Ice Network

Cappellini, Lanotte top world champions in short

Papadakis, Cizeron solid in international return; Bobrova, Soloviev third
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Italy's Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte took the first step toward reclaiming their title Thursday, taking a 1.57-point lead over reigning champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France in the short dance. -Getty Images

There is always a competition within the competition at the European championships, as the standings at the event influence who will compete at the world championships.

At the 2016 European Figure Skating Championships on Thursday, Italy's Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte came out in first place in a short dance filled with waltzes, foxtrots, marches and polkas. The Italians scored 72.31 points, 1.57 points ahead of France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who returned to international competition for the first time since Papadakis suffered a concussion at the end of August. Russia's Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev held onto their status as the top Russian ice dance team and will head to the free dance in third place, 3.60 points behind the Italians (68.71 points).

Rather interestingly, all three leading teams entered these championships with a European title under their belts.

Cappellini and Lanotte produced a grandioso rendering of Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow. They garnered four Level 4 elements, including their partial step sequence; along with Denmark's Laurence Fournier-Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen, they were only one of two couples to complete the element at that level. Only their second pattern was rated Level 3. The Italians were the only team to top the nine-point bar for their components, which were the highest in the field.

"We were fairly happy with our short dance," Cappellini said afterward. "We made of lot of changes to prepare for these Europeans, and I think it already was worthwhile. The second part we changed a lot, and of course, at the same time, we still feel that it's new. So we could not do as many run-throughs of that part. We feel it was about 90 percent today. This is very encouraging for the world championships."

Complete silence took over the arena as Papadakis and Cizeron started their short dance to music from Wallis & Edward. Only the engines of cameras could be heard around the rink. That silence emphasized the purity of their edges, as the silence remained well into their short dance.

"Their flow on the ice is beautiful," 1980 Olympic gold medalist and showman Robin Cousins offered at the end of their performance. "It's smooth, it's elegant, and it's silent."

The French team has kept working on its trademark flow and speed on the ice, making each one of their steps a magical moment.

"This year, we tried to bring more spirit from the free dance into the short dance, flow and interpretation in particular," Cizeron explained. "It's hard, of course, because there are so many technical elements to perform in a short dance. I think, also, that the waltz fits us better than last year's paso doble, so that helped us to bring the flow into our short dance."

The team received Level 4's for each of its elements, with the exception of their step sequence.

"We're very happy with our performance. It's great to come back, and we did the best we could do today," Papadakis said. "We had more pressure, as people were expecting more from us after last year's victories, but we were in our bubble and skated well."

The finishes in the short dance mirrored those of the final standings at the Russian championships, with Bobrova and Soloviev, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin taking third, fourth and fifth, respectively.

Bobrova and Soloviev delivered a clean performance to Aram Khatchaturian's "Masquerade Waltz" and Sergei Prokofiev's "Montagues and Capulets" from Romeo and Juliet, earning Level 4's for both of their Ravensburger Waltz patterns and their lift. Their twizzles and steps were rated Level 3.

"We are very pleased to be back at the European championships after two seasons without competing here," Soloviev said. "We feel that we are coming with a renewed energy."

Russia's Sinitsina and Katsalapov did not qualify for the European championships during their first season together, but they did not let the chance pass by this season. Dancing to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, they garnered 68.33 points, a new personal-best. Their first Ravensburger pattern, twizzles and lifts were rated Level 4, while their step sequence and second pattern gained Level 3. They demonstrated the unison they have developed over the past two years.

"Melding two styles into one is a long process," said Maurizio Margaglio, the Italian 2001 world champion with partner Barbara Fusar-Poli, who coaches the team alongside Marina Zoueva and Oleg Epstein in the summer. "You work a lot on the basics to get the same rhythm of the action. That's the biggest part of our job. You're lucky when their styles are similar. You need to work on the very primitive part of skating -- the way you produce the push. Fine tuning comes much later. You have to assemble the marble before building the statue."

One of the strongest assets that Stepanova and Bukin have may be their reliability. The duo won the bronze medal last year at this event, and they skated their waltz and foxtrot to music from the soundtrack of The Stunt Man, highlighting their long edges, precise footwork and great unison. They received Level 4's for both of their Ravensburger patterns, their lift and their twizzles. Their elements (33.50 points) remained up to par with those of Sinitsina and Katsalapov (33.91), but their components were slightly lower (33.15 versus 34.42). They are the youngest of the three Russian teams, and arguably the most talented, too. They received 66.65 points overall, a new season's best.

Israel's Isabella Tobias and Ilia Tkachenko took the ice with the first group competitors, as this event marked their first ISU championship together. Tobias, in a light blue dress, and Tkachenko, dressed as a prince (of course), danced to Patrick Doyle's Cinderella. The performance featured Tobias' trademark deep and long edges, where she likes to bend over the ice from one edge to the next.

"A waltz is skated in waves," she explained, "And (coach) Igor [Shpilband] really draws on the Ravensburger. It's so easy to skate with Ilia, as we have the same style. The work is never done, of course, but it never feels like a job."

They amassed 64.46 points for their short dance, a total that kept them in first place for much of the afternoon until Sinitsina and Katsalapov finished their routine. The Israelis sit in seventh place, right behind Italy's Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri, who delivered a very lively waltz.