As Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron finished their free dance to Mozart’s “Adagio from Concerto No. 23” at a sparsely attended Thursday night session of the 2015 European Figure Skating Championships at the Globe Arena in Stockholm, there were few people inside the venue who weren’t moved by the pure beauty they had just witnessed. European audiences tend to be tough and not as generous with their appreciation as North American or even Japanese crowds of late. The emotions that emanated from the French team on the night touched the hearts of those of us lucky to be there that night and it will remain long in our consciousness.
“At the end of the programme when the public started to applaud, the feeling was just incredible,” Cizeron reminisced fresh from receiving his gold medal with his partner.
We all had known that the Grand Prix Final bronze medallists’ free dance was exquisite and a masterpiece, so in some ways it was not a surprise. However, in the interval between the Grand Prix Final, their previous international, and Europeans, they had clearly worked hard on bringing up the level of their short dance. They added a whopping seven points to their previous best score, despite missing a key point for the second part of the Paso Doble pattern and forfeiting a whole mark in the process. On the program components side of things, there is also room for improvement in the short on their score of 71.06.
By this stage, Papadakis and Cizeron are now looking very comfortable with their free and the elements blend seamlessly together in a way that we have not seen before under the current judging system. Their grade of execution in the free was peppered with positive 3s (with in fact only a single 1 on the entire protocol) and they were awarded three 10s in their components which gave them a free score of 108.91. Their total of 179.97 for their gold in Sweden brings them within in striking distance of season leaders Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. The race for the World Championships title in Shanghai next month has just gotten very interesting indeed.
“We started skating together very young and we started to have success too very young,” Papadakis mused. “Maybe that’s why we are here so early in our career.”
Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte came in as defending European champions and can be very proud of the way they skated in Stockholm, considering how their season began at Cup of China in November. A short dance score of 69.83 placed them in third going into the free and kept them in contention. Although the Italians were beaten by the French by some seven points in the free, they skated their “Danse Macabre” routine cleanly and attained Level 4 for all their elements, apart from two Level 3 step sequences. It will be tough to best Papadakis and Cizeron and the top North American teams at Worlds, but Cappellini and Lanotte look like they are prepared to give it a good fight.
“We are more than happy with this silver tonight than you can believe,” Cappellini explained. “It’s really worth gold to us.”
There was a surprise bronze medal for Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin who had only placed third at Russian Nationals at the end of December. After the short dance, they had been adrift of the leading contenders in fourth place on 64.95 which was a personal best for the duo. When disaster struck for Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin in the free, Stepanova and Bukin were able to capitalise with their programme to “Eleanor Rigby” which gave them a lifetime best of 96.00.
“I think it was one of our best performances,” Bukin stated afterwards in the press conference.
Ilinykh and Zhiganshin had been on course for a medal in their debut Europeans together and were lying in second after the short when the heel of Ilinykh’s blade pierced Zhiganshin’s trousers on a lift in the free and forced the Russians to abort the element altogether. Visibly shaken and with a gaping hole in the trousers, they made it to the end, but the loss of points meant that they only scored 89.89 and dropped off the podium and into fourth place.
Misfortune also befell the entire British contingent in the ice dance event. Last year’s bronze medallists Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland stuttered in the short dance and only placed tenth and then were forced to withdraw when Buckland fell ill with the same gastric flu that had sidelined his brother Joseph Buckland and partner Olivia Smart before the short.
While the traditionally strong countries of France, Italy and Russia took the first four places, this edition of Europeans was notable for some new countries moving up the rankings and cracking the top ten in ice dance. Sara Hurtado and Adria Diaz from Spain (fifth) and Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen from Denmark (ninth) both train alongside Papadakis and Cizeron under the tutelage of Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer in Montreal.
“Each of us are very different. Our coaches don’t go for the same overall look for all the teams,” Hurtado commented. “They look for every special thing that you have, so then they can push that and you as a skater are able to show your best.”
Federica Testa and Lukas Csolley were if fifth after the short, but dropped down to eighth place overall. Nevertheless, it was a first for a team from Slovakia to place so highly at Europeans. They will be skating at home at next year’s Europeans in Bratislava and will be hoping to do even better there.