Five-time champion Fernández continues reignSpaniard dominates field en route to fifth straight title; Kovtun collects silver
Spain's Javier Fernández won his fifth straight European title Saturday night at the 2017 European Figure Skating Championships in Ostrava, completely dominating a field decorated with highly capable competitors. Though he didn't offer the strongest free program of his stellar career, the display was enough to amass 294.84 points overall, nearly 30 points clear of his closest rival. Russia's Maxim Kovtun (266.80 points) and Mikhail Kolyada (250.18 points) will return to their native country with silver and bronze, respectively.
Fernández skated superlative programs in practice all week, showing both his mastery and complete superiority over the field. His free program included a fall on his second quad salchow, but the Spaniard was simply too far ahead to drop back enough to be overtaken at the top.
He nailed a textbook quad toe -- which received +2.71 GOE (Grade of Execution) -- and followed that with a quad salchow-double toe and a triple axel-triple toe. Though he over-rotated his second triple axel after the fall, three of his four elements were still rated Level 4, more than enough to sustain his cushy lead. While captivating the crowd throughout, the five-time champion registered 190.59 points for his Elvis Presley free skate.
"I said all week that I wanted to break my personal best in that free program," he stated after. "I didn't achieve it, but I fought from start to end, even after the fall. I didn't think that I would fall that hard. It was a good performance altogether, I think I needed it, although it was not perfect. Now I have a world title to defend, and it will be much more difficult."
In a black and white outfit, a newfound Kovtun delivered a solid package that included a quad salchow, a quad toe, and two triple axels -- one in combination with a triple toe. For the first time in a free program, Kovtun managed to take the time to center himself after a jump and to prepare for the next one. He didn't rush, and this time he nailed most of his elements without any major mistakes. He racked up 172.27 points for his free, outclassing his season's best by 8.95 points.
"I'm really happy for today," Kovtun said. "I think, at least I hope, that I broke the barrier between the two programs, skating one great and the next bad. This time I skated both clean. I am so happy that I enjoyed skating both programs. It was the first time it happened in my career.
"We've worked hard on the ice, and I started working with a mental coach," he continued. "I'm also happy about the levels I got. In both programs I received Level 4's, except for the step sequence of the free. I know that there is a big gap between my score and Javier's, but I have to work more, add in jumps, and bigger scores will come."
Many wondered if Kolyada would rally from his disappointing fourth place to win his first medal in a continental championship. He did, although not quite the way he thought he would. He fell heavily when landing his opening quad lutz, which was nonetheless deemed complete, and added 9.6 points to his tally. His subsequent quad toe was also sub-par. He landed a superb triple axel-triple toe combination, but went on to single his next triple axel. Kolyada's three spins and step sequence were rated Level 4, and he -- along with Latvia's Deniss Vasiljevs -- were the only two to accomplish that feat.
Kolyada racked up 166.22 points for his free program, beating his season's best by 11.2 points.
"My free skate didn't go the way it should have," he said following his performance. "I'm not upset about the fall of the quad lutz, because it is still a very new jump for me. To be honest, it's a big risk to include it in a competition if it's not consistent. But, I'm taking the risk. In practice, my success rate is 50-50 and I'm upset about the axel as I should have rotated it. The miss completely threw me off, and it was tough to put myself back together.
The talented Russian experienced several mishaps during his program, but he confirmed his unique talent as a showman and a crowd pleaser. As serious and precise as he was on the ice, he also radiated his strong presence through his pantomimes, expressions, and the way he gave life to the character he portrayed. His programs this year were visually and emotionally appealing, and each gathered unanimous support from the audience.
Belgium's Jorik Hendrickx moved up one spot, after a clean program that included two triple axels and six more triples, to finish fourth.
"This is the maximum of what I can show now, as I am not doing a quad yet in competition," Hendrickx explained. "I am working really hard on quad toe and salchow, but they are not there yet. I am happy that I could demonstrate good skating in both short and free programs."
The main surprise of the evening came from Georgia's Moris Kvitelashvili, who delivered a lively program, which was set to "Sixteen Tons" and "I Put a Spell on You." He nailed a perfect triple axel, a solid quad toe, a toe loop and a superb quad toe-triple toe combination, which added 17.06 points to his tally, the highest element score of the evening.
Kvitelashvili is coached by Eteri Tubteridze, Evgenia Medvedeva's coach, and was skating for Russia until last season. Although he skated first in the third group, Kvitelashvili landed the fourth highest free program of the night, for which he amassed 161.35 points. He ended sixth overall, with 238.20 points.
"I would like to show more consistent skating at competitions, in both the short and free program," he said. "But now I have the opportunity to compete more, and do not feel the pressure to be selected anymore. It was hard emotionally to handle the internal competition in the Russian team."
Latvia's Deniss Vasiljevs dropped one spot after popping his opening triple axel, but nonetheless displayed an incredible Level 4 step sequence, while his amazing spins all rated Level 4. His final combination spin was a big hit as well.
"I was so stressed after I made the first mistake," Vasiljevs explained as he left the ice. "It takes a lot of practice to get through this. In the end, I decided to go for clean skating, but I must say it was a poor performance."
He ended seventh by racking up 155.33 points for his free, which was a new season's best.