Sunday, January 12, 2014

European Championships 2014: schedule and preview


Wednesday 15th:
10.30 Ladies short
17.30 Short Dance

Thursday 16th:
11.45 Men short
18.25 Free Dance

Friday 17th:
13.30 Pairs short                  
17.50 Ladies free skate

Saturday 18th:
12.05 Men free skate

Sunday 19th:
11.00 Pairs free skate                                           

The 2014 European Championships will take place this week (13-19 January) in Budapest (GMT +1).
It will be the last chance to test programs and technical status before the Olympics in Febraury for many skaters.

The probably strongest field will be the ladies', whose short will open the week of competition. As last year, it is expected to be a Kostner against the Russian girls fight. For Leonova, Lipnitskaya and Sotnikova Europeans won't be just a test before the home Olympics, but also a qualifying competition, since Russia earned two spots for Sochi. Considering the latest outcomes, Lipnitskaya and Sotnikova are very likely to qualify and make the podium. For Lipnitskaya it is going to be her debut at senior European Championships. Althought she is a very strong competitor, she doesn't quite have the experience or maturity of Sotnikova (who is more a rollercoaster instead) and if her compatriot pulls it off as she has done a couple of times this season, she probably wouldn't be able to beat her.
As far as Carolina Kostner is concerned, there is no doubt that she is the most mature artistic and sophisticated skater of the bunch, but her jumps haven't been her best lately and she is coming from a back injury, that caused her to withdraw from Universiade and Nationals, so that is possible that she won't compete at her best in Budapest. She has changed both of her programs which didn't impress as others and she will debut a new short pogram on Ave Maria; as for the free skate, she came back to the Bolero program of last year.

In the men competition, Javier Fernandez will try to defend his title after a disappointing fall season. The Spanish champion hasn't been impressive with his grand prix outings as he missed the podium twice and therefore didn't qualify for the final. His performances in Budapest will make his state of preparation clearer.
Maxim Kovtun is a serious medal contender since he is showing constant improvements; his quads are getting more consistent and he has had a good season, which might help him closing the "components" gap with Fernandez.
For the rest of the field the competition is as open as never before: Michal Brezina will try to defend his bronze medal, but his compatriot Tomas Verner, after few very negative seasons, looks incredibly strong (he hasn't competed in any A competition, though). Florent Amodio is in the mix too, even if his latest competitions haven't been brilliant, especially the Bompard Trophy, where he hardly landed any jumps at all.

The dance event is going to be the most peculiar of all as none of the present skaters have ever won the title before. Infact, both Bobrova/Soloviev and Pechalat/Bourzat decided to not compete in this pre-olympic appointment leaving the podium door wide open.
Ilinykh/Katsalapov and Cappellini/Lanotte are for sure the front-runners of the competition. Cappellini/Lanotte have had a consistent season so far, and if the previous results should be an indication of how Europeans will be, they should be going for gold. The Italian team has already competed against the Russians and beated them at the NHK Trophy and qualified for the grand prix final whereas Ilinykh/Katsalapov didn't. The couple trained by Morozov has alternated ups and downs during the fall season so that it is difficult to foresee what is going to happen, but if they skate somehow clean their higher components will bring them ahead of the Italians.
As for the bronze medal, Riazanova/Tkachenko will likely earn it.

Savchenko/Szolkowy and Volosozhar/Trankov will compete face to face another time before the Olympics. The European gold and silver will surely be theirs, but there is no certainty about who is going to be crown the champions. Volosozhar/Trankov looked unbeatable all season long untill the Grand Prix final where the German team overskated them for the first time since Worlds 2012. In many's opinion, Savchenko/Szolkowy finally won that competition because they decided to leave out the throw triple axel, a very worthy, yet extremely risky element that didn't seem to work so well in competition. Going clean is often a strategy that pays back, however the Fukuoka victory wasn't earned just by avoiding a difficult jump, but also because Volosozhar/Trankov made some mistakes there. The world champions proved that they are human, but that even with a struggling skate they can earn a pretty decent score. Considering that Volosozhar/Trankov would be at their best for when it counts, Savchenko/Szolkowy may very well need that triple axel.
The bronze medal chances are open to Stolbova/Klimov, Bazarova/Larionov and Berton/Hotarek, the defending champions, who have been the most consistent of the bunch, but are slightly inferior to their Russian competitors in terms of quality of some elements (the triple twist for one) and components. 

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