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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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Sam Girard, Olympic short track champion, surprisingly retires at age 22

Sam Girard
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Sam Girard, who avoided a three-skater pileup to win the PyeongChang Olympic 1000m, retired from short track speed skating at age 22, saying he lost the desire to compete.

“I leave my sport satisfied with what I have accomplished,” Girard said in a press release. “This decision was very well thought through. I am at peace with the choice that I’ve made and am ready to move onto the next step.”

Girard and girlfriend and fellow Olympic skater Kasandra Bradette announced their careers end together in a tearful French-language press conference in Quebec on Friday.

Girard detailed the decision in a letter, the sacrifices made to pursue skating. Notably, moving from his hometown of Ferland-et-Boilleau, population 600, to Montreal in 2012. His hobbies had been of the outdoor variety, but he now had to drive an hour and a half from the training center just to go fishing.

In PyeongChang, Girard led for most of the 1000m final, which meant he avoided chaos behind him on the penultimate lap of the nine-lap race. Hungarian Liu Shaolin Sandor‘s inside pass took out South Koreans Lim Hyo-Jun and Seo Yi-Ra, leaving just Girard and American John-Henry Krueger.

Girard maintained his lead, crossing .214 in front of Krueger to claim the title. He also finished fourth in the 500m and 1500m and earned bronze in the relay.

“My first Olympics, won a gold medal, can’t ask for more,” he said afterward.

Though Girard was already accomplished — earning individual silver medals at the 2016 and 2017 Worlds — he came to PyeongChang as the heir apparent to Charles Hamelin, a roommate on the World Cup circuit whom Girard likened to a big brother. Girard earned another world silver medal this past season.

Hamelin, after taking individual gold in 2010 and 2014, left PyeongChang without an individual medal in what many expected to be his last Olympics. However, he went back on a retirement vow and continued to skate through the 2018-19 season.

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MORE: J.R. Celski explains decision to retire

Maia, Alex Shibutani extend break from ice dance competition

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Brother-sister ice dance duo Maia and Alex Shibutani will not compete next season, the Olympic bronze medalists announced via U.S. Figure Skating on Friday.

“We’re healthier and stronger than we were after the Olympics, and we’re continuing to push ourselves,” Maia Shibutani said in a press release.

“We’ve continued to skate a lot, and we feel like we’ve benefited from some time away to create in different environments and focus on experiences that can help us grow,” Alex said.

The “Shib Sibs” won the U.S. title in 2016 and 2017. They won their first world medal in 2011 (bronze) before reaching the world podium again in 2016 and 2017 with silver and bronze, respectively.

They most recently competed at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where they earned bronze both individually and in the team event.

Maia and Alex Shibutani are now the second ice dance medalists from PyeongChang to announce they’ll sit out at least part of next season. Gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada will tour instead this fall and are not expected to return to competition.

The siblings haven’t stayed away from the ice entirely in their break from the sport, though — they’ve also been touring and performing in shows.

The Shibutanis became the second set of siblings to earn Olympic ice dance medals after France’s Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay in 1992.

MORE: How Gracie Gold landed in Philadelphia, thoughts competitive return

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