Towards the end of the championships a joke made its way into the press room of Steiermarkhalle, the arena hosting the 2020 Europeans – it was as if we’d been a part of the Russian National Championships, with international participants as well, happening in Graz due to the local delicacies: “apfelstrudel”, “Mozartkugeln”, “Wiener schnitzel”.
Jokes aside, it really felt like a national championship, with Russian skaters winning all four gold medals on the table, and ten medals in total, out of the possible twelve. A straight line of four gold medals for Russian athletes happened last at 2006 Europeans in Lyon, but not with the same success when it comes to the rest of the podiums.
No doubt about it, 2020 Europeans have been a shining, golden triumph for the Russian delegation – a statement of power, a sign of its skating school’s prevalence – and what follows is a short, visual summary of the medalists’ journey in Graz.
by Florentina Tone/Graz
Act One: WHEN DMITRI ALIEV TAKES THE SYMBOLIC TORCH FROM JAVIER FERNÁNDEZ
At the end of day one in Graz, it was the 29-year-old Michal Březina standing atop of the intermediate podium, followed by Russia’s Dmitri Aliev (20) and Artur Danielian (16).
For a moment or so – more like the 26 hours separating the two parts of the men’s event – it looked like the change of guards in European men’s skating won’t happen at this edition of the competition; Michal, who debuted at Europeans in 2008, seemed in good shape to fight for his first gold medal, after the bronze in 2013.
He even joked about it during the press conference, after being handed a small gold medal for his short program: “I’m very happy, it’s my 13th Europeans, so it only took 13 years [to get that gold]”.
And then: “I didn’t really come here with any expectations of placing in top 3 or top 10 – I just wanted to show what I did during practices and I’m happy – and [the small gold medal] is a happy shiny bonus”. One that rewarded a program skated with poise and nonchalance – Michal seemed really in tune with these Europeans.
On the second place after the short, Dmitri Aliev came to Graz as the Russian National champion – but, he said, “I didn’t even really think about it. I became the national champion, I am glad about it, but this is a new competition and I was preparing to compete with myself. I was not thinking whether I’m the national champion or not, I just want to show all that we worked on. A new competition, a new strength, a new head. The titles behind – they don’t give any additional confidence boost”.
Yet, his words in the press conference room did signal a change of guards – and, given the final outcome of the competition, they even sounded like a premonition: “Javier Fernández became a part of the Europeans – he won seven times, this is a huge thing, and I am proud to know such a person”. But “there was Javier’s time, he skated well, he got his medals – but Javier is not competing here now, there are new people competing. Take Artur Danielian, it’s his first Europeans. The generations change and there are new skaters to take the podium of the Europeans”.
The young Artur Danielian, national silver medalist, soaked up the atmosphere of his first major competition – he seemed thrilled to be on the third place after the short: “I am so happy that I am here, that I made it to the team – it’s my first time at a competition of such a level and for me it’s much more fun and experience. I want to show what I can do on the senior level. The goal for tomorrow is to show a clean skate, to enjoy the day and the skate, to make the audience enjoy my performance”.
A day later, it was Dmitri Aliev who paved his way to the gold medal with an emotional, flowing skate to “The Sound of Silence”, taking the imaginary torch from Javier Fernández. The youngster Artur Danielian climbed a spot, to silver, while the bronze medal went to Georgia’s Morisi Kvitelahsvili. One of the revelations of the men’s event was Italy’s Daniel Grassl (17), who skated a beauty of a program to music by Abel Korzeniowski, showing three different quads in the process and winning his own small silver medal for his free skate in Graz.
Dmitri Aliev, gold medalist: “At the end of my program I cried out of happiness and feeling proud. I could not hold back the tears because right away I had images in my head of how I prepared for this competition. On the podium I just felt crazily happy – it was like a firework inside. It was happiness and an inner smile. I have not yet realized that I won, but I feel it”.
Artur Danielian, silver medalist: “I did not expect to be on the podium. My goal was to show a decent skate, to make a name for myself on the senior level and to prove that I can compete with the senior skaters and look decent compared to them. I’m happy and even more motivated to skate”.
Morisi Kvitelashvili, bronze medalist: “Let’s just say it’s not a surprise, we were working, preparing. We set the highest goals and I was trying to show my best skating. Today some things worked, some didn’t, I will keep working, to show better skating”.
Daniel Grassl, 4th place: “I heard how loud the public was clapping, I am very grateful for their support and I am pleased that I could make them happy. My favorite thing about today’s free program is that I skated with all my heart and I gave everything that I had to the public”.
Second Act: WHEN ALL THREE RUSSIAN PAIRS SING THE ANTHEM ATOP OF THE PODIUM
Russian pairs dominated the event from day one to the third (and final) day of pairs’ competition – only the order slightly changed in between the short and the free.
The change didn’t involve Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii though – they were first after the short program, and remained first after the free. And their “My Way” short program has been such a good ally for them this whole season, and they embodied it to the fingertips, to every flutter of Aleksandra’s dress. Second after the short were Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin, in only their second Europeans, while 2017 & 2018 winners of the European crown, Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, finished this particular segment of the pairs’ event on the third place – and were looking to improve their placement two days later.
Aleksandra Boikova: “We are very excited to receive so many points, and to skate clean, but I don’t think we need to concentrate on the points, we need to do our job and we’ll get the points. It wasn’t a surprise for us, we work hard and it’s expected”.
Denis Khodykin: “We are happy with the skate today, we did our job. Compared to Nationals we were much calmer here”.
Vladimir Morozov: “We didn’t feel any extra pressure, we are happy to have new good pairs, through the history there were always good Russian couples”.
Two days later, Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii kept their composure to skate a marvelous James Bond long program, with a lot of highlights and big, jaw-dropping elements in the process, while Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov managed to climb one spot, to silver, with their dancy, Italian free skate, and their beautiful, long lines. But the partnership that really grew on us over the last two seasons is this one, Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin, and their intriguing, futuristic long program has been one of our highlights in Graz. A silver(y) bronze for them – and, surely, a great future ahead.
Dmitrii Kozlovskii: “Usually, you focus on the difficult elements, and other elements you do on autopilot, but today all elements demanded concentration and we’re happy we were able to deal with that specific pressure. We were in a difficult physical condition before our performance and therefore had to focus and spend our energy to take one element at a time. We really had to fight for this performance. (…) We work a lot in St. Petersburg and we have fantastic coaches – Tamara Moskvina and Artur Minchuk. They not only work with us on our physical, but also on our mental side and it really help us concentrate on ourselves – not on the others, but on ourselves”.
Vladimir Morozov: “This season we started working with Marina [Zueva] and, yes, it’s different, a different country, a different schedule – we skate in the first part of the day, we work on interpretation, skating skills, choreography, ballet, all of it. It’s completely different”.
Denis Khodykin: “We were not disappointed [about slipping from second to third] – it’s our first European medal, our journey just begins, we know what to work on, what to improve and we enjoy so much that we are skating”.
Asked about what he tells Daria right before their names are called, Denis smiled – and he didn’t reveal much: “It’s a secret, and it was spontaneous. Our coach said: «Come up with a tradition of your own». At first it was some kind of a joke and then later it became part of a tradition, but it really varies from one competition to another”.
And one of the most emotional moments of the Europeans happened during the pairs’ medal ceremony: Aleksandra and Dmitrii asked their teammates to join them atop of the podium, to sing together, on a voice, the Russian anthem.
A day later, Alena, Anna and Alexandra would do the same.
Third Act: WHEN THE ICE DANCE CROWN TRAVELS TO RUSSIA AS WELL
In what was, in recent years, one of the most foreseeable disciplines at Europeans – due to Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron’s sheer, undeniable dominance – happened the unexpected: the French lost their European crown to Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, in maybe one of the most heavily debated outcomes of the entire championship.
The rhythm dance itself signaled this was not going to be an easy win for Gabriella and Guillaume – they only had a 0.05 advance over Victoria and Nikita, each team giving the other one a run for their money.
It was exactly like that: Gabriella and Guillaume attacked their “Fame” dance with the usual spark, coolness, embodying their characters to colors and costumes, and bringing the eighties in Steiermarkhalle, while Victoria and Nikita were literally flying, and singing, and dancing in the rain, with wonderful speed across the ice.
In the end, they were virtually in a tie.
Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri, also known this season as Sandy and Danny, twizzled their way – and their twizzles, their speed, their energy were just fantastic – to the third place after RD.
Gabriella Papadakis: “Even if this is not a big arena, we felt how the audience was very enthusiastic and very supportive. It is not our season best, but we are happy with our performance. We have fun with this program, but if it’s only us, it doesn’t work: we need the audience to have fun as well. We made a lot of changes in this program, especially the end. I think it adds more moves connected to the theme”.
Nikita Katsalapov: “We feel just awesome now, we skated with ease – when we finished the program we still had so much power. Obviously, we were not only skating with emotions, we were controlling all elements, because we, especially me, sometimes could do something what we shouldn’t do. We prepared very well and I think the program today showed it”.
Marco Fabbri: “We are finally happy about our performance. This year has been really hard. Because of my injury [tendon injury to his right hand], we couldn’t train properly and once the season started we just had back-to-back competitions, so we didn’t have time to practice. After Nationals we had time to work, to get many run-throughs and to get used to this new program”.
The free dance at the Europeans had a history of its own.
Among the two teams literally neck-to-neck after RD, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov are the first to take the ice and, watching them, you almost have the feeling they’re a completely new team this season – they look so at ease, so relaxed, so happy. Yes, these are the exact words: they exude happiness and they’re showing it to the fullest, while skating to Dvořák’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me”. And their scores come fast – and it’s a seasons best (131.69 points).
When it comes to the air, the atmosphere of it, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron’s free dance is quite the opposite: their poem on ice is thick, and dense, and rather dark and sad; yet elegant, sophisticated, intricate.
It’s a story that you feel through every pore of your body – the story of a lost love, the promise that comes with it (“I will find you”) – and you breathe at the same rhythm as them, until Gabriella’s suspended arms in the air make you realize it’s all over.
Emotions aside – because, to us, there’s no one better in creating shapes, and butterflies, and stories with their bodies –, there were indeed a few bumps on the road, some little imprecisions in their free skate that made them vulnerable in Graz. And, sitting in the Kiss and Cry, those long minutes of waiting, they might have realized the gold slipped through their hands. They scored 131.50 points, losing their sixth European crown by 0.14 of a point.
As for Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, they made up for what they lost in the rhythm dance, and with their “Cry Me a River” long program they climbed a spot, to bronze – their fourth medal at the Europeans.
Minutes after the free dance, the overall result, but also the lengthy evaluation of the French by the judging panel, the question marks regarding the scoring process – an element from the rhythm dance was first introduced in the system (“pattern dance type step sequence”) instead of the “one foot step sequence”, before finally getting corrected –, dilemmas like “Did the system crash for a couple of minutes? What happened there?” were still being discussed on hallways, backstage, in the mixed zone, in the long corridor connecting the arena with the press conference room, and, later, during the press conference as well.
The dancers themselves dissected the performance(s), theirs, others’ – and some extracted the necessary lessons in order to move forward.
Nikita Katsalapov: “We were not focusing on taking something, but to show our performance, show our program the way we trained and, if possible, skate clean and show all we can. I think we did that today and we are so happy. I can’t say we expected to be sitting in the middle. To get anywhere near Gabriella and Guillaume seemed impossible for all the skaters. But we are all athletes, and people who work and improve every day. Today we were watching their performance and maybe it was not as clean as they could have done it. They still have a huge potential, but so do we, and the others. Perhaps one time things will not work for one or the other, and the judges will mark it that way. Yes, we did it today, but we are not going to rest, we are going to improve, we have goals, goals for the practices. We really want to be the leaders”.
Guillaume Cizeron: “We felt we had made mistakes during the program, so we kind of already knew the final result. Of course we are disappointed with our results, but happy with our performance. Every moment on the ice is unique. We were always surprised to win – and now for once we are surprised to not be in the first place”.
Gabriella Papadakis: “We knew the competition was very close and we knew we didn’t have room for mistakes, and we made them. We were happy with the performance and with how we dealt with the competition and the stress. It’s our 7th Europeans and we won five of them, which is huge, we are already very proud and especially proud of how we did this week. We can’t always win and we accept it. It’s a lesson for us that we probably needed. We can’t wait to work and improve for the Worlds”.
Ivan Bukin: “Last year, we were silver medalist, so bronze this year, I wouldn’t say it is a step back as the competition was extremely tough. We are pleased that we are on the podium. Most of all we’re happy that we skated well and with emotions”.
Fourth Act: WHEN THE THREE GIRLS DOMINATING THE WORLD STAGE FINALLY MAKE THEIR DEBUT AT THE EUROPEANS
And if there was one event where you could predict the entire composition of the podium, it was that: the ladies’ event. The one thing that was missing in the puzzle was the exact order of the medalists.
And how could it not be predictable?
15-year-old Alexandra Trusova, 15-year-old Anna Shcherbakova and 16-year-old Alena Kostornaia have been dominating the world scene this season, in their debut on senior level. Each of the three girls won the two assigned Grand Prix events, then they shared the podium at the Grand Prix Final in Torino (Alena, Anna, Alexandra), then they shared the podium of the Russian Nationals (Anna, Alena, Alexandra), as they had done a year ago – and it was now time for Europe to get to know the three girls with incredible potential, athleticism and courage to attack the big jumps.
And in Steiermarkhalle, they did just that: showed off their aces up their sleeves, for everyone to see. And, as expected, after the short program, it was Alena Kostornaia in the lead – she has the advantage of the triple Axel, plus some skating skills to die for –, followed by Anna Shcherbakova, skating a beauty of a program to music from the movie “Perfume”, and by Alexandra Trusova, with a program highlighting her power, to “Peer Gynt”.
Alena Kostornaia: “For today, my goal was to just come and do what I used to do. Of course, I kept in mind that this is a big competition. I skate my short program for the second season and, of course, as I’m growing, the program is growing with me, I can interpret the character better. But the character itself is still the same: it is an angel who came to earth and got a chance to return back in the end of the story”.
Anna Shcherbakova: “I am always nervous during the competition – it helps to show myself better. I love my short program, the music, the story behind and I love skating it. The coaches help me to get into character and to project the music. I am glad I improve it with every competition”.
Alexandra Trusova: “I think competing is fun and I love competing in every competition. Of course I always want to win. As for the records, I only have the quad loop left to do”.
And the three girls had their say on the recent development of ladies skating as well – the technical advancement that we’ve been witnessing lately, and the ways to remain at the top, under the “siege” of the new kids on the block.
Alena: “Figure skating develops so much now and if, previously, the girls were skating until 25, for sure now the younger girls get to the top. Unfortunately, the careers are shorter, because of the elements that adults probably physically can’t do. There is always a generation who will overtake you”.
Anna Shcherbakova: “Because of the development of figure skating, Russia, especially, is on top, we have a tough competition. But that pushes us and makes us develop faster and it moves us”.
Alexandra: “Figure skating develops not just in Russia, but in the other countries as well the girls are trying the quads. The younger kids are looking up to us and try to work harder and do what we can’t. Even in our group I heard about a lot of girls and boys who don’t only want to land quads, but already want to do quints”.
And I can assure you there was an “Aaaaah!” in the press conference room after this answer.
In the event closing the European competition, on Saturday, the three girls coming from Eteri Tutberidze’s rink in Moscow were, again, in a class of their own.
It was Anna Shcherbakova who won the free skate (159.81 points), performing her half quiet-half playful program to “Gnossienne No. 1” and “The Firebird”, but, missing the third quad of her program, she eventually couldn’t make up for the final difference in between her and Alena Kostornaia. Alena missed a jump as well, the triple Lutz at the end of her “Twilight” free skate – and looked completely disappointed while heading to the boards. Her mood changed 100% seeing the scores – the 155.89 points were more than enough to have her win the competition. With 150.39 points, attempting three quads and landing one of them, Alexandra Trusova kept her third place and took the bronze.
In short, the three girls were just too good for anyone to get near of the podium at this year’s edition of the Europeans. But honorable mentions need to go (at least) to Alexia Paganini, Emmi Peltonen, Ekaterina Ryabova and Eva-Lotta Kiibus, who can call these Europeans a success.
Alena Kostornaia: “I am just really happy that I am here and that ended up on podium. When I came to this competition, I didn’t think about my chances to win. I just wanted to deliver decent performances”. As for how she would have loved to spend the final day in Graz, “I will go to see the dancing horses”.
Anna Shcherbakova: “In my free skate, the first part is delicate and calm, and in the second half the character changes, which is underlined by the costume change. It is brighter, there is more fire, I am the firebird. I really like my program and I try to bring the emotions across to the judges and spectators”.
Alexandra Trusova: “I am really pleased I got on the podium and that we, at our young age, are here at Europeans and will go to Worlds”.
And so the Russian anthem was played for the fourth time in Steiermarkhalle, at this edition of the Europeans – and, inspired by their teammates the previous night, Alena invited Anna and Alexandra atop of the podium, to sing together the anthem and close another chapter of their first season on senior stage.
They had made the season theirs – and they’ll try to cap it all at Worlds.
[story by Florentina Tone/homepage and opening photo by Wilma Alberti/all other photos by Alberto Ponti]
TO FOLLOW: Photo-stories from 2020 Europeans in Graz – and a series of in-depth interviews that you wouldn’t want to miss