Europeans: A Decade of Change


The last time I was in Budapest was for the 2004 European Figure Skating Championships - almost exactly 10 years ago. A lot has changed in Hungary and in our sport over that decade.

The 2004 Europeans was the last to be judged under the 6.0 system and probably the most memorable performance of that week for me was Brian Joubert defeating Evgeni Plushenko with his now famous "Matrix" routine.

Remarkably, Joubert is back in Budapest and there is no doubt that the legion of fans who followed him on his walk from the official hotel to the practice rink today are as loyal as ever. It would be quite the fairytale if he was to win once again here in what will no doubt be his final appearance at Europeans.

The men's title is up for grabs as no one European man was dominant this season. Besides Joubert, there are three former European champions competing here - reigning gold medallist Javier Fernández, 2011 champion Florent Amodio and 2008 winner Tomáš Verner. Add Russian national champion Maxim Kovtun to the mix … it is pretty tough to predict the outcome.

The other highlight for me in 2004 was the ladies competition which saw local girl Júlia Sebestyén take the title in front of a sold out crowd. It was the perfect ending to a very successful event. Since then, Hungarian skating has struggled and this time there will be no female singles skater from this nation competing as none earned the minimum technical score as required by the International Skating Union.

Due to the lack of local interest, the Championships will be held in the smaller capacity SYMA Sports Hall, a few hundred metres down the road from the Budapest Sports Arena.

Carolina Kostner is once more the favourite to take the title, but she has come here with two new programmes and could be vulnerable to the rising stars of Russian skating, Julia Lipnitskaia and Adelina Sotnikova. The ladies short is the first event tomorrow morning.

Back in 2004 if you were the European ice dance champion that usually meant that you were also more than likely to become the World champion as well. My, how times have changed! This year, rather bizarrely, both Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat and Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, who between them have won the last three European titles, have chosen not to contest the 2014 Europeans.

It could be that neither team wanted to lose prior to Sochi, but how this strategy will play out at the Olympic Winter Games is anybody's guess. In their absence, the gold medal contest appears to be between Russia's Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov and Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte from Italy.

The Russians can be brilliant one day and mediocre the next, while the Italians are, these days, much more consistent. Hungarian ice dancers Dóra Turóczi and Balázs Major drew first for the short dance tomorrow evening.

The pairs category was the first to conclude in 2004, but on this occasion it will close the Championships a few hours before the exhibition on Sunday. Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin walked away with gold a decade ago, but this time we will be treated to one of the most enthralling rivalries at this time, coincidentally featuring another Tatiana and Maxim.

It seemed that up until the Grand Prix Final last month Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov had the Olympic gold medal sewn up. After a surprising defeat by Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy at the Final the Russians must now feel that they need to win in Budapest to get back on track to claim the top step of the podium in Sochi.

For many of the skaters this will be their final European Championships. It will no doubt be an exciting and emotional five days of competition.

I hope everyone skates their best and that I'll look back on 2014 Europeans with the same nostalgia that I have for the 2004 edition.