by Sonia Bianchetti Garbato
(23 January 2014) The 2014 European Figure Skating Championships were held in Budapest from January 13 to 19. It was the seventh time that Hungary has hosted these championships.
Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and it is always a great pleasure for me to go there. This year I particularly enjoyed my stay there because it was a kind of reunion of many skating friends from all over the world.
The European Championships preceding the Olympic Games are always of great interest, not only because they are, let us say, the last rehearsal before the Games, but also because, in many cases, they are used to actually select the skaters who will be representing their county in the Olympics.
Unfortunately, this year, some of the top skaters decided not to participate to concentrate on their training in view of the Olympic Games. Nevertheless, the event was interesting and exciting and full of surprises.
The arena was very small, but it was crowded and the atmosphere very much appreciated by the skaters, thanks to the support of an enthusiastic audience.
We did see some really outstanding programs in all categories, but, very sadly for me, the joy and the emotion that I experienced watching these few fantastic athletes was counterbalanced by the distress of seeing so many skaters mess up their programs. The technical standard, as well as the quality of the skating, was less than mediocre, not to speak of the number of errors and falls that marred practically all the programs both in the short and free, although many of these skaters are talented athletes, are the national champions and represent the best skating in their countries. Are the programs too demanding? Or are the rules pushing the skaters to try elements beyond their capabilities just to get points?
In ice dancing, Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, Italy, won the gold medal. It was the first time that Italy has won the European title since 2001. They were first both in the short and the free dance. Skating to the Overture from Barber of Seville by Rossini, they performed a sparkling and captivating program with original lifts and movements. They skated on long, deep edges, expressing the music with passion and intensity.
The silver medal went to Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, Russia. Their program, skated to Swan Lake by Petr Tchaikovski, was artistically excellent. Every step and movement exactly corresponded to what the music was calling for, just as in classic ballet. Unfortunately Elena stumbled in the twizzle sequence and fell.
Winners of the bronze medal were Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland from Great Britain. It was the fifth time they have participated at the European championships and their first medal. In their free dance, they interpreted a Michael Jackson medley, performing some innovative and spectacular lifts at high speed. I enjoyed their way of skating and their appeal on the ice.
The Ladies’ event was really exciting.
The European title was won by fifteen-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia. Julia, who was participating for the first time in a European championships, became the youngest European champion and the first European lady since Sonja Henie (1931) to win the title in her first appearance. She was second in the short and first in free. Skating to the beautiful music of Schindler’s List, she performed an extraordinary program, which included a triple Lutz/triple toe-loop combination plus six more double and triple jumps and jump combinations, and fantastic spins. Julia’s flexibility is just unbelievable. Ist looks like her spine is made of rubber!!! She really is a wonderful little girl.
The silver medal went to Adelina Sotnikova, Russia, ( first in short and second in free). She skated to a slightly arranged version of Camille Saint-Saëns' violin masterpiece, "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso". Her program was flawless, with excellent jumps and spins. She is a very elegant skater, able to express and interpret her music very well.
Carolina Kostner, Italy, won her second bronze medal. Carolina has a fantastic record of five gold medals, two silver medals and two bronze medals at the European Championships, in addition to a gold medal at the Worlds in 2012 and two silver and two bronze medals.
Carolina did not skate at her best from a technical point of view. She was only third in both the short and the free programs. In the free, she had only four triple jumps plus a double Axel, she doubled the triple loop and she fell in the triple toe loop/triple toe loop combination. However, both her programs were just outstanding from the artistic point of view. Her short program, skated to Franz Schubert’s “ Ave Maria”, was breathtaking and extremely emotional from the beginning to the end. The public greeted her with a standing ovation.
The same can be said for her interpretation of the “Bolero” by Maurice Ravel. As soon as she came on the ice, the crowd started cheering and never stopped throughout her program. Another masterpiece, emotional and skated with deep passion. Carolina glides on the ice like a butterfly. She lives the music and she makes it alive. Each movement of her head and arms is intended to express that particular beat of the music, as every good skater is supposed to do in a sport which is known all over the world as an “artistic sport”.
Still, the marks she was awarded in the Program Components do not
seem to reflect the difference between her programs and those of
Lipnitskaia and Sotnikova.
In Budapest, it was a general opinion among many coaches, officials and judges that Carolina was definitely under-marked. There is no doubt that both Julia and Adelina are marvellous, very promising young girls, technically fantastic, but at a sidereal distance from Carolina as far as the interpretation of the music, the body movement and the choreography are concerned.
No fair judge with a minimum of competence in figure skating, choreography, performance and execution, and interpretation of the music could have awarded higher marks to Liptniskaia or Sotinikova than to Carolina. Still, three judges did place Julia ahead of Carolina and two did the same with Adelina. One even awarded a score of 10 in interpretation to Julia and only 9 to Carolina! These marks are appallingly outrageous. The same remarks can apply to the short program.
But this was not the only case in these championships where the PC marks were awarded totally disregarding what actually was happening on the ice. It really seemed that the judges were paying more attention to the country the skaters came from than their actual performance. A real mockery.
What is even more sad is that these judges can get away with it, thanks to secret judging.
Thank God the U.S. Figure Skating Association, together with Greece and hopefully some more European countries, is proposing to the next ISU Congress in June to delete secret judging. Let’s hope that the proposal gets the sufficient support and that the ISU President, Ottavio Cinquanta, will understand once and forever that secret judging only favors cheating!!!
The men’s event was full of surprises.
Javier Fernandez of Spain won the gold medal for the second time.
Both the short and the free programs were simply fantastic. Performing to the Peter Gunn soundtrack and “Harlem Nocturne”, he opened his free program with a big quadruple toe loop followed by a quad Salchow/triple toe loop combination, a huge triple Axel and another quad Salchow not perfectly landed, plus three more triples and beautiful spins and fantastic step sequences. His technique is great and the height and length of his jumps just unbelievable. But what is even more impressive for me is the way he skates. He moves; he enjoys his skating, reaching the heart of the audience, which thanked him with a standing ovation. His skating is a perfect melding of technique and art, which is what used to make our sport unique and that we seldom see now. This is “figure skating”. His way to the podium in Sochi is wide open.
The silver medal went to Sergei Voronov, Russia. He placed second in both the short and the free program. Skating to a tango medley of “A los Amigos”, Por una Cabeza”, and “Tanguera”, he opened his program with a quad toe loop, followed by a triple Axel and another quad toe loop which was overrotated, but he was good enough to add a double toe-loop. His program included four more triples and three spins. His step sequences were well executed but on the whole, his program was not that appealing.
The bronze medal went to another Russian, Konstantin Menshov, who climbed from 11th place in the short program to third in the free and final standings. It was quite a surprise. After his disappointing short, he had a positive reaction and skated the only flawless program of the event. Performing to an unusual piece of music, “Allegro, Rose, Night Run” by René Aubry, he started off with a very high quad toe loop/triple toe loop combination followed by another perfect quad toe loop plus five more triples. Although he is technically correct, his style is not that appealing and between the elements, there is not much skating.
The biggest disappointment and surprise for the Russian team was the placement of Maxim Kovtun, the 2014 Russian champion. He placed only fourth in the short program and fifth in the final standings. In the free, he was skating to one of the most beautiful pieces of music: Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto No. 1." His classical choreography was wonderful and his skating fluent. But his program, which requires three quads in a row, is perhaps too ambitious. He had a shaky landing on the first quad and then he doubled the other two. Probably he could not control the pressure put on him by the Russian federation, which has still to decide who will actually be its representative in Sochi. Perhaps it would have been wiser to play safe rather than taking so many risks.
The “czar,” Evgeni Plushenko, preferred not to compete in Budapest, but he will have to undergo an internal test to prove if his condition is fit for the Games. The fact that Kovtun did not skate well and was beaten by his two compatriots, in principle, should favor Plushenko, provided his test goes well. The case of Plushenko was one of the main subjects of discussion in Budapest, even though neither Evgeni nor his coach Mishin was present. It will be interesting to see the decision in the next few days.
The Pairs event was a Russian sweep and was full of surprises.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy from Germany withdrew after the short program. According to the medical bulletin, Aliona was suffering from an acute viral infection in the upper respiratory tract.
Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, Russia, the reigning European and World champions, won the gold medal, placing first in short and only second in free.
Their short program was a masterpiece, one of the most beautiful programs I have seen in recent years. Skating to their famous "Masquerade Waltz," they executed all their elements in perfect unison and each of them was impeccable and of the highest technical quality. Their triple twist was impressive, and their throw triple loop breathtaking. Each element was skated at incredible speed and perfectly in time with the music. Really a piece of art.
Unfortunately, the free program was another story. They made several serious mistakes and won the title only thanks to their excellent short program.
Skating to Jesus Christ Superstar, after a brilliant triple twist, Maxim stepped out of the side-by-side triple Salchow, and then fell on the side-by-side-triple toe loop and could not add the planned double toe loop. Besides, after some very good elements, including an excellent throw triple loop, Tatiana fell on the throw triple Salchow. Luckily they recovered in the second half of the program, where all the other elements were very good again. Of course, with all these mistakes, the overall impression suffered. Still, their Components marks were very high. With three falls, in no way should the PC marks be between 9 and 9.50, especially for performance/execution. The program components saga continues.
Russian Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov won the silver medal after having placed fourth in the short and first in the free. Skating in a charming and elegant way to The Addams Family, they performed an almost flawless program with an excellent combination of one triple and two double Salchows, a throw triple Lutz and an excellent throw triple Salchow at the end of their program. Ksenia’s miming throughout the program, especially while performing the choreo sequence, was a show in itself and was much appreciated by the public.
Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov, Russia, won the bronze medal. Skating to the Polovtsian Dances by Alexander Borodin, they had problems with the individual jumps. Vera stepped out of the triple toe loop and later landed both double Axels of their sequence on two feet. Both their throws (triple flip and triple loop) were good, as well as their triple twist. Their unison was not the best.
Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek from Italy came fourth, one spot lower than last year. They performed a very good free program to “Dracula” by Philip Glass. Their only mistake was on the side-by-side triple Salchow, which was downgraded after she landed it forward and then fell. But the other jumps, throws and lifts were very good and they skated in perfect unison. Their highlight is a spectacular lift with one arm.
My heartful wish to all the skaters is that they may skate at their best in Sochi and be correctly and honestly judged according to their merits.
Good luck to everybody.
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