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The 2013 European Championships
by Sonia Bianchetti
The 2013 European Championships were held in the Dom Sportova in Zagreb,
Croatia, from January 21 to 27. The arena was quite filled and the
audience was very supportive and enthusiastic for the skaters.
I had a great time in Zagreb and, as an Italian, I am happy and proud for
accomplishments of the Italian skaters.
Still, after sitting in the arena more or less 10 hours a day, I am
fighting between two opposing feelings.
We practically witnessed two different events: one very exciting event
among the four medal contenders in all categories, with some really
outstanding programs, and another one that I would define as a
second-class international competition among all the other competitors.
The joy and the emotion that I experienced watching a few fantastic
skaters is counterbalanced by the distress of seeing most of the skaters
mess up their programs. The technical standard as well as the quality of
the skating, especially in the ladies' and the pairs' events, was the
lowest I can remember in the last decade, not to speak of the number of
errors and falls that marred practically all the programs both in short
and free. What concerns me is that these competitors are the national
champions and represent the best skaters of their countries. What is
happening to skating in Europe? Behind a few really marvellous athletes,
there is emptiness. Perhaps the time has come for the ISU to sit around a
table and try to understand the reasons for this. Are the programs too
demanding? Or are the rules pushing the skaters to try elements beyond
their capabilities just to get points?
The men's event was the most exciting.
Evgeni Plushenko, Russia, unfortunately was forced to withdraw because of
a back injury that was aggravated during the short. My best wishes to our
Javier Fernandez of Spain wrote history by winning the gold medal, the
first medal ever for Spanish figure skating at an ISU championships.
Performing to a Charlie Chaplin medley, Fernandez opened his free program
with a big quadruple toe loop and followed up with a quad Salchow-triple
toe combination, a huge triple Axel and another quad Salchow, plus four
more triples and two level-four spins. His technique is great and the
height and length of his jumps is just fantastic. 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. He is really achieving what I call a perfect melding of technique
and art, which is what used to make our sport unique and that we seldom
see now. This is just figure skating. Thank you, Javier!
Florent Amodio, France, who led after the short program and was third in
the free, won the silver medal. Skating to "Jumpin' Jack" and "Broken
Sorrow", Florent executed two quadruple Salchows and two triple Axels as
well as two more triple jumps in his program. Although his program was not
flawless, his skating was flamboyant and appealing to the public.
Michael Brezina, CZE, was the winner of the bronze medal. Michael, who was
fourth in the short and second in the free, performed an elegant free
program to the soundtrack of the "Untouchables", although marred by
several mistakes. He fell down on his first quad Salchow and had a few
other small errors. However, he executed a second quadruple Salchow and
six more triples, including a triple Axel-triple toe loop combination.
In the ladies' event, Carolina Kostner, Italy, won her fifth European
title, followed by Russia's Adelina Sotnikova and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva,
who took the silver and bronze medals in their debut at this high-level
Carolina did not skate at her best from a technical point of view. She was
only second in both the short and the free programs. In the short she fell
down in the triple toe loop/triple toe loop jump combination and in the
free she had only four triple jumps plus a double Axel, and she doubled
the last triple Salchow. But both her programs are just marvelous from the
artistic point of view. Her interpretation of the "Bolero" by Maurice
Ravel was emotional and skated with deep passion, a real masterpiece. She
glides on the ice like a butterfly and from the first movement of her head
and arms, she impressed the audience. Really a marvelous skater.
Adelina Sotnikova, who was first in the short and third in the free, had
to overcome two errors at the beginning of her free program performed to
"At Last" and "Burlesque", underrotating a triple Lutz-triple toe loop
combination and singling the flip. But then she recovered and executed
four triples, including a double Axel-triple toe loop combination and
Performing to "Dark Eyes", Elizaveta Tuktamysheva pulled off a triple
Lutz-triple toe loop and five more triple jumps as well as some good
spins. The 16-year-old won the free skating and moved up from fourth to
third. She has a beautiful program with good choreography and she skates
at great speed.
Elizaveta and Adelina are two young, very promising skaters who still lack
sophistication and need to mature to improve the artistic side of their
programs. Hopefully, this will come in the next couple of years.
Valentina Marchei, Italy, dropped from third to fourth in spite of a
strong performance both from a technical and artistic point of view.
First, I would like to express my sympathy and understanding to Maxim
Trankov for the loss of his father due to a fatal heart attack just before
the event started. It surely must have been very difficult to hold on.
Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov, Russia, won the gold medal, placing
first both in short and free.
They opened their program to "Violin Muse" with a breathtaking triple
twist, followed up with a side by side triple Salchow and a triple toe
loop-double toe loop combination. But their program was not clean. They
had several errors in the throw jumps, where Tatiana stumbled and landed
on two feet. Still, they were placed first in free, which, compared to the
program of Savchenko/Szolkowy, is not correct. They were overmarked,
especially in the Program Components. It is not the first time this season
that, for some reason, they received gifts.
Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy's program to "Flamenco Bolero" by Gustavo
Montesano was highlighted by a throw triple twist, a triple toe-triple toe
sequence, and a triple twist as well as five level-four elements. Although
Aliona fell on the side by side triple Salchow and he doubled it, their
program was fantastic. I am not too fond of Montesano's arrangement of the
"Bolero" by Ravel, but the way they interpret and express the music is
just wonderful. The program is well choreographed, appealing and
emotional. By far the best that day. In my opinion, they should have won
the gold medal.
Stefania Berton/Ondrej Hotarek, Italy, placed third, winning the first
medal ever for Italy in pair skating. Skating to "Posta en el viento
flamenco" by Vincente Arrigo, they executed a triple toe-double toe-double
toe combination, a triple twist, a throw triple loop and Salchow (which
she doubled), as well as two beautiful and difficult lifts. Their program
was well performed and pleasant to watch.
In ice dancing, the fight for the first two places was very close.
Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev, Russia, took the gold medal, beating
their teammates Elena Ilinykh/Nikita Katsalapov by just 0.11 points.
Bobrova/Soloviev gave a strong performance to "The Man With the Harmonica"
and "Tosca" that featured some innovative lifts and smooth footwork. They
were first in the short dance and second in the free dance, but retained
Ilinykh/Katsalapov, as well, skated an excellent free dance to "Ghost",
executing several difficult elements. I enjoyed their way of skating and
their appeal on the ice.
Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte, Italy, took their first bronze medal at a
European championship. Skating to Carmen Suite by Rodion Shchedrin,
they performed a passionate, sensuous and captivating program. Anna and
Luca once again interpreted Carmen and Don Jose with great passion and
What shocked me in the dance event was that more and more, it seems it is
becoming an acrobatic sport, with many skaters looking like clowns from
the Cirque du Soleil rather than athletes of an Olympic sport. Is this the
best direction for ice dancing, in the ISU's opinion?
And now, some general remarks on the whole event.
It is with great sorrow that I must say that I am sick and shocked after a
week spent in the arena to watch what I consider the weakest European
What I question is, once again, the validity of the system. Something must
be done quickly to stop this madness.
It is time to start seriously considering a total review of the system, of
course to be effective after the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014.
To me, what always made figure skating so special and unique was that it
came at that wonderful convergence of art and athletics.
By emphasizing difficulty for the sake of difficulty, the new system
diminished the emphasis on quality and artistry. What now matters to the
skaters is the element and especially its level. They are all doing more
or less the same things, and with the same disregard of the music. The
audience is now asked to withstand the same uniform, frenetic style of
skating, and the same disregard for music throughout the entire
competition. No wonder that skating is dying, that its popularity is going
down the tubes, that people don't care to see it, that television doesn't
care to cover it.
To guarantee more fairness in judging, the new judging system, introduced
in 2004 after the Olympic judging scandal, requires two judging panels.
One panel, composed of judges, determines the quality of the performances
while the other, the so-called "technical panel", determines the
difficulty of the program and the "levels" of the various elements. To
give the technical panel clear guidance to assign levels to the various
elements, more and more details have been added, year after year. It is
these exceptions and rules that cause everyone's programs to look similar
and make it impossible for any viewer to understand the scoring. Not to
speak of the horror of some positions in spins, lifts and step sequences,
with the only goal to reach the highest "level"! What the figure skating
fans long to see again is the quality and the splendour of these elements,
not ridiculous and painful contortions.
Figure skating trends have definitely pushed towards the difficulty of the
elements and endless rules, and away from the simple beauty of combining
athleticism with movement and emotion. Even the chairman of the ISU Figure
Skating Technical Committee, Mr. Alexander Lakernik, declared in an
interview that "exceptions, to the exceptions, to the exceptions,
detailing that has gone too far".
What apparently has been forgotten is that for a sport to survive, the
public must like and understand it, and, in our case, must like and
understand the new scoring system. Now, even Olympic Champions do not
understand it any longer, as Scott Hamilton recently declared. The ISU, to
excuse these continuous changes, say that it is 'a work in progress', but
after nine years, this is no longer acceptable.
Donald Laws, well-known top world coach, says in the just-published book
Don Laws (by Beverly Ann Menke, published by The Scarecrow Press,
Inc.), "There is nothing ignoble about admitting defeat, it is hanging on
it that is ignoble. The International Judging System should be simplified
so that the average people who want to watch skating can understand it.
Contrary to what was done with the 6.0 system when it was completely
abandoned, now we have the experience of two systems from which to draw.
With that knowledge, we can make a system that meets our goals. We should
find a middle ground and make our goals pure and simple. Less expensive,
less invasive, less complicated and, yes, less secretive. It's sad that,
after all these years of experimentations, we never made the sport
I can only agree with each of Don Laws' words. Therefore, why not utilize
what is universally recognised to be the best from both scoring systems,
the 6.0 and IJS, and combine them? Much can be done to simplify and
improve the IJS just by reducing the number of jumps or jump combinations
required, by reducing the number of technical details and exceptions to
the advantage of the skaters, the coaches and the viewers, by reducing the
number of program components, by making judging more transparent and also
by penalising the judges who assign PC marks based on the skater.s
reputation and not on the reality of a performance, which is more and more
often the case. The audience will come back to skating when less complex
and more accurate judging permits the performances to become less
desperate to skate and more enjoyable to watch.
All disciplines in skating would benefit from simpler and less demanding
rules. The love for beautiful gliding on the ice is worldwide. Creativity
and passion must be brought back. A new and revised IJS would be the link
to bring back the best of the old 6.0 system while preserving the
technical improvements and more objective judging from the new one. It is
vital for skating's future that a large TV audience is once again
attracted to the sport. It is the only way for the sport to survive.
So I want to address an appeal to the ISU President, Mr. Ottavio
Cinquanta. After nine years of the IJS being imposed, the consensus about
it is negative among a great majority. Surely when you decided to impose
your "invention", you honestly believed in it, but, as Donald Laws says in
his book, you did not foresee the detrimental effect that such
implementation would have on the sport nor its unbearable costs. Now you
have the time and the opportunity to impose the revision of the system to
the benefit of figure skating and the prosperity of the ISU. The whole
skating world would appreciate and support you and would be grateful to
you for this.