The temperature inside the unheated PostFinance Arena in Bern, Switzerland, hovered well below the freezing mark most days. The audiences wrapped themselves in blankets as the skaters shivered on the ice, and many of the photographers at ice level wore numerous layers of clothing and gloves to stave off the bitter cold.
But the icy conditions did not hinder some of the worldís best skaters from putting down the performances of their lives.
Switzerlandís Sarah Meier and Florent Amodio from France, two skaters at opposite ends of the spectrum, claimed the singles titles.
For Amodio it was the start of what has the potential to be a brilliant career and for Meier, it was her final swan song.
Meier was an outside shot at best to claim a medal in Bern, let alone capture the title. After missing the entire first half of the season with a foot injury, the 26-year-old had decided that the European Championships would be her last competition.
She surprised herself by skating into third after the short behind Finland’s Kiira Korpi and Ksenia Makarova from Russia. “I did not expect that result,” Meier admitted. “It was my first competition of the season and I did not go to Bern with any expectations. But it was my last chance to prove I can skate and my goal was to fight to the end.”
Everything changed in the long program. Italy’s Carolina Kostner, who could not find her jumps in the short, bounced back from sixth to win the long program and take the silver with 168.54. “After the short I thought it would be difficult to win a medal but I never gave up,” Kostner said. “In the past it would not have been possible for me to pick myself up and pull myself together after a bad short program.”
Korpi placed fourth in the free skate and slipped to third overall with a score of 166.40.
“The free program was a struggle. It did not start out well with a fall on the loop,” she said. “I am very happy that I won a medal, but I know I could have done better.”
The crowd cheered when Meier, the last skater of the evening, stepped on to the ice, but that was nothing compared to the deafening roar that erupted as the final note of her music faded.
Meier had saved her best performance for last, landing every jumping pass and executing solid spins. When her marks came up, it took a minute for her to grasp the fact that she had finally won the European title with a combined score of 170.60.
“I still cannot believe it. I have always dreamed of this moment and it was just like I imagined it would be,” Meier said. “I went for everything and it was a good strategy to go for all or nothing.”
VIVA LA FRANCE
It had been eight years since two French men had stood on a European podium and it had been 16 years since a man claimed the title at his European debut (Ilia Kulik won the title in his first appearance in 1995).
The young guns rose to the challenge in the short with Amodio, the Czech Republic’s Michal Březina and Russia’s Artur Gachinski earning the top spots. Tomáš Verner and Brian Joubert were a distant fifth and seventh, respectively.
Once again, it all came down to the long program. Joubert drew 15th out of 24 and skated in the second to last flight. The experienced veteran came out fighting and at the end of his routine sat in first place with a score of 223.01.
“I had nothing to lose,” he said. “I was disappointed with the short program, so in the free program I did not care about the placement or the score, I just wanted to come out on to the ice and fight.”
Amodio held nothing back in his free skating performance to a Michael Jackson theme, which set the audience on fire. At the end of his program, the 20-year-old jumped up and down on the ice, unable to contain his excitement. When the results flashed across the scoreboard, he leapt to his feet, pumping his fists. He took over the lead with a score of 226.86.
“It is like a dream come true to win the European title,” Amodio said. “The audience was great, but it was so loud in the arena that I almost could not hear my music near the end of my program. This is just crazy, I can hardly believe it.”
Verner, the last man to take the ice, put down a solid performance and captured the bronze with 222.60 points.
When reminded that he now has a complete set of European medals, Verner laughed. “I did not mean to complete the collection with the bronze,” the 24-year-old said. “I hoped to be higher, but it is sport and I am glad to be back on the podium.”
On a light note, as Joubert was about to step onto the podium, Amodio jumped down from the top step and hugged his teammate. “We get along very well,” said Joubert, who shared a room with Amodio at Europeans. “But there is one problem. He talks a lot in his sleep and I cannot understand what he is saying.”
Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy were not happy to be competing in an unheated rink and Szolkowy was not shy in sharing that information.
At the press conference following the medal ceremony, the duo were renamed the “cold medalists.”
The German team held a slim lead over Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov following the short program.
Savchenko and Szolkowy experienced technical issues in the free skate. Both doubled the planned triple Salchows, and Savchenko lost her focus going into the side-by-side spin and was unable to complete it. They received no points for the element.
“I don’t really know what happened in the spin. I suddenly felt nervous. It was a new situation for me. I tried to continue but I could not get any speed,” Savchenko explained.
Szolkowy was concerned about the temperature in the arena. “I felt the cold even more than the day before the free,” he said. “Suddenly you make a move and you can’t because you feel too frozen. I was not worried about myself, but about my partner. What if something happened to her?”
It was far from a runaway victory for Savchenko and Szolkowy, who earned a score of 206.20, winning the competition by a little more than two points.
Kavaguti and Smirnov could not hide their disappointment at placing second with 203.61 points. “I think we did our job in the long program by executing all the elements cleanly, but this is sport. It was tough,” Smirnov said. “It was freezing in that rink, like the Russian winter.”
Russia’s Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov skated into third place with 188.24 and collected their first European medal. The couple, who train in Perm, said they were not affected by the cold as much because there is often no heat at their training rink.
Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat danced off with their first European title in Bern. It was the first time the couple had medaled at the competition.
The French team earned high levels for their innovative lifts, twizzles and spins and collected 167.40 points overall. “We are very happy. We felt the pressure because of the possibility of winning a medal but we did it,” Péchalat said.
“We have waited a long time for this,” Bourzat added. “We enjoyed our free dance performance and hope you did as well.”
Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev from Russia captured silver with 161.14 points. It was the first European medal for the 2007 World Junior champions. “This is a great success and a big achievement for us,” Soloviev said.
Great Britain’s brother and sister team Sinead Kerr and John Kerr danced into third place with a score of 157.49 and collected their second bronze at Europeans.
“It feels great,” said Sinead Kerr, who was sidelined for part of the season with a dislocated shoulder. “It was a tough job getting any medal at this competition because the other competitors were so great.”
John Kerr admitted it was “a relief to be doing any competition. We had to take some time off because of Sinead’s shoulder injury so we have not really competed since Skate Canada,” he said. “It was so nice to perform in front of an audience. They were really warm and we really appreciated it.”
Originally published in April 2011