One might say the biggest story of the ladies’ event in Stockholm was Russia seizing the podium for the fifth time since ladies were included in the schedule of the Europeans (Vienna, 1930); the Russian skaters captured the entire set of medals at the continental competition for four consecutive years (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002) and then again, a month ago, in Stockholm. But, to me, the real story is Elizaveta Tuktamysheva winning the gold medal at seven (out of nine) competitions she entered this season: Warsaw Cup, Nebelhorn Trophy, Finlandia Trophy, Cup of Nice, Cup of China, Grand Prix Final, Europeans, taking silver only at Skate America and Russian Nationals. An amazing season this has been for the 18-year-old Elizaveta, who definitely has her eyes on the gold medal in Shanghai, to gloriously finish the best year of her career. And she definitely holds all the aces to win the crown at 2015 Worlds: a great set of programs, the best jumps in the business and, maybe, just maybe, a cracking triple Axel in the short (she’s been working on the jump for quite a while and, just a week ago, she nailed a gutsy triple Axel-double toe combination during a practice session at Bavarian Open). Ladies and gentlemen, here’s your golden girl: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva.
by Florentina Tone
To come back from the worst season of your career and dominate almost every competition you enter, now that requires strength, talent – and a huge amount of trust in yourself and your coach. This has been exactly the case with Elizaveta, who most certainly would like to erase the entire Olympic season out of her system; considered a figure skating prodigy – with Mishin saying she was Russia’s “main hope for the gold medal at the Sochi Olympics” – the Russian teenager was pretty much absent from the international stage last year, struggling with doubts and injuries, not making the team for the Europeans and Worlds and, most painfully, not making the team for the Olympics on home ground. But that’s all in the past now – and Elizaveta seems to have regained her confidence and love for the sport, making an impressive comeback, a real tour de force through this season’s competitions – and winning, at her second attempt and after a year hiatus, the gold medal at the Europeans.
She did start the event in Stockholm with a foot-perfect short program – Tuktamysheva is definitely in a class of her own when it comes to the quality of her jumps – but she somehow lacked the fire needed for the “Bolero” routine and found herself on the second place at the end of this particular segment of the event, 1.44 of a point behind teammate Elena Radionova. She later explained: “I was happy with how my jumps went, but, I don’t know if you noticed it, I wasn’t as emotional in the short program as I wanted it to have been. The music was quiet and so I hope we can fix it for the free program”.
Two days after, in the free skate, Elizaveta was truly imperial, owning the space and not letting anyone doubt she deserved the crown in Stockholm. Performing to “Batwannis Beek” and “Sandstorm”, she produced a triple Lutz-double toe-double loop combination, a triple toe-triple toe combination, as well as four triple jumps and three level-four spins, to post a new personal best of 141.38 points. With 210.40 points overall, she ran away with a gold, two years after her first European medal, a bronze, in her debut at the continental competition. During the press conference after the free skate she seemed more than satisfied with the result: “It is a very happy moment for me. I think this was one of my best performances, but it is still not the maximum of what I can do. I am very glad that all three Russian girls skated a clean short and free program and I am excited to come out on top. This gives me confidence”.
Evgeni Plushenko: “Dear Liza, you’re a fighter, you have the nerve, you’re a great girl and I’m proud of you”
From where I stand, confidence is really Elizaveta’s forte this season, along with the sureness and beauty of her jumps – and her results so far, a long-awaited (and well-deserved) reward after the worries and dissatisfactions of the Olympic season. On the day of her triumph in Stockholm, Evgeni Plushenko felt the need to congratulate his younger training mate, with whom he shared coach Alexei Mishin and days and days of practice; he wrote Liza a long (and truly touching) message: “I want to congratulate my young friend and member of my team, Liza Tuktamysheva, on winning the European Champion title! Dear Liza, you’re a fighter, you have the nerve, you’re a great girl and I’m proud of you. I know that faith and work can work wonders, but you deserved this miracle long ago! I want to congratulate my great coach Alexei Mishin, who always believes in his students. Alexei Nikolaevich, we still fight from time to time – but you’re not just the best coach in this country, you’re a great coach! Thank you for your faith and hard work that you put every day, 2-3 times per day, into each one of us! Thank you because you believed when no one else believed in us! I am proud to have had you with us for so many years – and thank you for your expertise, excellence and faith in us!”.
“I’m so happy I was able to show my best performance at my first European Championships”
The rest of the podium in Stockholm was completed by debutants at the continental competition, with Elena Radionova taking silver and Anna Pogorilaya, bronze, at the first Europeans of their careers. But what an impressive debut this has been for both of them! Actually, at the end of the ladies’ short program at 2015 Europeans, the 16-year-old Elena Radionova was leading the ball, after an energetic routine to “Ain’t It Funny” by Jennifer Lopez and Flamenco; in her perfectly-matched red dress, Elena sold the program brilliantly, performing a triple Lutz-triple toeloop combination, a triple loop, a double Axel, as well as three level-four spins and level-three footwork, to achieve a new personal best score (70.46 points) and go straight into the lead. “The short program was completely successful, now it all comes down to the free program. The feeling I got was just amazing, something wonderful. I loved it, I loved to be able to do what I can do”, she burst with enthusiasm at the end of her skate.
Two days later, during the free, Elena Radionova delivered a touching, gorgeous performance to music by Sergei Rachmaninov – and I for one was amazed: a gem that program is, exactly like her pearled dress, and she does live the music with every pore of her body. For that delicate-dramatic journey into Rachmaninov’s world, thank you, dear Lena; your time will definitely come. At this year’s edition of the Europeans, the 16-year-old was edged out of the gold narrowly, picking 209.54 points overall and winning the silver medal. “I’m so happy I was able to show my best performance at my first European Championships, where I wanted so much to skate well. My emotions were strong all the way through, I was nervous at the start but in a good way, and then the audience was so warm and supported me so much, they really pushed me and gave me such drive”, Elena said at the post-event press conference.
”I am crazy happy with the result, but not everything happened as I wanted in my performance”
No changes in the rankings occurred between the short and the free program when it comes to Anna Pogorilaya; the 16-year-old Russian, reminding me of Maria Butyrskaya, finished both segments of the ladies’ event in Stockholm on the third place. But Anna was exquisite during the short program, performing a truly emotional routine to “Adagio” by Il Divo. And, to me, this was the first time Anna really captured the beauty of this particular musical piece, the first time she skated the program with lightness and conviction. She too felt the change, stating in the press conference: “My performance today was really rich and easy and light. It went by in one breath. I need to look again at the spins though. But it felt like the easiest skate for me and I hope I can skate even better in the free program”.
Things didn’t go as smooth on the day of the free skate though, with Anna Pogorilaya lacking the spark needed in order to be a convincing Firebird. The program suits her wonderfully, but Anna seemed tired and struggling – and didn’t have the energy to attack the two first places of the podium. With 191.81 points overall, she won the bronze in Stockholm – and left home knowing she need to work more: “The beginning (of the program) was good but then maybe I was tired, maybe I didn’t pull myself together enough. I am crazy happy with the result, but not everything happened as I wanted in my performance, so that adds a bit of a sad note”.
“It felt SO GOOD to skate again at the Europeans!”
Looking too for a redemptory skate in Stockholm, after almost two years of absence on the international stage, Finland’s Kiira Korpi started her ninth European Championships with a classy, elegant short program, to Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”, choreographed by Jeffrey Buttle. A beauty of a program that was – and Kiira skating to it was truly the embodiment of joy. You could almost sense the enthusiasm, the emotions of her comeback and, seeing her happy, you were happy too. “It felt SO GOOD to skate again at the Europeans! The crowd in Stockholm is amazing and I can’t wait to perform my long program on Saturday!”, Kiira wrote on Instagram after her short program. Finishing this particular segment of the event on the 4th place, the 2012 European silver medalist unfortunately had to withdraw on the day of the free skate; the same virus that took down the Buckland brothers in the ice dancing event forced Kiira out. Her disappointment was obvious: “It breaks my heart that I’m not able to compete today because of stomach flu and fever. I was really looking forward to perform my long program and fight for a good placement. I’m still thankful I got the chance to skate the short program in front of the great audience here in Stockholm. Thank you all for supporting me and I promise I’ll get healthy and come back soon!”.
Along with Tuktamysheva’s title and Russia seizing the ladies’ podium in Stockholm, this particular event featured another great story, with Joshi and Viktoria Helgesson, Sweden’s sweethearts, finishing the Europeans on home ground on 4th, respectively 5th place. Managing to rise to the occasion, Smooshi & Vickster (as a banner in the arena affectionately nicknamed the girls) were a joy to watch both in the short and the free, embracing the energy of the audience and giving back wonderful routines; and they did have special supporters cheering for them: Crown Princess Victoria, alongside husband Prince Daniel and their two-year-old Princess Estelle were in the Globe Arena on the day of the free skate; and Princess Victoria counting on her fingers, in order to show Estelle the placement of Joshi and Viktoria, was among the nicest images of this year’s edition of the Europeans.