Fernandez says farewell while Olympic champ Zagitova hopes to rebound
This week’s European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk, Belarus (21-27 January 2019), will undoubtedly be memorable.
The defending champions in all four disciplines return to defend their titles, each with a different story.
For Spain’s Javier Fernandez, it will be a farewell, while Olympic champion Alina Zagitova tries to shake off a fifth-place finish at the recent Russian Championships.
French ice dancer duo Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron missed one of their Grand Prix assignments and, thus, the Final in Vancouver. They’ll want to impress ahead of March’s World Championships.
Finally, Russia’s pair of Evgenia Tarasova and Vladmir Morozov will have to hold off a surging French challenge from Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres if they're to return to the top of the podium.
A year ago, then 15-year-old Alina Zagitova stunned the figure skating World when she handed compatriot Evgenia Medvedeva her first loss in more than two years at the European Championships in Moscow.
Weeks later, she stood atop the podium as Olympic Champion in PyeongChang.
Zagitova has had flashes of brilliance already in the 2018-19 season, opening in impressive form with world record scores at the Nebelhorn Trophy competition in the long program and total score.
But at the Russian Championships in late December, Zagitova stumbled in the free skate, falling twice.
She dropped from first to fifth.
Still, she earned an automatic berth to Minsk as the top three finishers were age ineligible to compete. Zagitova will want to prove that that performance was a fluke here.
With Medvedeva finishing seventh at Russian nationals, and Grand Prix Final bronze medallist Elizaveta Tuktamysheva also missing the championships due to illness, Olympic champion Zagitova will be joined by Stanislava Konstantinova and Sofia Samodurova, who finished just ahead and just behind her in Saransk, respectively.
Konstantinova won the silver medal at the Grand Prix of Helsinki and finished fifth at the Internationaux de France. Last season, she placed fourth at the junior World Championships before a disappointing performance at the senior Worlds landed her in 19th place.
For Samodurova, the Europeans come after she earned two medals in her senior Grand Prix debut season, taking bronze at Skate America and silver at the Rostelecom Cup. She finished fifth at the Grand Prix Final last month.
This duo, along with Zagitova, will try to extend the Russia women’s streak of having two on the ladies’ podium every year at the European Championships since 2013.
Javier Fernandez, the 2018 Olympic bronze medallist, will end his competitive career seeking a seventh-straight European title in the men’s singles competition.
The two-time World champion has won the event every year since 2013.
'Super Javi' will face competition from Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada, who is the reigning European bronze medallist, and the Czech Republic’s Michal Březina, who has impressed in the first half of the 2018-19 season with his fourth-place finish at the Grand Prix Final in Vancouver.
On the eve of the competition, Fernandez spoke to Olympic Channel in Belarus about his chances, saying “I’ve been training very little, because I’ve been very busy, but in this short time we’ve done great work…So I’ve got to be confident in myself that I can do it, because I’ve got a lot of experience.”
It was in July 2018 that 27-year-old Fernandez told the Olympic Channel Podcast that the European Championships in Minsk would be his competitive finale.
“We’ve got to be smart and we need to know when to step away. Figure skating has improved a lot in the past years. So, that will probably be the end of my competition career,” Javi Fernandez to Olympic Channel Podcast.
“I (would like to end at the) Europeans just because I didn’t really get to say goodbye to everybody and, of course, the Olympics have more than figure skating involved. That’s why, I think, I (will choose) the Europeans: because it’s a competition I’ve been to so many times.”
Olympic silver medallists and three-time World champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron were forced to miss one of their two Grand Prix assignments this season due to injury, withdrawing from the NHK Trophy.
They roared back to competition on home ice at the Internationaux de France, dancing not only to the gold medal but also to world record scores in the rhythm dance, free dance, and overall totals.
Having only participated in one Grand Prix competition, the reigning World champions sat at home during the Grand Prix Final.
Papadakis and Cizeron will want to impress in Minsk as they prepare to defend their World title in March against a tough field that will include 2018 World silver medallists and Grand Prix Final champs Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the United States.
In the pairs competition, Evgenia Tarasova and Vladmir Morozov of Russia, who are also the 2018 World silver medallists, are the reigning championships.
They’ll face stiff competition from France’s Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, who will look to back up their spectacular free skate performance from the Grand Prix Final with an impressive skate here.
The French pair, who won the bronze medal at the 2018 World Championships after finishing fifth at the Olympics, sat in fourth after the short program at the Grand Prix Final. But their world record-setting free program, which was more than seven points ahead of second place, catapulted them to the gold medal.