Ice Network

Fernández gives free one last shot, and it pays off

Pair of unlikely Russians -- Voronov and Menshov -- win silver, bronze
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In a very uneven men's event, Javier Fernández once again proved he was the class of the continent. The Spaniard landed three quads (none with a positive grade of execution) in his free skate to earn a 15-point win and take the title for the second year in a row. -Getty Images

Javier Fernández of Spain won his second European gold medal Saturday in Budapest thanks to a brilliant program featuring three quads. Few commentators would have bet on the rest of the podium, however, as two veterans of the ice, Sergei Voronov and Konstantin Menshov, came in second and third place, respectively, 15 and 30 points behind Fernández (267.11 for Fernández, 252.55 for Voronov, 237.24 for Menshov). All three top men beat their season's best (Fernández by some 30 points!). Michal Březina, the popular Czech, managed to rebound after his poor first half of the season and was -- once more -- fourth, only 0.26 points behind Menshov.

"It's not in my plans to put two quads in my short programs," Fernández said Thursday night at the end of his short program. (Maxim Kovtun, the young Russian prodigy, had tried but failed in his attempt.) "I think I have enough. Three quads in my free program seem good to me for the time being!"

Rather amazingly, Fernández and Kovtun had both planned to try three quads in their free program and, although not in the same order, the same quads: toe, Salchow and another Salchow in combination with a triple toe. Most other competitors (with the notable exception of Březina, who opted for a single quad) went for the quad toe (one occurrence only, though). Fernández succeeded, while Kovtun could land only one.

Quad toe loop, quad Salchow-triple toe, triple Axel: That was the menu for the first minute of Fernández' program. (He still had a quad Salchow and a triple-triple combination in store.) What did he miss? Nothing, except he doubled the first part of a planned triple Lutz-double toe.

"Neither of my boys had the ultimate performance in this season," said Brian Orser, who also coaches Japanese star -- and Olympic gold-medal contender -- Yuzuru Hanyu. "The ultimate performance will be for mid-February!" he offered.

Fernández also took the time to play with the audience throughout his program.

"I do so each time I am skating a program," Fernández said. "That's the way I am. When I look at people and see them smile, it gives me energy. During my footwork, I looked at a judge who was staring at my traces on the ice. Maybe I should not have looked at him, but I could not help!" he explained, laughing. (What a reputation those judges have with the skaters!)

In the process, Fernández finally gave justice to his free skate, after an erratic start.

"I was blaming the program when I should have blamed me," Fernandez admitted, recognizing that this program had "a lot of potential. I wanted to give it up because I could not succeed with it. We had a meeting and we decided to give it one more chance."

He skated to the Peter Gunn soundrack and "Harlem Nocturne," going from one edge to the next as if they were playing with the saxophone tune.

Voronov, who had finished second in the short program, completed a flawless program, just like Menshov. Those two have worked so hard throughout the season, and it showed.

Voronov skated his tango routine with determination. It included two quad toes and two triple Axels.

"This medal is my coaches' merit," Voronov said. "Eteri Tutberidze, who leads our school, forced me to do things which I thought I was not able to do."

Tutberidze can celebrate tonight, as she also coaches Julia Lipnitskaia, the new European ladies gold medalist.

"Julia's medal could be expected," Voronov said. "When I saw her work, after she joined our group, I learned a lot from her."

Menshov managed to catch the podium after an 11th-place finish in the short program.

"It seems I always have to overcome something," Menshov said, laughing.

He had elected to skate to René Aubry's "pizzicato" music, which was perfect for his precise skating.

"I had no idea that I would be able to end third. I had changed and gone to the tribunes to watch the other competitors after my program. Then, all of a sudden, I had to rush down to the award ceremony!"

Menshov garnered 87.63 points for the technical elements of his free program, the second most of the evening (Voronov amassed 86.48, Fernández 88.19).

The Russian girls on the podium were so young, and the Russian men on the podium are comparatively so much more experienced. Never count an oldie out!

Březina finally found the energy to fight from the start to the end of his program. He doubled both his second planned quad Salchow and his triple loop.

The biggest surprise came from Maxim Kovtun. The young Russian was rather disappointed after his fourth-place finish in the short program, especially after the huge risk he had taken, lauching two quads in his program (one of which ruined his chances). He was skating to one of the strongest pieces of music that exists: Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto No. 1." His wonderfully classical choreography was meant for a strong program, but that was not to be. His two triple Axels were fine, but he doubled two of his planned quads. The piano score had some holes tonight. He left the ice so miserable and disappointed, and finished fifth overall.

This result should not ease the selection of the Russian Olympic team. In the next few days, however, a test is to be organized to check Evgeni Plushenko's real condition.

Tomáš Verner entered focused on the ice and skated his tango routine with his usual class. He had planned two quad toes and two triple Axels, and he landed one of each.

Brian Joubert remained the most popular skater in the arena today -- and the best French team member. The audience delivered a unanimous cheer as he stepped onto the ice. He skated a clean, emotional program to "Concierto de Aranjuez," though without any Level 4 elements.

Florent Amodio did change his free program significantly in the midst of the season.

"After the French championships, I stayed in the Alps with my coaches," Amodio explained. "I like changing my program in the middle of the season because it creates a new, fresh motivation."

Although he kept half of his former version to Louis Armstrong's "La Vie en rose," he added a petulant Brazilian dance.

"It was starting to sleep a bit," he said, talking of his former music. "It was not lively enough. So I added some dancing part to it, that crazy touch that is my trademark."

The change, however, was not enough to prevent him from what may be the biggest failure of his young career. He leaves Budapest with a 13th-place finish and a 40.75-point mark for technical elements, half his usual score.