Golden Skate

Kavaguti and Smirnov win gold, Germans second

Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov edged out the Germans to capture the Pairs title at the 2010 European Figure Skating Championships.

After almost perfect performances by the top teams in the short program, their long program efforts were a bit of a let down as all three teams made at least one mistake in their run-through. However, there was no denial that the Pairs Skating Final at the 2010 European Figure Skating Championships was a nail-biting event.

This time around, however, the judges had no problems separating the top teams, and Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov were crowned the 2010 European Champions by almost one and half points.

Defending champions Aliona Savchenko an Robin Szolkowy of Germany slipped to second, while Russia’s Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov remained in third.

Kavaguti (28) and Smirnov (25)  have steadily been climbing up the European ladder. They were third in 2008, second in 2009 and finally won gold this year. As it turned out, they did not even need their trademark throw quad Salchow to do it. The team successfully captured the hearts of both the audience and the judges from the moment they landed an easier throw triple Salchow with excellent flow out of it.

“It was our coach’s decision,” explained Kavaguti afterwards. “Frankly, we were a bit upset about it, but we trust her. She told us to do a triple, we did a triple. But we were ready to do a quad.”

The only problems in their routine was Kavaguti’s stumble after the triple toe loop and the fact that their pair combination spin was graded only level one. Otherwise they made no mistakes and picked up mostly  level fours on all other elements. Their obvious joy in interpreting the combination of Strauss’ and Tchaikovsky’s waltzes carried well to the supportive audience, and the last minute of the program was accompanied by applause.

“We skated well today, it was a lot of pleasure to skate here,” said Smirnov at the press conference. “The audience seemed to love it too. The support today was enormous. We really felt it tonight, and it made our job easier. We want to thank everyone for their help.”

“I’m very excited,” added Kavaguti. “We are so happy, so satisfied. The audience gave us energy and  we gave them all we could, so we were together in it.”

The highest praise, however, was the one from their coach. “After the performance, Tamara Moskvina told us that it was a treat to see us skating today,” said Kavaguti. “It’s the highest compliment she could have paid us. After all, she is the one who has devised this program, choreography, layout, costumes… and to hear that she enjoyed it… it was just great.”

The team destroyed their previous personal bests, beating their long program record by ten points (139.23) and the overall  by twenty  (213.15), to win their first  major international title of their career.

Savchenko (26) and Szolkowy (30) made one mistake too many this time around, and had to settle for silver for the first time since 2006. The team started well enough with a strong triple toe loop – triple toe loop sequence, but later Savchenko stepped out of the throw triple flip. What decided their fate, however, was her doubling a triple Salchow in the second half of the program, and the fact that their death spiral was once again called a level two.

“You have to ask judges about it [level two],” commented Savchenko.

With two and half points less in the technical score, even their superb interpretation to the music from the Out of Africa soundtrack, which mesmerized the audience, was not enough to let them earn the fourth consequent European title. Nevertheless, the team posted  new personal bests in both the long program (137.60) and overall (211.72).

“Of course we are little bit disappointed,” said Szolkowy later, “but not too much. We came here to skate clean, and as everyone saw, we did make some small mistakes on throw and the second triple jump. However, the rest of the program was quite good and clean, and overall it was a good performance.”

Savchenko denied that her health played a part in her mistakes. “Thank your concern, however, I’m well today. Our preparations for the championships included two good weeks, but did we miss one week after the Grand Prix Final when we did not skate at all. But now it’s over and I’m ok. I hope it will continue in the future.”

Mukhortova (24) and Trankov (26)  opened the final group with their lyrical performance to Love Story. The routine  flowed perfectly from one element to the next  until the team suddenly stumbled after the first lift and Mukhortova put a hand down on a throw triple loop immediately afterwards. The rest of the elements were clean, however, and the choreography of the routine is coming together. It is evident that their expression and ability to project emotions during the skate and connect to one another has improved.

However, in the very strong field, the Russian silver medalist’s  improvement was not good enough. With only 128.49 points for their long program (0.06 shy of their personal best), they had to settle for a distant third with 202.03 points overall (a  new personal best).

“For sure for us this was not the best skating this season,” admitted Trankov. “We made some mistakes and some not so clean landings, but we did fight. For us it’s a good season because in all the competitions we skated clean, which is very important in the Olympic  season.”

“I am very proud of myself,” said Mukhortova, who had a very noticeable lean in the air at the double Axel, but managed to land the jump clean. “I’m a fighter, I fought for everything and I saved everything I could. We had that stumble after the lift and it threw us off. There was not enough speed coming into the throw.”

When asked about a favorite Estonian dish they would like to try now that the event is over, Trankov deadpanned: “I think I need a drink rather than food! And Masha, she does not eat after seven in the evening.”

Both skaters thanked the audience for their support. “People in the seats were great. There was a lot of clapping and screaming and chanting ‘Russia, Russia’. We almost felt at home. Thank you, Estonia!”

Ukrainians Tatiana Volosozhar (23) and Stanislav Morozov (30) remained in fourth place. The students of Ingo Steuer displayed excellent flow throughout their Pearl Harbor program, and both their throws and their triple twist were rock solid. However,  Morozov stumbled out of the second triple toe loop in the sequence, and then fell out of an underrotated triple Salchow attempt.

Despite the mistakes, the skaters were quite content. “We did quite well,” said Volosozhar. “We fought for it and Stanislav went for each jump, which he doesn’t always do. So we are satisfied.”

The team also noticeably improved their personal bests, which now stand at 120.23 (long program) and 187.83 (overall).

“It’s a little bit upsetting [to be fourth once again] of course,” said Morozov. “Yesterday, we felt that we were a little under marked. It was fine to be in the fourth place after the short program, but the difference in points to the top three should not have been so big.”

Russians Vera Bazarova (16) and Yuri Larionov (23) were the first to skate in the penultimate warm-up group, and their performance to Seven Years in Tibet was marred only by Bazarova’s mistakes on the jumps: she had to fight for the landing of her triple toe loop and later fell on an underrotated double Axel attempt.

After the performance, Bazarova was rather critical of herself: “It was not totally bad, but we can do better. I missed the jump, which I usually never miss. Somehow my legs were not listening to me today. Already in practice, I had some troubles when my lace ripped off.”

The team, however, executed an excellent triple twist, which received a level two from the technical panel, and the quality of their non-jumping elements were superb. However, as great as the quality of their skating is, the young team from Perm still have to work on improving the choreography of their routine and blending all the elements into one picture.

“Today we focused a lot on the elements and forgot about choreography a little,”said Bazarova. “Today we were focused more than yesterday,” agreed her partner. “We don’t know yet exactly if we are going to the Olympic Games. We were told to skate well at Europeans.”

The Russian bronze medalists finished fifth with 159.84 points,  but lost the long program to the Italian team of   Nicole Della Monica and Yannick Kocon.

Della Monica (20) and Kocon (23) were the most pleasant surprise of the evening after a sixth place finish (156.80 points). The Italian Champions looked completely unrecognizable from their performance just yesterday, to say nothing about the rather weak outing at Rostelecom Cup in November. They maintained excellent flow between the elements without any obvious effort, and their interpretation to music from The Mission soundtrack was strong.

Though Della Monica  fell on a throw triple loop later in the program, the team nailed their side-by-side triple Salchows,  double Axel – double Axel sequence, and a throw triple Salchow.

“It was the season best in the score, but I don’t think it was our best performance,” said Della Monica. “We can do better. But it’s ok. It [fall on the throw] was just one mistake, but it’s better to forget about it immediately and just to focus on doing the rest of the program clean.”

Vanessa James and Yannick Bonheur of France opened their program to Romeo and Juliet with strong side-by-side triple Salchows, a high triple twist, and solid throw triple Salchow, but later James slipped on the edge of the death spiral entry and Bonheur fell out of a double Axel landing.

The French Champions  achieved a level four only on their flying spin and one of the lifts, however, they still managed to improve their personal best in the long and overall  (151.27 points) to finish seventh.

“We did not exactly fulfill our goals for this competition because we wanted to be in top five, but it’s almost impossible right now,” said James. “We are a little bit disappointed, because I made a silly mistake on the ice. But I did my hard elements afterwards, and it is the first time it has happened, so I’m really proud of myself because I did all the jumps and throw. I think it was a great experience for us. We love the crowd and we have a lot of supporters here.”

The Swiss team of Anais Moran and Antoine Dorsaz, who were 11th coming into the long program, pulled three spots up to finish eighth (144.95 points) with an almost perfect performance to Once Upon a Time in America. The students of Ingo Steuer landed two double Axels and two triple throws, but Dorsaz only executed a single flip later in the program and the team did not attempt a triple twist. However, their excellent interpretation of lighthearted music was the highlight of the earlier part of the event.

“Today was a really good skate, we had to bring it out!” said Dorsaz. “I think we pulled through. I tried to be more focused today, because yesterday I was a bit airheaded. Our plan for the Olympics is to represent Switzerland with honor and also to place well.”

Germany’s  Maylin Hausch and Daniel Wende remained in ninth overall (142.76 points), after Hausch fell on her triple toeloop, stepped out of throw triple Lutz landing, and later stumbled before the spiral sequence.

“Today it was jinxed somehow,” explained Wende. “I suddenly felt dizzy in the bus and the team doctor gave me some drops.””He felt dizzy before the program and that affected me, too,” added Hausch.

Adeline Canac and Maximin Coia of France finished tenth (139.73 points) after the French team missed both jumping passes and one of the throws in the long program.

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