Ice Network

Fernández primed for fourth straight European title

Volosozhar, Trankov favored in pairs; Russian sweep possible in ladies
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Spain's Javier Fernández is a heavy favorite at the 2016 European Figure Skating Championships after his memorable performance at the 2015 Grand Prix Final. -Getty Images

Just a few days after fans in the United States and Canada celebrated their new champions, the world of skating is turning its focus to Europe, as the 2016 European Figure Skating Championships are set to get underway this weekend in Bratislava, Slovakia.

The European championships were the first international competition organized by the International Skating Union, back in 1891. At the time, they were open to non-European skaters as well, which established the event as one of the most prominent skating competitions in the world.

Since the U.S.S.R. returned to international competitions in 1956, the Russian team has always made its home at the European championships, winning frequently in all four disciplines. This year should be no exception, with potential podium sweeps possible in ladies and pairs.

Pairs

So many champions have said it before: "A competition is always a competition, regardless of who favorites are."

This sentiment will prove true again in Bratislava. Only a few days ago, Russia's Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov were considered the favorites in pairs. The duo's showing at the 2015 Grand Prix Final in December left no doubt: They skated perfectly in both segments, including an unprecedented side-by-side, triple toe-triple toe-double toe combination in their free skate. Unfortunately, Stolbova and Klimov will not compete in Bratislava after the Russian Federation announced last Monday that Klimov had injured his shoulder in practice.

Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, the reigning Olympic gold medalists, became the team to beat in Bratislava in a matter of hours. After sitting out last season, the star Russian team won each of its competitions this season (The Nebelhorn Trophy, Trophée Eric Bompard and the Russian championships).

Last year's European champions, Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, will not skate in Bratislava, either, after Kavaguti ruptured a tendon on a bad fall earlier this month. Kavaguti underwent surgery, and the team was forced to withdraw from the remainder of its competitions, including the world championships.

In addition to Volosozhar and Trankov, this year's championship will also feature a main fixture in pairs the past two Olympics. Five-time world champion Aliona Savchenko of Germany will compete with her new partner, Bruno Massot, after Massot finally obtained his release from the French Federation on Oct. 26.

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who won bronze at the 2015 European Championships, and Kristina Astakhova and Alexei Rogonov, round out the Russian pairs teams in Bratislava.

France's Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès, who skated beautifully at 2015 Trophée Eric Bompard, are eager to win a European medal, after their fourth and fifth place finishes at the 2014 and '15 championships, respectively. The French team has always considered making the European podium one of its top priorities. Italian teams will also be well represented, with Valentina Marchei and Ondřej Hotárek, who placed fourth at this event last year, and Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise set to compete.

Men

Who can prevent Spain's Javier Fernández from winning his fourth European gold medal in a row? At the 2015 Grand Prix Final, there was no question in the men's competition: Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu won beyond anything imaginable, and Fernández was the best of all the other human skaters, achieving what could have been a world record if not for Hanyu's performance, with a total of 292.95 points.

Fernández' strongest competition might come from the Russians. Maxim Kovtun won the 2015 Russian Championships and is still looking to bring his country a major international victory. Mikhail Kolyada and Alexander Petrov will also try to prove that they belong.

Several former European medalists will also compete in Bratislava. After winning bronze in 2013, the Czech Republic's Michal Březina hopes to get back on the podium after placing fourth and fifth the past two years. France's Florent Amodio has announced that he will retire after these European championships. Amodio will be France's only representative after Chafik Besseghier withdrew due to injury.

Ice dance

The 2014-15 season was the first of the quadrennial leading to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, and many thought that the top teams in ice dance would be locked in for the next three seasons. This was not to be, however.

French duo Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who surprisingly won both the European and world titles last season, were forced to sit out the first part of this season after Papadakis suffered a concussion in late August. They won their first competiton in decisive fashion at the French championships. This competition should give a clear indication of what kind of shape they are in, and whether the magic they displayed in their free dance last year is indeed back again this season.

Italy's Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte bounced back from their poor performances during the 2014 Grand Prix Series with a brilliant first half of the 2015-16 season, which culminated with a bronze medal the 2015 Grand Prix Final. They will fight for their second European title.

Russia will be represented by 2013 European champions Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, and 2015 European bronze medalists Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin. Katsalapov, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist with Elena Ilinykh, managed to make the Russian team at Europeans with his new partner for the first time. Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin placed fourth at the Russian championships, 0.54 point short of making the team.

Great Britain's Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland, the 2014 European bronze medalists, will also fight for the podium in Bratislava.

Ladies

Over the past few seasons, the Russian championships have held major implications for the landscape of ladies skating at international events, as the competition decides who from the huge field of talented Russian skaters will represent the country.

The three Russian Ladies who medaled at Russian championships will headline the ladies event in Bratislava: reigning Grand Prix Final Champion Evgenia Medvedeva, 16, 2015 European bronze medalist Elena Radionova, 17, and 2015 European bronze medalist Anna Pogorilaya, 17.

Three of Russia's most famous skaters did not qualify for the team: Olympic gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova, 2014 European gold medalist Julia Lipnitskaia, and 2015 European and world champion Elizaveta Tuktamisheva.