Europeans 2020, day one: Russian dominance in pairs and veteran Březina in the lead
January 23, 2020
By Titanilla Bőd
Photos © Mireille Geurts
Figure skating is coming home - that's the motto of the Europeans in Graz. On the first day we saw success and drama, troubles and pure joy, but the competition is still open.
The guy to be happy about
The skater with a spectacular triple Axel. The new hope of Czech skating besides Tomáš Verner. The unlucky holder of so many potato-medals (as the Czech calls the 4th place). In the last 13 years Michal Březina was described in many ways. Now he can also be called the leader.
Because it's Michal Březina who is the (unexpected, for some) leader after men's short program in Graz. There were skaters who were in the spotlight more; however, Březina's jumping qualities along with his improved skating skills (thanks to work with Rafael Arutunyan) predestined him to be one of the medal contenders.
In Graz the almost-30-year-old Czech skater landed a quad Salchow, double toeloop combination, a triple Lutz and a huge triple Axel. 89,77 points in total meant the position of tonight's leader for Michal.
In the past he was in the top three after short at major competitions several times, but he has just one European medal, a bronze from Zagreb - because most of the time he could not repeat his performance from the short the next day. "I know it happened in the past," Michal admitted at the press conference. "I try not to think about that. Tomorrow is a new day as long as you come ready for the competition and you are ready to perform you just do your job. That's what I'm going to do. Just go and skate the way I did in the practices for the last month and half, and if all works, great, if there are mistakes, we are just people."
The guy to be sorry for
Fourth place last year in Minsk, medals from Grand Prix events, bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final... Considering Kevin Aymoz as a serious contender was totally understandable based on his latest performances and results. Many people would have crowned him champion in advance, because his unique style and emotional skating captured the hearts of a lot of fans.
But in Graz, fans of the talented French skater could do nothing but cry. Aymoz had a total meltdown in the short program, in which none of his jumps were clean, and this meant the shocking result: he did not even qualify for the free skate. "I do not know what happened. I did not have more pressure than usual even if some announced me as one of the favorites for this competition; it is not the view I had about this event. Maybe too much stress or not enough, I cannot explain," he commented on his performance.
The list that still can be useful
But you don't have to throw away the long list with the names of possible future European champions, because the competition is still wide open. Dmitri Aliev is second with 88,45 points after delivering a strong program with an underrotated quad Lutz and a clean quad toeloop. Artur Danielian, competing at his first Europeans, is third with 84,63 points after a flawless and energetic short program.
Morisi Kvitelashvili, Deniss Vasiljevs, Paul Fentz and Matteo Rizzo also still have a shot at a medal and you can't yet write off Alexander Samarin, who made some big mistakes, including a fall on the quad toeloop in his short program, and is currently only 13th, but with his quad skills the 10-point gap doesn't have to be crucial.
The names to be remembered
It's the second Europeans for Nikolaj Majorov from Sweden and Mark Gorodnitsky from Israel, and the first major competition for Gabriele Frangipani from Italy, but all three have shown their potential in the short program and they all qualified for the free skate.
"I am very emotional because it's my first Europeans. It's not easy to control your emotions," Gabriele Frangipani admitted, and added that teammate Daniel Grassl tried to calm him down: "He told me: 'Don't be so scared, it's your first Europeans. Last year I was scared too, but it's all going to be OK.'"
The nice gesture from the organizers
First to skate in the whole event was AndrĂˇs Csernoch from Hungary. When he finished his short program, a former Hungarian Eurovision song started to play. As he was waiting for his marks, the whole crowd was listening to "Kedvesem" by ByeAlex in Hungarian... As it turned out, the organizers have found a special home country song for every competitor. In addition to the more common English, French, Russian and sometimes German lyrics the crowd listened to the tunes of Czech, Dutch and Swedish songs.
The not so nice location of the competition
Europeans are in Graz but not in Graz. It actually takes over 30 minutes by bus to get from the city centre to Steiermarkhalle, which is a temporary venue for sports events (in the past it also hosted Davis Cup). The location is not very convenient, but the skaters are not complaining. Michal Březina refused to criticize the venue when asked at the press conference if he has ever skated at such a place. "I think the Europeans are wherever there are figure skating fans. The Austrians have a very rich history, so I see no reason why it shouldn't be here. The fact that the rink looks the way it does doesn't matter - the performances are on the ice. The rink accommodates us fine. The main focus here is the athletes, the audience enjoys what we do, all works for the skaters, the rink works, the ice is great, and I am sure it looks great on TV. I've skated on rinks like this, the Worlds in Nice also were in a conference center, and it was fine. It really doesn't matter to me where to skate as long as we are accommodated well, and all works for the skaters. I have no complaints," Michal said.
The Russian sweep in pairs was expected in the absence of defending champions Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, but it would have been harder to predict the order of the pairs. Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii did it their way and they may turn pink into the new gold: in their unusually coloured outfit they dominated the short program and are in the lead with 82,34 points. They have an almost 8-point-margin ahead of their compatriots Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin, while Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are in the third place.
But the leaders know nothing has been decided yet. "The hardest part is still to come, the long program. But the schedule here is good. It's nice to have a day off to catch our breath," Kozlovski said.
Tarasova and Morozov had an unexpected mistake on a lift when his blade was caught and they lost their balance. Morozov was holding his partner partly by her skirt but he managed to prevent the ugly fall. "It was really a shame; we skated the first part of the program so well and then there was this stupid mistake. I was not frightened - Vladimir held me tight. It's an annoying nuisance," Tarasova commented on the incident.
The song and the moment
"I will walk five hundred miles and I will walk five hundred more..." The tune of this catchy song is echoing in the ears even a few hours after the pairs short program. Miriam Ziegler and Severin Kiefer had their once-in-a-lifetime home crowd moment when they delivered a flawless program full of flow and drive in front of the spectators of Steiermarkhalle. This was their short program two seasons ago but they decided to get back to it and the decision completely paid off. They earned a new personal best and an unforgettable experience as the crowd applauded them during the whole program.
They might be only in the sixth place, but to see them just flying over the ice and then burst into tears of joy we certainly would walk five hundred miles - and even five hundred more.