Bobrova, Soloviev take slim lead at Europeans
Ilinykh, Katsalapov less than half a point back; Capellini, Lanotte within striking distance
|Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev are in search of their first European title. (Getty Images)|
Just 2.89 points separate the top three couples, and the fight for the gold medal is still open. Overall, the skating was of a high standard, with not a single fall among the 26 couples. Many teams gained a new season's best score.
To little surprise, Russians Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev took the lead with 69.42 points. They performed their required Yankee Polka sequences to the soundtrack of Put in a Good Word for the Poor Hussar, and the waltz portion of their program to the soundtrack of The Crew.
The Russian champions gained Level 4s for their two Yankee sequences and their lift. Their twizzles and step sequence gained Level 3, while program components ranged from 8.7 to 9.25.
Last season, Bobrova and Soloviev placed second at Europeans behind Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat of France, who are not in Zagreb due to injury.
They revamped their look and style last spring, when they hired Alexander Zhulin as their coach.
"It was one of our best performances but not the very best," Soloviev said. "I see we got a Level 3 on the twizzles, and we are not happy about that, but we are very pleased to have gotten Level 4 for both Yankee Polka sequences for the first time this season. We have worked very hard on them."
"I wobbled somewhat on the twizzles, but I did them, and the coaches said it shouldn't affect the level," Bobrova said. "But as you can see, you are punished for the tiniest things."
Russian silver medalists Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov sit second with 68.98 points. The pupils of Nikolai Morozov skated to an Uzbek polka with Middle-Eastern accents, with high speed and a fresh style.
Their best element was a speedy twizzle sequence that gained Level 4 from the technical panel and +2 and +3 grades of execution (GOE) from the nine judges. The lift and the first Yankee Polka sequence earned Level 4, and the second Yankee Polka section and step sequence gained Level 3. Their components averaged 8.6.
"Our skate today was powerful and full of emotions," Katsalapov said. "We did everything we could do. We are happy and, therefore, our free dance on Friday will be much better than usual.
"It is very warm outside and hard to breathe, but the ice is good, so we were able to skate well. We will fight for gold here."
Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, who defeated both of the top Russian couples at the Grand Prix Final last month, are third with 66.53 points. Skating to music from the MGM musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, their twizzles and lift gained Level 4, and their three remaining elements were Level 3. Their program components averaged 8.4.
"We are very happy with the way we skated today," Lanotte said. "Our goal was a clean program and giving everything we had to the audience."
"Last year at Europeans, a mistake in the short dance was very costly for our overall placement, so we wanted to make sure this does not happen in Zagreb," Cappellini said. "We really did not think much about the withdrawal of Nathalie and Fabian. When you prepare for a big competition, you must stay focused on training and what you can show. We wish them a speedy recovery."
The third Russian couple, Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko, is fourth with 64.52 points. Their two Yankee Polka sections and the twizzle sequence gained Level 4, but their program components scores were a bit lower than those of the top three teams.
Julia Zlobina and Alexei Sitnikov, former Russians who now compete for Azerbaijan, are fifth. British champions Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland, who train in the U.S. under two-time Olympic ice dance champion Evgeni Platov, are sixth, while German champions Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi are seventh.
Reporter's notebook: The majority of the event's nine judges, plus the technical controller, were from Eastern European countries, and there was no Italian judge on the panel ... Allison Reed and Vasili Rogov of Israel, who train in Hackensack, N.J., under Galit Chait, withdrew after practice yesterday because Rogov suddenly felt ill and weak.