Golden Skate

Kostner leads at Europeans; Korpi second

Carolina Kostner of Italy leads the Ladies after the Short Program at the 2010 European Figure Skating Championships.

The Ladies Short Program event at the 2010 European Figure Skating Championships include 42 skaters from 32 countries competing for 20 spots in the Final tomorrow. This year, the competition has no clear favorites as the most decorated European skaters have been struggling with consistency in recent events, and could have easily been upstaged by less well-known rivals.

The experience, however, prevailed in the end and the top three after the short program consists of former continental medalists: Carolina Kostner (ITA), Kiira Korpi (FIN), and Laura Lepistö (FIN).

Kostner, whose recent performances have been nothing short of disastrous, pulled herself together when it counted the most. The Italian Champion delivered a clean and floating performance to Nocturne, making full use of her excellent basic skating skills which were highlighted as she flowed seamlessly from one element to the next.

The former European Champion did not attempt her trademark triple flip – triple toe loop combination, but her triple – double combination, double Axel, and triple Lutz out of steps earned good grades of execution.

“It was a challenge for me personally to do the Lutz instead of the toeloop,” Kostner later explained. “I did not think so much about qualifying for the Olympic Games. I just enjoyed skating  here.”

The execution of non-jumping elements, however, could be improved as she only earned level one for the flying sit spin and level three for her spiral sequence and layback. Overall, the current silver medalist earned 65.80 (36.00/39.80) points.

“To make it very short, I’m very, very happy,” said Kostner at the press conference. When asked to elaborate, the 22-year-old added: “I’m very satisfied. I was able to do what I wanted to do and I’m happy. I’m very happy how the progress went. Each week I made a step forward in my training. I had a lot of fun tonight, and if I have fun, I feel comfortable. It’s a great feeling to skate a good competition.”

The skater relocated to the USA last summer, and believes that she has found a perfect arrangement there.

“I was looking for new ideas, new inspirations, and new motivation and I found a really nice place (El Segundo, Calif.),” said Kostner. “I think it’s the perfect place for me. Our training group is so strong. We have a lot fun together, but we work really really hard. It has give me a lot of confidence and lot of energy.”

“What is important for me is that I have fun while I’m skating,” added Kostner, “because it’s the main reason why I do it. I think I have a very good [long] program to present, so I hope I will be able to share my happiness and my passion with the audience tomorrow.”

Finland’s Kiira Korpi was also clean, and her program to Caravan was very well received by the audience. She started with solid triple Lutz – double toe loop combination, but only did a triple loop as a jump out of steps, and her layback was rated level two. Nonetheless, she posted a new personal best score of 64.26
(36.50/27.76) points, and is currently a close second.

“I have to admit I was a bit nervous, especially at the beginning of this week,” confessed the Finnish silver medalist. “Not only we fight for the European medals, but also for the Olympic Games spots. But I now I got off to a good start.”

“Of course I was very happy to skate not only my season’s best, but also my personal best today,” added Korpi. “I’m really satisfied with my performance and I don’t think I could have done any better.”

The 21-year-old stated that last season was difficult due to health problems. “I could only do three competitions. Mentally it was very hard to go home to to  Europeans (Helsinki) knowing that I was not in  great shape. But I had good summer training. I’m confident now. I have a good beginning of the season.”

The 2007 European medalist is looking forward to the free skating tomorrow. “Tomorrow’s gonna be an interesting day. Obviously the level is very high. Everyone is well prepared for Olympic Games. I plan to enjoy it, to stay focused, and do the elements like in practice.”

Korpi also thanked the audience for their support. “It’s great to skate when you have so much of support. Lots of Finnish people are here, some my friends and family. It  helps you to skate even better and I almost feel like at home.”

Teammate Lepistö  drew the last starting number, and closed the event with a slightly flawed, but technically challenging performance. The defending champion put a hand down after a triple toe loop – triple toe loop combination, but went on to nail a triple loop out of steps and double Axel. However, she failed to impress the technical panel with some of her elements as the spiral sequence received only a level two and the layback a level three. Nonetheless, she also earned a new personal best of 62.96 (34.60/28.36) points, and still has a good chance to defend her title tomorrow.

“I feel the same as Kiira [Korpi],” said the 21-year-old at the press conference. “I was more nervous at home than now. Coming here, I felt very comfortable and relaxed.”

One of the Lepistö’s challenges in Tallinn was her boots: “The left skate is fixed now, but it means that I will have to change the boot immediately after the event,” she explained. “They won’t last anymore. I could only hope that they will last through tomorrow, but I have to forget about it. I was thinking about it too much in the recent two weeks, but now I just have to concentrate on the skating.”

Regarding her plans for tomorrow, Lepistö stated she had a new free program. “I really like it. It helps that I’ve been able to train it very hard at home. I’m going to enjoy it tomorrow, and be very concentrated and confident.”

Georgia’s Elene Gedevanishvili captured the audience’s attention with her interpretation of Fever, but turned her intended triple toe loop  – triple toe loop combination into triple-double instead. She also received rather low levels of difficulty for her fast and well-centered spins.

“I could skate better because I did 3-2 instead of 3-3, but everything else was good,” said the 20-year-old, who trains in Hackensack, N.J.  with Robin Wagner. “I did a season’s best, so I am pretty happy. Here at Europeans, my goal is to enjoy it since I am really solid and on the way to Olympics. I won my Junior Grand Prix here (2005 Tallinn Cup), so it is a really lucky place. And my best friend among the skaters is Elena Glebova and she is also from here.”

The skater earned 60.82   (33.70/27.12) points from the judges and a huge bouquet of flowers from the President of Georgia (Mikhail Saakashvili), who made a brief appearance at the Championships. She is currently fourth.

Gedevanishvili knew in advance that Mikhail Saakashvili was  planning to attend. “It was a pressure knowing that the president of my country is here watching, and I was pretty nervous, but I handled that well.”

Alena Leonova  of Russia decided to upgrade her program for the major Championships of the season, and went for a triple toe loop – triple toe loop combination in her short program to Barynia. The student of Alla Pyatova has been attempting the element in her long program performances this year, but has yet to land a clean one. The risk did not quite pay off this time, as she fell on the second jump.

“I decided to do the triple-triple instead of the Lutz when the Lutz was not going well in practice at home,” the 2010 Grand Prix finalist explained.

The Russian silver medalist also received only  level one for her spiral sequence, and earned 58.26 (32.10/27.16) points for a fifth place finish.

“I am basically satisfied with my skating,” said Leonova. “It is bad that I fell, but everything will be decided tomorrow. I realized while training here that the competition is tough since everyone was jumping better than they did before, so I even got a little scared.”

Hungary’s Julia Sebestyen hit all three jumping passes in her program to Song from a Secret Garden and Libertango, but the levels of her non-jumping elements were among the worst in the top two flights. Despite receiving low levels, the 28-year-old finished a close sixth with 57.44 (31.20//26.24) points, and is happy about her performance.

“I’m very happy,” said Sebestyen. “I wanted to do a clean short program. It was my dream to skate a good short program at the Europeans. I don’t care about the marks, I just wanted to show what I can do. The Olympic Games in Vancouver will be my fourth Olympics and I want to enjoy the event and just do my best.”

The skater who has been competing at the Championship since 1995, said this season is going to be her last. “It is not usual these days to compete this long and it is hard to be always on top. It is my last season.”

Valentina Marchei of Italy is currently seventh with 55.34 (32.30/23.04).  She may  be the one skater who feels the most pressured at the competition, since the outcome of the event will decide whether she or Kostner will become the sole Italian entry for Vancouver.

However, no one would have guessed it from the way Marchei performed her routine to Massenet’s Meditation. The Italian Champion hit a strong triple Lutz – double toe loop combination and a clean triple Salchow, and generally seemed to enjoy performing in front of the crowd.

“For two years I haven’t been able to compete at European’s due to injury,” said 23-year old. “I am so glad to be back. I didn’t think much about qualifying for the Olympic Games today. I started practicing again in April last year after a long break, and now I just enjoy being able to skate again.”

“Winning the Italian Nationals was just one step in improving at every competition during this season,” Marchei added, “and of course I gained more and more confidence. But the earth is still turning no matter if I can compete at the Olympic Games or not. Having pleasure in skating is more important.”

Sarah Meier of Switzerland is attempting a come back after missing most of the last season due to a herniated disc, as well as the recent Grand Prix series due to achilles tendons inflammation.  At first glance, her Samba and Brazilliance program was an excellent vehicle for getting back into the final flight of the European Championships’ long program, but the technical panel downgraded her triple Lutz attempt to a double which cost her in the  technical score. With 54.86 (28.22/26.64) points she finished eighth.

“I’m quite satisfied with my skating, but I was very, very nervous,” admitted the two-time European silver medalist. “I’ve been able to do all my jumps, but maybe not quite as good as usual. Of course, I’m disappointed with the scores, but there is nothing I can do about it. The Lutz was close, but I don’t understand why it was downgraded to a double.”

“After missing all the Grand Prix competitions, I was quite proud that I have been able to skate so well without having the competition experience,” added the 25-year-old. “After my injury, I’ve started practicing again in December. Since then, I’ve been skating with full power.”

Ksenia Makarova of Russia skated in the first warm up after the half-point break, and landed a solid triple toe loop – triple toe loop combination before doubling a planned triple flip. She also received only level two for the her layback spin. The 16-year-old debutant placed ninth with 54.06 (30.82/23.24) points.

“I wasn’t nervous, I felt normal,” said the newly crowned Russian Champion. “When I’m getting nervous, it’s not good! My father is here with me, and that helps me a lot. I’m quite happy, but I made a mistake (doubled the flip). I thought too much about it. I shouldn’t think about it. I just need to go for it and jump. Tomorrow I want to do better. My plan for tomorrow is to put out a clean skate with a smile.”

Turkey’s Tugba Karademir rounds up the top ten (53.88). She skated clean, landing a triple Lutz – double toe loop combination and a triple Salchow out of steps.

“I am very happy with my performance,” said Karademir. “I’ve done my job. It is a step towards Vancouver. It gives me confidence so I know that with a program like this, I can make it to the final.”

The 24-year-old, who placed tenth last year,  is thrilled with the success of the discipline in her home country.

“Skating in Turkey is more and more popular,” said Karademir. “We finally have an ice rink in Istanbul. They built it for 25 years and finally it was ready! We had a Junior Grand Prix competition there for the first time. Birce Atabey [the second Turkish competitor] is just 16, and it is a great experience for her. I’m proud of her.”

The only other skater to land a  clean triple – triple combination of the evening was by Championship’s debutant Sarah Hecken of Germany. The national champion nailed two triple toe loops before popping a planned triple Salchow into single. She is currently 16th with 46.34 points.

“I am disappointed,” said Hecken. “The mistake on the Salchow was not necessary. I pulled too early. I don’t know why I had trouble with the jump. It was a little nerve-wracking to skate in the last group when you know that they are all very strong and being one of the youngest skaters. Tomorrow I want to do a clean program and to land the Salchow.”

Another skater to attempt the same combination was Estonia’s Elena Glebova, who stood up on it, but got the second toe loop downgraded to place 13th (50.10 points).

“I think that I skated very clean,” remarked Glebova. “There were a few little mistakes, but nothing serious. I felt that today I jumped very high. I was really flying. I was even scared. It’s a strange feeling.”

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