by Matteo Morelli
The 2024 European Championships took place in Kaunas, Lithuania. A fully packed Žalgiris Arena saw the top European teams competing for the hot spots available on the podium, with an audience that was extremely supportive and engaged in both sections of the event.
Italy’s Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri skated to win a second in a row European title, the first time ever for an Italian ice dance team to achieve such a result. They were followed by Great Britain’s Lilah Fear & Lewis Gibson, which added a silver medal to the one they won last year. In third place were home darlings Allison Reed & Saulius Ambrulevičius, who secured their first continental medal in front of an excited crowd of 11,000 that filled the entire arena in the final.
Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri can now claim four European medals, with two golds and two bronzes earned so far, three of which have been won back-to-back over the last three years. The reigning European champions and silver Worlds medallists entered the event strong from winning a silver medal at the Grand Prix Final and a sixth national title. This was their twelfth European championships, a testament to the longevity of this team that seems to gain more and more strength and quality every year.
“The emotions we feel when we skate are still the same as when we started”, Fabbri shared. “Maybe they have evolved a little bit, they are not exactly the same, but the intensity is still the same”.
Guignard & Fabbri were already in the lead after the rhythm dance, where they skated to a score of 86.80 points and a season best for them. They indicated that they changed their approach to competitions this year, a strategy that seems to be paying back.
“This year we are trying to approach competitions differently compared to last season”, Fabbri shared. “Last season we really felt the pressure of reaching certain results and we didn’t enjoy competing every time as we wanted to, while this season we try to enjoy every competition, to have fun, to bring home memories with us”.
They skated last in the free dance, with their “Theory of everything” programme earning 128.58 points and a total of 214.38.
“If you like it (skating in front of a large audience), and we like it, it is a great help”, Fabbri said. “If you use it in the right way, it can help to finish the programme in the best way and to find energy even when you feel your body is lacking some!”.
“Even if tonight was not the best performance, overall it was an easier competition for us than the European Championships in Helsinki last year”, Fabbri shared.
Great Britain’s Lilah Fear & Lewis Gibson entered the event strong of their silver medal from the previous event, and with the aim to try to improve their result. This season, they managed to upset the Italians during the NHK Trophy Grand Prix, where they won their first Grand Prix gold medal.
“Last year really gave us a lot of confidence, it was our first European medal and just to have that result really instilled a lot of belief in ourselves”, Fear shared. “To be able to shoot for gold like we did at this competition was an honour, something we were really excited for and go after, we really thought today and we are really proud of our performance”.
Their rhythm dance earned 85.20 points, allowing them to be just less than two points from the leaders.
“It has definitely been fun (to skate their rhythm dance)!”, Gibson shared. “The (80s) music is fantastic, and I think that it also brought a lot of difficulties when trying to choose something to skate to, but we all got there at the end with good programmes”.
They had the hard task of getting on the ice after the Lithuanian teammates skated to confirm their podium finish in front of a very receptive home audience, however they didn’t see this as a problem.
“A really special moment for us was to be on the ice when our friends won the bronze medal, because I have never experienced a noise like that before and the sheer celebration and to feel what a special moment it was to them”, Fear shared. “It was a really emotional and meaningful moment”.
The British duo showed they were determined to fight for a medal with their “Rocky” programme. They earned 125.62 for their free and a combined total of 210.82 points, paying the price for a mistake on a spin and the twizzles dropping a level for Fear.
Allison Reed & Saulius Ambrulevičius couldn’t ask for anything better than what they experienced at this European Championships. During both segments of the event, the support of the public was overwhelming, showing how much the Lithuanian fans wanted this dream to medal to become a reality. The duo was very happy to find out that their country was hosting the event in Ambrulevičius’ home town, after Hungary withdrew from hosting it early in 2023.
“When we first heard that Hungary didn’t chose to host Europeans, we hoped that it was possible for Lithuania to bid and when they did and we got it, we were very happy and excited”, Ambrulevičius said.
“I am extremely proud and extremely happy to skate amongst the greatest athletes in Europe in the arena that is in my own city”, he added.
Their journey to achieve this important achievement started with them delivering a strong rhythm dance on their 80s rock music choice, earning 80.73 points and a third-place finish with more than two-point margin from the team in fourth place.
“It was hard to transport ourselves from last year’s latin to this year’s 80s, which is a completely different style, but we are happy that the crowd is enjoying everyone’s programmes”, Ambrulevičius shared.
The final was something that we do not often witness in a continental event like this. A sold-out arena with 11,000 people in the audience cheered for all the teams competing during the ice dance final event, but what was witnessed when Reed & Ambrulevičius took the ice was close to a dream: loud cheers before, during and after their skate showed how much this medal meant not just to the Lithuanian duo, but also to their fans and supporters.
“It was the last moment of the programme, when the crowds were cheering louder than the music, we didn’t even know when to finish the programme!”, Ambrulevičius shared. “So we just did what we could do, but it was fantastic, it was very special”.
They earned 122.64 points for their free, the first score to exceed the 120 points mark for them, and an overall total of 203.37 points, both new personal bests.
When asked if they were aiming to go to the next Olympic Games after not being able to attend the last one due to Reed not having obtained Lithuanian citizenship, they didn’t hide that this is a dream they have, but that they also want to enjoy their career as much as they can.
“We take one thing at a time”, Reed shared. “We make big goals for ourselves, the Olympics of course is a big goal for every athlete and we can only hope and dream that that might come true, but until then we just want to continue with the career that we are living so far, which has been quite a journey and just enjoy every moment of that”.
Two French teams followed the top three spots at the event: Evgeniia Lopareva & Geoffrey Brissaud closed in fourth place across both segments, and Loicia Demougeot & Theo Le Mercier jumped from an eight-place finish after the rhythm dance to a firth place in the free dance and overall, earning new personal bests.
The two Czech teams equally secured a top ten finish: Natálie Taschlerová & Filip Taschler ended in seventh place overall after a fifth-place finish in the rhythm dance, which is still worthwhile praising as they had to spend time off training due to Taschler suffering a fracture on a vertebrae and only getting back to the ice four weeks prior to the event; Daniel Mrazek & Katerina Mrazkova finished in ninth place, confirming that the reining Junior World Champions are already placing themselves quite high in their first year as seniors.
Also in the top then were the two Finnish teams: last year European bronze medallists Juulia Turkkila & Matthias Versluis, which closed in sixth place, and Yuka Orihara & Juho Pirinen, in tenth place. In eighth place were Diana Davis & Gleb Smolkin, with this being their second European Championships but the first representing Georgia.
This event will go in history as one of the most attended of the recent years. Large and supportive crowds filled the arena almost in every event, with the ice dance being the one where the highest support was received. This is very promising for European ice dance, which is going through some strong years with high level competitors and important results.
“The level has increased quite a lot compared to last season, if you see the scores not just of the first couples, but also the last that qualified with 60 points, while last season the last qualified couple got 51 points, there was a big improvement”, Fabbri reflected on. “In Europe, ice dance is really experiencing a great moment, a great level, great skaters, great competitions, and we are very happy to be part of that”.
“It is really encouraging to see that growing reputation of ice dance in Europe, and to be a part of that”, Fear shared. “We are very proud to get to elevate the level of the sport in whatever way that we can through our performances, motivating one another and raising the level all together”.
“To be a part of that evolution in ice dance to compete against the best of the best is a very humbling experience”, Reed added. “We can hope that through this elevation in our sport we can get more young people involved into this love that we all share”.
The gala was also packed with people and saw two special guests gifting the audience with a performance on the ice with a live orchestra, Olympic Champions Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron of France, who also watched the entire ice dance final and showed their support to the teams competing at the event.