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Europeans debuts new qualification round

Joubert, Kostner favored; shorter events will be a relief to all

Despite a disastrous season, Brian Joubert is a favorite to win the men's title.
Despite a disastrous season, Brian Joubert is a favorite to win the men's title. (Getty Images)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(01/23/2011) - The 2011 European Figure Skating Championships in Bern, Switzerland, get underway tomorrow, offering the first look at some important rule changes that will also be used at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships.

First change: In order to compete at any ISU senior championships, all skaters or couples must have earned a minimum technical element score at an ISU competition during the same season or the season before. These minimums -- for example, 15 technical points for a ladies short program; 25 technical points for a ladies free program; and 35 technical points for a men's free program -- prevent the weakest skaters from taking part. New ice dance couples and pairs may compete if at least one of the partners earned the minimum score with a different partner the preceding season.

Second change: In order to shorten the short program competitions -- some of which can last up to seven hours -- there are now qualification rounds. Travel costs for the preliminaries must be paid by the skaters themselves or their federations.

Not all skaters and couples have to skate in this preliminary round. The top entrants from countries with a top-18 finish in ladies or men, or a result in the top 12 in pairs and ice dance, at the 2010 European Championships are exempt.

Germany, for example, had one man place in the top 18 at 2010 Europeans (he was ninth). Therefore, one German man is entered directly into the draw; the second German man must qualify. Skaters with lower ISU world rankings will compete in the qualification round, with their higher-ranked team mates automatically nominated for the short program.

Boiling it down to numbers: 38 ladies and 38 men are entered at Europeans; 18 of them go directly through to the short program; 20 enter the qualifying rounds. Of those 20, the top ten will qualify for the short program.

In ice dance, 28 couples are entered, with 12 going directly through to the short dance. The remaining 16 couples enter the qualifying round and eight qualify for the main draw. Since only 16 pairs are entered, all will compete in the short program and free skate. At the world championships, however, there will also probably be a qualification for the pairs.

The favorite for the ladies title is Italy's Carolina Kostner, second at the Grand Prix Final in December. She was excellent at her nationals a few weeks ago. Switzerland's Sarah Meier, injured all season, plans to finish her career after competing in this home country event. Also in the medal mix: Kiira Korpi of Finland, the new Finnish champion; Georgia's Elene Gedevanishvili and two Russians, Alena Leonova and Ksenia Makarova.

French veteran Brian Joubert is favored in the competitive men's event. Other medal candidates are his two country men, Florent Amodio and Alban Préaubert; two Czech skaters, Tomas Verner and Michal Brezina; Russia's Artur Gachinski; and up-and-coming Javier Fernandez from Spain. Belgian veteran Kevin van der Perren could also make a last stand.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy from Germany, winners of the Grand Prix Final, are clear favorites for the pairs title. Three Russian pairs all hope for medals, including 2010 winners Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov as well as Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov, and Katarina Gerboldt and Alexander Enbert. New Russian champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov are not yet eligible in Bern because Volosozhar's last competition for the Ukraine, the 2012 Olympics, was less than 12 months ago.

In ice dance, the French team Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, second at the Grand Prix Final behind Meryl Davis and Charlie White, are favored. However, Italians Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali, who won silver last season, are returning to competition after sitting out the fall with injury. Other medal contenders are Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia; Britons Sinead Kerr and John Kerr; and Nora Hoffmann and Maxim Zavozin of Hungary.