The old timers successfully held off the younger skaters to capture all three medals of the Men’s event in Tallinn. Evgeni Plushenko of Russia easily maintained first overall to capture the title, while Switzerland’s Stephan Lambiel’s rose from fifth to nab the silver. Defending champion Brian Joubert of France was forced to settle for bronze.
Plushenko, who skated right after his main rival Joubert, knew beforehand that the title was his to loose and the Olympic Champion approached his performance accordingly.
The crowed erupted into the applause after he landed his opening quad toe loop – triple toe loop combination, and each following jumping pass received an equally warm welcome. After the first minute and a half, which saw him checking off two triple Axels and triple loop, the game was essentially over. His only error came when he doubled a triple Lutz.
The student of Alexei Mishin picked up 164.09 (80.99/83.10) points for the long program, and with 255.39 points in total, easily won his sixth European title by an impressive 20-point margin. Even more impressive is the fact the 27-year-old did it ten years after capturing his first continental crown back in 2000 in Vienna.
“Thank you, Estonia!” Plushenko exclaimed. “Thank you all the Russians! Thank you, my beloved wife Yana and, of course, thanks to all the judges for giving me those marks!”
“To be frank, I have to say that it’s a pleasure to win over so many strong skaters who worked so hard every day for the past three years,” Plushenko told the audience. “I’m very proud of it.”
“For the past two years I’ve been training in Estonia in the summer,” Plushenko told the local audience. “I have been coming to Tartu. There is an excellent training base there, with a great sauna, so I feel quite at home here. I have a lot of friends in Estonia and I love Tallinn.”
“I see a lot of Russians here,” he continued. “Lots of the Russian flags, but, by the way, thank you, Spain, muchas gracias! Thank you the French, merci beaucoup! and thank you everyone else who supported me.”
At the press conference, Plushenko dismissed his mistake on the triple Lutz. “I guess it happened because I’m working on a quad Lutz,” he joked. “Perhaps I should just go for quad and forget about doing triple. That’s all.”
He also admitted following figure skating during his hiatus. “Of course I followed figure skating. The last two World Championships were won by people who did not attempt quads. For me it’s incomprehensible. I’m happy that today skaters already attempted two quads, which is the way it should be done. I’m glad that they feel that it is necessary.”
Plushenko promised to include the second quad toe loop into his long program for the Olympic Games.
“It’s hard to compete today as under the new rules we all are equal,” he reflected. “We all have to do spins with the same changes of edges and so on. We have to complete all those rockers and brackets in step sequences. I’ve followed the rules, but I haven’t yet learned all of it. Frankly, sometimes I feel that the judges have not learned them either.”
“Everything is going according to the plan, everything is going well,” Plushenko summed up. “Of course I’m happy to win the sixth European gold medal, but the most important event, naturally, are the Olympic Games.”
Lambiel produced a touching and exciting closure to the event as he skated his new long program to “La Traviata” by Guiseppe Verdi to finish second in both the long program (160.79 (76.79/85.00) points) and overall (238.54).
The Swiss Champion was not perfect, and made several mistakes. He put a hand down on the opening quad toe loop, had a freak fall on the serpentine step sequence towards the end of the program, and turned out of the final triple Salchow landing. However, his interpretation of the music and attention to detail in the first half of the program was almost a perfect blend of athleticism and artistry. The audience, who enthusiastically supported him throughout, sat on the edge of their seats waiting for his marks before exploding when he was pronounced the silver medalist.
“For me this competition was … wow … a hard one,” said the 2006 Olympic Games silver medalist at the press conference. “After the short program, I was wondering how I could make it work. I knew that I was strong enough to do it and I was ready to fight. I had great practices here, I was in good shape, I was confident, but I was not sure everything could have happened. So during the warm-up, I told myself to just follow the music.”
Lambiel had to modify the program on the fly after his mistake on the quad landing prevented him from doing a combination, but he recovered to tackle a double toe at the end of the second quad. He also did not complete a triple flip – triple toe loop combination after the quads, and landed a solo instead.
“I lost concentration twice in the program,” explained the 24-year-old. “First after the quad, I did not know where to go, so the entry to the flip was not regular. I’m so upset that I was not to able show this waltz to the crowd and to the judges, but I promise I’ll make it even better for the Olympics.”
Lambiel said that the main reason for his comeback was an opportunity to compete at the Games.
“I think for all the sportsmen and sportswomen the Olympics is a very special, and I have been to two Olympic Games. I really wanted to challenge myself for Vancouver, provided that I am physically capable, and I wanted to take up the challenge of the Olympics. Now I feel very comfortable with the silver medal and I want to win the gold in Vancouver.”
Joubert failed to live up to yesterday’s claim that he could challenge Plushenko for gold. The defending champion turned out of his opening quad toe loop landing, popped a quad Salchow attempt into double, and later was unable to execute the third three-jump combination.
“I don’t know what happened on quad Salchow,” said Joubert. “I did not have enough speed coming into the jump. I made a small mistake on the [quad] toe, which was good, but afterwards I was not relaxed enough and therefore I made the big mistake.”
While none of those mistakes were particularly disruptive to the flow of the program, each cost him a lot in the technical score, and he was only able to earn 147.90 (68.10/79.80) for his effort. With a total score of 236.45 points, he slipped to third overall.
“To be honest, I’m very disappointed,” offered a visibly upset Joubert at the press conference. “But it was not a surprise. I’m not yet ready for the long program. Yesterday I was very confident in the short. I worked very hard on it, but physically I’m not strong or confident enough for the long program. Now I know what I have to do.”
Italy’s Samuel Contesti opened the penultimate group and delivered another clean and colorful program to the delight of the crowd. Skating to Panpipes from the Andes, the 26-year-old successfully hid all his weakest points behind the expressive choreography, and made full use of his step sequences to establish excellent rapport with the audience.
“Pressure is always there,” said Contesti, “because all competitions are important. It is impossible not to feel pressure. If you don’t, it means you don’t care.”
Technically, the Italian Champion did everything as planned, including two triple Axels (one in combination with triple toe loop) and five other triple jumps. With 145.43 points for his long and 221.33 points in total, he pulled up to fifth place.
“It was a great performance,” said the 26-year-old. “I’m very happy. I was fighting for the last three-jump combination because every point is important. One point can make a difference like it was in the short program. The public was wonderful. I also want to thank all the people who helped me – my coaches, coach-wife, my family, and many others.”
Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic remained in fourth overall (224.74 points) after he finished fifth in the long program (145.14 points). The main highlights of his program were his high and airy jumps, which he mostly landed with excellent flow out of them.
“I felt a bit nervous before, because I was skating in the last group with these big names like Plushenko, Joubert….,” confessed Brezina, who was tenth last year. “But now I feel great and on the ice I felt comfortable.”
Brezina’s only mistakes were brushing ice with his free foot on the landing of his opening triple Axel, putting a three turn between a triple flip and triple toe loop in the intended combination, and popping his final Axel into single.
“I made one big mistake in the end,” admitted Brezina. “I did a single Axel and it was my biggest problem. I lost about eight points.”
Despite his initial nervousness, the 19-year-old delivered a confident and expressive performance which fully engaged the audience – especially during the step sequences.
“It does not matter after whom I skate,” said Brezina, who took the ice right after Plushenko. “I’m just doing my job. I’m like a machine.”
In the earlier warm-up groups, Spain’s Javier Fernandez impressed the audience with his Pirates of the Caribbean routine. The 19-year-old skater made an excellent impersonation of a pirate, complete with mimicking drinking from a bottle of rum before the step sequence. He ‘drunkenly’ swayed from one direction to another, seemingly out of control, and earned a level three for it. The last minute of his program was accompanied by an ovation.
On the technical side, the Spaniard was also very strong. Though he stepped out of a rotated quad toe loop and put a hand down on triple Lutz, he landed six other triples – including two triple Axels – to beat his previous personal bests in the long program (138.33 (73.43/64.90)) and overall (204.83). Unfortunately, however, the field in Tallinn was so deep that it was only enough for eighth place.
“I’m satisfied and happy with my performance,” said the 18-year-old afterwards. “It was good. I made some mistakes in the first part. It was also the hardest part with the triple Axel.”
Fernandez, who won an Olympic berth, remains calm about the upcoming Games.
“I don’t feel anything special before the Olympic Games,” he said. “I’m too young to hope for first place there, so I’ll just go to get the experience and let’s see. I want to train good for that.”
Yannick Ponsero of France, who was third after the short program, was calm and collected in the beginning of his program to jazz tunes. However, his concentration was only good enough to carry him through two opening jumping passes – an excellent quad toe loop and strong triple Axel. The rest of the program was hit-and-miss with costly mistakes.
The French silver medalist popped his second triple Axel into a single, and attempted to rectify the situation with an improvised double Axel – double Salchow sequence (which was supposed to be a double-triple) in the last seconds of the program. The audience tried to cheer him up during the step sequence, but the skater was understandably upset about his performance, and as a result, it fell a bit flat. He scored 137.12 (63.12/74.00) for the long, and with 219.52 points overall, slipped to sixth place.
“It was a very good competition with Brian (Joubert), Evgeni Plushenko, and Stéphane Lambiel,” Ponsero later told the press. “Everyone was skating well tonight, so it was hard for me physically and mentally to hold it together. I gave all my energy in the first minute and I was tired afterwards. That’s a little disappointing.”
Germany’s Stefan Lindemann was obviously focused on the technical aspect of his performance, and for the most part, he succeed in putting three weak seasons behind. His only outright mistakes were popping his opening quad toe loop into a double, but he successfully landed two triple Axels and four other triples to finish eighth in the long program and ninth overall (203.95 points).
“I’ve made it really well through these Europeans,” said the German Champion afterwards. “It has been a pleasure to skate here. Especially the audience was great. I carry positive feelings with me to the Olympic Games.”
“Although I’m an old hand, the Olympic Games are a new step for me,” confessed the 29-year-old. “It was the first time I tried a quadruple toe loop in competition in a long time. Unfortunately it did not work out. I was a bit nervous and my legs felt heavy, but towards the end of the program, I improved.”
“This event has been an important test for me,” Lindemann summed up. “I’ve gained a lot of confidence here. Now I have to put emphasis on the quad toe and I have to work on reducing my nervousness.”
France’s Alban Preaubert, who was sixth after the short program, rotated seven triple jumps (including two triple Axels), but only finished ninth in the long as he failed to impress the panel with their quality. The audience, however, loved his “Rolling Stone Medley,” and supported him throughout most of it. The student of Annick Dumont ended up in seventh place overall with 207.61 points.
“I don’t care about the scores,” said the Frenchman afterwards. “It was a very high level championship this year, and I knew that it would be almost impossible to have a medal here. I just wanted to do my best and I want to come back stronger next year.”
The skater was supposed to open the program with quad toe loop, but it came out as a triple. “It was a mistake,” offered Preaubert. “I really wanted to do that quad. It was very difficult and I was really disappointed. Last year I decided to do a quad this year and at the practices it was good.”
Preaubert, who is not on the Olympic team and is unlikely to be named on the Worlds, is uncertain about his future plans at the moment. “I want to get my diploma before September. I’ll train also, but I still don’t know about my plans.”
Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic continued to struggle with consistency, however, his performance in Tallinn was a marked improvement over his performance at the Grand Prix Final in Tokyo.
The former European Champion fell on his opening quad toe loop, and popped his second triple Axel and the final triple loop into a single. He rounded up the top ten with 203.18 points and was the lowest placing skater to break 200 points mark.
“For the second triple Axel, I was a little unfocused,” Verner later explained. “I focused too much on my physical state. My legs were tired, but I knew that I could skate the second part of my program no matter what happened before. My other error was the (single) loop. Before that, I thought all the time about how many jumps I can repeat as I did not do combinations. I thought I still could do a triple-triple to pick up some points, and then it was too late. My shoulder was gone and I couldn’t save it.”
“For my next competition I really need to take each element separately and to focus on each one,” noted the 23-year-old. “I have to check them off one by one and move on to the next. Europeans was not a practice competition for me. This is always an event at a high level. It was a good experience for me. It is good for me to know that I won’t be a champion without hard work.”