There were only 13 pairs competing at the 2003 European Championships in Malmo, Sweden this January, but they included most of the world’s top couples still remaining in amateur competition. All of the top pairs from the 2002 Europeans returned to compete for the gold and the top four remained the same as in 2002.
The competition itself was marred by errors from all of the couples. In the short, former European and World champions Maria Petrova and 32-year-old Alexei Tikhonov showed that their careers are still going strongly when they finished ahead of last year’s European champions, Russia’s Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, who had won three of this year’s Grand Prix events, and 2002 silver medalists Sarah Abitbol and Stephane Bernadis of France, who missed over six months after Abitbol ruptured her Achilles tendon in a fall during practice for the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. Abitbol, who was tentative on some of her jumps, confessed that she still felt some fear while attempting the elements that had resulted in her injury, but wanted to put that chapter in her life behind her.
Only Petrova and Tikhonov were clean on the side-by-side triple toe loops, as Marinin stumbled out of his jump and Abitbol doubled hers, but Tikhonov did slip during the spiral sequence, although he quickly recovered for only a minor deduction. Petrova & Tikhonov completed a superb throw triple salchow in their “Blues Under the Rain” program, while Abitbol & Bernadis and Totmianina & Marinin used a throw triple loop. Russia’s Julia Obertas and Alexei Sokolov were fourth after Obertas fell on the side by side triple toe loop in their “Summer of 42” program, while Poland’s Dorota Zagorska and Mariusz Siudek, two-time silver medalists, were fifth after Siudek also fell on his triple toe loop.
In the free skate, Totmianina and Marinin skated strongly in their “Cotton Club” program, with throw triple salchow and triple loop, plus side-by-side triple toe loop/double toe combinations and triple salchows. They easily took the gold, but the battle for 2-3-4 was very close. Abitbol and Bernadis took the silver primarily on presentation in their “Addams Family” program as the couple made several mistakes. Abitbol doubled the side-by-side triple toe loop and singled the double Axel, then touched down on the throw triple loop. Petrova and Tikhonov’s troubles were centered on the throw jumps in their “Symphonic Dances” long, with Petrova two-footing both the triple loop and the triple salchow. They also had trouble when Tikhonov’s hand slipped on a carry lift late in the program. But their side-by-side jumps were far superior to the French and they ended up with the bronze. Obertas and Sokolov had a chance to reach the podium after landing a throw triple loop and an unusual throw triple flip, but their side by side jumps were off and they dropped to fifth with their “Pearl Harbor” program. Zagorska and Siudek skated strongly to Rene Dupere’s “Xotica” landing a throw triple salchow and triple loop, plus a side-by-side double Axel/double toe combination but had to settle for fourth.
There were also several new pairs making their first appearance at Europeans including two new German teams coached by former world champion Ingo Steuer, Eva-Maria Fitze and Rico Rex and Nicole Noennig and Matthias Bleyer. Fitze, a former German ladies champion, only switched to pairs this season, while Rex, who competed at Europeans and Worlds with Silvia Dimitrov, had not been at Europeans since 1996. The two couples finished in virtually a dead heat with 12.5 points, necessitating a skate-off back in Germany to determine which team will go to Worlds. Obertas and Sokolov also made their first appearance. Obertas, a former World Junior champion with Dmitri Palamarchuk, competed at Europeans and Worlds for the Ukraine until splitting from Palamarchuk after an horrific fall at the 2000 World Championships in Nice. Palamarchuk was also competing with his new partner, Tatiana Chuvaeva. That Palamarchuk still cares for his former partner was evident after the event when he was seen comforting Obertas after her performance. Obertas was suffering from a respiratory virus all week that made breathing difficult for the tiny blonde but the couple fought through and finished in the top five.