Ice Network

Russia sweeps pairs competition in Stockholm

Kavaguti, Smirnov claim second Euro title; Stolbova, Klimov disappointed
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Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov outpaced their teammates in the pairs competition, topping an all-Russian podium at the 2015 European Figure Skating Championships. -Getty Images

The final event of the 2015 European Figure Skating Championships, the pairs free skate, saw another Russian sweep of the podium Sunday morning in Stockholm, Sweden, a day after the country accomplished the same feat in the ladies competition. The event turned out to be the most dramatic of the entire week. No one could have imagined its outcome, or even the way it unfolded.

Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, who skated last in the event, controlled their own destiny and did not let it slip by them. They won the free skate and the European title with 207.67 points, ahead of Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, who came away with a score of 201.11. Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, the 2014 world junior silver medalists, came in third to win their first European medal with 183.02 points. Italy's Valentina Marchei and Ondřej Hotárek, who were a sensation in the short program, finished fourth with 175.39 points.

Unlike in the men's competition, few falls marred the pairs free. Instead, the most devastating mishaps were missed elements. France's Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès, who stepped on the ice in third place, completely missed their Group 5 Axel lift, which, if executed, is one of the highest-scoring technical elements. Stolbova and Klimov took the ice right after the French team, and performed their program with their usual perfection, but they were not even able to perform their final throw triple Salchow. Klimov fell exactly when he should have launched the jump. Those errors, combined with the excellent skate of their direct competitors, contributed to the final result.

Kavaguti and Smirnov were the last competitors to skate in these championships. They landed their side-by-side triple toe-triple toe combination and double Axel perfectly, and then revved up their season's new trick: A throw quad Salchow, which she landed cleanly. The audience roared in awe, and from that point on they were the crowd's favorites. The audience wildly applauded throughout the rest of their program.

They, too, nearly had a missed element, when Smirnov was unable to hold Kavaguti's position in their final Group 3 lift. But Smirnov did the job and, holding his partner in quite an uncomfortable position on his back, made as many turns as he had to, to validate the lift. It was only rated a Level 2, however, and received a negative Grade of Execution.

"I felt great throughout the performance, until that last lift," Smirnov offered as he left the ice. "I had given everything I had and my last strength went to the throw loop, so I had no energy left. We're just so happy to be the 2015 European champions. There are just no other words."

The applause that greated them was nearly as monumental as the music they skated to, "Manfred Symphony" by Tchaikovsky. That music gave an incredible rendering of the drama that had just taken place in the Stockholm Globe. Kavaguti and Smirnov amassed 137.81 points for their free skate, with the best element (67.69 points) and component (70.12 points) scores of the field.

Stolbova and Klimov had been perfect all week long. Each one of their practices to Notre-Dame de Paris, the popular musical by Richard Cocciante, was like a world-class performance in itself. They opened with a beautiful triple twist, but Stolbova two-footed their subsequent throw triple flip. Their three lifts were rated Level 4, as was their death spiral. Then came the last element of their program, that ususally breathtaking triple throw Salchow they place at the very last second of their program. That's when Klimov fell.

"There is nothing I can say. Everything was bad. It was bad from the start and it was bad at the end," Klimov said after with his head down. "This was our worst performance, so there's nothing to enjoy here."

They scored 129.75 for their free skate. The silver medal was no consolation to the duo.

Tarasova and Morozov skated to Lionel Ritchie's "Hello." Their triple twist was rated Level 4, the only one of the field. Their side-by-side triple Salchow and triple toe-double toe combination were both excellent, as were their throws. They amassed 125.89 points for their free -- a new season's best -- with 64.08 points for their technical elements, notably above Stolbova's and Klimov's (who amassed 61.38 points).

"We had nothing to lose today," Tarasova said. "We weren't nervous and we managed to do nearly everything we set out to do."

"We're very happy -- happy with our performance, happy with our skating, happy with our technical elements," Morozov added.

Marchei and Hotárek landed in the very same place that he and his former partner, Stefania Berton, finished in last year's European championships: fourth. Their free to the soundtrack of La Strada, Federico Fellini's movie, was a delight to watch, as it was so lively and powerful -- and yet so delicately skated at times. They landed their side-by-side triple Lutz successfully, adding 7.30 points right away to their tally. Their two throws, the flip and the Salchow, were impressively huge, with Marchei landing several meters away from her partner. Their only mistake was on a side-by-side combination, as she doubled their planned triple Salchow. They amassed 117.44 points for their free, topping their season's best by more than five points.

James and Ciprès wanted to keep the third place they had earned in the short so badly. They opened their Angels and Demons program quite successfully, landing their side-by-side triple toe-double toe-double toe combination. James could only land a double Salchow, however. Their throws were perfect, their spins were rated Level 3 and two of their lifts gained Level 4. The missing lift, however, cost them fourth place. They scored 107.16 points for their free skate, finishing with 167.29 points overall.

"It was a misunderstanding," James explained. "I was on the wrong side of Morgan, as I was prepared to do another lift. We knew we were not allowed to make any mistakes here, and we made two."

"I had a bit of a lack of concentration," Ciprès admitted. "We are more than disappointed."