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Fernández opens eight-point lead at Europeans

Voronov in second after clean short; Third-place Březina overcomes fall
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Spain's Javier Fernández didn't skate the cleanest of short programs, stepping out of both his quad and his triple-triple combination, but he was plenty better than everyone else Wednesday. The two-time reigning European champion posted a score of 89.24 to grab an eight-point lead. -Getty Images

Spain's Javier Fernández entered the 2015 European Figre Skating Championships with a clear determination to win his third straight European gold medal. No one got in the way of Fernández in coming closer to this ambition during the short program. He scored 89.24 points after a few mistakes, and his closest rival, Russia's Sergei Voronov, sits more than eight points behind with a score of 81.06. The Czech Republic's Michal Březina is in third with 80.86 points. Maxim Kovtun will enter Friday's free skate in fourth place with 78.21 points.

This short program competition in Stockholm was long (four and a half hours), but it was also filled with errors, as the scores reflect: No skater managed to hit the 90-point bar.

"All of us at least made one mistake today," Fernández acknowledged afterward.

Skating to Ram Jam's "Black Betty," Fernández had some difficulty landing his opening quad Salchow. It looked at first as if he would have to put a hand or two, but his cat-like flexibility allowed him to recover right away. He also had a rough landing of his triple Lutz-triple toe combination, but his triple Axel was perfect, garnering 11.21 points by itself -- his only element to gain more than 10 points.

"I was feeling great today, and I skated a completely perfect free program the other day at practice, so I think I am 100 percent," the Spaniard explained afterward. "I did make mistakes, however. They were not big mistakes, but they took several points away from me."

All of three of Fernández' spins were rated Level 4, as was his step sequence.

"This proves that even when you make some mistakes on your jumps, you can still achieve many points thanks to the other elements," Fernández said. "You just have to get some extra energy to them."

Fernández' component scores were also the best of the field. Fernández is one of the very few skaters in the world who can score as high in transitions as in skating skills, which is exactly what he did Wednesday afternoon (8.61 points exactly for both marks). Usually, transitions are nearly half a point lower than skating skills.

Skating to "Danse Macabre" by Camille Saint-Saëns, Voronov delivered a clean, although not quite perfect, program. He opened with a splendid quad toe-triple toe combination, which earned him 14.40 points. He doubled his planned triple Axel, however, and landed a solid triple loop. His step sequence was a delight to watch, as it almost resembled an ice dance "no-touch" sequence. He smiled from ear to ear at the end of his program. He amassed 41.53 points points for his elements and 39.53 points for his components.

"This is my eighth competition this season, and I felt it was a bit rough," Voronov offered after leaving the ice. 

Voronov explained the story of his short program a bit further.

"I love the 'Danse Macabre,' and in my view it is certainly one of the best classical pieces in the world. When I start to skate to it, each time, I embark into the story of one's life in just two minutes and 40 seconds. It is the story of a swan, and the swan is fighting for his existence, just like each one of us has to fight for one's existence, day after day," Voronov explained.

Březina had told icenetwork he would be okay with taking yet another fourth-place finish at the European championships, as long as he skated well. Březina did much better Wednesday afternoon, and many thought that he could beat the odds and win the short program. He opened with a solid triple Axel, and followed with a perfect quad Salchow, amassing 22.29 points in just two elements. His last combination, a triple flip-triple toe, however, was a near disaster, as he fell heavily on the flip. Březina, who skated last, shook his head in disbelief, but nonetheless managed to win the "little bronze medal," as the International Skating Union (ISU) calls it.

"Entering into the flip, I thought there was no problem -- it's an easy jump," Březina said.

"After the jump, I wanted to kill myself!" he said jokingly at the press conference that followed the event.

Březina was warmly supported by the audience, and was grateful to feel their support.

"They really helped me," he said. "It was so hard to come back to the program after that fall!"

Kovtun opted for a two-quad short program again, but neither was really successful. He nearly fell on his opening quad Salchow and had to leave the subsequent triple toe off. A few seconds later, he had to put a hand on the ice during the landing of his quad toe. His triple Axel was perfect, and he received Level 4 for two of his spins as well as his step sequence.

Peter Liebers, from Germany, surprised the world with a great skate at both the 2014 European Championships and the Olympics, where he placed sixth and eighth, respectively. He delivered a strong program again in Stockholm with a solid triple flip-triple toe combination, a triple Axel and a triple Lutz. Liebers is in fifth place with 75.48 points.

With the exception of 2014, the European championships have been good to France's Florent Amodio, as he won gold, bronze and silver in 2011, '12 and '13, respectively. Amodio changed coaches again in the middle of the season to join a group in Paris, where he now practices alongside two other French gold medalists: Maé-Bérénice Méité, and Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès. Skating to the Le Concert soundtrack, Amodio delivered a clean program -- his first in more than a year -- landing a triple Salchow, a triple Axel and a triple Lutz-triple toe combination.

"I was not in the right axis to launch the quad Salchow," he said afterward. "But I'm so happy to have controlled that program from start to end."

Amodio garnered 74.06 points and managed to end in sixth place entering the free skate. He will be skating in the last group for the first time in two years.

All three leading skaters promised that their free skates would be much better.

"We saved our clean programs for Friday!" Březina concluded laughingly.