Ice Network

Papadakis, Cizeron add Euro gold to banner year

Cappellini, Lanotte claim silver; Stepanova, Bukin win surprise bronze
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Adding more hardware to a breakout season, France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron took the dance title at the European championships with 179.97 points -- a stark improvement from their 15th-place finish at this event last year. The duo came away with a score of 108.91 in their free dance to win the competition by more than eight points. -Getty Images

Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron continued their run of incredible surprises this season by taking the gold medal in ice dance at the 2015 European Figure Skating Championships. The french duo topped their season's-best score by 6.31 points, garnering 108.91 points for their free dance to finish with a 179.97-point total.

The 2014 European and world gold medalists, Italy's Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte finished more than eight points back, also surpassing their season's-best score in the free dance with 101.89 points. They claimed the silver medal and 171.52 points overall. Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, the 2013 world junior champions from Russia, took a surprise bronze medal with 96.00 points for their free dance, finishing with 160.95 overall.

Russia's Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin, who were in contention for the gold medal, settled for fourth place with 159.83 points after grabbing 89.89 points for their dramatic free dance that could have turned out much worse. Zhiganshin, fortunately, was able to skate his entire program after she cut his pants open with her blade, and nothing indicated that he suffered an injury.

"Creating the magic owes nothing to magic itself," Papadakis said when the duo won the bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final in December. "It's something you need inside of you that creates it. You need to be one -- one with your partner, one with your music, one with your audience, one with your judges, one with the ice. That allows a performance to bring out emotions in everybody. That's what creates the magic."  

Papadakis and Cizeron continued their magical ways. No one expected them to win at Cup of China, and no one thought they would take gold at Trophée Eric Bompard. No one (although many started to think about it by then) would have bet on a medal finish at the Grand Prix Final. But Thursday night, they won their first major title: the European championship.

"There was a mix of excitement, of pressure, of pleasure and many other emotions as we stepped onto the ice," Papadakis said. "It was rather magical to witness the way that program made its way throughout. Then, when we heard the audience applaud on the last note of the music, that was incredible."

As a matter of fact, only the "clac clac" of the cameras could be heard in an otherwise quite echoing rink as they skated, and the audience remained completely silent. Half of the rink rose spontaneously at the end of their dance. The emotion of the scene was quite palpable.

"There is something of [Jayne] Torvill and [Christopher] Dean in this team," a journalist suggested as he watched Papadakis and Cizeron skate their short dance Wednesday.

The team elected to skate to "Adagio" from Concerto No. 23 by Mozart, who probably would have been happy to see the way his music was interpreted by the duo. They were so delicate in the way they touched the ice -- so fast in their turns. They were so pure in their edges and so elegant in their upper-body postures. They were so involved in their story and so much in harmony with one another and with their music. Their twizzles and three lifts were rated Level 4, and their step sequences gained Level 3. Their components were superlative as well, with more than 9.30 for performance, choreography and interpretation.

"We are still very young," Cizeron. "We still have a lot more to come, but winning a gold medal here is already a big goal that we have accomplished."

Cappellini, dressed in a Bordeaux light-red dress, and Lanotte, dressed in plain black, skated a passionnate rendering of "Danse Macabre" by Camille Saint-Saëns. Their three lifts were rated Level 4 and their step sequences were rated Level 3. Most importantly, they proved to themselves and to the world that they should not be counted out heading into the world championships.

"This was probably the most stressful competition of our lives," Cappellini said with tears in her eyes. "We had such a rocky start to our season, not even being sure that we could keep competing at the level we had last year." 

"Tonight there could not be any better ending than this performance and this medal," Lanotte said. "We can still compete at a high level. We want to keep going."

Just like the French team, the Italian duo topped the 100-point bar for their free dance, which was also, of course, a new season's best for them.

"We are crazily happy!" Bukin exclaimed after he and his partner, Stepanova, won the bronze medal.

Their free skate to the Beatles' famous tune, "Eleanor Rigby," was both smooth and deep at the same time.

"We did not see the other programs and did not know that some competitors had made mistakes, so we did not know that we had a chance to make the podium," Stepanova said. "When we came off of the ice, our coaches said they liked it, so that was good! I am actually in shock about the result. It is like our biggest dream came true. I don't know if it was our best performance, as I would need to look at the video to be sure, but emotionally, it was one of the best. Usually I feel empty at the end of my program, but this time I felt happiness."

Ilinykh and Zhiganshin would probably have loved to repeat the technical scores they recorded in the short dance. Their free to "Appassionata" by Secret Garden and "Antony and Cleopatra Theme" by Ferrante and Teicher was supposed to be dramatic, but it turned out to be even more dramatic for them for other reasons.

They opened with a fantastic rotational lift, but made a slight error on their twizzles, the first series of which was slightly unsynchronized. They completely missed their subsequent straight line lift, when the back of Ilinykh's right blade slipped over Zhiganshin's right leg and made a wide cut in his pants. They seemed so shocked that Zhiganshin nearly fell during the diagonal step sequence that followed. These visible errors disrupted the flow of their dance and significantly lowered their technical marks. They did not receive points for their missed lift, and suffered a costly deduction on the step sequence. They finished eighth in the free dance and much further down on the technical elements.

"Terrible mistakes have happened before in my career," Ilinykh said coming off the ice. "What is done is done. The skate was not awful today, but obviously without the lift you can't get much. It's a shame, because it was a good skate, and the emotions were good."

"It feels OK; it does not hurt," Zhiganshin said. "Afterward, I tried to smile even more as if nothing had happened, but of course, everybody could see."

Spain's Sara Hurtado and Adrià Díaz deserve a special mention for their powerful rendering of their "Love is Beautiful" free dance. They entered into the European top five for the first time in their career.

Italy's Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri were also quite successful with the Swedish audience, especially when they skated their Irish dance at an incredible speed.

"We try to skate as the ISU (International Skating Union) requires," Fabbri said after taking sixth place. "We work a lot on unison to find a good connection in order to do very fast transitions yet remain very close to one another."

Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin, the 2011 world junior champions, were heavily penalized for their paso doble and could not place better than 11th in the short dance. They gave an emotional rendering of "Sarabande" by Escala and "Sarabande Suite (Aeterna)" by Globus. Their three lifts earned Level 4's, as did their twizzles. Their step sequences were rated Level 2. They amassed 90.95 points for their free dance and 149.29 points overall. They placed sixth in the free dance and 10th overall in their first European championships appearance.

Slovakia's Federica Testa and Lukáš Csölley could not hold on to their fifth-place standing entering the free and had to settle for eighth overall. Their expressive "Welcome to the Circus" performance concluded the evening and was warmly applauded.

"I act as the presentator of the circus, and she is a dancer, whom I try to bring into the circus and into the show," Csölley explained. "We wanted to make it a story."

The 2014 European bronze medalists, Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland were Great Britain's most serious chance at medaling in these championships. They had to withdraw before the free dance because of illness, just like Buckland's brother, Joseph, had to withdraw with his partner, Olivia Smart, before the short dance.