The 2015 European Championships: The Good, The Bad And The #NoSheBetterDont

In the post U.S. and Canadian Nationals blog, I introduced a new format for event recaps: The Good, The Bad And The #NoSheBetterDont. To repeat my reasoning behind the brevity, this autumn I spent hours upon hours recapping all six ISU Grand Prix competitions and the Grand Prix Final in detail. Here's the thing. Agonizing over Suzie Salchow's take-off edge on her flip and the level of her spin combination really isn't my bag any more than jamming my hand in a car door is. I wanted to enjoy the competitions for the rest of the season rather than extrapolate the results to death but still wanted to represent all the major competitions with content on the blog as well. After all, whether I'm a big fan of the IJS system or not, there's some spectacular skating going on that I'd be absolutely negligent as a blogger by not talking about... and this year's European Figure Skating Championships in Stockholm, Sweden did NOT disappoint:

EL ÉXITO DE ESPAÑA: The success of Javier Fernandez has unquestionably put Spain on the international figure skating map in a big way. In winning his third European title in Stockholm with a superb short program and a free skate that though imperfect featured a quad toe-loop, triple axel and five other triples, Fernandez was quite obviously a great ambassador for skating in his country. However, he wasn't the only one. After making their debut in 2011 as the first Spanish ice dance team to compete at the European Championships, Sara Hurtado Martin And Adrian Diaz Bronchud have slowly but surely climbed the ladder in their results, cracking the top ten at last year's Europeans in Budapest. Their results this season have been a little bit more of a grab bag though. An eighth place finish at Skate Canada contrasted greatly with a fourth place finish at Trophee Eric Bompard. A spectacular free dance in Sweden to music from "Zumanity", "Atonement" and a composition by Karl Hugo moved them up from sixth to fifth place overall and showed the judges are finally ready to start taking the threat they pose a little more seriously. 

OR POUR LA FRANCE: Although Russians and Italians have topped the leaderboard the two previous seasons at the European Championships, this year it was again France's turn... and girl, did they ever do it in style. Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. Winning both phases of the ice dance event with a score of 179.97 - ahead of the reigning World Champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte - re-established the fact that this fast climbing French team's improvement this season might be enough to twizzle their way onto the podium in Shanghai. After all, their bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final coupled with this result set them up on paper as the team from Europe to beat this year. I can't gush enough about how much I love this team's free dance this season! It's understated and captivating like a painting you can't turn your eyes away from... and I love those lifts!  

HISTORY FOR ISRAEL: In finishing a surprising fourth, Israel's Alexei Bychenko made skating history with his country's highest ever finish in men's event. Born in the Ukraine and currently training in the States, Bychenko has been steadily climbing the ranks over the past few seasons and this particular result coupled with his win this fall at the Tallinn Trophy in Estonia confirm that he's a skater who is certainly in the top ten conversation looking towards Worlds in Shanghai.

BACK IN BUSINESS: After starting off their comeback season very strongly with a win at Skate America with a free skate that included a throw quad salchow, Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnoff appeared unstoppable... but a last place finish at the Grand Prix Final after a marred short program gave the impression that they were starting to unravel a little. Their third place finish at the Russian Nationals was just enough to get them on the team for Europeans and once in Stockholm they absolutely blossomed. After finishing a strong second in the short program to their teammates Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, Kavaguti and Smirnoff took advantage of their competitors blunders and coasted to victory with an impressive score of 207.67. Their side-by-side jumping passes were on point and they DID land a throw quad salchow but their program, however expressive, wasn't perfect. To compare their free skate score with Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford's 230.19 would appear the Canadians have a strong edge, but keep in mind with the usually generous scoring at ANY domestic competition, it's still anyone's game. That said, I'd still give the Canadians the edge personally. All in all though, a fine skate for this team and nice to see them reclaim the European title that they first won in 2010.

MARATHON WIN FOR TUKTAMYSHEVA: It seems the theme of Elizabeta Tuktamysheva's 2014/2015 season has been utter and complete domination. Treating the year almost like a marathon instead of a sprint, she has entered an unheard of nine competitions and won all but two of them. In those she settled for silver. In terms of consistency, you can beat that. Coming from second after the short program, the Russian dazzled in Stockholm with a flawless free skate that included two triple lutzes, a triple toe/triple toe combination and three other triple jumps. We've all seen the video of her landing a beauty of a triple axel in practice... and I have a sneaking suspicion that if she keeps it up with the huge TES scores she's posting, her tenth competition of the season could quite possibly see her as the latest World Champion.

ICE DANCE MOVEMENT: Definitely more so than usual, the shuffling in the standings from the short to the free dance was actually palpable. The 'third' Russian dance team finished eleventh in the short dance but sixth in their free dance and Slovakians Federica Testa and Lukas Csolley had a five place difference from the short to free dance as well, only in their case it was a drop to eighth overall. Although there's certainly proof in the pudding that these teams are simply mathematically so comparable on paper, I'd like to think the judges just may be starting to really break down what they are seeing from program to program a little more thoughtfully. Eternal optimism is a beautiful thing, don't you think? 

ROCKY ROAD TO SHANGHAI: Elena Ilinykh - who with former partner Nikita Katsalapov earned Olympic gold (team) and bronze (individual) in Sochi - hasn't exactly had the smoothest start to her new partnership with former rival Ruslan Zhiganshin. Although the duo were able to stave off the competition at home in winning their first Russian title together, their last place finish at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona didn't exactly turn a lot of heads although they showed considerable improvement in the free dance from both of their Grand Prix outings. In Stockholm, it was definitely the other way around. Synchronisation issues on their twizzles and a botched lift plummeted them down to eighth place in the free dance and dropped them from second to fourth overall. To ultimately be taken seriously in the medal equation at the World Championships against Weaver and Poje, two strong American teams, the defending World Champions Cappellini and Lanotte and the champions of this event, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, they'll need to step up their game considerably.

THE STOCKHOLM SICKNESS: After missing the last two European Championships due to an extremely serious Achilles tendon injury that ultimately required surgery, three time European Medallist made her comeback at this year's event after winning the only two competitions she'd entered this season - the Golden Spin Of Zagreb and the Finnish Championships (her fifth title). She wasn't perfect but she proved she was certainly in fine form. Her resplendent short program set to "A Day In The Life" by The Beatles was worth particular mention. Although she put her hand down on her double axel, the triple flip/double toe combination and triple loop she did execute both earned her positive GOE's and the choreography by Jeffrey Buttle was in my opinion far more effective than any of the Russian ladies who placed above her in that phase of the competition, although they all received higher PCS marks. Colour me surprised. The bad part? The flu caused this Finnish beauty to withdraw after the short program. An article from "The Stockholm" quoted Korpi as saying "I had to stop the training session because I was not feeling well, but unfortunately after a few hours the situation was even worse. I'm really distraught at not being able to take part in the free program. I could not wait to be before the audience and I could fight for a good result."

THE BUCKLAND BROTHERS: Seventeen times the Union Jack has been raised following the ice dance competition at the European Championships but sadly this year Great Britain wouldn't have a representative in the ice dance final whatsoever, with the illness of brothers Nicholas and Joseph Buckland necessitating the withdrawal of both British teams. My father and grandparents being born in England, I always cheer on the Brits and I was particularly disappointed to see these teams miss out. Get well soon Joseph, Nicholas and Kiira!

THE FORTY SECOND RULE: Under current ISU rules if "a skater/team has a problem related to themselves or their equipment (i.e. damage/injury) and is unable to continue skating or resolve the problem and does not report to the Referee within 40 seconds, the skater/team is considered to be withdrawn." Harkening back to Jeremy Abbott's fall in the short program in Sochi, we again saw a skater at this event - the UK's Phillip Harris in the free skate who clearly injured his arm - fight through obvious pain and continue his program. Though we can applaud his grit and determination to continue, one can clearly ascertain that this rule doesn't have the skaters best interests at heart. I've heard the "this is the sport and these are athletes that need to toughen up" argument and I'm quite frankly over it.

BEATING A DEAD HORSE: The powers that be and I are just going to have to disagree on the topic of Elena Radionova's PCS scores. Her basic skating skills, posture, body line and musical interpretation just aren't in my opinion on a level that warrant marks of that level. This is figure skating, not figure jumping... and I can't say I agree whatsoever with the kind of PCS scores in any of the categories that are being doled out here. While she hits absolutely stunning positions in her spins and without question has the jumps, the in-between's and choreography are not there just yet in my opinion - but that will come with time. There's a growing period for developing the style that takes you from juniors to seniors and while I feel her short program suits her well enough, the free skate isn't working for me and gives the impression of a young girl trying on her mother's dresses. By offering generous second marks (at 32.02 and 67.22 the second highest PCS scores in both phases of the competition in fact) judges are hammering home the 'keeping the second mark in line with the TES score' fundamental problem with the way IJS skating is being judged. Just because you have a system in place to attempt to in some way quantify and evaluate five different aspects of a program's composition doesn't mean that system can't be taken advantage of. I've said it before and I'll say it again... I can do better.

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