Papadakis, Cizeron win fifth consecutive European ice dance title

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Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron had left little hope for a turnaround to happen in European ice dance in Minsk. They confirmed it by easily winning their fifth consecutive continental title.

The French pair won Junior Worlds in the same rink in Minsk in 2012.

The couple amassed 133.19 points for their free dance, a new season’s best and world record (under the +/-5 new system), and 217.98 points overall.

Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin kept the second place they had won in the rhythm dance to win their first silver medal at a European Championship. Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri managed to stay on the podium – their first ever at the European level.

Results: European ice dance final

Papadakis and Cizeron, skating to Yamagata’s soft yet powerful music, received level 4s for each one of their elements. Their GOEs were all above 3 points, and all their PCS included at least one 10. They amassed 21 tens across the board!

Each time they dance, Papadakis and Cizeron manage to bring you into their own inner circle, where you can find yourself in a reflection. Their interpretation of the relationship they portrayed moved the whole audience. The flexibility of their bodies and the range of movements it allowed, the clarity of their positions over the ice, their heavenly glide seemed to lead the way to their universality, where yours could meet them. You recognize some of yourself in such a dance – as in any artistic creation.

“We are really happy, that skate was almost technically perfect,” Cizeron conceded as he left the ice. “The crowd was really uplifting and we couldn’t be more grateful to them and to be surrounded by our amazing team. Winning a fifth European title is probably a little bit less of a surprise than the first time, but we are still so proud of what we have achieved and proud in fact of the whole French team.”

Stepanova and Bukin also gained superlative marks, both in GOEs and components. Their one-foot step sequences were their only elements not to earn a Level 4. They tallied 125.04 points for their free dance and 206.44 points overall.

“It’s really nice to get the silver medal after we had two bronze medals at Europeans,” Bukin said. “It is a big step forward for us. It was a bit nerve-wracking, we stood in second place and we had to retain our emotions.”

Stepanova and Bukin have learnt how to express sensuality on the ice. The music they skated to, Beth Hart’s “Am I The One,” was romantic and passionate at the same time, emphasizing the agility of their footwork. Each partner was flying from one edge to the next, at the same pace and in unison, but each one in one’s direction, thus provoking multiple encounters and occasions to display their newly-found sensuality.

“We’ve worked for many years to feel each other and also that not only we understand what we’re skating, but also the spectators,” Bukin added.

“We are not tall, so we need to show our energy and speed to have an impact,” Fabbri had offered the day before after their strong Tango. Energetic, he and Guignard were again in their free dance. They danced to music from “La La Land,” as if they were to dance all their life long, from one waltz to the next. When their results were posted, they jumped into one another’s arms: they finally had won their first European medal – and earned a new season’s best, 120.79 points, and 199.84 points overall.

“The work we did all these years was finally rewarded,” Fabbri said. “We’re extremely proud. We started from less than zero. It’s really rewarding. We’re really excited. Charlene’s emotions tell everything right now. More than words.”

Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov more than redeemed themselves after the fall Katsalapov had endured the day before in the rhythm dance, displaying their usual energy and deep edges. They delivered a powerful rendering of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suite in D and garnered 123.71 points for their free dance, the third best of the evening. They finished the event in fourth place overall with 193.95 points.

Watching them skate to this music, some 27 years after Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko’s winning program at the 1992 Olympics, showed all the way ice dance has evolved in those years, adding incredible speed, acrobatic lifts and innovative spins.

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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WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

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.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics