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Javier Fernandez rebounds to win seventh European title, retires from competition

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Spain’s Javier Fernandez won his seventh straight European crown in Minsk, a feat only accomplished one other time in the history of the sport. No man since Austrian Karl Schaefer – who won eight consecutive European titles beginning in 1929 – has won as many straight titles as Fernandez.

He won the free program ahead of Russia’s Alexander Samarin and Italy’s Matteo Rizzo, surprising third. Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada, who took a commanding lead in the short program, completely missed his program to end fifth overall.

Results: Men’s final at Europeans

“I’m used at comebacks, right?” Fernandez had offered at the post-event press conference after the short program. And seven has always been a lucky charm.

Fernandez still had to overcome a 8.65-point gap to catch leader Kolyada, though. He did far more than that. The “Man of La Mancha,” his program music, did more than defend his chevaleresque honor. He landed two perfect quads, a triple toe and a Salchow, and two triple Axels. He wobbled on the landing of his quad toe, triple toe combination, and his major error came later in his program, when he doubled his planned triple flip, triple Salchow combination.

“I feel amazing,” Fernandez commented, joyful though not relaxed, as he left the ice. “I knew that was going to be my last skate, and I’m super proud to have been able to skate the way I did today. I was confident, I trained great: it was for a short period of time, but the training was efficient.”

Fernandez had about three weeks of practice in the lead-up to Europeans at his longtime training base in Toronto.

The precision of Fernandez’s steps, the density of his transitions, his completely centered spins, his unconditional connection with all audiences of the world during his program gave like a reminder of all of what skating will owe to him. The Belorussian audience was on its feet and sent dozens of gifts to the ice.

Samarin took the ice right before Fernandez, with 0.13 points to spare ahead of the Spaniard after the short. He delivered a strong program, highlighted with a quad Lutz, quad toe and two triple Axels. Samarin was all energy during his routine. His strong jumps, clear long lines and amazing speed embarked the audience after his main elements were completed.

Samarin was so concentrated and tense, he ended kneeling on the ice and knocked it three times with his fist, prior to rushing to his coaches’ arms. He tallied 177.87 points for his free program, a new season’s best, and 269.84 total points, a mere 1.75 points short of the gold medal.

“It is very hard to collect my emotions now and to tell how that was,” Samarin offered as he left the ice. “It was tough emotionally and mentally. I fought for every element in this program. Obviously, you want to be among the leaders and this is a big responsibility. I am endlessly happy that I was able to make not only myself happy, but also my coach.”

Rizzo had taken the ice one hour and 20 minutes before Samarin – with a brand new program to Queen’s music, who replaced his previous Rolling Stones’ medley. He delivered a solid performance, including a clean quad toe, one triple Axel in combination with a double toe, and two triple-triple combinations. The audience became very reactive at the end of it, clapping along to the beat of his music. Rizzo reached a new season’s best for his free program, 165.67 points, the third best of the afternoon. He rallied from 10th place to third overall with 247.08 points.

“It felt very emotional at the end, as I was really giving everything I had inside,” Rizzo said. “We debuted this program two weeks ago, and already I feel much more comfortable with this one.”

France’s Kevin Aymoz experienced a few mishaps, but he managed to give an emotional rendering of his Irrepressibles’ “In this Shirt” program, and to demonstrate that he would be a strong contender to be counted on in the near future. He ended up fourth overall.

MORE: Coach Brian Orser on Javier’s skating legacy

As a reminder, you can watch the European Championships 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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Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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