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Fernández in position to win sixth European title

Aliev slots second in European championships debut; Vasiljevs lands third
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Aside from a slight turnout on the landing of his quad salchow, Javier Fernández delivered a sterling rendition of his Charlie Chaplin short, and the five-time reigning European champion is perched atop the leaderboard with 103.82 points. -Getty Images

Despite enduring a rough morning practice, Spain's Javier Fernández left no doubt that he was the boss Wednesday at the 2018 European Figure Skating Championships in Moscow, Russia. The Spaniard was the best skater in the field on this day, and his performance enabled him to capture the highest score in the short program.

While Fernández was expected to perform well, not many would have bet on the second and third-place finishers in the segment. Russia's Dmitri Aliev is currently in second place, 12.49 points behind Fernández, while Latvia's Deniss Vasiljevs stands in third, some 18.71 points behind the Spaniard.

Fernández delivered a smooth yet deep rendering to Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times," landing a quad toe-triple toe combination and a triple axel, receiving a +2.43-point Grade of Execution (GOE) for both elements. He had to save his quad salchow from down below, however, and that led him to his only negative GOE (-0.51) of the day. His three spins were rated Level 4, while his step sequence was graded as a Level 3. He garnered a solid 103.82 points, and while that score proved to be one of the best short program marks of the season, it was still 4.04 points below his season's best.

"This is a good run-through and practice for the Olympics," the five-time European gold medalist offered shortly after departing the ice.

The Spaniard also hit the highest score for components at 47.82 points, with 9.43 coming for his transitions and 9.68 for performance. He offered the most delicate and gracious step sequence, giving goose bumps to his fans right before dissolving himself in his final spin.

Aliev took the ice right after Fernández and delivered a solid performance of his own, wisely opting for a triple lutz-triple toe combination instead of the quad lutz-triple toe he was landing in practice. The world junior silver medalist landed a quad toe right after, as well as a triple axel. Just like Fernández, Aliev's three spins were rated Level 4, with his step sequence receiving a Level 3.

"I'm quite satisfied with my performance," he said. "I could have gained more points with the quad lutz. Too bad it didn't happen. Right now, this is the most valuable element in figure skating and I want to prove to the world that the Russian guys can do it as well!"

Aliev has improved his presentation tremendously in just two seasons, and this program was well carved. Although his music, Aram Khatchaturian's "Valse Masquarade" could have been a huge weight upon his shoulders, he managed to tame it and delivered an interesting performance, one that was in harmony with his music. Aliev's components achieved 42.32 points, less than one point behind his more experienced teammate, Mikhail Kolyada, but he still amassed 91.33 points for his short program, a new season's best.

Vasiljevs created sensation when he delivered his beautifully chiseled program, set to "Recondita Armonia" from Giacomo Puccini's "Tosca." He landed his triple lutz-triple toe combination with poise, and followed with a superb triple axel. His three spins and step sequence were rated Level 4, a feat that only a handful of skaters achieved in the afternoon. The Latvian amassed a season's-best 85.11 points, which placed him third in the segment.

Most of all, Vasiljevs' program brought the crowd to its feet, further proof he remains one of the most popular skaters of his generation.

"Deniss's specialty is really to make his audience vibrate through his music, sensitivity, and the unique way he has to use his beautiful body to transmit his own emotions and share them," his renowned coach, Stéphane Lambiel, emphasized afterwards.

Vasiljevs' music was a precious ally for him as well.

"It's true, I feel a little bit better with smooth and lyrical music when I have to control my body," he explained. "I also enjoy completely wild music, but with such music, I have more time to focus and concentrate on my jumps."

Russia's new star, Mikhail Kolyada, was widely applauded by the hometown crowd. His short program started rather well, as he landed his opening quad lutz -- a jump that eludes him regularly. Despite that accomplishment, Kolyada shook his head in disbelief a few seconds later, as he doubled his planned quad toe. He regrouped for his flying spin (which was rated a Level 4), as well as his triple axel. He garnered 83.41 points when it was all said and done, a mark some 19.72 points off his season's best.

"I didn't expect that, especially on the toe loop," he admitted afterwards. "I don't know what happened. The lutz was OK, I didn't pop it, but the toe was very, very bad."

Kolyada has kept his fine and precise edges, but he has completely changed his style in two seasons, going from a pantomimic actor to an artist flowing on the ice. His component scores, the third best of the afternoon at 43.18 points, clearly reflected his progress.

Belgium's Jorik Hendrickx, who had taken a surprising fourth place last year in Ostrava, skated a quad-less yet strong program despite falling on his opening triple axel. He nonetheless managed to hold on to fifth place in the segment, amassing 78.56 points.

"I'm disappointed, because I didn't do what I'm capable of," he offered afterwards. "But I'm pleased with my scores and placement."

In addition to some fine skating, quads appeared like a guillotine once gain in Moscow.

Those who landed them placed first and second in the segment, while the skaters who opted to leave the element out -- like Vasiljevs and Hendrickx -- still managed to preserve solid third and fifth-place finishes, respectively. While the decisions seemed to benefit those skaters, the athletes who failed on their quads -- namely Kolyada and Russian teammate Alexander Samarin (who finished ninth in the standings) -- dropped way below their standards and previous hopes.