by Klaus Reinhold Kany
(21 January 2019) The European Championships have existed for more than 120 years and are more important for the European skating family than the Four Continents Championships for North Americans. All European top skaters will take part in the event. The schedule and the whole organization is like at a world championship. The first two short programs are on Wednesday, January 23, the last two free programs are on Saturday, January 26 and the exhibition gala on Sunday, January 27.
This year, the event takes place in the Belorussian capital of Minsk, in the modern “Minsk Arena“ north of downtown with a capacity of 15,000 seats, but around 12,000 for figure skating. It was built between 2006 and 2009 and is almost a copy of the famous Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, where the World Championships was organized in 2017. This is the second important figure skating event in this rink, after the Junior World Championships took place there in 2012. It is mainly used for ice hockey and also for concerts and other big events. During those Junior Worlds in 2012, there were more spectators than at any other ISU Junior World Championships in 40 years: Between 5,000 and 7,000 came for the competitions and it was sold out with 12,000 spectators for the Exhibition Gala. Spectators said they came because otherwise they could never see top skaters live even if they were only juniors. This time for Europeans, it will be very crowded as well especially as the tickets are very cheap. All event tickets including practice and Gala cost only between 45 and 90 US dollars. But the country’s average income is low.
In the ladies event, everything but three medals for the three Russian teenagers would be a surprise. If Olympic Champion Alina Zagitova is in very good shape and controls her nerves, she might win. But Stanislava Konstantinova and Sofia Samodurova are also hot medal candidates. The top three skaters at Russian Nationals are all too young to compete in Minsk because they were not 15 years old on July 1, 2018. Two top Russian senior ladies will not compete in Minsk. Evgenia Medvedeva, World Champion in 2016 and 2017, who switched coaches last summer and went to Brian Orser, was only seventh at Nationals. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, World Champion 2015 and third at the Grand Prix Final one month ago, had a lung infection during Nationals and is still recovering. Two other European top ladies will not compete in Minsk: Carolina Kostner is still recovering from a foot injury which she got when she fell from a stairs at home in December. Belgian skater Loena Hendrickx is also injured.
Other good Europeans skaters who can hope for a place among the top eight are Alexia Paganini from Switzerland, Ivett Toth from Hungary, Mae-Berenice Meite and Laurine Lecavelier from France, Nicole Schott from Germany and Viveca Lindfors from Finland.
In the men’s event, Javier Fernandez from Spain will compete in his last ISU competition in his career and hopes to win a seventh title after winning Europeans six times in a row from 2013 to 2018. But he has not trained much during this season, therefore we have to wait and see if he is in good shape. Other medal candidates are the three Russian men, especially Mikhail Kolyada, but also the new Russian champion Maxim Kovtun and the jumper Alexander Samarin. A medal candidate is also Michal Brezina from the Czech Republic. Other good Europeans who can hope for a top ten placement are Kevin Aymoz from France, Paul Fentz from Germany, Morisi Kvitelashvili from Georgia, the two Israelis Alexei Bychenko and Daniel Samohin, the two Italians Matteo Rizzo and Daniel Grassl, the Latvian Deniss Vasilievs and the Swedish skater Alexander Majorov.
After some withdrawals there are only 11 pairs, only two of which can fight for the gold medal if everything goes according to plan. The top favorites are Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès from France who won the Grand Prix Final one month ago. Technically even better but artistically not as good are Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov from Russia. Other teams who can hope for a medal are the two other very young Russian pairs of Aleksandra Boikova & Dmitri Kozkovskii as well as Daria Pavliuchenko & Denis Khodykin, and the Italians Nicole Della Monica & Matteo Guarise. Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert from Russia as well as Annika Hocke & Ruben Blommaert from Germany withdrew because in both cases the man has health problems.
Big favorites in ice dance are the reigning World Champions Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron from France. Three other teams can hope for the two other medals: the two Russian couples Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov as well as Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin, plus the Italians Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri. Other good teams are the two Spanish couples Sara Hurtado & Kirill Khaliavin as well as Olivia Smart & Adrian Diaz, the Polish couple Natalia Kaliszek & Maksym Spodyriew and the second French couple of Marie-Jade Lauriault & Romain LeGac.