Golden Skate

Lepisto wins first European title

The European Championships concluded today with the Ladies Free Skating event. Finland’s Laura Lepistö won her first European title in front of the packed Harwall Areena, while teammate Susanna Pöykiö settled for bronze. Carolina Kostner of Italy rose from third to capture the silver.

Kostner was first to skate among the medal contenders, and she was determined to show both the audience and the judges what makes one of the best skaters on the international stage. The student of Michael Huth delivered the best performance of her Dumsky Trio program from last season.

However, Kostner left the door open for her rivals when she replaced her trademark triple flip-triple toe loop combination with a triple-double and popped the second triple flip into a double. The skater was careful to avoid getting low levels on her non-jumping elements, however, her intended change of foot sit spin was called a ‘change of foot combination spin’ by the technical panel. As a result, her second spin became invalid.

The current World silver medalist later admitted that she was uncertain why her spin was called a combination. “I haven’t watched the video yet. Perhaps, I have done too many revolutions in the final upright position coming out of the spin, and therefore it was no longer a sit spin, but a combination and it did not count.”

The cancelled element cost her a chance to defend her title. The defending European Champion received a seasonal best 114.06 (53.50/60.56) for the free program, and with a total score of 165.42 points, ceded her title to Lepistö by 1.90 points.

“I am very pleased,” said Kostner at the press conference. “At the flip (doubled) my concentration slipped for a moment. Afterwards it got better. I can’t say that this was my best performance this season. I made different errors each time, but overall it was good to see that I’m improving.”

The Italian Champion was not discouraged by the result. “Each athlete comes here to win, but I could not do it this time. I’m happy for Laura that she could win in front of her home crowd. This must be an amazing feeling. Next year the World Championships is in my hometown, so I hope I can do the same.”

Lepistö also did not land her triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, opting for a triple-double. In addition, the Finnish silver medalist popped a Lutz attempt into a single. Overall, she she landed four triple jumps: a toe loop, two loops and a Salchow.

The 20-year-old’s non-jumping elements, however, were very strong, receiving levels three and four from the technical panel. The presentation of her Don Juan de Marco routine elicited an overwhelming response from the audience. The student of Virpi Horttana scored 110.70 (52.14/58.56) points and won her first international title with 167.32 points in total.

“I cannot believe it,” said the newly crowned champion. “The whole week was so awesome. I will never forget this competition. I could not say that I was skating to win, but I wanted to do my best, to show the home crowd my best.”

Despite the pressure, Lepistö feels she can do better. “I would not say it was about the level of what I do at practice. I simplified the combination in the beginning and singled the Lutz, but I tried to keep my thoughts together and focus on the next elements.”

Pöykiö had to overcome not only her nerves, but also the deafening reaction from the audience. She opened her performance with a nice triple flip-double toe loop-double toe loop combination, but popped the next two triple jump attempts into doubles. She also later underrotated a triple toe loop in the second half of the program. However, her strong non-jumping elements and excellent basic skating skills allowed her to finish third in the long program with a seasonal best of 100.25 (45.37/54.88) points. It wasn’t enough to maintain second, and with a total score of 156.31 points, she slipped to third overall.

Nevertheless, Pöykiö was pleased with her placement. “I could have skated better,” said the Finnish bronze medalist. “I’m disappointed about doing only a double Lutz-double toe loop combination and a double flip. The levels on my spins and spirals that had been low yesterday, were good today. I can improve from that at upcoming competitions.”

Pöykiö admitted that it wasn’t easy skating after her teammate’s performance. “I felt a little nervous. I tried to focus on my own thing and not pay attention to what was going on the ice, but of course I noticed some of it. This is really great for the Finnish team. Congratulations to Laura and her coach! I cannot be anything but happy about the fact that I was able to return to this level (winning a medal at the European Championships).”

Alena Leonova of Russia, who was 11th after the short program, rebounded to deliver a nearly flawless routine to La Leyenda del Beso by Raul di Blasio. The skater from St. Petersburg was named to the national team over Nina Petushkova on the basis of her ‘potential.

The 18-year-old lived up to the Russian Figure Skating Federation’s expectations. She landed six triple jumps in her long program, including a triple Lutz, which was downgraded in her short program. Except for the layback spin, which was only awarded a level one, her other elements were graded level two and four. The student of Alla Piatova posted a new personal best of 98.91 (53.95/44.96), and with 143.99 points overall, moved up seven spots to fourth place.

“I’m in shock!” exclaimed Leonova. “This was my best performance so far. When the audience supports you, it is easier to skate. After the short program, Valentin Piseev (president of the Russian Figure Skating Federation) told me to skate for my own pleasure, and so I did. I would like to go to the World Championships, but the Federation will decide who will go.”

Annette Dytrt of Germany was also able to move several spots up with an inspired performance to Camille Saint-Saens’ The Swan. The student of Michael Huth landed three clean triple jumps and a double-footed triple loop to post new seasonal best of 92.92 (47.48/45.44) points. She placed fifth in the long and moved up from 12th to seventh place overall.

“It was good,” said the 25-year-old. “I’m very happy. The flip was difficult. I had to hang on. Afterwards I felt better as the program went on. It was easier to skate the free program at the German Nationals because the short program there was very good. The goal was to make top six. I couldn’t do it after the short. We’ll now continue to work hard. I want to skate two clean programs at Worlds.”

Finland’s Kiira Korpi, one of the favorites to win a medal, slipped off an edge in the first seconds of her long program and hit the boards. The fall resulted in an interruption of the performance as she had to recover from the shock and pain in her back. The 2009 Finnish National Champion continued her program after a short pause, but was only able to land three clean triples. She finished placed sixth in the long program with 91.41 (44.41/50.00) points, and fifth overall (139.01).

“I guess this is figure skating drama at its best,” said the 2007 European bronze medalist. “Or, in my case, at its worst. I honestly cannot say what happened. Suddenly I was down and crashed into the boards. Somehow the blades must have clashed or something. Maybe I went too deep while doing crossovers. I had totally confused emotions.”

“Luckily I was able to continue,” said Korpi. “I didn’t know what I should think. I just had to focus on the performance. The rest of the program was a fight. There were quite many successful elements, but I had to really fight and the rhythm was lost. The beginning was a shock, but at the end I felt good about being able to pull off a good performance. I’m of course annoyed about the Lutz (singled), but otherwise the jumps were good. I can’t be disappointed after such a bad beginning.”

Jenna McCorkell of Great Britain, who was fourth coming into the long program, placed 12th in the long and ninth overall. Her routine featured only three triple jumps.

“It wasn’t so good,” admitted the 22-yearold. “I’m disappointed. I could have done a lot better, but it’s one of these things that just happen.”

When asked about her popped jumps, McCorkell replied: “I don’t know what happened. I wish I could just go out there again. I was tired. The air was dry… I could feel it in my throat.”

Katarina Gerboldt of Russia, who competed in the event against her doctors’ advice, finished sixth overall, and secured team Russia three spots for the next Championships. The student of Alexei Mishin was the last one to skate in the long program and made mistakes on most of her jumping passes, but managed to stand up on four triple jumps.

“I couldn’t do everything that was planned,” said Gerboldt, “but I did what I could and will continue to work. I didn’t have enough strength. It was hard to skate after the top skaters and with all the noise from the Finns. It’s a little upsetting that I lost to Alena Leonova, but I was sick and she could prepare better.”

“Now I have to go to the hospital for further health checks,” continued the Russian bronze medalist. “I think I got a valuable experience. My coach told me that I have to learn how to compete with the top skaters and I think that the sixth place at Europeans is not bad. The Russian girls fulfilled the goal to secure three spots while the men did not, although everyone was counting on them. It’s too early to write off Russian girls.”

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