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Tuktamisheva overtakes Radionova to win gold

Russia pulls off medal sweep; Helgesson sisters finish fourth, fifth
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Russia pulled off the first podium sweep in the ladies event at the European championships since 2002 -- when Maria Butyrskaya, Irina Slutskaya and Victoria Volchkova won gold, silver and bronze, respectively, for Russia. -Getty Images

Russia's Elizaveta Tuktamisheva and Elena Radionova delivered perfect programs Saturday afternoon in Stockholm, Sweden, to win the gold and silver medals, respectively, at the 2015 European Championships.

Unlike the men's event, which was marred by seemingly countless falls, the question was not who would make fewer mistakes than the others -- it was who would skate more perfectly than the rest.

Radionova was first after the short program, but Tuktamisheva beat her season's-best free skate score by more than six points to overtake her teammate. Anna Pogorilaya took the bronze, some 11 points behind Tuktamisheva, to complete yet another Russian sweep of the ladies medals at the European championships.

Sweden managed a strong showing in the country's capital, as Joshi and Viktoria Helgesson took fourth and fifth place, respectively. Kiira Korpi, who had made a promising comeback two days ago (she finished fourth in the short program), had to withdraw in the morning due to a stomach bug and fever.

More than 8,000 people, among them Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and her husband and daughter, gathered in the Stockholm Globe to watch the ladies free skate. Was the turnout so numerous -- the largest of the week, in fact -- because the Swedes, like many others, enjoy ladies figure skating? Or was it because the Helgesson sisters, the two "homegirls," were due to skate in the last group?

In any case, the atmosphere was explosive when Tuktamisheva ended her routine. She landed all of her elements as naturally as if they were completely embedded into her choreography. Her opening triple Lutz-double toe-double loop scored 10.40 points, and her triple toe-triple toe brought in 10.42 points. Her three spins were rated Level 4.

Tuktamisheva won the free program with 141.38 points (her previous season's best was 136.06) and the event with 210.40.

"I am very pleased with my jumps, especially the Lutz," a radiant Tuktamisheva said. "I am very happy to be the new European champion, but I want to also congratulate everyone on this podium. I am proud of the three of us."

If ever victory could be procured from the way a skater dances with her arms and head in tune with her music, then that's what Tuktamisheva did Saturday. Her Middle Eastern-inspired program, which she skated to "Batwannis Beek" and "Sandstorm," instantaneously sparked the crowd, which applauded throughout the performance.

"I want to give different emotions to the audience and the judges, because it prevents them from getting bored," she said laughingly.

Her component scores ranged from 8.18 (for transitions) to 8.71 (for performance), and were also the best of the field.

"Well, I am in a very good mood right now!" she concluded, her eyes sparkling.

Skating to Rachmaninoff pieces, Radionova amassed 139.08 points for her free and 209.54 points overall, just 0.86 points less than Tuktamisheva. She went from one element to the next as if each one insisted on being landed perfectly. Her triple Lutz-triple toe garnered 11.40 points, and her triple loop-triple toe won her 11.98 points, making those the two highest-scoring elements in the event. Her three spins were also rated Level 4.

"I'm so happy that I was able to show my best performance at my first European championships, where I wanted to skate well so badly," Radionova said. "It was so important for me to put in a great performance here. This is a very successful debut for me, as I skated my two programs perfectly."

Radionova has worked to add some interesting choreographic arm movements and acting to her routine, which densified its content and enhanced its interest. Her components came out slightly lower than Tuktamisheva's, ranging from 8.21 (for transitions; interestingly, higher than Tuktamisheva's) to 8.54 (for performance and interpretation).

Tuktamisheva and Radionova each landed the same number of triple jumps -- seven. But watching the two skate, one could see how Radionova's jumps were the more visible part of her program compared to Tuktamisheva's, which seemed to be integrated consistently into her choreography.

Pogorilaya did not seem satisfied as she finished her routine, but she held on to third place. She landed her opening triple Lutz-triple toe combination, followed by another triple-triple combination (loop-Salchow); in half a minute, she had amassed 21.3 points. Her subsequent elements were not completely perfect, but she nonetheless garnered 125.71 points for her free program and 191.81 points overall.

"The beginning of my program was good, but then, I don't know, maybe I was tired. The entry to the flip was not good, and I had to touch down with my hand (to keep my balance), and that led to the next mistake (a hand down on her Lutz)," Pogorilaya said. "I am very happy to be a European medalist, but the last part of my program was, let's say, a mixed success."

Pogorilaya chose Igor Stravinski's Firebird for her music this season, and she feels the piece's tone enhances her presentation.

"Firebird feels close to me. There are some cheerful and some harsh notes in it, which correspond to my character," Pogorilaya said.

Joshi Helgesson concluded the afternoon with her modern choreography, set to the soundtrack of Snow White and the Huntsmen. She landed all of her elements, including two combinations: a triple Lutz-double toe and triple toe-double toe. She received 109.52 points for her free program, some 17 more than her previous season's best, and 169.07 points overall.

"It feels unbelievable; I could never expect to skate like this," Helgesson said. "I think I could hear all my friends screaming while I was skating!"

Her sister, Viktoria, who on paper had more difficult elements than Joshi, did not fare quite as well, however, as she tumbled on her triple Salchow and fell heavily on her triple toe. She did land a triple loop-double Axel combo, and amassed 106.02 points for her free program and 166.39 points overall.

"I'm really happy with how it went," Viktoria said. "Just, my leg 'died' after my fall, and it was a bit hard to breathe. That's why I had some problems in the end."

Now the big question will be which of the two sisters will be selected for worlds, since Sweden can only send one skater to Shanghai.

France's Maé-Bérénice Méité had decided to increase the technical difficulty of her free program. She fell on the first part of her planned triple Lutz-triple toe combination, put a hand down on her triple flip and two-footed her double Axel-triple toe combination. The triple Salchow-triple toe combination she added at the last second was perfect, however.

"This, of course, was not what I expected," a rather disappointed Méité said when she left the ice. "I can skate this program faultless in practice, even though I know it's difficult."

She ended in ninth place in the free and sixth overall, with 100.63 points for her free program and 156.47 points overall.

Tuktamisheva, Radionova and Pogorilaya already had their eyes set toward Shanghai.

"Maybe we'll repeat this podium sweep at worlds?" Tuktamisheva suggested mischeviously. "It's all in our hands!"