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In the deep freeze
The 2011 Figure Skating European Championships were held January 24-30
in Bern, the capital of Switzerland and a very beautiful and
fascinating old city. Many ISU championships have been held in
Switzerland, but never in Bern before. With these championships, the
Swiss Skating Federation also celebrated its 100th anniversary.
by Sonia Bianchetti
The championships were held in the PostFinance Arena, which, believe
it or not, is not heated nor fully enclosed. The temperature inside
the rink was around freezing point with a chilly draft coming in from
the roof. I can't remember anything like this since the rule imposing
completely indoor rinks for championships was adopted by the ISU
Congress in 1980. Thirty-one years ago!!!!
The rumour that the competition arena in Bern was not fully enclosed
and had no heating circulated some time in December. I then wrote to
the Organizing Committee to find out if this rumour was correct, and
this was their answer:
The arena is closed, but not heated. It is practically impossible to
heat an ice hockey arena to a pleasant temperature. The
PostFinance-Arena was entirely renovated two years ago. At this
opportunity, all structural measures were made in order to prevent
outside cold air intruding into the arena. We recommend wearing warm
clothes. The OC will provide a great number of blankets for the
spectators. Furthermore, we would like to point out that there are
several heated restaurants with attractive offers in the arena.
My first reaction was: is this a joke? Unfortunately, it was not. But
the question is: how was it possible that the ISU allotted the 2011
European Championships to Bern without checking whether the main rink
was suitable? What were the Technical Delegates checking? If the
restaurants were heated and the food good?
The Organizing Committee did distribute army blankets, but this was
not enough. After sitting in the arena for one hour we all had red
noses and frozen feet. And what to say of the inconveniences for the
skaters, the judges, the coaches and the press?
ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta, after complaints about frigid
temperatures at the European Figure Skating Championships, declared at
a press conference that it's something new to host an event in such a
cold venue as the PostFinance Arena, but added that figure skating is
a winter sport, and the ISU and Swiss organizers need not
apologize. He said they will be "more vigilant in future". Laughable,
to say the least!
The positive part of this sad story is that since apparently cold
preserves well, we are all one week younger, which at my age is not a
These were also the first championships in which the new qualifying system was
The qualifying rounds consist of the free programs for singles and
pairs and the free dance for ice dancing. Not all competitors entered
must qualify. Countries with a skater who placed within the top 18 of
the same championships the previous year earn the right to enter a
competitor, regardless of whether he is the same as the year before or
not. In singles skating, the additional top 10 competitors from the
qualifying round will make a total of 28 skaters in the final short
program, and of these, only the best 24 will skate the final free.
For pairs and ice dancing, the numbers are different. The final free program
consists of 20 dance couples and only 16 pairs.
The system is very complicated, in some ways humiliating for the skaters, and
is very expensive for the Members, besides.
I know this was a laboriously achieved decision at the last ISU Congress in
June 2010, and this was perhaps the best possible compromise. Still, some
improvements are possible.
First, in my opinion, much fairer would be that the right to qualify directly
for the final would be earned by name by the skaters and not by the countries
they represent. It is well known that in many countries, especially the smaller
ones, there can be one skater excelling for a few years, with nobody else of an
acceptable standard behind him or her.
Besides, in singles, the number of skaters who can enter directly into the
final should be reduced from 18 to 14, which, added to the first 10 competitors
of the qualifying round, will make a total of 24 for the final short and free
programs. This makes more sense to me and would avoid four skaters having to
qualify twice, as is the case now.
Another possibility would be to have the skaters qualify through one or more
international competitions for the European Championships and through the
European Championships and the Four Continents for Worlds. This is an old idea
that could merit consideration now.
And now a few comments on the skating.
In pairs, the European title went to Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of
Germany, but the result, in my opinion, is questionable.
Skating to "The Pink Panther", they started off with a magnificent throw triple
flip, followed by triple toe loop/triple toe loop sequence. Then Aliona
stumbled out of a side-by-side spin and stopped it. She stood standing in the
middle of the arena until Robin completed the spin as if she was completely
lost and did not know what to do. The element received no points. They then
started to skate again and luckily they were able to recover and continued to
skate till the end of their program, landing a triple twist, difficult lifts
and a throw triple Salchow at the very end. Their program as a whole and their
interpretation of the music was not that convincing and left me cold somehow.
The Russian pair Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, skating to "Clair de
lune", showed a brilliant and very strong performance which included a triple
toe loop, a triple toe loop twist lift, two triple throws, a double Axel
sequence and original and breathtaking lifts. It was the only flawless program
of the event. Their interpretation of the music was excellent, as well.
Although they were given first place in free skating, the difference in points
was not enough to become first overall: 134.12 to Yuko and Alexander and 133.89
to Aliona and Robin! And this, in my opinion, was not correct.
The bronze medal went to Vera Barazova and Yuri Larionov of Russia. Skating to
"The Man in the Iron Mask", they executed a side-by-side triple toe loop and
double Axel-double Axel sequence and a high triple twist. This was their first
medal at the ISU European Figure Skating Championships.
The general standard of the event was rather low, but it is encouraging to have
15 pairs competing at Europeans.
I did enjoy the dance event. Very controversial is the short dance, but I do
not want to express an opinion because of my limited knowledge of this
All the three medal winners, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bouzart of France,
Ekaterina Bobrova and Dimitri Soloviev of Russia, and Sinead and John Kerr of
Great Britain, skated well and had very pleasant programs with good music and
elegant, dignified costumes, which is not always the case in ice dancing.
I was particularly impressed by the young Russian couple, Elena Ilinykh and
Nikita Katsalapov, who were the 2010 Junior World Champions. This was their
first time at the European Championships and they placed fourth with an
impressive free dance. They skate very well on long and deep edges, they are
fresh and joyful on the ice and their interpretation of Don Quixote was very
appealing. They show real promise for Sochi.
The Ladies event was by far the weakest of the championships. With very few
exceptions, the free programs were filled with an unbelievable number of errors
Sarah Meier of Switzerland gave her career the perfect ending, becoming the
women's European figure skating champion in front of her home fans. Sarah, who
had placed 3rd in the short program, turned her farewell performance into a
victory and earned her first major title with a flawless and expressive free
program that included five triple jumps and some beautiful spins to the music
from the film Love in the Time of Cholera. I will never forget the
expression on her face when she realised that she had won. I am very happy for
The silver medal went to Carolina Kostner of Italy. After a disaster in the
short program, where she fell both in the jump combination and the triple loop,
she surged from 6th place, winning the free skating after all her rivals fell
out of contention.
Although her free program was not flawless (she stepped out of her triple flip,
fell down on the triple loop and had two jumps downgraded) on the whole, that
day, she deserved first place in the free. Skating to "L'apres-midi d'un faun"
by Debussy, she gave a striking and elegant performance, interpreting and
expressing her beautiful piece of music in a very captivating way.
The bronze medal went to Kiira Korpi of Finland. Kiira won the short program
with a magnificent and perfect performance featuring a triple/triple toe loop
combination and very beautiful spins and step sequences. Unfortunately, her
free skating was just the opposite. She only placed 4th. She had problems with
all her jumps starting with the very first. She fell down on the triple loop
and had both the triple loop and the triple flip downgraded. Really sad for
such a beautiful skater.
The men's event was by far the best, although even in this category there were
a lot of mistakes and falls. The general standard was much higher than the
ladies and there was some good and appealing choreography.
The European title went to Florent Amodio of France, who was 1st in the short
program but only 3rd in the free. Skating to a pop medley to music by Michael
Jackson and the Black-Eyed Peas, he started off with a beautiful triple Axel
followed by another triple Axel/toe loop combination, plus five other triple
jumps and good spins. His step sequences were in line with the music and were
appreciated by the public in the arena.
The silver medal went to another French skater, Brian Joubert, who earned his
tenth consecutive medal at the European Championships. Brian blew up in the
short program and placed only 7th. But, as Carolina Kostner did, he won the
free skating and moved up to second place. Skating to Symphony N9 by Beethoven,
he started off with an excellent quadruple toe loop, followed by two triple
Axels and six more triple jumps. All his skating perfectly fit Beethoven's
great symphony. It was a pleasant surprise to see Joubert interpreting so well
a piece of classical music. I did like his program. It was one of the best
performances in the last couple of years. Winner of the bronze medal was Tomas
Verner of the Czech Republic, who placed 5th in the short and 2nd in the free.
Skating to a Michael Jackson medley, he started off with a well executed
quadruple toe loop followed by six triples, of which two were triple Axels, but
he stumbled out of his first triple Axel and doubled a Lutz. Also his last step
sequence, which was supposed to be the highlight of the program, was not that
Personally, I was not that impressed by this program. It seems to me that less
frantic music would suit him better. In my opinion, he was overmarked in the
But among the men, luckily, there are a few young very promising skaters coming
along. Michael Brezina of the Czech Republic is one of them. He was second in
the short program but then he completely messed up in free skating. But he is
technically very good and, even more important, in my view, he can skate. He
glides on the ice and moves with elegance and charm. Another one to be
carefully watched is Artur Gachinski of Russia. He placed 3rd in the short, but
then he made some mistakes in the free program, placing only 6th, 5th overall.
He reminds me very much of Evgeny Plushenko. We will see what the future will