotel live on television. It was actually the same situation as in the Olympics in 2006. He skated early and I watched in my room. I got very nervous then but now I cope better with nerves." (Brian was 4th in that SP and 6th overall in Torino.)

Joubert had planned to match Plushenkoís combination but was not able to bring off that feat. He said, "Iím disappointed I did a quad double. This morning, in practice, I didnít feel very good but this was at the practice rink. I felt good during the six minute warm-up and the quad went really well. My program today reflects my training. Iíve worked on the footwork and the spins and it really paid off."

Only four of the 72 Grades of Execution punched in for Joubert by the nine judges were 0, which is given for a satisfactory completion. Pluses mean the move was done in a superior fashion and minuses mean there was something wrong. One zero was for Joubertís jump combo, one was for his triple Lutz and two were for his final spin. The rest of his GoEs were +1s and +2s. Like both Plushenko and Ponsero, Joubert got the maximum Level 4 for all three spins. Ponsero matched Plushenkoís Level 3 and Level 2 for his two step sequences, but both Joubertís step sequences were only 2.

Joubert, who is a many time French champion, has not been able to defend his title because of injury or illness for the past two seaons. He said, "Iím happy with my performance, but I know I can do better. I was very nervous to skate last. Todayís performance makes me confident for the free skating. It will be a big fight and very interesting for everyone." He was asked about spiking his foot on a triple Lutz which forced him to withdraw from the Grand Prix Final. He replied, "I donít feel any pain now. I put a protection on my boot, and it makes me more confident especially for the triple Lutz. Everything is fine. I was very nervous when I got out on the ice. When I landed the quad, I just wanted to do a clean combination, but the quad was good and I could have done a triple toe. So Iím a little disappointed with it. I watched Plushenko from my room. I watched the jumps, and they were perfect. When I saw the score I thought it would be difficult to beat him. I just want to do my job. I will try two quads, the toeloop and the Salchow in the Free. The European Championships are like a practice for me for the Olympic Games."

3. Yannick Ponsero, France, 82.40 (46.00+36.40) Ponsero, who is 23, performed to La Corrida as a fiery Matador. He was French champion last season, but was dethroned by Florent Amodio, who will have one of the two French Olympic berths along with Joubert. However, Amodio has not been entered for this event! Last year Ponsero was fourth in the European championships. Like Joubert, Ponsero brought off a quad-double for his combo and a triple Axel although his solo jump out of footwork was "only" a triple Salchow. Ponsero said, "I did a good job today. I am satisfied about my performance, thatīs for sure! Even more so, because it is my seasonīs best performance. 82 points is very good. I would like to make the same tomorrow. Of course, I was nervous. There is always pressure during competitions. Now I have to stay focused for tomorrow." One judge even awarded Ponsero the maximum +3 GoE for his straight line steps, and received no negative GOEs.

4. Michal Brezina, Czech Republic, 79.60 (45.40+34.20) Brezina, who turns 20 on March 30, gave a snazzy showing to Putting on the Ritz dressed in black with a white waistcoat. The 2009 world junior silver medalist showed the form with which he was able to defeat the 2008 European champion Tomas Verner in the recent Czech championship.

Brezina said, "The performance went really well with only one small mistake on the triple Axel. I did not land with my weight centered, but it worked out well. The feeling here was exactly as it was on the national level. I felt very good. I take every competition as if I am in practice. It does not matter to me whether I am in national level or in a competition like this. I take all my skating seriously." This is his third European championship. He previously finished 16th and 10th.

5. The very flamboyant Stephane Lambiel, Switzerland, 77.75 (37.75+40.75), was the 2006 Olympic silver medalist and 2005 and 2006 world champion. Despite taking silver in the 2006 and 2008 European championships, he has never won this title. He retired from competition in October 2008 due to injury but couldnít resist making a comeback even though he still skates with back pain. In a well designed routine to the William Tell Overture, wearing a very authentic costume from that period, he presented some great spins including the final element, a change foot combination. In the final position, he spins so fast with his head thrown back, it actually disappears from view. The judges almost unanimously awarded it the maximum GoE of +3 with only one dissenter giving the spin, a +2. It was "called" as the top Level 4 by Technical Specialist Ricardo Olavarrieta and his assistant, former French competitor, Vanessa Gusmeroli. Lambiel also received five +3s, three +2s and a miserly +1 for his Level 3 straight line steps.

But Lambiel, 24, has always had problems with the triple Axel and presented only a double. Then he completely messed up his quad toe loop and only just kept himself from falling. He readily admitted, "It was not a good performance for me. I made a big mistake in my combination jump. But I am very happy to compete here. I was waiting very much for this moment, and next time it will be better. After arriving in Tallinn I had great practices here. I donīt have any problems. The mistake I made is a mistake that can happen in competition because of the stress.

"I decided to come back because I felt better after a year of rest and I was motivated to qualify for the Olympic Games (which he did in the Oberstdorf Olympic Secondary Qualifying competition) because I want to experience the Olympic Games one more time in my life. In sport you never know what will happen. I am a fighter by nature and I hope for the best." His technical mark was only the ninth best, but his components were tied first with Plushenkoís.

6. Alban Prťaubert of France, 76.37 (41.12+35.25) presented an amusing routine in which he played a jockey. It was set to a different version of the music used by Lambiel, which was culled from the movie, Orange Mecanique. This is Prťaubertís fifth European championships. He finished 6th twice, then 10th and 5th last year. The 24-year-old said, "I am satisfied with my performance today but I would prefer to have done better. Tomorrow I will dare to do a quad toe loop. It doesnít a bother me, that my music is similar to Lambielís, because I think that I have a different interpretation of the music. Mine is more mixed, while Lambiel has a more classical version. It was easy for me to motivate myself again after French Nationals (where he finished third). I am grateful to the Federation that they trusted me, and I think they have made the right choice to send me here."

7. Samuel Contesti, Italy, 75.90 (41.30+34.60) won silver in this event last year and was fifth in the world championship, so he was disappointed with this standing. He performed to a Country and Western number, Wish Me Well, Whammer Jammer. Although he did a +1.20 GoE triple Lutz to triple toe, and a +0.60 triple Axel, he messed up his triple flip. His coach, Peter GrŁtter, who also teaches Lambiel, said, "We had planned to change the triple loop to triple flip already for some time. I believe he can do it tomorrow. Sometimes a successful landing is just question of millimeters."

8. Tomas Verner, the Czech Republic, 72.75 (35.60+37.15) Verner, who skated to Zorba, The Greek, was second in this event in 2007 and won the title in 2008 but has been having a very bad year. The 23-year-old planned to start with a quad-triple which has a base value of 13.80. But he did only a flawed version of the first jump which was downgraded. That meant the move scored only 1.40 points. He said, "My performance today was okay. It was an improvement. I have been sick for a long time, but now I feel better. I would have needed two or three weeks more practice, as I only started skating again beginning of January. It was obvious that I had to change the program after I missed the quadruple combination. So I added the double toe to the triple Lutz to make it the combination instead of the solo jump."

9. Stefan Lindemann, Germany, 70.19 (39.24+30.95) He was the bronze medalist in this event in 2005. He has also come out of retirement. The 29-year-old five-time German champion, 2004-2007 and 2010, said, "It was a fantastic feeling to be here again. It has been three years since I competed at Europeans. I fought hard to come here. The program was great. Iím very pleased especially with jumps. The Lutz was basically there, but I have a few problems with it this season. I stumbled because I was too motivated and I got carried away in the circular steps. I wanted to do it too well. Iíve never had a score as high as this. Tomorrow I want to skate as clean as possible in the free skating and see what comes out of it." He skated to music from the movie The Firm.

10. Kristoffer Berntsson, Sweden, 69.20 (38.20+31.00) The 27-year-old from Gothenburg, whose best place in this event was 7th in 2008, skated to Anvil of Grom from the soundtrack of Conan, the Barbarian with a routine in which there were no visible flaws. He said, "The performance went really great. Everything about it was good. I really like this program. This competition is really important because it will decide who goes to the Olympic Games for Sweden. That did put some pressure on me. It was very good that I had a personal best, but to me it is always important to give maximum on the program. His teammate, Adrian Schultheiss, had a problem with his combination and is lying 12th.

11. Kevin van der Perren, Belgium, 67.72 (34.82+32.90) Van der Perren was the bronze medalist in this event in 2007 and 2009. However, the 27-year-old, who is married to British champion Jenna McCorkell, put his hand down on his first move, a triple Axel. He skated to Night on Bald Mountain in a skeleton outfit. He said, "I donít know how I managed to pull myself together after Iíd missed the triple Axel. It could have been much worse, as I felt completely tired today. I couldnít practice a lot, as I had flu for three weeks. When the season started, I couldnít cope with my new program and decided to go back to the old program.

17. Probably the most disappointed competitor is Sergei Voronov of Russia, 60.27 (27.52+32.75). Voronov was twice Russian champions before Plushenko dethroned him. This is his third European championship. He finished 4th in 2008 and 9th last year. This time his planned quad to triple became a triple-triple. His triple Axel was downgraded and his flip doubled. Voronov took responsibility for the disaster. "This was the first time this season that I skated so poorly in the short program. I missed my jumps. There was nothing on the ice that bothered me. It was just about myself. His coach, 1984 Olympic champion Alexei Urmanov agreed, "Yes, it was not a very good performance, but life goes on. We will motivate him for tomorrowīs competition. He was preparing well. He was training well. Everything was according to the plan. We made no changes since Russian Nationals."

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