Why European Figure Skating Championships turned pathetic

The absence of Russians and the post-Olympic season syndrome are the culprits

The European Figure Skating Championships that took place without Russians and Belarusians ended in Espoo, Finland. Realnoe Vremya’s sports staff is analysing the tournament calling it the worst in the history of this sport.

“Boring, girls”

Pre-Olympic European championships from 2018 to 2022 brought Russia a plethora of medals. Six in 2019, 10 in 2020 and nine in 2022, moreover, at the last two Europeans, Russians had eight gold medals under the belt.

The men’s competition was the most prestigious. Such veterans as Michal Březina (the Czech Republic) and Alexey Bychenko (Israel) as well as another veteran Nikolaj Majorov from Sweden retired after the Olympics in Beijing and “didn’t survive” till the 2022 World Championship. There were four medallists of previous tournaments among the competitors — two Italians Daniel Grassl and Matteo Rizzo, Lithuanian Deniss Vasiljevs, Georgian Moris Kvitelashvili. Plus, two Frenchmen — Grand Prix final bronze medallist Kevin Aymoz and ethnic Asian Adam Siao Him Fa who stabilised his jumps last year and finished 8th at the 2022 WC, which is great for him. And in the current absence of choice, such a list of competitors is a holiday.

The ladies’ individual competition, in contrast, looked pathetic where there is nobody to single out except for Belgian Luna Hendriks. Anastasia Gubanova, Yekaterina Kurakova are pupils of Russian figure skating representing Georgia and Poland respectively now. And here again, it is necessary to mentioned that “Azerbaijan” Yekaterina Ryabova highly likely hurried up deciding to retire from sport. As well as American-born Alexia Paganini who represented Switzerland in competitions.

The ladies’ individual figure skating of the Old World is in an obvious crisis, local athletes can show off, but clearly there is no stability. For instance, Angelina Kučvaļska from Latvia regressed so quickly that she performed worse and worse year after year and hardly ended up in the top 10 at the University Games this year.

Fear your dreams coming true

Like Estonian Eva-Lotta Kiibus whose former coach Anna Levandi (Kondrashova) criticised the Russian coaching school. Win if you criticise, rephrasing a well-known saying, we could advise Levandi and her pupil for whom the non-participation of Russian ladies and Belarusian Viktoria Safonova allowed going even four positions up. But following the European trend and actively criticising Russia, Levandi forgot about her pupil’s progress. As well as German Nicole Schott who claimed before the European Championships that Russians could perform a quad three times, land on their butt but anyway be 50 points ahead.

Seemingly, Schott spoke out, got exhausted, fell twice in her short programme and was preliminarily 16th performing even worse than in the absence of Russians. Since not they as an external factor but German cuisine impeded 53-kilogramme Nicole from flying above the ice. The author remembers that as a kid he was shocked when a TV commentator named the competition weight of another German athlete Sabine Baeß — 38 kg. But then, together with her partner Tassilo Thierbach she won the world champion title in 1982 and it seems such a body type helped the 21-year-old girl to achieve the goal.

The current European Championships were the last following old rules allowing 15-year-old girls to compete. Girls above 16 will be competing from the next edition, and ladies above 17 will in 2024. Norway that didn’t have a good single female skater in general after twin sisters Anne Line Gjersem and Camilla Gjersem retired from sport when launching such an initiative was the author of the idea of raising the age limit. Since this European, Norway is again “in action,” since 17-year-old Mia Caroline Risa Gomez started to compete. The girl’s name is not so habitual because she was born in Mexico. After the short programme, Norwegian Gomez was 21st, between 28-year-old Natasha McKay from Great Britain and 22-year-old Anastasia Gozhva from Ukraine. Competing at such an age is McKay’s achievement when she is older than even Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva, while Gozhva’s accomplishment remained in the past when she became a vice champion of the Youth Olympic Festival in 2017 giving way only to Alina Zagitova.

To fans of matureskating

Only Slovenian Daša Grm was older than McKay at this European, but German Schott and Antonina Dubinina competing for Serbia (both 26) and Swedish Josefin Taljegård, 27, were next to British Natasha too. The age is relatively young for life but critical for ultra-C elements. There are exceptions like Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva and her colleagues from other sports like Russian Svetlana Romashina (synchronised swimming) or former Soviet gymnast Oksana Chusovitina. But in practice like any coordination sport, figure skating is for young, flexible and daring athletes. The world championship for professionals existed specially for those who was ready to demonstrate the beauty of figure skating besides jumps and spins, something between sport and show. But the last tournament of this kind is dated back to 2002, and now it is hard to deserve an invitation to the show without sports achievements. This is why women who are by far above 20 who cannot compete internationally because of the big number of representatives of the amazing Russian school (Japanese skaters are an obstacle there, but they are from the “right” country that seriously spends money to promote figure skating) and don’t have any competition in their homeland skate there. At the same time, they make spectators happy like same Taljegård who amazed spectators with her Joker free programme several years ago. Or same Carolina Kostner who managed to step onto the podium of the European Championships at the age of 30, while her Bolero is still in our memory. While now, a handful of athletes like Belgian Luna Hendriks arouse interest among “mature” figure skaters.

Thanks to mentioning the youth Olympic festival, we gradually approached the failed performance of pairs. The results of the champions (Conti and Macii) and runner ups (Ghilardi and Ambrosini) from Italy, of course, are nothing like the fight of the pair from Germany (Hocke and Kunkel) for the third place. On the other hand, the athletes should be paid tribute. Also, Niccolò Macii who competed with Bianca Manacorda at the European some seven years ago being the country’s third pair after Marchei and Hotarek as well as Della Monica and Guarise.

It’s a pity we didn’t see the old lady

Again, we can just feel pity that the specifics of the post-Olympic season brought active replacement. Germans Hase and Seegert, Austrians Ziegler and Kiefer, it is especially bitter for English Jones and Boyadji. The performance of 43-year-old mom of three Zoe Jones was the adornment of these European Championships like part of the Ice Age show. Karina Safina whose knee issues didn’t let her compete with Luka Berulava leaving Georgia without obvious chances of gold medals was very unlucky. We feel pity for the Hungarian pair Ioulia Chtchetinina and Márk Magyar when the partner’s positive coronavirus test didn’t let him compete at the Olympics and then he left the sport. They were replaced by Maria Pavlova and Alexey Svyatchenko (5th place). Last year, Pavlova competed with Hungarian from the US Balázs Nagy, but now it is a completely Russian pair. Sadly, our former compatriots weren’t among the medallists. But Alisa Yefimova who used to compete for Finland and then skated with Korovin for Russia now represents Germany with Ruben Blommaert (in fact, he is Belgian, they finished 4th). Neither was Nika Osipova a medallist who used to skate with world champion Alexander Gallyamov as junior and now finished eights with Dmitry Epstein representing the Netherlands.

The new pair Lucrezia Beccari and Matteo Guarise from Italy didn’t perform well finishing seventh. Guarise used to skate with Nicole Della Monica, but she decided to retire after turning 33. While 34-year-old Guarise decided to risk again and create a pair with former single skater Beccari, 19, who was a runner up of the European Youth Festival like Ukrainian Guzhva but in 2019 losing to Anna Shcherbakova. The age difference between Beccari and Guarise than even between Chinese Yu Xiaoyu who was 12 younger than her partner Zhang Hao or Zoe Jones who is 10 years older than her partner Chris Boyadji.

By the way, the 2019 World Junior Championship looks very interesting in terms of changes as times goes by. Not only Beccari but also Lithuanian Paulina Ramanauskaitė who is now in ice dance (her would-be partner Kizala also competed at that world championship but with another skater), American Balázs Nagy (Russian Pavlova’s ex-partner on team Hungary), Estonian Artur Gruzdev who competed with Viktoria Semenyuk then. Now Gruzdev is skating with another Viktoria — Azroyan who started her career in Kazan and danced with ex-Ukrainian Siroshtan. Azroyan is the second pupil of Kazan figure skating after Adelina Galyaviyeva who used to compete for France.

Jaudat Abdullin

The author’s opinion does not necessarily coincide with the position of Realnoe Vremya’s editorial board.