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The run continues: Fernández wins European gold

Spaniard picks up sixth straight title; Aliev, Kolyada capture silver, bronze
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Javier Fernández entered the free skate with a double-digit lead, and while the Spaniard wasn't at the top of his game Friday, he didn't necessarily need to be. By accumulating 191.73 points for his 'Man of La Mancha' free -- which included a quadruple salchow-triple toe worth 17.09 points - Fernández cruised to his sixth consecutive European championship, departing Moscow with a total score of 295.55 points. -Getty Images

The European skating gladiators prepared half of this week performing run-throughs inside the practice rink, where spectators were not permitted. On Friday night at the 2018 European Figure Skating Championships, each participant took the ice in the full light of a capacity crowd of more than 14,000 in Moscow.

Spain's Javier Fernández added a sixth continental title to his résumé, while Russia found itself in an encouraging situation, as both Dmitri Aliev and Mikhail Kolyada reached the podium. And while Friday's event may have seemed like your normal men's free skate, the competition was not that simple.

Fernández opened his Man of La Mancha program in the most brilliant of ways, landing a gorgeous quad toe followed by a quad salchow-triple toe, with both receiving more than 2.0 points for execution. A perfect triple axel-double toe came later in the program, but despite that success, Fernández suffered a few mishaps. The Spaniard tripled his second quad salchow, doubled his second triple axel and lost a few points on a triple flip.

Throughout the program, Fernández managed to embark the Russian audience into his own "impossible dream," as the original lyrics of the song he skates to state. He received superior components, ranging from 9.36 points for transitions to 9.64 for interpretation.

He garnered 191.73 points for his free program, and 295.55 overall, more than enough to secure his sixth consecutive European title, a feat only Austria's Karl Schäfer managed to achieve in 1936, some 82 years before Fernández!

"It was very important for me to win here," Fernández said. "It was really, really important for me. I've participated in 12 European championships and I've won six. Of course, the points I got in the short program somewhat secured my place. But, you never know. You always have to skate your best."

The final performer of the night was Aliev, who earned a surprise second place finish in the short program. Many in the Russian audience wondered whether their young hometown hero would manage to keep his nerves. He did, and with incredible grace.

His program was less complex than those of certain competitors, but he did land each one of his elements, including a quad toe-triple toe combination and quad toe, with each earning over 2.0 points for execution. He went on to add two triple axels, one in combination with a double toe. Altogether, Aliev's program was faultless, as he amassed 182.73 points in the segment and 274.06 overall. Landing second in the free program and second overall -- though still 21.49 points behind Fernández -- enabled Aliev to win the silver medal on home ice.

"That was a good one! I'm pleased with my skating, and I'm pleased with the way things turned out," he stated. "I forgot my skates at the hotel, but still I could prove that I was able to manage my program in spite of the situation. I felt emotionally pumped up, though!"

Aliev's clean program also came with another effect: the ability to bring the crowd to a frenzy! When Aliev completed his final spin, the arena exploded with cheers of praise, an indication that Russia may have been given yet another skating hero.

Kolyada embarked himself into a most difficult program that included -- on paper -- a quad lutz, quad salchow, quad toe loop and two triple axels. He tripled his salchow and fell on his other quad attempts -- an opening lutz and toe loop. Both jumps avoided a downgrade, however, and provided the skater with 9.60 and 7.33 points, respectively. He did land his triple axels beautifully -- one in combination with a triple toe -- with both adding more than 3.0 points for Grade of Execution (GOE) to his tally.

Two of his spins were awarded Level 3 as well, and his segment score of 175.49 elevated his overall total to 258.90 points. Interestingly enough, his technical score of 92.05 points was just 3.24 points behind Aliev's, though it was marred by two falls.

The 22-year-old's skating has remained precise and light, but mastering his quads may also be coming at great cost -- at least for the time being -- as some of the original freshness that made his personality on the ice so special seems to be taking a hit.

Latvia's Deniss Vasiljevs, who took an impressive third place after the short program, delighted the audience once again. He skated a very elegant program to standard versions of "Put the Blame on Mame" and "Anyone to Love." The music nonetheless allowed for silences and breaks, which emphasized Vasiljev's talent and skating abilities, two areas he masters more than anyone else.

In his program, the Latvian landed a triple axel-triple toe combination as well as an additional triple axel. While he attempted a quad toe, he took a brief tumble, and the technical panel downgraded that jump. It didn't distract him, however, as his three spins and step sequence received Level 4 grading. In total, Vasiljevs amassed 158.41 points for his free program and 243.52 points overall, which was good for fourth place.

Alexei Bychenko has proven to be an incredibly efficient skater over the past few seasons, especially at the European level.

He skated his free program Friday powerfully, and with incredible heart, which reeled in the crowd even more. The Israeli landed a superb quad toe-triple toe, and followed up with another quad toe. He lost a few points landing his two triple axels, however, and his three spins and step sequence received Level 2 grading. His fans were as ecstatic as he was as he departed the ice, especially since this performance was an incredible rebound from his sub-par short program.

Despite a few hiccups, Bychenko amassed 163.47 points for his free skate and 238.44 overall, and those marks helped him move from eighth after the short program to fifth overall.

During the post-event press conference, both Aliev and Kolyada emphasized how each had been looking up at Fernández for many years. Now, here they were, sitting beside him at the European level.

The selection of the Russian squad for the Olympic Games should be decided next Sunday and announced Monday, and Kolyada will certainly be keeping his eye on the selection process, saying, "The Games are a huge commitment for all of us."