2023 European Figure Skating Championships
Pairs Free Skate
Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii made history after winning the first European Pair’s title for Italy at the 2023 European Figure Skating Championships on Thursday. Teammates Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini rose three spots to take the silver, while Germany’s Annika Hocke and Robert Kunkel settled for bronze. Russian pair teams have long dominated this event—or have at least medaled, since 1958, with the exception of 1961. Due to the current ban, the door was open for other European teams to seize the opportunity for a medal.
Conti and Macci had a low catch on their triple twist that was graded a level two, and Conti later put a hand down on the throw triple loop in their free skate to In their long program to music from Cinema Paradiso. The team otherwise produced a triple toe-single Axel-single Axel sequence, triple Salchows, and throw triple Salchow. The latter element received many positive grades of execution (GOE), as did their their level-three Group 5 toe lift. The 2022-23 Grand Prix Final bronze medalists scored 124.68 for second place in the free skate. With a total score of 195.13, the team was able to maintain first place overall with their new personal best scores.
“We are happy about tonight,” said Macii. “We had some visible mistakes, especially on the twist, and we don’t understand why. It goes easily, normally, but competition is like this. But we are really happy because the pressure was really high. Skating after being first in the short and skating last, we are happy about how we reacted after this not so good beginning. We made a good program, and of course, a gold medal. It was a dream to win any color of medal, so winning the gold is like going further.”
This was the second time that Conti and Macii made history this season. The team became the first Italian pair team to win a medal at the Grand Prix Final when they pocked the bronze in Torino last month.
“Somehow it’s always strange, but we are really proud because we love our country,” said Macii. “Last year we were seventh, but this year we had the chance, and we are really happy that our country has a new gold medal and a silver medal. Actually, our skating club has the whole podium by the way!”
Conti and Macii, who teamed up in Jun 2019, are hoping for a spot on the 2026 Olympic team.
“We thought we could fight for the last Olympic Games, but they (the other Italians) were much stronger,” said Macii. “I think it’s agood start for us for the next four years, and we’ll try to improve every year, even if the participants are different and it gets more tough when the Russians come back. I hope we will be competitive for the highest places in the Olympics.”
Currently, there is only one spot for the Italian pairs at the upcoming 2023 World Figure Skating Championships. The top two teams were unable to compete last year due to Ghilardi and Macii testing positive for Covid-19.
“So people said, ‘why don’t Filippo (Ambrosini) and Sara (Conti) skate together so we can keep the spot,'” revealed Macii, regarding 2022 Worlds. “We also thought about this, but it’s not our job. Our job is to compete, to do our best and try to get better. That is the job of the federation. They have their rules, and they will decide soon who is going to go.”
Ghilardi and Ambrosini opened with a level three triple twist, but she turned out the landing of the second jump in a double Axel-double Axel-single Axel sequence. Ghilardi also put a foot down on the throw triple loop, but those were the only errors made by the 2022 Grand Prix Espoo Champions. They went on to land side-by-side double Salchows, a solid throw triple Lutz, and displayed three level-four lifts in their routine to “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.” The team picked up a new personal best of 127.48 for a first-place free skate and rose from fifth to second overall (186.96).
Ghilardi noted that it was hard being fifth after the short program.
“When we prepared for the Europeans, we were expecting something more,” she said. “Being fifth after the short program wasn’t easy. We just said to ourselves, ‘show what you can do, show our work,’ and we fought together. We wanted to enjoy our moment for ourselves. We won the free program and we are the silver medalists, so I think we can say, ‘good job!'”
The team is excited about the next Olympic games being held in their home country.
“It is very strange, because it feels like yesterday we were at the Olympic Games in Beijing,” said Ghilardi. “It’s still a long time, and we want to take everything step by step and to enjoy every moment. In the end time, flies and you are already there, but right now, we just take it step by step and see what happens.”
Ghilardi and Ambrosini are disappointed about the situation last year in that they were not able to compete at Worlds. They realize the decision on who will get the 2023 World spot falls to their federation.
“Somebody has to do this work and someone will say who is going,” said Ghilardi. “We all worked as well as we could, and I think we can be proud of our work no matter who this will be.”
Skating to “Without You,” Hocke and Kunkel produced nice lifts, two of which were level four, and a good throw triple flip. However, Hocke fell on the side-by-side triple Salchows and put a hand down on the landing of the throw triple loop. The 2022 Grand Prix de France bronze medalists finished third (117.18) in the free skate and overall (184.26) in their third appearance at this event as a team.
“I was a little confused,” said Hocke of the fall. “I didn’t expect falling. Of course, you never expect falling, but I was pretty confident that I landed and suddenly I was on my butt. So I was not sure what happened, but I am pretty okay with falling. I knew that there was the rest of the program. You never want to fall, but sometimes it happens, and I just thought, ‘okay let’s keep going, do the best possible and see what outcome is.'”
The team was thrilled to share the podium with their other two teams who are their training mates, but a bit disappointed with not being able to show their best in the free skate.
“I had to realize that it’s amazing to go home with a medal, and we can really be proud of what we achieved so far,” said Hocke. “Last season, we were 13th at the Europeans and it’s a big step for us, even though it was not perfect today.”
Teammates Alisa Efimova and Ruben Blommaert struggled their throw jumps and side-by-side triple Salchows. Efimova put a hand down on the throw triple flip and stepped out of the throw triple loop. Blommaert doubled his Salchow, while she fell on hers. However, two lifts and the pair spin was graded a level four, and the 2022 Grand Prix Espoo silver medalists finished fifth in the free skate (110.89) and slipped to fourth overall (173.66).
“It wasn’t perfect,” noted Blommaert. “The goal was to skate clean. We had some mistakes, but I think overall, we can be happy about how we skated.”
The team will compete next at worlds.
“We have some time to get back to practice,” said Blommaert. “I think we need more programs in practice, more mileage on the ice. That would be our main goal.”
Maria Pavlova and Alexei Sviatchenko placed fourth (115.01) in the free skate and fifth overall (115.01) — both new personal best scores — in their debut at this event as a team. Their routine to “I See Red” was highlighted by a level-four triple twist, side-by-side triple toe-double toe-double toes, a throw triple flip and throw triple loop.
“We enjoyed it here,” said Pavlova. “Everything worked out. There were some mistakes, but in general, I am happy.”
The team will compete next at the Challenge Cup in the Netherlands and then worlds.
Czech Republic’s Camille Kovalev and Pavel Kovalev stood in fourth going into the free skate. Unfortunately, the triple twist was flawed and the team struggled on their side-by-side and throw jumps. The 2022 Grand Prix de France silver medalists finished sixth (107.48) in the free skate and overall (169.94).
Camille injured herself last week and is still working through the pain.
“Before the flip, I was focused a bit if it would be pain or not and I forgot a little bit how to breathe,” she explained. “Finally, close to the end of the program, I felt it really difficult to breathe and tried to fight until the end to finish the program.”