2012 European Championships: Men's Qualifying Rounds

By Alexandra Stevenson

"Iím looking to next year. I still need another operation on my knees."

In the singles, there are 18 who are "Direct" entries, who are not required to skate their Free in the Preliminary round. These entries are decided on the results of how countries placed the previous year. For instance Russia had two competitors in the mens event in Bern in 2011. Artur Gachinski finished fifth and Konstantin Menshov was 7th. That meant Russia was permitted the maximum of three entries this year but only two were "direct".

In addition, all the entries for international championships must have earned a certain score in a recognized international either in this season or last. Evgeni Plushenko, though twice silver (2002 & 2010) and Olympic gold medal winner (2006), had NOT done that. Therefore, special dispensation was requested and awarded from the ISU for him to compete, but he had to "qualify".

Skating 13th in the field of 16, the 29 year-oldís Tango de Roxanne presentation, although not perfect, was full of energy and easily outclassed the rest of the field. He won with 157.52 (75.24+82.28) which was 42.88 points ahead of the second placed Zoltan Kelemen, who earned 114.64 (61.48+53.16) skating to Pearl Harbor. Kelemen, 25, the five-time Roumanian champion, finished 21st in this event last year, after being 19th the year before.

Plushenko, who won his ninth Russian national title in December by a large margin despite not getting the best technical score, performed in black and silver with a rose over his heart. He opened with a quad toe loop although the landing was jackknifed. No other competitor tried this jump. Five judges awarded -1 Grade of Execution, although the other four punched in zero, disregarding the rocking landing.

That was followed by a very good triple Axel which earned six +2 GoEs and three of the maximum +3s. His third element was a triple loop on which he had to execute a double three to hold the landing. Five of the judges awarded -1 while the other four saw nothing wrong and gave 0, which means they thought nothing should be added or taken off the base value of the move.

Then he brought off a very good second triple Axel in combination with a double toe. All the judges except one acclaimed it as "superior" punching into their computers +1. The exception thought it was even better than that and awarded +2.

The only other competitor to try two triple Axels was Kelemen but, although his second try got +0.86, his initial attempt, which was combined with a double toe, had a full point removed from the base value.

A few others tried a triple Axel, but the only other competitor to earn the base value or better for this jump was Paul Fentz, a 19-year-old from Berlin, finished fourth. Fentz was the runner-up from the German championship after being fifth the previous year. Fentz could have been third had he not fallen on his second move, a triple Lutz, since he finished only 0.61 behind Maciej Cieplucha of Poland who was third.

Plushenko then sailed through a Level 3, +2.60 flying sit spin and a +0.10 triple Lutz to double toe to double loop. A second triple Lutz earned +0.80 over its base. His circular steps were worth an extra +1.21. However, his change foot sit spin and his final spin, a change foot combination, were both only the very basic Level 1, which you donít expect from a skater with his expertise. Those spins, however, along with his final jump, a double Axel, and the choreographed steps all earned a full half point above their base value.

Plushenko readily admitted, "I think this is the hardest competition in my life. I had meniscus surgery at the beginning of the season, but I am still in pain. I need another surgery. The performance today wasn't my best, but for today it was good and I am happy with it. Actually, competing in the Preliminaries is very good for me. It is an extra run-through of my program. It was very important for me to go for the quad today, because I don't know how my knee will react. It can be different each time. Also, I pulled a muscle in my neck the other day in practice on the quad and I couldn't turn my head. To be honest, yesterday, I wasn't sure if I could skate today. Actually, I am proud of myself for skating today the way I did."

Kelemen, who would have been in the lead had Plushenko not astonished the skating world by entering, said, "The program went alright. I need to work on the triple toe (which he meant to do with the triple Axel instead of the double) at the beginning of the program. But it is only preliminaries so it does not have to be at the top level. My goal for the competition is to be in the top 18 - and that next year I am not in the Preliminaries."

The third placed Cieplucha, who skated the soundtrack of "Brazil" soundtrack, included a triple Lutz-triple toe combination and three more triples. However, he under-rotated a triple loop and doubled two other jumps. He said, "It was not the best I could do. I was a little bit stressed. My goal for this competition is to skate clean, show my face and all the elements I can do."

Jason Thompson, the British champion, was 13th but still advanced to the Short Program as the representative of the host country. As a result, there will be 29 skaters in the Short Program on Thursday with Thompson skating first.

Ari-Pekka Nurmenkari from Finland was forced to withdraw after he fell half way through his routine on a triple flip, twisting his right foot and incurring a leg injury. He was taken to hospital.

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