2012 European Championships: Men's SP

By Alexandra Stevenson

TRAINING MATE PIPS THE GREAT PLUSHENKO BY 0.09, WHILE FRENCH HEARTHROB NEEDS SOME SYMPATHY

1.Artur Gachinski, Russia 84.80 (45.91+38.89)
2.Evgeni Plushenko, Russia 84.71 (42.21+42.50)

The competition was almost over before it had hardly started. Evgeni Plushenko took the ice at 1pm for the first warm-up group on a cold, rainy, windy day in the steel manufacturing industrial city of Sheffield, in north central England, where specialized figure skating blades with their large toe-picks and ice dance blades with their short back ends have been perfected and sent all over the world for over a century.

Skating fourth of the first group of six, the 2006 Olympic gold medalist skated an extremely gutsy showing, set to Yanniís Storm which was arranged, as is all Plushenkoís music by his friend the Hungarian violinist, Edvin Marton. He was all in black with sexy chiffon-covered cut-outs. He readily admitted, "These Europeans are very tough for me. I have two injuries. Yesterday (in the qualifying round), I aggravated my (right) knee injury and when I do the quad toe, I need at least three, four minutes to recover from the pain. Therefore we decided not to do the quad today."

He started with a combination of triple Lutz to triple toe, followed by a triple Axel and a triple loop. Plushenko readily admitted, "It was either doing a program without the quad or not competing, and I want to finish this competition. I know that it is hard to win without a quad. For me, it is about finishing this competition, having surgery and rehab and then doing new programs. My motivation is the Olympic Games at home in Sochi. I am pleased with the performance considering the circumstances.

"A program without a quad was like a trip into the past. Doing a program without a quad is not my level, but I can't do it right now." Will he withdraw? He said, very emphatically, "No! Once you've entered the fight, you cannot back out. I'll withdraw only if I can't get out of bed." He stuck around watching most of the other competitors. "I like to see my competitors, to see what they are showing. Iím not dead yet. And the small silver (medal for the SP) shows Iím still strong enough to compete. I still have the dedication. As for Worlds" - weíll see." He has a commitment to perform three Holiday on Ice show in the capital of North Korea, which indicates that Nice is probably NOT in his schedule.

Plushenkoís Levels for the three spins and footwork were all 3 (out of a maximum of 4). His score stood up for almost three and a half hours until his Artur Gachinski, an 18-year-old with whom he trains in St. Petersburg, took the ice. Gachinski won the world bronze medal last April, in his debut in that event.

Both are coached by Alex Mishin (who, with Tamara Moskvina won the silver world pair medal in 1969 when Worlds were in Colorado Springs, and the Soviet Union took all three medals with Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov winning their first world title and the aging Protopopovs pushed down to third.) Mishin took Plushenko on when the child was 11 after his home rink in Volgograd closed. He believes Gachinski has an equal potential.

Plushenkoís agent, Ari Zakarian, said that Plushenko and Gachinski do train together although not all the time. They are very supportive of each other but, of course, are at very different stages of their careers, with Plushenko a married man with a large fan base and Gachinski just starting out at this level. Last year, in his debut in the European championships, Gachinski was third after the Short Program but dropped to fifth overall.

Gachinski performed 25th in the field of 29. (The limit is 28, but if the host countryís competitor does not qualify, they are still permitted to skate but do so as the opening competitor. This is for the local audience to have someone to cheer for.)

Gachinski interpreted St. Louis Blues in a lavender silk shirt with black gloves. He opened with a great +1.43 quad toe to triple toe followed by an OK +0.29 triple Axel and OK +0.40 triple loop. Two of his spins, and his circular steps which, at one point, had an amusing, intentional "drunken stagger", earned the maximum Level 4 with the steps getting eight +2s and one maximum +3 Grade of Execution from the nine member panel of judges. His change foot combination spin was "only" Level 3 but with +0.57.

"I think this was my best ever skate so far. I did all the jumps, the spins and the footwork as I had planned. I basically expected such a performance as I was ready for the short program. Right now I feel only that I am the leader in the short program. The free skating is still to come and everything can change. Tomorrow I'll have a calm practice and then I'll get ready for Saturday."

Gachinski was the only competitor to get the maximum Level 4 for his footwork. "I also got Level 4 at the Cup of Russia (Grand Prix) and at Nationals as well, so we are doing it the right way. I donít feel like I have won because we still have another program to do. I have to skate well in the free and if possible keep the placement. This is a great honor for me to compete in the same team as Evgeni, because I always looked up to him and I still do. It was very nice to for me to think we are fighting for the same medals. It is like a major landmark for me. "

Plushenko said, "Of course I watched his (Gachinskiís) program. I watched all the programs because the other skaters are all my rivals and they are all my competitors and all are real masters to have reached this standard. But Artur showed a high level today. He performed excellent jumps and it is obvious that he won today. It is impossible to fight for me with the kind of program I did today. It is hard without a quad.

"But the fact that I am sitting here and I have a small medal. Even though it is a silver one, I am very satisfied with that. I repeat, the whole fight for me will start the day after tomorrow and the most important thing is, of course, the next season and the year 2014. This is my main goal. I came here to present myself, to skate in front of my fans, to show my programs and, like my coach said, to show that I am still alive.

"To be honest, I think that my rivals handed me a big present today, giving me second place without a quad. Obviously, it was a great surprise to me. But I want to say that I did well today. I did all my elements, skated with emotions and I am very happy and satisfied with my performance today. Of course I still think that quads should be part of menís figure skating. I didn't do it today, because I just couldn't.

"I can do it as I showed in the qualifying round, but considering my age and all my titles, I should ask if I could stop for a break to give my leg some rest and then I'd continue. I donít think the officials would consider that so, unfortunately, because I can't do the quad because of my injury, it is hard for me, but I still try to go on and do my job. Today, I managed without a quad. For the day after tomorrow we'll see.

Mishin said, "I would like to comment on Evgeniís idea. Menís skating without a quad is like a soup without good ingredients. You can boil the fake meat, put salt and pepper in, but itís never tasty. If somebody likes to skate without a quad, they should organize a separate league - Menís Single Dancing." Asked about coaching two high level skaters at the same time, Mishin said, "All my coaching life Iíve had 2-3 high level skaters and this is the way it should be. Today, Iím happy about Artur, but especially happy about Evgeniís skating. He came and showed that heís able to be a winner on one leg. No, the competition is not finished yet. Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. But Evgeni showed that heís alive, strong, and dangerous.

3. Tomas Verner from the Czech Republic 81.14 (42.39+38.75) performed to Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. The 25-year-old, who now trains in Canada with Robert Emerson, said, "I didnít feel any pressure because of Evgeni. This is an event with 24 skaters in the Free, and whoever will be the best will be decided by the judges. I tried to do my best. But I felt some pressure because during the Grand Prix season I didnít get as much done as I wanted. That was the only pressure. Evgeni being here is actually a great pleasure because itís always good to compete against such great skaters.

"I had a disappointing opening to the program. I knew when I missed the quad (he two-footed the landing but still got credit for the rotation and didn't fall), I had missed my chance. Iíve been struggling with the triple Axel in practice so I felt I didnít have anything to look forward to. But then I did a good one (which earned +1.0). I just hope I did good enough to be in the last group (of 6) for the free skate. (He was.) That was my goal.

4. Javier Fernandez 80.11 (40.83+39.28) is having his "breakaway" season. The 20-year old, who became the first skater for Spain to qualify for the Grand Prix Final and won bronze in that event in December, is now trained by Brian Orser in Toronto. This is his fifth time competing in the European championship. His best placement came in 2010 when he was eighth.

Skating 20th, to I Love Paris by The Witnesses Petit Fleur by Rene Henri, he opened with a +1.43 quad toe. However, he lost a full point, stepped out of his triple Lutz before getting airborne for the triple toe in his combination and his landing on the triple Axel was flawed. He said, "My performance was ok. I missed a few jumps and my upright spin (which was only Level 2) but Iím happy. I felt a little bit pressure but I tried to push myself. Iím still learning how to deal with it. I practiced a lot for this event. I had a few problems, my hip and neck started to hurt so I had to stop for four days. Still, I believe Iím prepared and ready for the long program. I just came here to do my best."

5.Florent Amodio 78.48 (39.87+38.61), the 21-year-old defending champion from France, did not have a good showing. He explained, "I am still dealing with my back injury since French Nationals, but I get massage every day and I am feeling good and I have no concerns for competing." He has changed his short program from earlier in the season and is now skating to music from the soundtrack of Tears of the Sun by Zimmer. "The old program was good, but I didn't get the feeling I wanted. I wanted to prepare the best way for Worlds, therefore we changed the program. I need to be ready for Worlds, which is the most important competition for me."

Amodio messed up his opening quad Salchow, although he did get credit for the rotation. He was only able to add a double toe instead of the planned triple to his triple Lutz. However, his triple Axel was a good +1.29. Only the combination spin was Level 4. His Level 3 circular steps gained two of the maximum +3 GoEs with five other judges awarding +2 and the remaining two punching in +1. His change foot sit spin was Level 3 but his flying camel was only Level 2.

Asked about competing against the maestro Plushenko, he said, "I respect him a lot. He is getting older, but he did a great job. I know he did Lutz-toe, Axel, loop, and they were perfect!"

6.Michal Brezina 76.13 (37.91+ 39.22 -1) from the Czech Republic has been fourth in the last two World Championships but was eighth in this event last year. The 21 year-old, who drew to skate 18th, performed to "Best of Kodo Drums". He explained, "I fell on the quad (Salchow, which got an "arrow" for slight under-rotation), which was obviously a mistake. I did a little three turn at the end of the combination (triple flip to triple toe) but I felt really good about the rest (which included a +2 triple Axel). I don't have any expectations for the free program. I just want to do what I know and just do my job.

"In the summer I slipped a disc in my lower spine and had two months off at the beginning of the season Ė two months of a lot of pain. It was desperate. Then at New Year, I pulled the bands in my left knee. So it has not been the best start to the season. I think I am now at 80 percent fitness. But you will rarely find an athlete at full fitness. I would like to say congratulations to Sheffield. It is a really lovely crowd."

7. Kevin van der Perren, 71.05 (37.50+34.55 -1), 29, from Belgium who won bronze in the 2007 and 2009 European championships, says that at his age, his body is just so totally broken down that he doesnít think he can ever completely recover. "I thought I wasn't going to compete here today. It started about three weeks ago that my back started to hurt. Both practices here went really bad because of the pain in my back. I didn't sleep the whole night. I tried to catch some sleep after practice, but it didn't work. I was already so tired after the triple-triple combination, then I focused so much on the Axel and then I came too close the barrier when going into the Lutz. I lost focus. As this is definitely my last European Championship, I wanted to skate here. All my family and friends are here in the audience. I donít want to pull out because they have made such an effort to get here. Iím going to wait till the last practice to decide if I will compete in the free skating. Itís time for Jorik to take up the slack." He skated to The Feeling Begins, completing a triple flip to triple toe and a +1.43 triple Axel but he fell on the triple Lutz. Two of his spins were Level 4. The steps and his combination spin were Level 3.

8. Jorik Hendrickx 68.98 (36.73+32.25) The19-year-old from Belgium, was 20th in his debut in this event in 2010 and 16th last year, so he was delighted to advance from this year. But, he said, "Unfortunately, this performance was not so good. I have trouble with the jumps. I don't know what the problem is. My preparation for this competition was good and I like the program very much. But I fell on the triple Axel and it was a big fall and then I just could not get back into it.

9. Alexander Majorov 68.33 (36.29+32.04) The 20-year-old from Sweden skated to Soul Bossa Nova from the movie Austin Powers. Last February, he became the first Swede ever to win a medal in the World Junior championship when he earned bronze, and the first Swede to win any medal in an ISU championship since Vivi-Anne Hulten won bronze in the 1937 world championship. This is only his second appearance in the European championships. In 2009, he finished 22nd. He said, "I'm kind of pleased. It should be a little bit better, I made a few mistakes on the landings."

10.Brian Joubert 67.92 (31.07+38.85, -2) The 27-year-old French 2004, 2007 and 2009 European champion, who was second last year, had a disastrous showing. Skating to Genesis Aerodynamic by Daft Punk, he fell on his opening move, a quad toe loop which received an arrow indicating under-rotation. Then he stepped out of his triple Axel and his triple Lutz earned only its base value. However, his combination spin was Level 4 and the other three Level moves received 3.

He said, ĎI was a little bit nervous but no more than usual. But this morning when I came on this ice for the first time, I didn't feel anything. I had no sensations. The warm-up was the same. Preparing for this event, I did a very good job, I worked a lot. But I made some mistakes because I was not ready for this competition. I still have to be focused, and I think I have to change some things. I really donít know what will happen in the Free. I am little bit lost. I think the same thing might happen again. Today, I messed up three jumps, in the free program I have eight that I can mess up."

In addition to his point deduction for his fall, Joubert was given a timing deduction because he did not finish until the clock said 2 min 52 seconds and the maximum time is 2:50. He had recently changed his ending and did not get the new moves finished quickly enough.

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