by Matteo Morelli | Photos by Robin Ritoss
After hosting the event 12 years ago, Estonia welcomed back the European Championship to its capital, Tallinn. Tondiraba Ice Hall witnessed top quality skates and season bests from a lot of skaters, and a fierce competition that showed the pressure from the Olympic Games in Beijing is being felt by those qualified to participate.
The rhythm dance saw some new partnerships attending the European event for the first time, including Jasmine Tessari and Stephan Walker from Switzerland. Jasmine used to skate with Francesco Fioretti, which was also back at the competition with his new partner Carolina Moscheni, representing Italy.
Estonia’s Solene Mazingue and Marko Gaidajenko (pictured, right) were the first to qualify for the free dance. This was their first European: “I am really proud of ourselves as this season is quite a long one for us, competing in both junior and senior categories. I loved skating in the city where I was born and live,” Gaidajenko said.
Loicia Demougeot and Theo Le Mercier from France were also at their first European Championship, taking the available spot left by Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron’s withdrawal. They skated to their season’s best: “we know we can skate better, but we are happy with what we did. We wanted to make a good impression,” they said.
Russia’s Diana Davis and Gleb Smolkin also had their European debut, after earning a bronze medal at the Russian national championship. “We were a bit nervous,” said Smolkin. “We tried to do our best and we are happy to be here between the best European couples. We want to show what we can do and we want to achieve more in the future.”
At their third European championship together, Lithuania’s Alison Reed and Saulius Ambrulevicius delivered a very convincing rhythm dance.
“We were a little nervous, but we did our best. Our goal is to enjoy ourselves and show who we are as skaters”, Ambruvelicius said. With Allison being unable to obtain Lithuanian citizenship, they won’t be able to compete at the Olympics despite of having qualified. “That news was very hard to take. It was disappointing, but we have a plan for this season and will keep working on our goals,” Reed said.
Something that everyone was looking forward to was the battle between the two Spanish teams for the spot at the Olympic Games and world championship. The Spanish federation decided to give Olivia Smart and Adrian Diaz, and Sara Hurtado and Kirill Khaliavin three competitions to show their abilities, with the team earning the highest combined score winning the Olympic spot. The first two competitions, Finlandia Trophy and the Spanish nationals, were both won by Smart and Diaz.
“We felt very relaxed and we are not focusing on the Olympic race too much, as this is still a competition and anything can happen,” Smart said. “We went out there and had a solid performance, showing what we have been training for.”
“We’ve been taking each competition as a separate one,” Diaz continued. “We are focussing on ourselves, and we will try to do our best in the free.”
Sara Hurtado shared that they felt confident getting on the ice, but that it didn’t really translate into the score: “it has been a very intense season for us, so we are happy being able to keep up and not letting the nerves eat us alive.”
The rhythm dance ended with Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri in third place, and two Russian couples at the top: Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin in second place, and the current European and world champions Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov.
The top couples shared their thoughts at the press conference.
Following their withdrawal from the free dance at Russian nationals, Sinitsina and Katsalapov were happy to be back at a completion of this calibre.
“Today was a really strong competition and a great fight,” Katsalapov said. “My back has been bothering me for almost two years. After Nationals, I went to hospital and doctors really did everything they could to help me. I still have the problem and I can only solve it during the off season, but at least now I am ok.”
“We feel great, we are happy with our skate today,” Sinitsina continued. “When the ISU announced the theme we have to admit it was not easy for us, it is a very different music choice from what we would do, but we ended up picking the street dance and falling in love with it.”
Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin entered the competition as Russian champions.
“Today we skated at our very best,” Stepanova said. “We worked very hard to prepare for this event and for the Olympics, which is the most important competition of the season.”
“When training, we take it step by step to build our programmes,” Bukin said. “Every team is working very hard and we are all moving forward. This is not the first time we come to the European Championship, so we know what it is like.”
The Italians found today’s competition very satisfying.
“We have struggled with this dance this season, but we finally got it and the score was great,” Fabbri said. “When the ISU announced the style it was not easy to understand what to skate on. Michael Jackson has a lot of songs that are allowed this season, so we decided to skate on his music: I love to wear my shiny jacket and to impersonate him.”
“We found that skating today was quite easy for us, probably because we have been focusing so much on not catching Covid that we got distracted from the pressure of the event”, Fabbri added. “We have been competing for a long time, but we will continue next season for sure.”
The free dance ended with some changes in the standings from the rhythm dance, but with the top three couples confirming their respective positions.
Exceeding their personal best by almost six points, Great Britain’s Sasha Fear and George Waddell went up two places at their Europeans debut, skating on their Tchaikovsky based free programme.
Natalia Kaliszek and Maksym Spodyriev from Poland dropped from ninth to sixteenth place.
“We made a few mistakes in the spin, so after the competition we will focus on making everything clean,” Kaliszek said.
Czech Republic’s Natalie Taschlerova and Filip Taschler also dropped two places
“A little mistake costed us some points. The goal for the Olympics is to show what we can do and to enjoy it,” said Taschler.
Evgeniia Lopareva and Geoffrey Brissaud from France gained one position, confirming their top ten result with a ninth place and an overall career best.
“We are first substitute at the Olympics and Worlds (the only spot that France has is currently taken by Papadakis and Cizeron), so we have to prepare for this,” Brissaud.
“This time, everything was different: in Graz (their first European championship) we didn’t know what to expect, but here we had the right experience and we wanted to fight,” Lopareva said.
Six years on from their first Europeans appearance, Great Britain’s Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson delivered a very engaging routine on their Lion King music, and despite achieving a season’s best score they had to pay the price for a mistake on the twizzles that made them drop one place.
“We had a really fun time and we are proud of what we achieved,” Fear said. “We made a lot of changes before this competition. We have to work on consistency and be strict with ourselves, and get ready for Beijing”.
The Spanish battle came to an end with Olivia Smart and Adrian Diaz winning their spot to the Olympics and World Championships. They delivered a very solid free dance that allowed them to reach an overall total of 196.85 (and a fourth place), confirming their distance from Sara Hurtado and Kirill Khaliavin that ended with an overall total of 191.90.
“It has been a long run to get the Olympic spot and we are both happy it is now over and confirmed,” Smart said. “This performance wasn’t our favourite, but we did well and know that we can do better. We are now going to prepare for the Olympics, with a lot of face masks and training on the way!”
“We are very happy but mentally exhausted. We achieved a record score for Spain, and the highest position ever for a Spanish ice dance couple,” Diaz added.
Hurtado and Khaliavin congratulated their national “rivals” on their achievement.
“It felt very good, I couldn’t ask for more”, Khaliavin said. “This was possibly the best dance through the whole season for us, if not of our entire career.”
“I feel proud of our job here,” Hurtado added, “and what we have achieved so far as a team”.
The top three teams were celebrated at the victory ceremony, where they collected their medals. This is what they shared immediately after it at the press conference.
“It felt very easy to skate for me today, I was really enjoying myself,” Sinitsina said. “The atmosphere on the rink was great, we were so much supported by the crowd. These Europeans will be in our hearts for a very long time.”
“Our free programme is about our life and our career, it is about what we felt during our journey and still feel. I love my white dress, I feel light as a feather, a flying snowflake. It will come with me to China for sure, but I actually have another one which I am still keeping for now.”
“Today is a special day,” Katsalapov said. “Our first Europeans victory was bright, and this time it is even a bit brighter. Winning this competition before the Olympics is a huge motivation for us.”
“I have mixed feelings about our performance today, I know there were a few little things that did not affect the level of the programme but were there. We need to clean those up and feel confident. Our free programme is based on two Rachmaninov pieces performed by David Garrett, the well-known violinist. We fell in love with the first part three years ago, and we were waiting for the right moment to skate on it. The second part changes completely, and at the end we give all the energy and the emotions we have.”
Stepanova and Bukin were very pleased with their skate and with their progress overall. “We are happy we earned almost five points more than what we had at nationals,” Bukin said. “We made some changes to the free dance: the levels of the elements are ok, but there is still room to grow.”
“This is our second silver medal at the Europeans: it is an important result for us, particularly in the Olympic season”, Stepanova said. “We had a chance to work between Nationals and Europeans and we are thrilled with what we have done today. We know what we want our free dance to look like and we are trying to project that lightness and gentleness that our Romeo and Juliet programme requires”.
Guignard and Fabbri earned their second European medal skating on their Atonement programme.
“Our coach couldn’t be with us today because she tested positive to Covid”, Fabbri said. “It was our first time without her in twelve years, it was mentally and physically very difficult. We are very proud with what we achieved, particularly considering that this is the last test before the Olympics”.
“With years and experience we try to focus on our feelings in the programme, rather than each single element. We only skated our free programme once last season, so we wanted to bring those emotions back this year: it allows us to show our true feelings on the ice”.