Photo by Robin Ritoss

This week, the top ice dance couples from across Europe are headed to Minsk, Belarus for the 2019 European Figure Skating Championships. Although Minsk has hosted various Junior Grand Prix events and the World Junior Championships, this is the first time they will welcome athletes for the European Championships. The roster includes 25 teams from 16 countries and includes four-time European Champions Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron of France.

Papadakis & Cizeron are the overwhelming favorites for a fifth consecutive title. The team has competed just once internationally this season at Internationaux de France where they won by 16.5 points. Both programs highlight the teams fluidity and seemingly effortless performance quality. The free dance, which is set to “Duet” and “Sunday Afternoon” by Rachael Yamagata, is a departure from their lyrical piano pieces.

Russia’s Victoria Sinistina & Nikita Katsalapov are poised to reach their first European Championships podium. Sinitsina & Katsalapov placed second to Papadakis & Cizeron at Internationaux de France and also won the silver medal at the Grand Prix Final. The team has continued to improve with each outing this season and claimed their first national title in December.

Italy’s Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri have exceeded expectations this season by winning silver medals at both their Grand Prix events and a bronze in their first trip to the Grand Prix Final. Guignard & Fabbri’s programs are a huge step up from previous seasons and their consistency has also helped their podium progress.

Not to be discounted are Russians Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin, who earlier this season seemed on a roll to challenge for the World Championships podium as well as win their first national title. Small mistakes stalled the teams’ momentum, and they now find themselves chasing Sinitsina & Katsalapov and others. Stepanova & Bukin won the bronze medal at this event in 2015 and 2018.

Sara Hurtado & Kirill Khaliavin and Olivia Smart & Adrian Diaz qualified for Spain, and it could be an international showdown between the two teams. Hurtado & Diaz won Spanish Nationals and have a strong free dance; but Smart & Diaz may have the edge in the rhythm dance.

Lilah Fear & Lewis Gibson of Great Britain have been on fire this season. The team finished fifth at their Skate America Grand Prix debut and fourth at the NHK Trophy. The team has one of the most popular free dances this season, and their scores continue to go up with each performance.   A top 10 finish is well within reach for the British duo.

The rhythm dance is scheduled for 12:40 pm (local time) on Friday, January 25, with the free dance on Saturday, January 26 at 4:35 pm (local time). There is an eight-hour time difference between Eastern Standard Time (EST) and Minsk, which translates to 4:40am EST for Friday’s rhythm dance and 8am EST on Saturday for the free dance.