Ice Network

Tarasova, Morozov earn coveted European title

Russians hold off impressive charge from runners-up Savchenko, Massot
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Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov were first after the short program, and with another solid performance, the pair remained atop the field. Their event total of 227.58 points -- which included 146.76 points for their John Miles free skate -- helped the Russians earn their first European gold medal. -Getty Images

Russia's Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov managed to preserve some of the momentum they built during the short program to win their first European title, five weeks after having won the 2016 Grand Prix Final. The duo edged Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, who won the free skate. France's Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès, who were longing for a medal position at this event, finally accomplished their goal by earning bronze.

All three couples outclassed their season's best: Tarasova and Morozov by 11.51 points, Savchenko and Massot by 10.20 and James and Ciprès by 12.52.

Figure skating, and especially pairs skating, has remained quite popular in the Czech Republic, and although this event was held on a Thursday night, the pairs free program at the 2017 European Figure Skating Championships filled the Ostravar Arena with an enthusiastic and cheerful crowd.

Tarasova and Morozov knew they would need to skate a clean program to capture their first European crown. They opted not to add their season's biggest feat, the quad twist, choosing the triple instead. The Russians followed with powerful side-by-side triple salchows, where their determination and commitment to their craft were obvious.

They landed a throw triple salchow and throw triple loop, and side-by-side triple toe-double toe combinations. Despite their spiral, final lift and spin receiving Level 2 grading, they were able to hold onto the top spot with 227.58 points.

"We were emotional while skating, but now we feel empty, like squeezed lemons," Morozov said as he left the ice. "This is a pleasant exhaustion, though. We are very satisfied, as we demonstrated good skating in both programs, even despite a tiny mistake at the end of the free program today. We are getting better and better with every year; we are growing up, and our skating becomes more mature."

"Winning gold at the Europeans means a lot to us," Tarasova added. "We believe that our main victories and gold medals are still to come, and this motivates us to grow."

Savchenko and Massot, performing to Patrick Watson's "Lighthouse," completed a huge triple twist and side-by-side triple toe-double toe combinations, followed by side-by-side triple salchows. Their throw double axel and throw triple salchow were perfect, and each of their death spiral, two spins and three lifts were rated Level 4. The Germans amassed 148.59 points for their free program, the best score of the evening, and 222.35 points overall. Their components were high as well, ranging from 9.18 for transitions to 9.57 for choreography.

"The last three months and the comeback were really difficult and painful for us," Massot explained. "We are overwhelmed, but everything went better than we could have imagined. It was hard for Aliona, but also for me, because I was behind her and tried to help her. Now we're back. We do everything to win, and this is the message we want to share."

"This medal is more than gold to me," Savchenko added. "Every medal has a special story. This one will have a very special one also."  

The poetry and romanticism of their music emphasized the power of each of their elements, including their jumps and unique lifts. Massot has made himself a trademark of one-arm lifts, something that was once again evident in the free skate.

"The lighthouse of our music is the light at the end of a tunnel," he said. "When you're injured, you can see the light. When you fall, you stand back. This music gives us so much energy."

While Savchenko and Massot delivered a rousing performance, James and Ciprès continued to build on the tremendous progress they've made this season while working with coach John Zimmerman and his team in Florida. On this night, not one element would elude them.

Their triple twist was rated Level 3, a marked improvement on the lower grades they've received in past events. They landed their side-by-side triple toe-double toe-double toe combinations in sync, as well as their side-by-side triple salchows. They risked the only quad of the evening -- a throw quad salchow -- which the technical panel validated, even though their Grade of Execution (GOE) resulted in the loss of two points. Their throw triple flip was perfect, and, much like the Germans, their six remaining elements were all rated Level 4.

Amassing the highest technical score of the evening, the French pair garnered 145.84 points for their free and 220.02 points overall, which left them in a euphoric state.

"We were never as happy as we are today," a radiating James said as she left the ice. "Of course, we were also happy yesterday, but we needed to stay concentrated for today, and we are so proud now."

"It's just fantastic," Ciprès added. "We have worked and sacrificed so much over the past few years. This third-place finish is for sure another step in the right direction. This is also the first medal for a French pairs team in 14 years."

James and Ciprès skated their free program to Disturbed's "The Sound of Silence." The music may have offered the perfect frame of quietness and deep certitude the French team needed to perform a high-quality program.

"This music really builds and the audience reacts to it, which we can feel as we skate," James said. "You never get tired of this song, and we can play it endlessly."

One of the main unknowns of these European championships was certainly the form of Russian champions and Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov. They delivered a most interesting program, set to "Après la Pluie" and "Pomeriggio," which included the best side-by-side triple toe-double toe-double toe combinations of the event.

Hampered by a nagging wrist injury, Klimov has not been able complete various lifts with the command he previously had before hurting himself at the 2015 Grand Prix Final.

On Thursday, the pairs triple twist was rated Level 2, with Stolbova later falling on their throw triple flip. The rest of the program was perfect, however, and included six Level 4 elements. They received 142.81 points for their free program and 216.51 points overall.

Russia's Natalia Zabijako and Alexander Enbert held on to fifth place, though their free skate wasn't as strong as their short program. Their lifts were rated Level 4, but their triple twist was deemed base value and Zabijako singled her planned triple salchow.

The pair picked up 128.37 points for their free program, a new season's best, and 200.75 points overall.