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Papadakis, Cizeron continue reign over Europe

French duo wins fourth straight continental title, breaks own world records
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Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron captured their fourth consecutive European crown and set a pair of world records in the process. The French duo established new marks for free dance score (121.87) and total score (203.16) -- both of which were previously held by themselves -- en route to becoming the fifth ice dance team in history to win the continental title four years in a row. -Getty Images

Prior to the start of the 2018 European Figure Skating Championships, France's Guillaume Cizeron said, "We don't feel a huge pressure in terms of competition here, but we do feel it in terms of performance."

On Saturday in Moscow, Cizeron and dance partner Gabriella Papadakis easily overcame the competitive pressure that comes with the continental stage as they won their fourth straight European title. The French duo soared 16.03 points above silver medalists Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia and 18.30 points past Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, the second Russian pair to reach the podium.

In addition to recording a landslide victory, Papadakis and Cizeron overcame the performance pressure as well, topping their personal-best mark in the free program by 1.29 points. And if that weren't enough, the team recorded fresh world records for free dance score (121.87 points) and total score (203.16), besting the previous world records they themselves set.

Skating a magical rendition of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," Papadakis and Cizeron communicated their emotions to the audience, as if saying to the Moscow crowd, "Look at the music. Look at how it can speak to your soul. Look at how a single note, when a couple embodies it, can carry the whole humanity."

At the end of their dance, the last note of Beethoven's piano dissolved into the sky, and the French proved themselves best on the continent yet again. Six of their seven elements were rated Level 4, with only their middle step sequence receiving Level 3. They earned straight 10's for three of their components -- performance, composition and interpretation -- to raise their total component score to 59.35 points out of a possible 60.

"We felt really good skating this program here," a radiant Cizeron offered. "There is such a deep feeling to skate to this music."

From Montréal to Shanghai, Grenoble, Nagoya and now Moscow, the journey on which Papadakis and Cizeron have taken their audiences has been unanimously acclaimed throughout the world as a universal journey, and one that can talk to any person on earth.

"If you want to reach the universal, then sing only the church of your village," Beethoven used to say. Maybe that's what the French offered to the Muscovite audience. After all, moonlight will shine over any place in the world!

Bobrova and Soloviev displayed intricate footwork and creative choreography throughout their program, devised to Astor Piazzola's "Oblivion" and "Beethoven's 5 Secrets," as performed by The Piano Guys.

Bobrova explained the interesting choreography, which carried original moves and steps throughout.

"I'm portraying a blind person," she said. "And I am looking for him, but at the end, he understands that I was just an image, and I'm not there anymore."

Their two step sequences were rated Level 3, and every other element received Level 4 grading. Two of their lifts were particularly original, with Bobrova completely vertical: One saw Soloviev gliding on one knee, carrying his teammate on top of him in their straight line lift, and the other had him rotating with her at high speed in their rotational lift. They amassed 112.70 points in the segment to top their season's best, while their overall score of 187.13 enabled them to move from fourth after the short dance to second in the final standings.

"Our audience received all teams so warmly," Soloviev said. "We're so proud to have such an audience, with so much energy! Of course, finishing fourth after the short yesterday didn't give us good feelings. Our performance was correct, but we understood that maybe we were not that explosive. So, we'll improve."

Stepanova and Bukin enthused the home audience in the free dance, similar to the way they did in the short dance. Following the frenzy of their salsa, they returned to competition with a completely different mood -- that of a modernized, yet still romantic version of Franz Liszt's "Liebestraum" ("Dream of Love"). Amazingly, the two managed to feel at ease in both repertoires, and in complete consistency with their joyful and lively style. The Russians garnered 109.48 points for their free dance, a new season's best, and 184.86 points in total.

"We were so happy to listen to the audience's reaction (as we skated and after we stopped)," Stepanova explained. "We could see how happy our spectators were. We also could see that our coaches were happy. In 2015, we were happy to win a bronze medal at the Europeans. This year, we managed to confirm our third place, and it feels great!"

Italy's Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte delivered a dramatic and emotional dance to La Vita e Bella (or Life is Beautiful). They didn't disappoint their fans either, but a few mishaps here and there cost the duo two levels on their twizzles -- which were rated a Level 2 -- and several Grades of Execution. They amassed 105.89 points for their free dance and 180.65 points overall, scores not strong enough to prevent Bobrova and Soloviev from passing them for the bronze medal.

The second Italian team to finish in the top five, Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri had hoped for so many years to land in this very position. Last season, the team endured a bad fall at this event, but this is a new season. Dancing to "Exogenesis: Symphony Part 3" by Muse, they racked up 106.17 points for their free, the fourth highest score of the afternoon, and 177.75 points overall to lock up fifth place.

Great Britain's Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland, who had taken a creditable sixth place after the short dance, offered an energetic rendering of their free dance, set to "Butterflies and Hurricanes," another song by Muse. They experienced a few mishaps, however, and lost several levels, including on their two step sequences, which received Level 3 and Level 2 grading, respectively. Their twizzles were rated Level 3, and they finished seventh in the final standings.

The battle for the Olympic Team event should be fierce in PyeongChang!