The dance competition at the 2003 European Championships in Malmo, Sweden featured many changes from last season as couples moved up and down the rankings much more than in previous years. Last year’s gold and bronze medalists were gone, with Gwendal Peizerat appearing on the other side of the boards where he was working with France’s Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder in dance and Stannick Jeannette in the men’s competition.
Coming into the competition, three teams were favored. Ukraine’s Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov had been unbeatable in the Grand Prix season, winning three gold medals. The husband-wife team had been mired in the bottom half of the top ten before switching coaches from Natalia Linichuk to Tatiana Tarasova in the summer. Bulgaria’s ice dancers, Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski, had also made huge strides during the Grand Prix season, winning a gold and a bronze and qualifying for the Grand Prix Final. Russia’s defending World champions Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh started slowly but won the last two Grand Prix events. The field also included the World bronze medalists, Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovsky, who have had a rough season after switching coaches from Tarasova to former Olympic champion Evgeny Platov. Five-time German champions Kati Winkler and René Lohse, who missed most of last season including last year’s Europeans after Lohse was injured in practice at the Grand Prix in Germany, were also back.
The European Championships also featured a slew of innovations to challenge the ice dancers. For the first time, the interim judging system was used at an ISU championship. In the new system, the marks from a random selection of judges are used to determine the winners and no one knows who gave the marks. In a second innovation, only one compulsory dance was skated at the European Championships for the first time, the “Tango Romantica,,” which was invented by Alexander Gorshokov. And finally, the couples were skating the Memories of a Grand Ball original dance, one that had given numerous couples trouble during the fall internationals.
In the compulsories, Lobacheva and Averbukh took first place even though they had to skate first, the only time this had happened to them in any of their numerous European and World Championship appearances. Denkova and Staviski came in a close second, even taking one first place ordinal from the Russians. “We like difficult compulsories and the Argentine Tango is one of our favorites,” Denkova said. In a surprise, Russia’s Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov came in third, with Grushina and Goncharov in fourth.
The top couples showed a wide variety of styles in their original dances. Lobacheva and Averbukh took the top ranking using Strauss’ “Blue Danube” waltz and the polka “Unter Donner und Blitz,” even gathering one 6.0 for presentation. Denkova and Staviski followed in second using “March for the Turkish Ceremonies” and “Dance of the Witches”. The dancers looked the part of an 18th century court couple with Denkova in a gold gown and Staviski in a velvet waistcoat. The opening poses and later the interweaving footwork in their straight-line sequence reminded viewers of the courtly movements of the minuet. And Navka and Kostomarov took third using a romantic waltz from the movie “My Sweet and Affectionate Beast” and a military march, which featured crisp salutes and high-stepping footwork. Navka noted that during the 18th and 19th centuries, wars and grand balls occurred at the same time. “When we chose the march, we were looking for a sharp contrast to our soft and flowing waltz.” Winkler and Lohse presented one of the most entertaining dances of the event with a fast and furious polka, waltz and march by Paul Linke, which had the fans clapping in unison. Winkler said “It’s grand ballroom, but different from Strauss. It’s more fun, but still elegant, like an evening at the operetta.”
There was no change in their positions after the free dance. Indeed, there was no change in any of the dancers rankings from that in the compulsory dance, except for the last two couples, which tied in total points, even though several teams took spills during the free dance. Lobacheva and Averbukh skated to a rock and roll medley that Averbukh explained was created from a lot of different songs. The dance began when Averbukh leaped over his wife’s head in a move reminiscent of Krylova and Ovsiannikov’s free dance in 1999. The dance was fast and furious, with both dancers playing to the audience like rock stars and Lobacheva doing a helicopter spin on her partner’s shoulders near the end. It gained a couple of 6.0s for presentation. Averbukh said, “We wanted to win like this, not barely, but with 6.0s and a standing ovation.”
The silver and bronze medalists both used Middle Eastern themes in their dances. Denkova and Stayivski won Bulgaria’s first figure skating medal at an ISU championship skating while skating to “Afrah Baladi”. The lithe Denkova portrayed a serpent enchanting an Egyptian pharaoh as she writhed about her partner. Navka and Kostomarov used Peter Gabriel’s “The Feeling Begins” in their Oriental dance, marred only when a piece of fabric tore off of Kostomarov’s costume during their performance. Grushina and Goncharov finished fourth with their “Quixote” free dance, while Winkler and Lohse stayed in fifth despite a bad fall by Lohse near the end of their “High Energy” program, in which the dancers portray positive and negative energy. The unique costumes worn by the Germans were chosen based on a poll of their fans on the Internet.
One of the other teams making a jump in the standings from last season was that of Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali. The couple energized the crowd with a frenetic Latin dance to music from Gloria Estefan and Willy Deville, which featured one of Faiella’s carries of Scali, who celebrated his 20th birthday during the championships. They moved from 12th in 2002 to eighth this year. Two of the Junior Grand Prix medalists, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia and Nora Hoffmann and Attila Elek of Hungary also skated well, finishing in 12th and 14th. Both couples remarked on the differences in the speed and complexity of the moves in the senior division and the pressure of skating in front of thousands rather than dozens of fans.