Golden Skate

Joubert takes third European title

Brian Joubert of France won his third European title despite a flawed long program, while former teammate Samuel Contesti of Italy rose up one spot to claim the silver. Kevin van der Perren of Belgium, who placed fourth in both the short and long program, took the bronze.

The best performance of the long program happened in the penultimate group where Yannick Ponsero of France delivered a nearly flawless routine to Caravan, Summertime, and Sing, Sing, Sing.

Ponsero opened his program with a high and powerful quad toe loop, followed by a similarly strong triple Axel. He proceeded to nail other jumps right until the final minute of the program where he had somewhat tight landings on a triple loop and a triple Salchow (in sequence with a triple toe loop). He also turned out the landing of his final double Axel.

The 2009 French National Champion was otherwise clean, delivering another triple Axel in combination with a double toe loop, and he was able to express the style of music perfectly – especially during the final straightline step sequence.

The 22-year-old improved his personal best by almost ten points by scoring 151.85 (81.45/70.40), however, the poor short program prevented him from winning a medal. With a total score of 219.30 points, he very narrowly missed the podium by 0.06 points.

“After last season I thought I was closed inside on style,” said the skater about the improvement he achieved this season. “Everyone thought that Ponsero always looks like a classical dancer. For this season I completely changed my preparation. I now have two really different programs. I really enjoyed the free program today. The short program is more difficult for me because it is no automatic stuff. I have to work a lot.”

When asked about his ability to land impressive quadruple jumps, the Frenchman explained: “I did the quad for the first time when I was 14, so I have been doing it for 8 years now. I want to be able to do it automatically”.

Teammate Brian Joubert finished second in the long program with an error-ridden performance to his new long program which contains music from the Matrix Reloaded and Requiem for a Dream soundtracks.

The Frenchman turned out the landing of his opening quad toe loop, but recovered to nail two strong triple Axels (one in combination with a double toe loop). However, he later fell on a triple Lutz, doubled a planned triple loop, received an edge call on a triple flip, and stumbled during the straightline step sequence.

The overall impression of Joubert’s program was also not as strong as that of his rivals, and the pressure he has been skating under was apparent in the cautious manner in which he approached most of the jumps. Challenging choreography of his previous routine was replaced with a more straightforward and familiar one, but so far it has not quite brought him the results he was hoping for. The 24-year-old scored 145.11 (71.51/74.60) points for the long program, but the advantage he had secured in the short program allowed him to win the event with an impressive 12-point lead (232.01).

Interviewed in the ‘Kiss and Cry’ area after the end of the event, Joubert said that this victory was perhaps the most important one of his career. “The beginning of the season was very difficult and this makes this victory so important. I was not on the top today, but I won, so it’s the most important.”

Joubert admitted to being nervous in the beginning. “But when I saw the audience and heard them, it was fantastic. It was the first time I competed in Finland, and I’ll remember it all my life. I would like to say thank you to everyone here. I hope I’ll come back soon to Finland, it was great, to win today it was fun.”

His goal is to be ready for the World Championships. “I had a difficult time earlier this season. I changed my long program two weeks ago, so I knew was not on the top, but will be for Worlds. In two months I will be 100%. I will try to do three quads in the long program at Worlds.”

When asked to compare this victory with the previous ones, the Frenchman said that the first win in 2004 was the easiest one. “I didn’t feel any pressure. It was mentally much easier to skate. And this time… a week ago I did not do quads in practice. Two days before coming to Helsinki we finally fixed the problem, so I am proud of myself and of my team.”

The skater admits that he still feels the pain which forced him to withdraw from the Grand Prix Final. “I still feel the pain in my back. I don’t feel it when I jump, but in steps and spins… I cannot move easily. We have to fix it before Worlds. I want to feel comfortable physically.”

Joubert is also still having problems with his skating boots which plagued his preparations to the season. “In October my boots were not good. I could not really feel my blades and I could not do good jumps. I could manage triples, but no quad because it’s too difficult. I changed it and it helped. Today I skated in the boots I wore in 2007 in Tokyo because I knew they were good.”

Contesti continued to surprise both the audience and the specialists by delivering a highly entertaining and mostly clean routine to Once Upon a Time in the West and Cotton Eyed Joe. The skater dressed as a stereotypical cowboy, down to a gun holster at his hip, and was completely over the top in his comical interpretation of the character. He was so good that the audience loved every second of his performance, which included miming shooting someone and then kicking the door to the saloon wide open and knocking back a large swallow from a bottle of whiskey.

To pull off such a program, one has to skate flawlessly or the performance would fall flat, however, the 2006 French silver medalist was up to the task. His only mistake was doubling a planned triple Lutz in the first minute of the program and a slightly shaky landing of the second triple Axle. Nevertheless, the rest of his jumps, including a triple Axel-triple toe loop combination, four more triples, and a double Axel-double toe loop-double toe loop combination, were strong and earned him more than seven points in total for the quality of execution.

In the end, Contesti posted an impressive score of 144.97 (76.77/68.20) to finish third in the long program, and with a total of 220.92 points, captured the silver medal. It was the first medal for an Italian man since Carlo Fassi won his last gold medal in 1954.

“I felt good,” said Contesti afterwards. “It is easy to finish (the program strong) when you’ve done everything before, and here is a good audience. I think they liked the program. I’m happy because it was very difficult for me to wait for three years to compete (for the new country). I want to continue now. It is very important to do things like that.”

“This is just fantastic,” Contesti said of winning a medal. “This is a beautiful victory for all people who believed in me. It was a lot of work with my wife – a lot of sacrificed from our part.”

When asked about his former struggles with French Figure Skating Federation which resulted in him being left off the team for the 2006 Olympic Games (despite winning a silver a the national championships), the skater refused to gloat.

“I’m obviously very happy,” said Contesti at the press conference, “but I do not think of my performance as an ‘answer’ to anything. I am just happy to skate. I am pleased to win a medal, but it’s not the ‘answer’ to something that happened in the past. I think of the future only, but I would like to thank the Italian Federation for their support.”

The 25-year-old, however, refused to comment on his plans for World Championships, stating that he would rather savor the moment.

“Now I would rather think about what I did [here],” said Contesti. “Afterwards, I’ll think about Worlds. It’s another event, and tonight was a very good time for me. As for the Olympic Games, we will see. I can go there because I have nationality, but I don’t want to think about it tonight.”

Kevin van der Perren’s determination to compete despite the pain and injury paid off big time when the skater edged out Ponsero for the bronze medal by 0.06 points (219.36). He placed fourth in the long program with 143.56 (76.86/66.70) points to repeat his success from two years ago when he won his first bronze medal by 0.07 points over Sergei Davydov from Belarus.

The ongoing problems with the Belgian’s health prevented the skater from attempting the quad, but he landed a strong triple Axel and seven more triples (including a triple Salchow-triple toe loop-triple loop combination), picking put extra points for the quality of their execution. His non-jumping elements were rather complex as well, and only the circular step sequence was rated a level one. The public loudly cheered the skater throughout his performance to Safri Duo composition, which was appropriately titled ‘Hero’s in Action’.

“I am quite happy because I did not skate a clean long program since my surgery last April,” explained van der Perren. “I was in a lot of pain today. I was surprised to see the place, but I was really pleased with the way I skated. It was the most important. I was skating in the most horrible condition I have even been in throughout my career. If felt worse than in the short program. After the first Axel, it was almost over. Therefore, I did not even try the second one. I was happy to do almost everything that I could have done. The placement did not matter that much, but I did not expect to place on the podium.”

The 26-year-old has been off the ice for almost two and half months while recovering from the surgery on his hip. Then he aggravated his injury by a fall in practice in Helsinki. “I am scared to say what caused the fall,” said van der Perren. “I was just skating forward and fell right on that spot. Really stupid.”

When asked to provide advice to his wife, Jenna McCorkell, who represents the United Kingdom in the Ladies event, van der Perren replied: “Knowing her, I just tell her not to be nervous and she will be fine. I think she deserves it, because she works so hard.”

As a preparation for the World Championships, van der Perren plans to participate in the Challenge Cup in the Hague as he would like to put a quad back into his program. He wants to try it in competition before attempting it in Los Angeles.

Alban Preaubert of France finished fifth in the long program and overall with a slightly flawed, but entertaining performance to a mix of Kalinka and Dubinushka. He opened his program with a clean quad toe loop and equally strong triple Axel, but missed the second triple Axel and received an edge call on his triple Lutz. The 23-year-old was otherwise clean and was able to match the grandeur of the music with his powerful and relaxed skating style. He received 138.72 (74.02/64.70) points for his long program and 212.22 overall.

“I am very happy,” said the Frenchman. “It was difficult today and I was under pressure. Everything wasn’t perfect, but I fought well. I did better here than at French Nationals. I missed my quad at the Nationals – it was bad. The quad is the highlight of the program. It’s important to put difficult jumps in competition.”

Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic, who was second coming into the long program, once again faltered under pressure and slipped to sixth place overall (207.98) after he finished seventh in the long program. The skater, who trains in Oberstdorf, stepped out of an underrotated quad toe attempt and later popped three jumps – including a triple Axel – into singles. He also had problems on the landing of his three-jump combination.

“I don’t know what happened,” said Verner. “I was focused. I was calmed down after the warm up. I knew I have to do the jumps. I screwed it [up]. My practice was fine. I found my skating confidence. I tried to do my job like I’m supposed to do.”

Russia’s Andrei Lutai pulled up one spot to finish seventh overall (200.57), while teammate Sergei Voronov, who fell apart in the long program, placed ninth (184.96).

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