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Fernández lands two quads to set pace in men's

Kovtun 14.45 points back in second; Březina third; Bychenko in contention
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Entering as a heavy favorite to win his fourth straight European title, Spain's Javier Fernández cracked the 100-point mark in a short program for the first time in his career, landing two quads in his "Malagueña" routine. The world champion took a commanding 14.45-point lead after coming away with 102.54 points. -Getty Images

During his incredible practice sessions at the 2016 European Figure Skating Championships, Spain's Javier Fernández demonstrated that he had the ability to hit the 100-point bar in his short program, just like Yuzuru Hanyu did a few weeks ago. That's just what he did in Bratislava, Slovakia, in the most brilliant way -- by skating perfectly. He came away with 102.54 points, 14.45 points ahead of second-place finisher Maxim Kovtun of Russia.

Three men managed to land two quads in their routines: Fernández, Kovtun and Israel's Daniel Samohin. They sit in first, second and fourth place heading into the free skate Thursday night. Michal Březina is in third place.

Watching Fernández's program was an event in and of itself. Right from the start, the whole rink was concentrating hard so as not to miss his first trick. During the first seconds of his program, you could savor the energy-packed silence that surrounded his skating. Then, all at once, the arena exploded in a roar of applause for his quad toe-triple toe combination. Then came another silence followed by a roar, after his quad salchow, and the same happened for his triple axel.

The applause did not dissipate until the end of his "Malagueña routine," in large part because the Spaniard knew how to entertain his audience. Fernández's spins and step sequence were rated Level 4.

He, of course, received a standing ovation at the end.

Fernández took the risk of including two quads in his short program.

"It's an idea we had in our minds for quite some time," he admitted. "Then, after the (Grand Prix) Final, Brian [Orser] suggested that I try it at Spain's nationals. Then I decided to try it here as well.

"Including two quads in a short program is a huge risk. You can make a small mistake, and it can drop you to fifth or sixth place," Fernández continued. "If I'm able to perform an otherwise perfect program, with technical content, then it's an important milestone. Now I have it!

"This is a really complicated program, and I think everybody was able to see it," he added. "First time going beyond the 100 points is really important for me. That's what we really were aiming for here. It means a lot to me."

Kovtun skated last of the 35 competitors. He landed a wonderful quad salchow-triple toe, followed by a quad toe. He fell on his triple axel, which left him visibly upset after the routine. He amassed 88.08 points, a new season's best.

"I would give me a five out of five, and I'm happy, even after the fall on the axel," he said. "I usually have problems with my steps, but this time I skated them quite well. I received Level 4's for my spins and a Level 3 for the steps. ... As for the axel, it's not the first time I've made a mistake on it. I'm currently re-learning my triple axel. It's improving but still not as good as I would like yet."

The heart of the crowd, of course, beat a little stronger when Březina, from the nearby Czech Republic, took the ice, the first of the last group to skate. Březina opened with a fine triple axel but fell on his quad salchow. The rest of his program was flawless. His three spins and step sequence earned Level 4's, and he received 84.30 points, a new season's best.

"Everybody enjoyed it. I enjoyed it, so what more can I ask for? I'm happy that my coach pushed me to do so many competitions this year," Březina said. "I learned from each and every competition what I needed to work on. Here, I felt like training. Of course, mistakes happen; the ice is slippery. We did well, and it worked."

The Israeli team made history in Bratislava, with two of its athletes skating in the final group: Samohin and Alexei Bychenko. Both train in the United States, and both delivered solid performances. Samohin landed his two quads but fell on his triple axel. Bychenko landed his quad toe loop and triple axel. Both reached the 80-point bar (84.09 points for Bychenko, 82.73 for Samohin). They sit in fourth and fifth place, respectively, heading into the free skate.

When France's Florent Amodio took the ice in Bratislava, he knew that this would be the final competitive short program of his career. He did not let the opportunity pass by, as he delivered a clean performance. He tripled his planned opening quad salchow, but his triple axel was clean, as was his triple lutz-triple toe combination. He gave a poetic rendition of Pharell Williams' "Happy."

Amodio received one of the warmest ovations of the night from the audience. "You can take a break," as the lyrics of the song went.

"If I skate like this tomorrow, I will have achieved my objective," Amodio said.

Amodio will enter the free skate in eighth place, just behind Italy's Ivan Righini and Belgium's Jorik Hendrickx.