Spain’s Javier Fernandez skates to second straight European Championships gold

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In the corner of the arena in Budapest, Brian Orser jumped for joy as another one of his pupils soared to first place at a major competition.

Saturday it was Spain’s Javier Fernandez at the European Championships, the defending champion winning for the second straight year, this time just weeks ahead of the Sochi Olympic Games.

Fernandez, skating to “Peter Gunn” and “Harlem Nocturne,” held on to his first quadruple toeloop and then landed a quad Salchow later in his program, delivering a nearly clean free skate in a final group that was riddled with errors.

Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist who helped coach Yuna Kim to her gold medal in Vancouver, also works with Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, who won both the Grand Prix Final and the Japan National Championships last month to add his name to a growing list of gold medal contenders at the Olympics.

Fernandez, who struggled through the Grand Prix season, penciled his name back onto that list with two solid skates in Budapest. The 22-year-old trains alongside Hanyu in Toronto with Orser, oftentimes riding his bike to and from the rink for practice.

Yulia Lipnitskaya, 15, skates past veterans for Euros win

Fernandez built on the lead that he had gained in the short program, where he scored a 91.56. His 267.11 overall score was a safe 15 points ahead of Russia’s Sergei Voronov who was second (252.55). Konstantin Menshov, also of Russia, was third with a 237.24.

Russia’s top skater coming into the European Championships, 18-year-old Maksim Kovtun, could not deliver in his free skate, dropping from fourth to fifth with a series of errors on jumps. The performance will likely impact his chance of being selected for the Russian Olympic team over veteran Yevgeny Plushenko, who sat out the Euros.

Plushenko backtracks, wants to skate singles in Sochi

Russia is allotted just one spot for the Sochi Games after no man finished in the top 15 at the World Championships in 2013 (Kovtun was 17th). Neither Voronov nor Menshov were considered in the race to take the spot, which was seen as a back and forth between Kovtun and the veteran Plushenko, a three-time Olympic medalist and 2006 champion.

Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic, coached by Viktor Petrenko, finished fourth while 29-year-old Frenchman Brian Joubert, who has three European Championships to his name, finished eighth in a valiant comeback effort after not skating for most of the season.

But it was a second Euros win for Fernandez, who has plenty of momentum leading into Sochi.

“It was a great year for me last year,” Fernandez told the crowd after his win. “I was so scared because to get the title here again was not easy. It was a great day for me to skate well and give a reason for all these people with Spanish flags to be here.”

Fernandez, who won the Spanish National Championships for the third consecutive year last month, joins Hanyu, reigning and three-time world champion Canada’s Patrick Chan, Vancouver bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi and American Jeremy Abbott – after his Nationals win last week – as contenders for the top spot in Sochi.

“I don’t want to expect anything,” said the Madrid native. “I want to go there and try my best and I hope that I can fight to be on the podium. I don’t know if [how I skated here] will be enough. I had a couple of mistakes that I have to fix before the Olympics. I think if I give a little bit more I have the chance to be on the podium.”

Russia is expected to announce its Olympic team by January 27th.

NBC will air a package show of the European Championships on Sunday from 4-6pm. It will also be livestreamed on NBCOlympics.com.

Results
1. Javier Fernandez (ESP) – 267.11
2. Sergei Voronov (RUS) – 252.55
3. Konstantin Menshov (RUS) – 237.54
4. Michal Brezina (CZE) – 236.98
5. Maksim Kovtun (RUS) – 232.37
8. Brian Joubert (FRA) 221.95

40 years ago today: Jimmy Carter lays plan for Olympic boycott

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On Jan. 20, 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he would not support sending a U.S. team to the Moscow Olympics later that summer if the Soviet Union did not withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Carter detailed his stance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” airing that Sunday. A transcript:

Bill Monroe: Assuming the Soviets do not pull out of Afghanistan any time soon, do you favor the U.S. participating in the Moscow Olympics, and if not, what are the alternatives?

Carter: No. Neither I nor the American people would support the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan. I’ve sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee spelling out my own position that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to alternate site or multiple sites or postponed or canceled. If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops immediately from Afghanistan — within a month — I would not support the sending of an American team to the Olympics. It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is. I do not want to inject politics into the Olympics, and I would personally favor the establishment of a permanent Olympic site for both the Summer and the Winter Games. In my opinion, the most appropriate permanent site for the Summer Games would be Greece. This will be my own position, and I have asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to take this position to the International Olympic Committee, and I would hope that as many nations as possible would support this basic position. One hundred and four nations voted against the Soviet invasion and called for their immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan in the United Nations, and I would hope as many of those as possible would support the position I’ve just outlined to you.

Monroe: Mr. President, if a substantial number of nations does not support the U.S. position, would not that just put the U.S. in an isolated position without doing much damage to the Soviet Union?

Carter: Regardless of what other nations might do, I would not favor the sending of an American Olympic team to Moscow while the Soviet invasion troops are in Afghanistan.

Three days later, Carter said in his State of the Union address, “I have notified the Olympic Committee that with Soviet invading forces in Afghanistan, neither the American people nor I will support sending an Olympic team to Moscow.”

The Soviets did not withdraw troops.

Though Carter did not have the authority to order a boycott, the U.S. Olympic Committee did decide on April 12 not to send a team.

The U.S. was among more than 60 nations that were invited to the Moscow Games and did not participate (for various reasons). Other notable absences included Canada, West Germany, Japan and China.

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With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

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There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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