To the delight of the home crowd, two Finnish ladies – Laura Lepistö and Susanna Pöykiö – put a comfortable distance between themselves and the rest of the field in the short program. Defending champion Carolina Kostner of Italy is currently third.
Lepistö was the first medal contender to take the ice, and the performance she laid down proved to be insurmountable for her rivals.
“It was so great to skate in front of home audience,” Lepistö later told the press. “It was a different situation I hadn’t been used to, being cheered on during the warm up and all. I tried not to think about the audience too much, but at the end it was just amazing.”
The Finnish silver medalist popped a planned double Axel into single, but excellent execution of her opening triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination allowed her to make up the points she lost due to the mistake. For her solo jump, she did a triple loop out of steps.
“Overall I’m really satisfied with my performance,” Lepistö told the press. “The Axel was annoying because it came out as a single, but I was confident throughout and I am so relieved and happy.”
The student of Virpi Horttana struggled to achieve levels of difficulty on her non-jumping elements: only two of her spins received a level four, while the inspired straightline step sequence and layback spin were graded a level two. Her spiral sequence only received a level one, but the execution of all non-jumping elements were superb.
Despite the mistake and low levels, the 20-year-old posted a new seasonal best of 56.62 (30.30/26.32) points to edge out her more experienced teammate for the first place.
Receiving low levels on non-jumping elements did not discourage the Finn. “Well, now we know that tomorrow we have to be very careful, make certain that we rotate everything, but it’s the same for everybody. There are still some things to improve (in the long program). ”
“I was pretty nervous in the morning,” admitted the skater, “but after the practice, I got into my normal competition mood. Nailing the triple-triple combination was amazing. With the audience cheering, I had to gather my thoughts after it.”
Lepistö feels good about going into the free skate. “I left out the biggest emotions today. Instead of single elements, the key thing is to stay focused. That’s been challenging for me this season. Now I’ll do a cool down, eat, and try to sleep well.”
Coming off poor showings at Grand Prix events and a disastrous performance at the Finnish National Championships, Pöykiö rebounded to deliver a clean short program.
“I felt great before program,” said the Finnish bronze medalist, “and even greater afterwards.”
Pöykiö’s routine to ‘Leeloos’ Tune by Maksim Mrvica featured a triple flip out of steps, a triple Lutz-double toe loop combination, and a double Axel. However, the 2005 European silver medalist failed to achieved the desired levels of difficulty. Her circular step sequence and flying sit spin received level twos and the other elements were rated a level one. She currently sits in a very close second with 56.06 (29.30/26.76) points.
The 26-year-old confessed that she does not know what was wrong with her spins and steps. “I have to re-watch my performance to see where I made mistakes, and I must have made ones to receive such levels. Sometimes the callers are harsher and you have to be more careful with rotating everything properly.”
Regarding her season up to this point, Pöykiö explained that she had been slowly building up the strength for this competition. “I concentrated on staying relaxed. Earlier this season, I started from level zero because of the last season’s injuries. and with every competition, I set my goal higher and higher. Now I can finally see myself doing a clean program at last. The beginning of the season was just a preparation for this competition.”
Kostner continued to struggle with consistency, and only posted the 14th highest technical score of the night. However, her strong basic skating skills and interpretation of tango music, as well as accompanying high program components scores, allowed her to finish third with 51.36 (24.40/27.96) points.
The 2008 World silver medalist opened her routine with a huge triple flip, but the poor landing of the jump prevented her from a adding triple toe loop to it, and she was only able to do triple-double combination. She also slipped on the entry curve to a triple Lutz.
“I guess I cannot be really happy,” said Kostner at the press conference. “I made one stupid mistake. It’s not something you can prepare for because such things do not usually happen in practice. Since the Lutz never really took off the ice, I had no chance to fight for its landing. In practice both flips and Lutz were going really well. I planned a triple-triple, but something threw me off on the entry. Maybe a baby cried, but this is no excuse. I have to be more focused.”
The Italian Champion recovered to land a strong double Axel, but her non-jumping elements also received relatively low levels of difficulty, with the spiral sequence rated only a level one and none of the spins receiving level four.
Kostner, however, is not discouraged by her performance. “You always need to fight for your concentration. Of course the happiness you take with you if you have skated great is helpful, but the motivation might be even higher if you don’t. I guess the placement should not affect you too much. Tomorrow I will be in full power. I will attack. I want to catch up.”
She acknowledge the challenge, though. “The Finnish team is very strong. We are in Finland, but competition is competition. You have to fight yourself first and foremost. I know it will be difficult to wait till the very end. I have to focus a lot on staying calm and not wasting energy. I’m happy now and I’m looking forward for tomorrow.”
Jenna McCorkell of Great Britain rounds up the list of skaters who surpassed the 50-point benchmark in the short program. She began her enthusiastic performance to Sarah Brightman’s Harem with a strong double Axel, but put a hand down on the landing of a triple Lutz out of steps. The skater recovered to land a triple flip-double toe loop combination, however, only her combination spin received a level four, while all other elements were not as strong. The spiral sequence received a level two and the step sequence a level one. The student of Juri Bureiko scored 50.00 (28.44/21.56) to place fourth.
“I am happy,” the 22-year-old told the press. “It’s as good as I can hope for. I had an odd and stressed warm-up, and I couldn’t even land my flip. It could always be better. Going first in the warm-up is good, because you’ve got no time to think.”
McCorkell felt the levels she received were a bit strange. ” Quite a few people have thought the same here – to keep an eye on your levels.”
McCorkell, who is married to Belgium’s Kevin van der Perren, was delighted about him winning the bronze in the Men’s event. “He’s been through injuries, surgery, and illness, so it’s been really difficult for him.”
Despite suffering from sinusitis, which forced her to wear drainage on her nose, Katarina Gerboldt of Russian was able to skate a clean short program and finish fifth in her first European Championships.
“I’m better now,” said Gerboldt of the sinusitis, “and it only is bothering me in the spins. Because of the illness, I didn’t even skate at all for a few days, and I didn’t practice spins. I’m a little nervous because it is my first time here, but nobody set any goals placement-wise for me. I just should do what I can do and so far I did.”
The 2009 Russian National bronze medalist landed a double Axel and a triple flip-double toe loop combination, but received an edge call on her triple Lutz. She received only a level one for her layback spin, combination spins, and circular step sequence. Despite the problems, the performance was nonetheless an improvement for her, and the 19-year-old posted new personal best of 48.62 (27.70/20.92) points.
In a major upset of the event, Slovakia’s Ivana Reitmayerova finished sixth with a clean performance which featured a triple toe loop-double toe loop combination, a triple Salchow out of steps, and a double Axel. Her interpretation of the Yunona and Avos musical was soft and lyrical, and she gained rather good levels on her non-jumping elements which allowed the skater to post a new personal best of 48.00 (28.60/19.40) points.
The 2009 Finnish National Champion, Kiira Korpi, is currently seventh with 47.60 points after she put both hands down on the landing of a triple Lutz and underrotated a triple loop.
Ukraine’s Irina Movchan is currently in eighth place, followed by Tugba Karademir of Turkey.