2003 European Figure Skating Championships: Men’s Highlights

With defending champion Alexei Yagudin and silver medalist Alexander Abt unable to compete at the 2003 European Championships in Sweden, the time was ripe for new faces to make a bid for the podium. Only France’s Brian Joubert returned from last year’s podium and Joubert had been inconsistent during the Grand Prix season, winning Skate America after Yagudin withdrew but finishing fifth at Trophee Lalique in his native country. But two more contenders returned from injuries to compete in Malmo – Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko, the 2000 and 2001 champion, and France’s Stannick Jeannette, who finished third in 2001. The Russians also brought Grand Prix finalist and 1999 World Junior champion Ilia Klimkin and 2002 Junior Grand Prix champion Stanislav Timchenko so a battle royal was expected.

With only 31 entries, no qualifying round was needed so the men had plenty of time during the week to hone their skills. To the dismay of their coaches, however, many of the top contenders decided to engage in daily games of indoor soccer in what was intended to be the skaters’ warm-up area beside the media center. This proved to be wildly entertaining to many of the ladies working at the event as many of the participants played shirtless. The games were highly competitive, with both Plushenko and Klimkin showing quite a flair for the game. The competitiveness carried on into the ice rink when the skating started.

Plushenko won the short program, but not without difficulty when his skate caught in the ice on his opening quadruple toe combination and he could barely manage a lopsided single on the second jump. “There was a little hole in the ice and the blade caught,” Plushenko said. “Sometimes that happens but it was very unexpected.” He did land his triple Axel and lutz without difficulty. The high presentation marks for his program to Albinoni’s “Adagio” gave him the top rank. Joubert, skating to Pink Floyd’s “Time”, completed his quad toe loop but fell on the second jump in the combination, a triple toe. Both his triple flip and triple Axel were clean. Like the others, Klimkin nailed the quad toe, but then fell on the triple toe. He also landed the triple Axel and flip. Jeannette, who didn’t try a quad, landed a triple Axel/double toe loop, triple Axel and triple lutz for fourth while Timchenko landed triple Axel/triple toe, triple Axel and triple lutz. Klimkin skated to “X-Files” while Timchenko used a tango.

In the long program, Joubert set the standard early with his program to “The Untouchables.” He landed a quad toe loop, a triple Axel/double toe loop combination, and four more triples. Klimkin landed a quad toe/triple toe combination and a strong triple Axel early in his “Sunny Boy” program, followed by five more triples, his trademark camel spins and a cantilever. But sloppy landings on several jumps and a fall in the footwork sequence hurt him and he finished fourth overall. Plushenko, skating to “St. Petersburg 300″, then showed why he is rarely beaten when healthy. He landed a quad toe/triple toe, two triple Axels and five more triples to take the crown, gaining two 6.0s for presentation. Jeannette followed with his “L’ Enfant Pure” program, landing a triple Axel/double toe, a second triple Axel, and five more triples, but he missed the quad on his quad toe/triple toe combination. Still, it was enough to take the bronze, making it the first time two Frenchmen had reached the podium since 1993. In another historic first, Stéphane Lambiel became the first skater from Switzerland to land a quad in international competition when he completed a quad toe/triple toe combination to finish fifth.

The medalists all spoke of the difficulties of winning again at Europeans with Plushenko and Jeannette both noting their comebacks from injuries and Joubert citing the high expectations after he took the bronze in 2002. Joubert challenged Plushenko for 2004, stating that he had only one more higher place in mind for next season. He also expressed a desire to switch to skating pairs if he can win the Olympic gold in 2006. That left an amused Plushenko to declare that he would then have to become an ice dancer.

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