Domnina and Shabalin win second European title

Russia's Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin won their second gold at the 2010 European Figure Skating Championships.

The third set of medals at the European Championships were been decided today in the ice dance competition.

Russia’s Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin have achieved impressive progress since their debut at the 2010 Russian Nationals a month ago, but still lost the free dance portion of the competition to the polished performance of Italy’s Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali.

Nevertheless, the Russians won the title, while  the Italians settled for their second consecutive silver. Defending champions Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski of Russia won the bronze.

Faiella and Scali, who impressed everyone with their original dance a day before, were in a class of their own in the free dance as well. The emotional Italians were obviously invested in The Immigrants routine, which, according to what they told the press, is based on their own life story.

“The storyline of the dance is a journey of two young people and emotions associated with it,” explained Scali. “It’s about how hard it is to leave family and friends, and how exciting it is to arrive to a new country and to have a person with you with whom you might share those emotions and have hopes for the future together.”

The Italian Champions held the audience under their spell throughout all four minutes of the program. Unfortunately, the skaters’ themselves seemed to be carried away as   well. Scali put his free foot down too early during their final lift, which received a level two, and their twizzles were only a level three. Despite the mistakes, they still earned the best technical sum of the night and won the free dance by a two-point margin (96.77).

It was not enough for the overall victory, though, and their repeat of the last year’s second-place finish (195.86) is an extremely poor reflection of the progress they have achieved this season.

“I don’t even have to tell you that we are so happy tonight,” said Scali. “We said we really wanted to finish as we have started, especially to preserve that special feeing we had in the original dance yesterday. I think we did it. Federica was crying just after the end of the free dance because of the the power and the emotions she used tonight to give her best.”

The team seems to take their second place overall in stride.

“We are not disappointed,” said Scali. “Every time at the press conferences we say that we want to do our best and it is true. That is not to say that had they offered us a gold I would have declined at said ‘no thank you, I’d rather take the silver’. But we are so proud and so happy about what did, about capturing that special feeling, especially in the original dance. We truly do not care [about the placement].”

Domnina and Shabalin delivered a competent and confident performance of their Passion free dance.

“I could only repeat what Massimo said and tell you that this is a story about us,” said  Shabalin. It’s based on our memories.  The title of the dance is “Passion” and it refers to people’s passion. We try to express different moods of people. Sometimes they are happy, sometimes they hate each other, and sometimes they fight. Many faces on our costumes express that feeling.”

While the team has been able to achieve impressive progress in less than month since the National Championships, the technical aspect still has a lot of room for improvement. Both their step sequences and the second part of the combination lift were graded level two, which resulted in them only receiving the sixth highest technical score.

“We had some big problems with the elements,” admitted Domnina. “We got some low levels and we need to look at them. We are disappointed, but we only have ourselves to blame.”

Nevertheless, the Russians  edged out the Italians in four out of five programs components score to gain 94.98 (44.10/50.88) points, and with 199.25 points overall, won the second European title.

“It’s a bit hard to wait [for the results],” said the dancers, who had skated first in the final warm up group. “But we are happy to be here, and to become two-time European Champions. Thank you Tallinn, thank you for your support!”

“Of course we happy with our gold, but there is a negative touch to it, because our score was low,” said Domnina, “but we have time to work on it. We will fly back to the USA in a couple of days and try to figure it out. I thought the expression was good and I hope we will be able to improve it further for the Games.”

According to Khokhlova and Novitski’s coach (Irina Zhuk), it was harder for them to win a bronze this year than to win the gold in 2009. The Russian Champions are coming off an extremely disappointing fall season in which they failed to qualify for the Grand Prix Final and were summarily criticized for their choice of the free dance.

Now the problems seem to be over, and their new Firebird free dance allowed them to raise from the ashes like a phoenix. The team picked up the highest basic value among the top teams and received mostly positive feedback from both the audience and the specialists.

The theme of the dance and the style of the music match Khokhlova and Novitski’s strongest points so well, that the only question on everyone’s mind was why they had not used the dance from the beginning of the season.

The Firebird is not a recent idea for us,” explained Khokhlova. “We first thought about using the music at the end of last season, but when the Meadowlands were proposed to us, we decided together with our coaches that in an Olympic year it would be good to do something patriotic. The music seemed stronger to us. It was our collective choice. But after two competitions, it turned out that the patriotic theme is not working quite as well as we hoped. Maybe because few people abroad were familiar with the tune and it was rather hard for us to portrait the Red Army.”

“So we decided to try The Firebird and do some elements to it,” she continued. “And it went very well. So in a very short time we decided to change the Free Dance. We are very happy that the premiere of our Free Dance was so well received.”

The dance, which has been put together in record time, still requires more work and polish, but it’s obvious that the skaters have much stronger rapport with the theme than in their previous program.  Khokhlova in particular makes an extremely convincing flamboyant firebird and has captured the wing-flapping moves perfectly.

“Today we showed the maximum of what we can do at this point,” said Novitski. “We’ve worked a lot and we’ve had success. It’s not the limit yet, but the way the dance was received by the judges and the audience proved that it was a success.”

The team earned 93.21 (45.70/47.51) for the free and has 189.67 points in total. Despite dropping down in standings, the 2008  World bronze medalists are not too disappointed with the outcome.

“We are not upset,” stated Novitski. “We had to miss a lot this year, one event, then the next [the couple withdrew from the Grand Prix Final due to Khokhlova's illness and from the Russian Nationals due to Novitski's knee injury]. We changed the program, of course. The third is not the same as the first, but it’s a great result. We have invested a lot into the new dance, and that the fact that it was so well received, pleased us a lot.”

France’s Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who were virtually tied with Khokhlova and Novitski for the third place before the free dance, were not able to deliver under the pressure. The team was right on the track to win the first European medal before Bourzat stepped out of a twizzle which was the final required element in their dance.

The mistake stunned the students of Alexander Zhulin, and Pechalat almost dropped her partner during the connecting move immediately afterwards. With their chance to medal all but gone, the team had to push themselves through the remaining half minute of their performance. Despite the mistake, they still received a  rather respectable score (92.05 (45.40/46.67) points) for the free dance, and with 188.51 points in total, finished a close fourth.

“We did not have any pressure getting on to the ice so close to the third place as last year it was the same, said Pechalat afterwards. “We knew what it was like to wait for the bronze medal. I’m not so upset about not medaling anymore. There are some things that we cannot control.”

Great Britain’s Sinead Kerr and John Kerr earned a new season best (90.24) for their dance to Krwling by Linkin Park, but just like yesterday they were not able to avoid technical errors. The team was way out of synch and shaky during the twizzles, which received negative grades of execution, and their diagonal step sequence was only a level two.

The Scots’ presentation, however, was as good as ever, and their dance (which tells a story of a guardian angel trying to save an addict from himself) was very well received by the audience. While the routine lacks the straightforward emotional impact of the last year’s Ruled by Secrecy,  it is certainly one of the most interesting pieces of ice dance choreography this year.

The students of Evgeny Platov, who feel that as a siblings they are not ‘allowed’ to do romantic programs typical for ice, are doing a great job creating a niche for themselves. However,  with the deep field at this continental championships, their technical issues outweighed their originality, and they finished fifth with 184.05 points.

“I felt it went really good today, though we had a tough break yesterday,” said Sinead. “The mistake cost us quite a lot. I felt a bit more nervous than usual. We need to transport what we do in practice into competition. That’s what we have to work on until the Olympic Games. We have to skate really, really clean then.”

Since the number of teams in the final was reduced to 16, there were only four teams in each warm up group.

“It’s pretty disappointing after all those years starting in the last group to skate in the second last here,” admitted Sinead. “You have to be in the top four after the Original Dance (in order to be in the last group) which is pretty tough. But those are the rules they make and we just have to go with it.”

Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte also tackled a similar theme in the their dance to Requiem for a Dream, however, compared the British couple their story is far more sinister. Cappellini portrays a dark angel trying to lure Lanotte into addiction.

“The dance is very long and difficult but we didn’t hold anything back,” said Cappellini. “For two years we skated with very romantic music and we decided to change this time because we don’t want people to think that we can do just romantic themes.”

The Italian silver medalists did get all the technical elements right, receiving a level three for both their steps and a level four for all other elements, and earned the fourth highest technical score of the evening. They finished a distant sixth in the free dance (87.34) and overall (176.10).

“We are really happy with the performance tonight,” claimed Cappellini. “Yesterday, we felt like we left some points on the table and because of that, we were a little scared, which is normal. We skated first in the group and we weren’t super comfortable yesterday, but today we wanted to give our everything. We feel that there was nothing more to give.”

The team, which has moved to Lyon to work with Muriel Zazoui, said that their goals for the season include improving their power and getting comfortable with more challenging programs.

Ekaterina Bobrova  and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia, who were ninth coming into the final, finished seventh in the free dance despite running into trouble with synchronized twizzles again. This time it was Soloviev who made a mistake, letting go of his blade, which resulted in the element being downgraded to a level two and a negative grade of execution.

“The twizzles are actually not such a hard element,” said Bobrova, “but for some reason we had problems with them. We need to work on them. We felt that we improved our elements – the lifts and the steps – and it was rewarded.”

The Russian silver medalists were otherwise  clean and inspired in their performance to Albinoni’s Adagio.

“Katia is my muse and I am an artist,” explained Soloviev of their routine. “I invented her, but she somehow exists within me. The end is like a dream that comes true and I finally can hold her in my arms.”

They earned 84.90 for the free dance, and with 171.26 points in total, missed making it to the  European top eight in their debut year by 0.02 points.

Ukrainians Anna Zadorozhniuk and Sergei Verbillo  finished eighth in the free dance (84.38) and overall   (171.28) with a competent dance to Vivre pour le meillieur.

Alexandra Zaretski and Roman Zaretski of Israel once again captivated the audience with their routine to Schindler’s List, and placed ninth with 84.36 points.

“This program is my favorite of them all,” said Roman. “We don’t do the program for points, we do it from our hearts. We were doing good last year until I did a stupid mistake. This year only strong motivation and hard work helped.”

They remained seventh overall (174.91), passing their National Olympic Committee requirements (a top ten finish) with flying colors.

Nora Hoffman and Maxim Zavozin of Hungary pulled up one spot up to finish tenth overall (163.21) in their European debut (the team withdrew from the event after the original dance last year).

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