Alina Zagitova leads after short program at European Championships

The Russian skater won the small gold after finishing two points ahead of compatriot Sofia Samodurova.

Defending champion Alina Zagitova leads after the short program at the European Championships despite nearly putting her hand down during a jump.

The Olympic champion led a Russian one-two finish with Sofia Samodurova just over two points behind her, while Swiss skater Alexia Paganini took small bronze.

Zagitova, 16, was smiling as she came off the ice to claim the 'small gold' medal, putting the near-error quickly behind her.

Powerful start nearly undone

Russia's Alina Zagitova skates in the Ladies' Short Program at the 2019 ISU European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk. (REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko)
Russia's Alina Zagitova skates in the Ladies' Short Program at the 2019 ISU European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk. (REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko)Russia's Alina Zagitova skates in the Ladies' Short Program at the 2019 ISU European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk. (REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko)

Zagitova appeared to have shrugged off her defeat to Rika Kihira at the ISU Grand Prix Final by beginning with a triple Lutz, triple loop combination.

A clean double Axel followed, but then came the moment of drama when she misjudged her landing on a triple flip and put her hand out for balance, withdrawing it just in time.

She received a score of 75.00 points for her skate, although it appeared to have been marked down for an under-rotation on the loop.

Speaking to the media, including Olympic Channel, afterwards, she said: "I haven't been sleeping well lately before competition.

"I am satisfied although it could've been much better," she added, according to RIA Novosti.

"Most of all I was dissatisfied with the flip."

Samodurova gives Zagitova a reminder

Russia's Sofia Samodurova skates in the Ladies' Short Program at the 2019 ISU European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk. (REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko)
Russia's Sofia Samodurova skates in the Ladies' Short Program at the 2019 ISU European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk. (REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko)Russia's Sofia Samodurova skates in the Ladies' Short Program at the 2019 ISU European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk. (REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko)

Samodurova, who finished the Russian nationals in sixth just behind Zagitova, gave her fellow 16-year-old compatriot a reminder of her ability by laying down a new personal best short program.

She began with a clean, gliding triple flip, triple toeloop combination and then just about landed a triple loop.

The teenager finished an expressive routine with a difficult entry into a powerful double Axel.

Samodurova received a higher Technical Element Score than Zagitova, helping her to a total of 72.88 points.

That broke her previous best of 68.24 by over four points, and puts her within touching distance of Zagitova should the latter err in the free skate.

Paganini stakes overall podium claim

Switzerland's Alexia Paganini skates in the Ladies' Short Program at the 2019 ISU European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk. (REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko)
Switzerland's Alexia Paganini skates in the Ladies' Short Program at the 2019 ISU European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk. (REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko)Switzerland's Alexia Paganini skates in the Ladies' Short Program at the 2019 ISU European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk. (REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko)

Switzerland's Alexia Paganini also scored a new personal best with her performance that won her a small bronze and puts her in contention for the overall podium after Friday's free skate.

The Swiss national champion began with a triple Lutz, triple toeloop combination and added a triple loop before landing a double Axel for a score of 65.64, just 0.003 points ahead of Finland's Viveca Lindfors.

That was two points better than the American-born 17-year-old's previous high score.

Paganini finished seventh at the European Championships last season, but now finds herself in a strong position to win an overall medal on Friday.

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