Jan 30, 2012
2012 European Figure Skating Championships: Men and Pairs
If the 2011 European Figure Skating Championships were characterized by the spate of warm and fuzzy feelings inflicted upon the audience, its 2012 counterpart can be said to be characterized by the domination of the Russian Federation in the sphere of European figure skating. Indeed, Mother Russia went from having won three of the possible twelve medals last year to the grand total of seven this year, including a clean sweep in pairs. Not bad. Even if such domination is unlikely to hold at the upcoming World Championships in Nice, progress has been made on the road to Sochi.
The biggest news story that pervaded this year's Europeans was undoubtedly the return of Evgeni Plushenko into the international eligible ranks after his eventful hiatus in the wake of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. After his coronation by his domestic judges at the 2011-2 Russian National Championships, Mr. Plushenko blithely proceeded to receive the somewhat of the same treatment by the international panel at Europeans, winning the gold medal by approximately 15 points. Well, one can one say about Mr. Plushenko at this point? Yes, Mr. Plushenko continues to single-handedly prove that reputation scoring survives alive and well under CoP despite many varied entreaties in the contrary, but at this competition, he was really the only one of the top group to really produce and, for the lack of a better word, bring it. Did he deserve all those rather generous PCS and GOEs? No. But did he deserve to win? Yes. Maybe this is an unintended side effect of watching Patrick Chan continually splat and win, but there's something relieving about seeing a skater who wins skating with confidence and no major errors. The fact that Mr. Plushenko managed to do so despite his geriatric status and his knees hanging by a thread is just astounding. Now, if only Mr. Plushenko could tone down the seizure impressions in the short program, ditch Edvin Marton, add some complexity to his programs....
Artur Gachinski won the silver with 246.27 points to replicate the top two-thirds of the Russian Nationals podium at Sheffield. For somebody who is supposed to be a vampire in his long program, Mr. Gachinski looked rather docile, more vampire victim than actually vampire. Moreover, by the end of the program, Mr. Gachinski looked very labored and slow...perhaps he was channelling the travails of a vampire in need of more blood? Given how the judges value speed above all, that is not the ideal last impression one should give when skating at a competition.
Although Mr. Gachinski's flagging speed and performance level was most glaringly apparent at the program's end, there were definitely moments throughout the program when the performance and effort just sort of dropped away, most often in service of setting up for the jumps. This is symptomatic of what I believe is perhaps Mr. Gachinski's biggest impediment in moving from merely 'competent' to 'compelling': the inconsistency of his commitment to the choreography and program as a whole. It is difficult for a spectator to fully grasp the character of the vampire Mr. Gachinski is supposed to portray if he's zoning out of the choreography from time to time. It's not that Mr. Gachinski is incapable of selling a program (e.g. 2011 Worlds LP) or that his choreography this season is all that dire, but he needs to demonstrate commitment to his choreography and performance all the way through, even when the next jumping pass is coming up/when the jumps fail.
Florent Amodio won the bronze medal with 234.18 points despite a number of errors--doubling the 4S, popping the last axel, etc--in his long program. Mr. Amodio was lucky that a number of skaters before him imploded, because although his current long program is a slight improvement on the abomination he was skating to earlier this season, it's certainly still quite abysmal and completely undeserving of the 8s he received in PCS. Instead of experiencing second-hand embarrassment upon watching Mr. Amodio's long program this season, there is now a general mood of confusion....would this count as progress? The music cuts are still bizarre and slapped together haphazardly with little sense or purpose, and I for one cannot quite grasp what concept he is trying to convey, what artistic vision is being expressed here. Mr. Amodio was probably portraying a promiscuous tiger in some jungle earlier this season, but now his program just looks like a sad little rip-off of that program and his own Michael Jackson long program last season. It is very disappointing to see Mr. Amodio's charisma and performance ability being completely squandered by Nikolai Morozov's mediocre choreography that manages to be devoid of both content and coherence. I wish Michal Brezina received the bronze instead of Mr. Amodio, as I am afraid this bronze may be a factor in convincing Mr. Amodio and the French Federation to stick with Nikolai Morozov despite Mr. Amodio's poor results this season.
With Savchenko/Szolkowy's withdrawal from the pairs field at Europeans, this season's highly anticipated showdown #2 between the top two pairs in the world had most unfortunately been postponed to Worlds in Nice. This in effect made Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov's victory more or less a foregone conclusion barring a complete meltdown, but Volosozhar/Trankov delivered a solid performance nonetheless, but with small errors and bobbles on a few of the non-jump elements:
Unfortunately, these small but very discernible errors here and there make the overall impression of the performance rather sloppy despite the strength of the other elements and the high quality of the skating involved. Of course, Volosozhar/Trankov still deserved to win here, but these rather preventable errors could very well be the type of errors that could cost them the gold if a strong Savchenko/Szolkowy were competing.
Also, I am convinced that the very best part of this whole performance were Mr. Trankov's facial expressions. Mr. Trankov is more expressive than 10 Maria Mukhortovas and Tatiana Volosozhars combined, and I fervently wish there was a part in the choreography when Mr. Trankov gets to stab someone/himself.
Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov won the silver medal with a neat and elegant performance to Dr. Zhivago despite a few small errors. Bazarova/Larionov have some of the best twists and lifts in the pairs field right now, but I admit, I sometimes have trouble watching this team as I am convinced that Miss Bazarova's body will snap to pieces upon landing her jumping passes (and the 2A-2A sequence in the long program was certainly no exception). Nonetheless, Bazarova/Larionov gave a lovely performance here and deserved the silver, but I'm afraid their lack of power and jumping problems will keep holding them back from the topmost echelons of the pairs field.
Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov completed the Russian sweep of the pairs podium by winning the bronze medal with a relatively good performance especially in comparison with their less-than-memorable Grand Prix outings. Stolbova/Klimova have been one of my favorite pairs teams after I first truly noticed their existence at Russian Nationals last season. They are by no means a conventional Russian pairs team and can be quite weird in terms of choreography and style, but I find the detail, interesting shapes and tension in their programs quite compelling, especially for such a relatively young team. Stolbova/Klimov have a LOT to work on in terms of refinement, getting a triple twist, consistency, etc., and as such, they are a 2018 team as opposed to a 2014 one. But I look forward to seeing them further develop and grow into their style.