Ice Network

Sotnikova sneaks ahead in competitive ladies short

Lipnitskaia rides technique to second; Kostner speeds into close third
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Reigning European silver medalist Adelina Sotnikova of Russia got off on the right foot, landing a clean triple-triple to start off her "Habanera" program en route to a score of 70.73 and a first-place finish in the short. -Getty Images

Take one Italian and three Russian girls: Most of us knew that the ranking of the short program would undoubtedly put the four of them on top of Europe, but in which order?

Adelina Sotnikova won the short program at the 2014 European Figure Skating Championships on Wednesday afternoon in Budapest, Hungary, ahead of her teammate, 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia, and Carolina Kostner of Italy. Alena Leonova, also from Russia, who won the world silver medal in 2012, sits in fouth place before the free skate. Less than two points separate Sotnikova (70.73 pts), Lipnitskaia (69.97) and Kostner (68.97). Leonova is six points behind Sotnikova with 64.09 points.

The ranking is, however, quite different between the technical elements and the components scores. Lipnitskaia scored best in technical elements (38.06, to 37.15 for Sotnikova and 35.29 to Kostner), but Kostner was first in components (33.68, to 33.58 to Sotnikova and 31.91 to Lipnitskaia).

Most ladies gave us a living proof of how fit they are just three weeks before the Olympics, as most of them skated clean and strong programs, and many beat their season's bests!

To be noted is the fact that all six first girls landed a perfect triple-triple combination. Only Valentina Marchei of Italy had some difficulty with hers and sits in sixth place. Ashley Wagner was right at the beginning of the season to emphasize that a triple-triple combination would be a must in Sochi.

Sotnikova skated her "Habanera" program with her usual speed and poise. Her triple toe-triple toe was followed by a triple flip. Two of her spins got a Level 4, and the combination spin and her step sequence were credited with a Level 3.

"I'm happy that I did everything I had planned," Sotnikova said afterward.

"The Russian team to the Olympics will be finalized only after Europeans," she explained. "But for me, skating here is just an additional step to test my elements and finalize my preparation."

This girl is so focused, on and off the ice.

Lipnitskaia, in topping the highest mark for the technical elements, rotated so fast in the air, and yet she was so graceful and fluid on the ice.

"I'm very pleased, especially since practice was not so good," Lipnitskaia said.

Her triple Lutz-triple toe opening combination garnered 9.90 points, at least three-tenths of a point ahead of her competitors' own triple-triple combination. Lipnitskaia's body flexibility was again a hit in Budapest. She was the only competitor to earn Level 4's for her three spins and step sequence. (Kostner's layback spin was only credited with a Level 2, probably due to her recent back injury, which prevented her from going farther in her position.)

Still, one could wonder how skating speed is reflected in the marks, so huge a difference there is between Kostner and Lipnitskaia in that respect. Lipnitskaia was one of the slowest on the ice in Budapest, and at times it could be wondered whether she was skating at all. This may be due to her young age and diminutive size.

"It's important to take on speed," Lipnitskaia conceded afterward. "Especially when you're going into a jump. I can, of course, perform my jumps without speed, but if you skate too slow, it's not comfortable."

Kostner was the first of the main favorites to take the ice, and many thought that she would win the short program, so perfect had her performance been.

Kostner decided to change her short program after the Grand Prix Final.

"Sometimes in life, things happen when you least expect them," Kostner said. "I have participated in 12 European championships, and I suppose that I always have to be scared each time before a program!"

Her new program, set to Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria," was applauded by the audience from start to end and got a standing ovation after her most inspired performance.

"I'm quite happy for a very good skate," Kostner said.

Kostner's skate was surreal. Even her triple toe-triple toe combination was in the flow of her music, not to speak of her triple loop, an edge jump for an Ave Maria! She looked so inspired that she needed to open her eyes again after her final combination spin to realize that she was in an arena.

Leonova, from Russia, seems to rejuvenate season after season and still looks like the "little funny child" of figure skating she was some years ago. She landed all the elements of her charming and entertaining program to Russian folk music (among which "Kalinka"). Her program emphasized the velocity of her steps and somewhat hid her lack of speed, something her components scores did not quite reflect.

Maé-Bérénice Méité, the new French champion, was ecstatic after her skate.

"That was a big event", she said. "I was taking the ice between Carolina and Adelina, and I wanted to be up to par!"

Méité landed all her elements, with one small mistake on the loop.

"I pushed too much on the outside when I started my jump," she said. "I tried to compensate in the air to avoid a catastrophe, but that was not quite enough."

She garnered 58.64 points, also her season's best.

Most of all, Méité was happy to see her components scores increase one step further. Her ranking in the components is now consistent with her ranking in the technical elements. Her hard work is paying off. Méité is in fifth place.

Elene Gedevanishvili, the first Georgian skater to ever medal in an ISU event, skated brilliantly and landed all her elements. She seems to have channeled her energy-packed skating. The tango selection she was skating to allowed her to display some long and fluid edges during the first part of her program. She amassed 54.78 points and sits in seventh, one spot behind Marchei in sixth.

Lipnitskaia happened to be the 37th and last competitor to take the ice for the short program. That was a long, yet inspiring afternoon in Budapest!