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European Ice Skating Championships

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The European Championships have just started in Zagreb, Croatia. Swedish TV will show something every day this week, but as we dont have the special sports channel, it might just be some highlights.

Anyway, today it was ice dance and pairs. Some old favorites looked a bit off and there were no newcomers of note. Sweden will have Alexander Majorov and the two sisters Helgesson, but we havent been able to find a single pair. Poor show, indeed so as Turkey had sent a reasonably competent guy and girl - well, they finished as number ten or something. Even so, I really do think Sweden could put in some effort...

One Russian girl in an Uzbeki outfit almost brought tears to my eyes, not only because she was good, but her name was Elena Ilinyhk - my eldest daughter's name is Elena and she was also a spitting image!

Italy seems to be doing quite well - I will stay glued to the TV set for the remainder of the week.

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It's really too bad about Swedish pairs. Niklas Hogner was a beautiful skater, with lovely posture and soft edges. After he and Angelika Pylkina split, he tried to team up with Julia Vlassov, whose partnership with Drew Meekins ended as she outgrew Meekins. However, since Vlassov/Meekins were the 2006 Junior World Champions, the United States Figure Skating Association would not agree to release her to skate with him for Sweden, and that was the end of his competitive career. I know he was a figure skating commentator in Sweden: is he doing commentary this year?

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Today we have seen the guys, Alexander Majorov of Sweden 3rd! No, Hogner, Berntsson and Schultheiss are no longer skating. Anyway, Florent Amodio, (France) came first, Javier Fernandez of Spain 2nd and he was very promising, then Majorov. 4th was a young (17) Russian kid, Maxim Kovtun, he might be something in the future. Another newcomer looked promising, French Chafik Bessighier (sounds Algerian!) "Plushy" was unfortunately not good at all.

Pairs: Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov Russia

Alina and Robin - Germany, my absolute favorite couple for a long time now, they are divine

Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hutarek -Italy.

My other favorite, the doll like Kawaguti did not do too well, pity. She is so cute, like an elfin on the ice, but it didnt quite work out.

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Plushenko's back issue has become acute since Russian Nationals, and he's withdrawn from the competition.

I'd loved Berntsson from the first time I saw him in Malmo at Europeans in 2003. I know that Schultheiss has struggled with injuries and surgeries over the last few years, but I didn't realized he has left the sport for good. He was such an interesting skater with many unusual music choices and creative programs.

Kovtun was a controversial choice for the Russian Euros team, having placed lower at Russian Nationals than long-time veteran Konstantin Menshov. I'm glad he was able to put it aside and give a strong performance. He was eye-catching at the 2011 Junior Grand Prix Final.

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The Championships are over now, well, there is the grand gala tomorrow. I think it has been of a very high standard, many new kids on the block, some of them maybe a tad too young, a couple of Russian kids of 16 - but very competent. What emerged was that the total Russian dominance is probably over and new countries are coming to the fore. Spain f.ex. Javier Fernandez won the guy's event - well deserved, while Swedish Alexander Majorov came 6th - equally well deserved. It is especially nice that a Swedish guy got that far. Here in the Scandinavian countries guys should play hockey, period! Figure skating is considered a bit suspect, nothing for guys, leave that to the girls, that is the general idea.

In Spain, when I lived there people did not know what "patinage" was even, I had to explain and people were dumbfounded. Look at them now! Well, nice that things change.

The two Swedish sisters did very well indeed, 5th place for Victoria Helgesson and 8th for younger sister Joshi, well done, both of them!

And of course Carolina Kostner took gold, again. That was kind of expected.

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Congratulations to Alexander Majorov: with a Top 10 finish, he's earned two spots for Sweden at 2014 European Championships. There is another Swedish Men's skater, Ondrej Spiegl, who had the scores to qualify for this year's championships: maybe he can go next year. It looks like there are a couple of younger ones who aren't yet strong enough to qualify. Spiegl is originally from Czech Republic and Majorov from St. Petersburg, and they're both coached by their fathers; Majorov's mother is one of his choreographers. When figure skating is the family business, and the family comes from places where figure skating as well as hockey is prized, that's where the boys go.

I still miss Berntsson, but he decided to get a life, and even while he was skating, earned at least his undergraduate degree in computer science (and might have even finished his Master's degree before he retired).

The Helgesson sisters have earned three spots for Sweden next year. The next up-and-coming skater from Sweden is Isabella Olsson, who has earned the very high technical scores needed to qualify for World Championships this season. She'll be a front-runner for the third spot and should be formidable competition for Joshi Helgesson, if there is a second spot for Worlds and Olympics next year.

Evgeny Plushenko, who was expected to defend his title, could barely bend over to pick up the things people threw on the ice for him and withdrew after the SP, and sadly, last year's silver medalist and Worlds bronze medalist in 2011, Artur Gachinsky, didn't qualify this year. Plushenko has been so dominant and Yagudin before and concurrent with him, that it's easy to think that Russia has been dominant for longer than they have. Plushenko won Europeans in 2010 and 2012, with Gachinski taking silver in 2012, but from 2007-2009 and in 2011, there were no Russian Men on the Euros podium; it had been dominated by France's Joubert and Amodio and Czech Republic's Tomas Verner, with occasional appearence by Stephane Lambiel (when healthy) and comeback skater Samuel Contesti. Gachinski's Worlds bronze in 2011 was the first Worlds medal for a Russian man since Plushenko's win in Dortmund in 2004. (Plushenko and Yagudin won Worlds from 1998-2004, and when they both competed, they both were on the podium.)

Verner's technical scores were frighteningly low: his program components scores were nearly double his technical scores, which shows the judges haven't lost any love for him, and he'd be competitive for the podium were he to get his jumps back. His countryman Michal Brezina won his first medal, bronze, after being the perennial 4th place finisher.

Fernandez's "Chaplin" program is a beautifully constructed, skated, and performed program. He landed three quad jumps, one in combination, but it's wonderful to have a champion whose performance and choreography was as strong as his technical program.

Kostner is coming back from a slow start this season: she skipped Grand Prix and competed internationally only in a small competition until Europeans. Her free skate to "Bolero" won't make anyone forget Torvill and Dean for a second, but her carriage and elegance have improved even from last year, when she had a Kylian-inspired (after "Petite Mort") free skate program to Mozart.

The two 16-year-old Russian Ladies seem like they've been around forever -- at 12, silver and bronze medalists Sotnikova and Tuktamysheva won their first Senior Russian Nationals gold and silver medals, respectively; Sotnikova won two more championships in 2010 and 2011, while Tuktamysheva is the reigning Russian champion -- and they both have Junior World Championship and Senior Grand Prix medals, but this is the first year they're old enough for Senior championships, and they went straight to the podium.

Fourth place Valentina Marchei has made big strides in her jump technique; she's currently training with former Ladies World Champion, Yuka Sato, and former US Pairs Champion, Jason Dungjen, in the Detroit area. I wouldn't be surprised to see her in the Top 10 at Worlds in London (Ontario) in March.

One of the best trends in skating has been the emergence of former ice dancers choreographing for elite singles and pairs skaters, in response to the judging system's rewards for transitions. One of Marchei's choreographers is Massimo Scali, a European medalist ice dancer. Off the top of my head, this year I've also seen programs by Shae Lynn Borne, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, Julie Marcotte, and Ilia Averbukh. (Christopher Dean and Maria Zoueva have been choreographing for top skaters for a long time, and although Morozov came from Ice Dance, you might not know it from watching his programs.) Their programs are more intricate and interesting choreographically than many standard singles and pairs programs.

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