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2012 European Championships
by Sonia Bianchetti
February 2012

The 2012 European Figure Skating Championships were held in Sheffield, Great Britain, in the Motorpoint Arena, from January 24 to 29. Sheffield is a well-known city in the skating world because of its famous factory producing skate blades.

The championships were very well organised and the atmosphere in the arena was very much appreciated by the skaters, thanks to the support of an enthusiastic audience, even if the attendance was very limited except for the final free skating on Saturday.

In the pairs event, unfortunately, two of the top European couples were missing. Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia could not compete because of Smirnov's health problems, and Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, the defending 2011 European champions, had also to withdraw just before the event started.

The withdrawal of Savchenko and Szolkowy came as a blow on the opening day of the finals. In performing a pair spin in practice only few hours before the start of the short program, Aliona aggravated an injury to her left thigh that she had sustained in a fall on a throw jump during a training session in Germany a few days before.

Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov (Russia) won the European title. They led a podium sweep for the Russian pairs and won their first European title convincingly. Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov claimed the silver and Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov took the bronze in their debut at the European Championships. There has not been a Russian sweep in pairs since 2005.

Tatiana and Maxim performed a dramatic program to Black Swan, which was highlighted by a fantastic triple twist, a throw triple loop and Salchow, triple toe-loop/double toe-loop and very beautiful and difficult lifts. The program is very well choreographed and their interpretation of the music very intense and appealing. Really wonderful and pleasant to watch.

Skating to Doctor Zhivago, Bazarova and Larionov put out a solid performance that featured a triple toe-loop, high triple twist, throw triple flip and loop, but Bazarova stumbled on the double Axel sequence. Their classic skating and the interpretation they offered of their beautiful and romantic music was very appealing and touching to me.

Stolbova and Klimov, skating to a modern arrangement of Alexander Borodins Polovtsian Dances from his opera Prince Igor, executed a double twist, difficult lifts and solid throw triple flip and throw triple Salchow in their program. Their skating was fast and elegant.

Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek (ITA) came fourth with a beautiful and elegant program skated to the "Adagio" by Albinoni which was much appreciated by the audience in the arena. A great achievement, considering that Ondrej had been seriously ill because of a muscle inflammation and they got back to training only five days before the championships. It was a kind of a miracle that they could make it.

The dance event was also very moving.

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat (FRA) won their second European title, Skating to a fast Egyptian-themed dance titled "The Pharaoh and His Mummy", they performed an excellent program that was highlighted by strong lifts and fast footwork. They captured the enthusiasm of the audience from beginning to end.

Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev (Russia), who had been unexpectedly in the lead after the Short Dance, won the silver medal for the second time. Dancing to "Walpurgis Night" from the opera Faust by Gounod, they skated a good program overall, with difficult lifts, but made a few errors in the twizzles.

Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov (Russia), the 2010 world junior champions, won the bronze medal, moving up from the seventh place in the short dance. They executed strong lifts and footwork in their powerful and touching free dance to "Ave Maria".

Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte (ITA) were edged out of the podium by just 0.03 points, finishing fourth. They gave a strong, very intense and emotional performance to their touching music from the movie La Strada.

The men's event was definitely expected to be the most exciting event with the comeback of Evgeny Plushenko, 29 years old, the so-called Czar, two-time Olympic silver medallist (2002, 2010) and Olympic champion in 2006, as well as six-time European champion (2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2010) and three-time world champion. Plushenko, who was reinstated as an eligible skater by the ISU in June 2011 on request of his federation, was also exempted from having to qualify for the ISU Championships in view of his previous outstanding accomplishments. The excitement was increased by the internal competition between him and Artur Gachinski, who is considered Evgeny's successor. They both are trained by the legendary coach Alexei Mishin.

And the event was indeed exciting!

Plushenko, who placed second in the short program, gave a strong performance to "Tango de Roxanne", which included a quadruple toe-loop and seven triples, including two triple Axels. Evgeny's free program was the only flawless program of the event. The fact he was able to execute a quad was a kind of miracle because of the serious problems he is having with his knee. He will have to undergo surgery again in the next weeks.

In spite of this, the Czar was able to give an explosive performance, at great speed and full of passion. Evgeny was the only skater who really filled the ice, who was able to communicate all the time with the spectators in the arena, driving them crazy. Once again he proved to be a great champion. Welcome back, Evgeny! But a question comes to my mind: why do we have to rely on the comeback of an old champion to create such an atmosphere in the arena? Why are the new talented skaters not able to achieve this? Is there something wrong in the development of the sport?

Artur Gachinski (Russia) won the silver medal. Skating to "Interview with a Vampire", he started off with a fantastic quad toe-loop/double toe-loop/double loop combination, another quad toe-loop and five more triples. His jumping technique is excellent and he had a sparkling performance. Artur, who is only 18, is definitely a very talented and promising young skater.

Florent Amodio, the 2011 European Champion, won the bronze medal, moving up from 5th place in the short program. He performed to "Memories of Sobral" by Sebastien Damiani Rio. Sobral, a city in Brazil, is where Amodio was born. Florent doubled his opening quadruple Salchow, but executed two triple Axels and four more triples. He skated a very captivating and intense program which was very much appreciated by the public in the arena.

With this competition, the Russians claimed seven out of twelve medals in Sheffield. The way is wide open to Sochi!

Unfortunately, Kevin Van der Perren of Belgium had to withdraw before the free skating because of injury. It was really sad since, as he had announced, this would have been his last championship. All the best to you, Kevin!

If in the men's event there was a Czar, in the ladies' there definitely was a queen. Carolina Kostner skated in a class of her own both in the short and the free.

Dressed in her new sparkling silver costume, Kostner placed first, giving a stellar performance in both the short and the free. Carolina skated a flawless free program to Mozart's Concerto No. 23 which included five triple jumps. Her interpretation of the superb music was marvellous. Every movement of her body, head, and hands was just perfect, creating a great harmony between the elements she was performing and the music she was expressing, creating a magic atmosphere. The public in the arena did not even breathe during her performance and then exploded in a standing ovation at the end of the program.

Kiira Korpi of Finland won the silver medal with a second place in short and only a 4th in free. She opened her program to "I Got Rhythm" by Gershwin with a shaky triple toe-loop/triple toe-loop and completed a triple Salchow/double toe-loop, as well as strong spins, but the second triple loop didn't count since she repeated three triple jumps in total.

It is not the first time that such a case has occurred in a competition or championship. Makarova was faced with a similar situation last year at the Worlds in Moscow. Although correct according to the present rules, one has to wonder whether these rules make sense or if they should be reconsidered. Is it appropriate that in the free program, which has become everything but free, the skaters are expected to have a computer in their head instead of a brain? How can we expect the competitors to interpret, express and live their music with their hearts if their main concern must be to count the number of positions or revolutions in the spins, or remember whether they still have the right to repeat a jump or a combination? Shouldnt the rules, in the free program at least, be a little more flexible?

The bronze medal went to Elene Gedevanishvili of Georgia. Skating to "The Phantom of the Opera", Helene hit four triples and two double Axels and was 3rd in free. She performed an excellent program, with good flow and speed, interpreting with passion her beautiful music.

Polina Korobeinikova of Russia moved up from 12th to fourth with the second best free skating of the night. She landed seven triples all very well executed, but what is even more important to me is that, although she is only 15, she is elegant and she moves beautifully on the ice. A very young promising talent.

The next important event will be the World Championships in Nice during the last week of March and the fight for the medals will become even more thrilling.