None of the great European champions of the past — John Curry, Robin Cousins, Evgeni Plushenko, Alexei Yagudin, Alexei Urmanov, Ilia Kulik, Brian Joubert, Viktor Petrenko, Alexander Fadeev, Jan Hoffmann — achieved what Javier Fernández did today in winning a fourth consecutive European title.
It’s appropriate that we are in Bratislava, as the last person to win more than three European Championships in a row was none other than Ondrej Nepela who won five straight — his last in Cologne, Germany in 1973.
Fernández showed exactly why he is the King of Europe today when he laid down a commanding performance in his “Guys and Dolls” long program. He was not perfect by any means, putting a hand down to save his first quadruple toe loop; falling on a triple Axel; and experiencing a shaky landing on a triple loop at the end of his program.
Yet there was an aura about him that suggested there was only one person who was going to be the winner. Two quadruple Salchows, one in combination with a triple toe, and a triple Axel-double toe combination, certainly helped him to that end. When his long program score of 200.23 and a total of 302.77 flashed up on the scoreboard, everyone in the Ondrej Nepela arena knew it was game over there and then.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you win something,” Fernández said. “It’s always special. As we are high level athletes, we want to continue winning medals. This personally for us is a little present for training every day and that’s how I take it. I keep making history for my country, but hopefully there is still a long way to go.”
More history was made when Israel’s Alexei Bychenko captured his country’s first ever medal at Europeans. He had a tentative start to his “Les Misérables” free skate, tacking just a single toe on the backend of a quad toe, and then falling on a second quad toe shortly after that. However, once he had gotten that out of his system, he reeled off six triple jumps to earn a new personal best free skate score of 158.47. A total of 242.56 put him in second place overall.
“I don’t know what to say because I am so excited right now,” Bychenko said at the press conference. “I’m really proud of myself. All I can say is: ‘Wow.’
Even though he held on to a spot on the podium, it was a grim evening for Maxim Kovtun. The three-time Russian champion had issues with all three of his quad attempts — stepping out of a quad Salchow, falling heavily on a quad toe and then popping another quad Salchow into an under-rotated double. What kept him in the medals was his determination to land everything in the second half of his Beethoven-themed routine. Despite his score of 154.12 only being sixth best in the free, he wound up third with a total of 242.21.
“I was so sad after my free because before this competition I was working a lot in practices doing run throughs of my program,” Kovtun said. “I don’t know what is wrong, but I felt nervous before my free. I felt better before my short.”
The most emotional moment of the night occurred when France’s Florent Amodio dropped to his knees on the ice at the end of his “Memories of Sobral” program. The 2011 European champion had last medaled in this event in 2013 and his career had been in a seemingly never-ending slump since then. He had announced before arriving in Bratislava that he was calling it quits after Europeans and his was a farewell performance of which the Frenchman can be proud. Amodio’s free skate score of 162.68, the second best of the night, lifted him up to fourth place, but a total of 240.96 left him just a point shy of a fairytale finish.
“Yes, definitely. I thought a lot about this decision and it wasn’t easy, but I have to be honest,” Amodio replied when asked if he was really retiring. “It’s not possible for me to jump two or three quads. It’s so hard for me to do even one quad. I’m 25 and it has started to be difficult with this technical level.
“This performance was my best ever for sure. Even if it’s without a medal. You see the standing ovation and the public will remember me, I hope, forever. For sure, I will remember. It’s only once in a lifetime you can skate like this. For sure, I had the best moment of my life here today.”