Europeans is always a highlight of the figure skating calendar. Arriving halfway through the schedule of national championships and drawing out the best of the continent, Euros often foreshadows the drama set to play out at Worlds 8 weeks down the line. It’s also often a cage match, where federations test out multiple candidates for those World team spots (ahem, Russia). What do we have once the ice chips settle?
Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres, Masters of the Pairs UniverseEmbed from Getty Images
Inconsistency? What inconsistency? Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres have found a mood that suits their sweeping, contemporary style and are turning it into a mountain of gold medals. James half joked after Skate Canada that she wasn’t sure how they were going to top the free skate that won them their first Grand Prix medal. Turns out that was just a warm-up for a season of great skates and their first European title. If only we could get the judges to stop dinging them with that pedantic -1 time deduction for their sliding lift to close the free…
Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron own tangoEmbed from Getty Images
As someone who spent much of the mid 2000s listening to Rachel Yamagata songs on repeat, I’m inclined to like Papadakis and Cizeron’s free dance this season on principle alone. It’s a beautiful evolution of their taste for romantic free dance music, a contemporary expression of their natural elegance. But their rhythm dance to a pair of Astor Piazzolla classics is the tango of the season. No one can touch the sensual melancholy of their Tango Romantica, and it should be the high water mark for that pattern dance for years to come.
Sofia Samodurova’s Diet BurlesqueEmbed from Getty Images
Sofia Samodurova continued her streak of gleefully upending podium predictions and out-skating expectations with her first European title. Samodurova drew the unenviable spot of skating last in the final flight, immediately after Alina Zagitova, and a lesser skater might have yielded to the pressure of that position. Instead, Samodurova banked on a season of consistent performances and training to win Europeans.
Fans and pundits are calling Samodurova’s win a surprise, but I don’t know how anyone could be surprised by a Senior Russian skater peaking at 16 in her first senior season. It’s an established skating trope. What is different about Samodurova’s version of the story is the steadiness of that ascent. Unlike Zagitova last year, she hasn’t won absolutely everything this season, and she is demonstrating a surety in her technique that seems to elude Sambo 70 skaters in the long run. The typical Russian Teenage Phenom often flames out by 20, but coach Alexei Mishin has proven himself a steady hand with technical development. Samodurova has a better chance than most to make it out of the teenage years with her jumps intact.
Javier Fernandez salting the earth in the post-event press conferencesEmbed from Getty Images
Javier Fernandez made his 13th appearance and collected his 7th consecutive title in his final performance at Europeans, but the real fireworks were in the press room. Fernandez defended his short program performance after the judges called his quad salchow under rotated: “I think the program was great! The jumps were good even though the judges didn’t think so.1” His closing remarks after the free skate were also pointed: “I hope people will think of me as a different type of skater, a more complete skater than the ones we are supposed to have.2″
Fernandez’s criticism is nothing new: judges are notoriously inconsistent with under rotation and edge calls, and everyone is struggling to find a balance between tricks and technique. He’s also in a unique position to comment on the changes that have reshaped men’s figure skating, given that his senior years coincided with the explosive technical development of the discipline. Such candor with the press is unusual in figure skating given the delicate politics of the sport. Fernandez, however, must have felt he had nothing left to lose in the final competition of his career and went out with canons blazing.
While some skaters siezed the moment in Minsk, others are struggling to save the end of their seasons from injury and ignominy.
Somebody, please save…
I can think of no better photo to sum up Kolyada’s season:Embed from Getty Images
I’m stunned that Kolyada was able to finish his free skate on two feet after a series of bone-cracking falls left him in fifth place after a short program lead. Kolyada’s season of inconsistency continues despite that sparkling short program, which I hoped was a sign of improvement. Kolyada is a stunning skater, and his Carmen is the best one I’ve seen in years, but this has not been his year. If I were in charge of such things, I’d pack Kolyada and his skates off to Lakewood, where he spent time training with Rafael Arutyunyan last summer. Kolyada looked far more confident in the early season fresh off those California training sessions than he does now. I feel some SoCal sunshine might re-set Kolyada’s perspective, and if that doesn’t work, a good dose of Raf Talk™ couldn’t hurt either.
Zagitova’s performance at Europeans was marked by a grim determination to keep shining in figure skating’s firmament. Under normal circumstances, silver medal at a major international competition would be cause for celebration–for Zagitova, it prompts calls for the over/under odds on her retiring at the end of the season. A combination of injury, growth spurt, and post-Olympic exhaustion is slowly grinding Zagitova down. It’s dispiriting to watch someone with so much talent and determination staring down obsolescence four months out from her 17th birthday. Won’t somebody pack her up and send her to Ravi Walia or Denise Myers for safekeeping?Embed from Getty Images