Ice Network

Volosozhar, Trankov cruise to fourth European title

Germans take silver despite lift troubles; Tarasova, Morozov retain bronze
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Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov rode their first-place 'Dracula' free skate to their fourth European title in five years (the only time they didn't win was last season, when they didn't compete). The Russians' 21.88-point margin of victory was the largest of any of their four triumphs. -Getty Images

Athough Russia's Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov had already made a strong statement with their short program performance at the 2016 European Figure Skating Championships, many wondered how the Olympic champions' free skate would turn out.

It was brilliant, and the Russian duo took the gold medal in their return to this event after a year away in decisive fashion, finishing with a competition total of 222.66 -- 21.88 points ahead silver medalists Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany (200.78). Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov took their second straight European bronze medal with a total score of 197.55 points.

Volosozhar and Trankov skated their program to the empathetic music of Bram Stoker's Dracula soundtrack. They landed a powerful triple twist and side-by-side triple salchow-double toe combinations, followed by a huge throw triple flip underlined by the power of their music. They went on to perform side-by-side triple toes (she two-footed the landing) and a throw triple loop. Two of their lifts were rated Level 3, as was their death spiral and one of their spins.

Their death spiral was interesting to watch, as both partners marked the beat of the music with their arms. They received 142.89 points for their free, a new season's best.

"Our program today was not the best, but it was not bad. And the most important thing is that we win. We are getting better and better at every competition, so it's encouraging," Trankov confirmed.

Savchenko and Massot were, again, warmly and loudly applauded after their performance. It was, however, not the routine they were hoping for, as they endured major mistakes on their last two lifts. Massot could not hold his partner on the first one and bent his arm during the second, and each was invalidated. The two errors cost the duo at least 14 points, but it was not enough for them lose the silver medal. Their program did start quite well, however, with what was arguably the highest triple twist of the field, followed by side-by-side double toe-triple toe combinations and side-by-side triple salchows. Their death spiral was a delight to watch. They received 125.24 points for their free skate, the third-best segment of the evening behind Tarasova and Morozov.

Their silver medal felt like a near miracle.

"It had started rather badly," explained Jean-François Ballester, who coaches the team with Alexander König. "Last Monday, Aliona got a bad lumbago (lower back pain) while landing a triple lutz. She had to go to the hospital as an emergency, and she got an injection. Things have improved since, fortunately."

"I was really surprised," a disappointed Massot admitted afterward. "Usually, I never miss a lift. I was so sad, but then realizing the overall result made me pretty happy."

"We tried to fight," a comforting Savchenko said. "We are really happy with that first medal. We always learn from our mistakes. It's actually really nice to come back."

Tarasova and Morozov skated a delightful routine to Frédéric Chopin's piano music. Their program featured a high triple twist and side-by-side triple salchows. After their planned triple toe-double toe-double toe combination was reduced to a double-double-single, they landed a throw triple loop that she two-footed and a throw triple salchow. Chopin's crystalline music emphasized their pure lines, which included a special poetic moment as she landed their throw triple salchow to the last notes of Chopin's "Prelude." They received 127.38 points for their free, a new season's best.

"This was a hard free program for us," Morozov admitted. "Skating early in the morning (in the practice, then in actual competition) made for extreme conditions, which may explain why we had to fight so much. I felt like we were in cosmos."

France's Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès skated first in the second-to-last group. Their program was not quite perfect, but they also significantly increased its difficulty level. They had planned to land side-by-side triple toe-triple toe combinations, but she doubled the last jump. A throw quad salchow followed, and their three lifts received Level 4's. They earned 123.45 points for their free, a new personal best, and 185.55 points overall, also a personal best. The effort raised the team one spot from the short program to fourth place.

"It's getting much better," James said when she stepped off the ice. "We are the only team to have included a quad in our program here, so we're happy about that, even though I didn't trust myself enough on the second triple toe of our combination."

"We're taking risks. When we'll master them completely, they will pay off, for sure," Ciprès said.

Italy's Valentina Marchei and Ondřej Hotárek rose from eighth place to fifth overall following their free skate. They landed their trademark side-by-side triple lutzes and side-by-side triple salchow-double toe-double toe combinations, in addition to twothrow triples (loop and lutz). Their performance netted 124.14 points, making it the fourth-best routine of the segment.

Their program to a medley of 70s music was an instant hit with the audience. Their partnership seems to have opened a new door for Hotárek, featuring charisma on the ice, which he has mastered this season.

"That's the real Ondřej who is coming out there," Marchei explained with a laugh. "Each time he is practicing, I see him dance loose on the ice. So I said to myself, 'Why not try the 70s?' These years are our last ones as competitors. If we don't have fun now, we never will!"

They received 7.75 points on average for their components, and 8.04 points for interpretation -- rightfully so.

The pairs wrapped up their short programs and other duties around 6 p.m. Friday night, and theyn came back in the early morning Saturday for their final practices before the start of the free skate at 10 a.m. 

"I don't know why, since 2014, the organizers have made the schedule so crazy for pairs when we have these hard elements. It's especially hard for the girls," Trankov said.

Although the timing was quite unusual, the rink was sold out, with people sitting all the way to the roof. Pairs remains one of skating's favorite disciplines!