In 1969, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 27-year-old Tamara Moskvina and 27-year-old Alexei Mishin took the bronze medal in the pairs event at the Europeans, in what remained in history as the first Russian sweep in the discipline since 1930, the year pairs were included in the schedule of the continental competition; Moskvina and Mishin shared the podium with Irina Rodnina/Alexei Ulanov (gold) and Liudmila Belousova/Oleg Protopopov (silver).
46 years later, in Stockholm, as if they were closing a symbolic circle, Moskvina’s students, Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, were too part of a Russian sweep, taking the gold medal atop of that – and Tamara Moskvina’s joyful reaction in the Kiss and Cry, jumping to her feet, her hands above her head, will clearly remain as one of the key images of this year’s edition of the Europeans. In between the first and the last Russian sweep in the discipline, with Moskvina being an essential part of both, Russia had seized the pairs’ podium at the continental competition for 12 times more, making this a glorious feat by itself.
by Florentina Tone
Years from now, when studying the statistics of 2015 Europeans, a figure skating fan from the future will most likely read that, in Stockholm, the oldest skaters competing in the Championships – 33-year-old Yuko Kavaguti and 30-year-old Alexander Smirnov – retained the gold in the pairs event, five years after winning the continental crown for the first time.
But the statistics are barren, empty and lacking emotions. The true version of the story is that Yuko and Alexander’s victory was one of the greatest moments of 2015 Europeans – if not, indeed, the greatest – and their gold is so much more than the gold won by the oldest pair in competition. Their gold is about redemption, it’s about fighting their way to the top after probably one of the worst years of their career; it’s about defying the odds and not letting figure skating out of their lives. And, above all, this particular medal – one of the five medals won by Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov at the Europeans over the years – rewards a masterpiece of a program, a program like no other in the pairs event this season, choreographed by Peter Tchernyshev to “Manfred” Symphony by Tchaikovsky.
This particular routine won them gold and world’s appreciation at Skate America, the first Grand Prix event of the season, silver at NHK Trophy and, three weeks ago in Stockholm, the shiniest medal of all, in a competition in which other Russian couple – the 2014 Olympic and World silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov – was considered to be the heavy favorite. Add here the young and very talented Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, 2014 World Junior silver medalists, and you’ll understand what was on stake at this year’s edition of the Europeans.
But at the end of a glorious night in Globe Arena in Stockholm, skating the program of a lifetime in terms of emotion and interpretation – and featuring a perfect throw quadruple Salchow atop of that, the “veterans” of the competition managed to completely change the classification from the Russian Nationals (Stolbova/Klimov, gold; Tarasova/Morozov, silver; Kavaguti/Smirnov, bronze) and recapture the European crown at a five-year distance from their first title, in Tallinn. “This medal proofs that we can still skate”, an overjoyed Yuko Kavaguti told the audience, adding with sincerity: “We just want to show our program to the world”.
And given Alexander’s speech (in Russian) to the many Russians supporting them in Globe Arena, Yuko too felt the need to express her gratitude in her mother tongue: “Domo arigato gozaimashta!”, she said, tightly clinching the microphone, with a glowing smile on her face. And, from where I stand, this particular line closed yet another symbolic circle in Stockholm: Yuko was still competing under her Japanese name, Kawaguchi, when she first won a medal at the Europeans, the bronze, seven years ago in Zagreb.
All in all, a struggle her life has been – in her attempt to pursue her childhood dream to skate at the Olympics, Yuko obtained the Russian citizenship, giving up on her Japanese passport instead – and this season’s dramatic free program seems to suit her (and her life) like a glove. Actually, during the press conference after the free skate, asked how come they managed to keep the program at such high emotional intensity, Yuko said simply: “This program is about my life. And I don’t know what else to say…” Later on, in an interview taken by Elena Vaytsekhovskaya, the 33-year-old skater born in Aichi, Japan, explained: “I didn’t like the program at first, but then I quickly realized it allowed something I had never done in my life. Express strong emotions, for example. Resentment, rage. Throw off the mask, which we all wear, more or less, and just be myself for four and a half minutes…”