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Brian Joubert Wins Third Euros Title

Brian Joubert won his third title at the 2009 European Figure Skating Championships at the Hartwall Areena in Helsinki, Finland. Two of the four crowns up that are for grabs were determined in the past few days with pairs skaters Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany taking their third straight European title.

THE MEN

France’s Joubert won his past European titles in 2004 and 2007 and has medaled at the last eight European Championships. While Joubert skated to the gold and his third European title, Italy’s Samuel Contesti took the silver medal, his first medal at an ISU Championship, and Kevin van der Perren (who finished fifth at last year’s competition) from Belgium captured the bronze.

The French star has been suffering with a back injury and noted that winning this gold medal was very meaningful. “All of the victories are important, but this one is the most important, because the beginning of the season was so hard, but I came back,” Joubert said. “I’m not at my best, but I won.”

Joubert debuted a new free program to “Matrix Reloaded” and “Requiem for a Dream.” He turned out of his opening quadruple toe loop but went on to nail a triple Axel, triple Axel-double toe, triple Lutz-double toe combination.

The reigning World silver medalist (and 2007 World champion) went down on the next jump, a triple Lutz and doubled a loop, but then recovered to land a triple flip and double Axel.

Joubert earned a level four for the combination spin and a level three for the other two spins and his energetic circular step sequence.

When he finished he knew that it wasn’t his best and he wasn’t sure if it was enough to win the title. But the Frenchman collected 145.11 points (71.51 element score/74.60 program component score) and was ranked second in the free skating. Overall he compiled 232.01 points to take the crown.

“I changed my program only two weeks ago,” he said. “Today I went to skate with an open mind as I didn’t quite know what to expect. I knew it was going to be difficult today, but I had a good feeling.

“I’m a bit disappointed about (mistakes on) the Lutz and the loop because I was not tired. Now I have two months time to work for Worlds and I hope it will be good.”

Contesti performed a colorful cowboy routine to “Once Upon a Time in the West” and “Cotton Eyed Joe.” Contesti began his program by landing a triple Axel-triple toe combo and went on to execute a triple flip, another triple Axel, triple loop, and a triple Salchow-triple toe loop combination. Late in the program, he landed a double Axel and double Axel-double toe loop. His only error was a miscue on an attempted double Lutz early into the routine.

The 25-year-old Italian was awarded a level four for the three spins and a level three for both step sequences.

Contesti scored 144.97 points (76.77/68.20) and was third in the free skating but overall moved up to second place at 220.92 points to claim Italy’s first medal in the men’s event at European Championships in 55 years. In 1954, Carlo Fassi was European champion.

“I felt the pressure during all the competition. I just tried to concentrate before, not to watch other performances, just to stay inside my world,” Contesti explained. “It (medaling) is just fantastic. This is a beautiful victory for all people that believed in me. It was a lot of work with my wife, a lot of sacrifices from our part.”

Van der Perren, who also won the bronze medal in 2007, overcame a painful hip injury to finish in third place overall. Performing to “Heros” by Safri Duo, the Belgian executed a high triple Axel, his trademark triple Salchow-triple toe loop-triple loop combination as well as four more triples.

His spins and steps that were graded a level three and four, with the exception of one. Van der Perren received 143.56 points (76.86/66.70), which was a season’s best score, and moved up one spot with 219.36 points overall.

He edged out Yannick Ponsero of France by just 0.06 points. “This medal means so much to me. I didn’t skate a clean program since my surgery in April,” van der Perren said. “I’m surprised about the placement. I was skating in the most horrible condition I ever had. I didn’t think I’d be on the podium.”

Ponsero completed a quadruple toe loop and seven triple jumps to win the free skating portion and to move up from ninth to fourth place (219.30 points) overall.

Alban Préaubert of France gave a strong performance as well that included a quad toe and seven clean triples and was ranked fifth (212.22 points).

The 2008 European champion, Tomas Verner (CZE), stood in second place after the short program but slipped to sixth after singling three jumps in the free skate.

THE PAIRS

Savchenko and Szolkowy of Germany rallied from the short program (in which they were second) with a strong free skating to capture the title. “This was the best free program of the season,” Savchenko said. “I noticed how quiet the crowd was, and it gave me goose bumps. I just enjoyed skating.”

Russia’s Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov and Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov took the silver and bronze medals, respectively. All three medalists achieved a season best scored en route to the podium.

Savchenko and Szolkowy opened their lyrical program to “Schindler’s List” and “Adagio” with a solid triple toe-triple toe sequence and a high throw triple flip. Szolkowy then doubled the side-by-side Salchow while she stumbled on a triple, but the 2008 World champions went on as if nothing happened and reeled off difficult lifts, spins and spirals as well as a throw triple Salchow in the final seconds of the program.

When they had finished, they remained in their final pose for a little while, hugging each other. The Germans were awarded a level four for their lifts and the two spins while the death spiral and the circular steps were graded a level three.

Savchenko and Szolkowy picked up a season’s best of 120.32 points (67.71/64.72) and racked up a total of 199.07 to take the gold medal. “Our free program was much better than our short program. We just tried to give our best. We had good elements, some little mistakes like one mistake on the Salchow, but I think we can be proud of our performance,” Szolkowy said. “

Performing to the dramatic “I Pagliacci,” Kawaguchi and Smirnov (who were third after the short program) produced a throw quadruple Salchow that was two-footed but fully rotated. They went onto to execute a throw triple loop, double Axel and difficult lifts with many changes of position.

Kawaguchi under-rotated the second jump in the side-by-side triple toe-triple toe sequence and the triple twist was a little messy. The couple from St. Petersburg earned a level four for the death spiral and the side-by-side spin, but the pair combination spin was a level two.

Kawaguchi and Smirnov earned 117.39 points (58.59/58.80) for this performance accumulated a total of 182.77 points to edge out Mukhortova and Trankov by just 0.70 points. Kawaguchi and Smirnov were last year’s bronze medalists.

“We are very happy with tonight's results. There was some mistake, but we moved one step up since the last time, so we are satisfied,” Kawaguchi said. “We think we have a lot of work to do (before Worlds). Our coach Tamara Moskvina will make adjustments and we hope to adapt by Worlds.”

Overnight leaders Mukhortova and Trankov opened their entertaining “The Lady and the Hooligan” program with a solid triple twist and a triple toe-double toe combination, but Mukhortova singled the second jump. She also touched down with her hand on the side-by-side triple Salchow, but hit the throw triple loop.

The couple also produced strong lifts, spins and spirals, earning mostly levels three and four for them. However, Mukhortova crashed on the throw triple Salchow.

“In general we think that this performance was good. We fought for every element from the beginning of the program. I should add that I didn’t fall like that on the throw jumps for a long time. So it was hard to concentrate again and go on,” admitted Mukhortova.

The Russians were awarded 112.45 points (54.49/58.96) and were ranked fourth in the free skating, but overall finished third at 182.07 points. It was their second consecutive medal at Europeans after the silver last year.

“It was a big pressure because we were first after the short program,” Trankov said. “I think to skate first in the group was better for us because we were not so nervous. But we had to fight for each element right from the beginning.”

Like last year, Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov (UKR) placed fourth. Liubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze (RUS) placed fifth in what was their debut at the European Championships.

ICE DANCE

The 2008 European champions, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin (RUS), withdrew from the ice dance event on Wednesday, citing injury. According to the medical bulletin, Shabalin’s previous knee injury became more acute.

The original dance of the 2008-09 season is rhythms of the 20s, 30s and 40s. The 27 couples in the event chose a wide variety of dances.

Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski of Russia strengthened their lead in the original dance ahead of Italy’s Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali and Sinead Kerr and John Kerr (GBR).

Khokhlova and Novitski chose “Sam’s Blues” and the upbeat “Putting on the Ritz” for their dance. Dressed in neon green and bright yellow, they drew the attention of the crowd right away. The reigning World and European bronze medalists delivered a strong performance of their dance that was highlighted by a straight line lift, fast twizzles and intricate footwork.

The Muscovites were awarded a level four for all elements except the side-by-side step sequence, which was a level three. They earned 62.17 points (32.90 element score/29.27 program component score) which was a season’s best and accumulated a total of 99.60 points, heading into the free dance.

“We were in the lead, but it doesn’t mean much,” Novitski said. “We changed our first lift after Russian nationals. Although it was a quite interesting lift, we somehow never got the maximum of points for it. Apparently we did the right thing, because he had a high technical score. Yesterday someone told us, ‘The first place hasn’t been reserved for you,’ and this person is absolutely right. We’ll have to fight for it, and there are no weak competitors here.”

Faiella and Scali interpreted a tap dance from the Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movie “Follow the Fleet” and completed a level-four side-by-side midline step sequence, a one-armed rotational lift and a dance spin that were graded a level four as well. Faiella was slightly shaky on the synchronized twizzle. The Italians were awarded a level three for the twizzles and the diagonal step sequence, and they picked up a season’s best of 59.03 points (30.90/28.13).

They remained in second place at 95.06 points. “We could handle the situation well, and we were really into the dance today. It was like going back to the 30s. The elements were really good,” Scali told the press. “It was exciting to get our first silver small medal today. The pressure is higher being in the medal position. The hardest part was the Finnstep and after that everyone got more relaxed. Today we felt confident with our performance.”

Kerr and Kerr entertained the crowd in the Hartwall Areena with their fast paced Swing and Lindy Hop routine that featured crisp footwork (level three), a curve lift with her in a handstand and a spin with changes of position.

They brother-and-sister team lost unison in the twizzles that were graded a level three. The Scots scored 57.71 points (30.20/27.51) and defended the third place with 92.60 points total so far.

“Most important for us was to really dance the swing dance and to consider the judges like they were a part of the audience. We want to entertain,” Sinead Kerr said. “We skate well when we’re enjoying ourselves and we did that today.”

John Kerr said he was more nervous doing the original dance on Thursday than he had been all season. “But as the music started and the audience began enjoying, it really helped a lot, and after 50 seconds I was enjoying it,” he said. “I was more nervous here because this is the first time Sinead and I are on the medal position. It’s very exciting but it also brings added pressure. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat (FRA) came in fourth with a smooth Lindy Hop dance (91.94) and remain close to the podium. Pernelle Carron and Matthieu Jost (FRA) are currently ranked fifth at 89.39 points.


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