Marco Fabbri

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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Behind the scenes at the European Championships: Day 3

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Jean-Christophe Berlot is on the ground in Minsk, Belarus to cover the European Championships. This is his behind-the-scenes look at the competition on the event’s third day.

Kovtun’s comeback

Many were eagerly waiting to see Maxim Kovtun, who won the Russian Nationals one month ago. Kovtun fell on his opening quad Salchow in his short program, but he landed a splendid quad toe, triple toe combination, and a solid triple Axel (both elements earned more than 2.0 points GOE). He is standing in fifth place before Saturday’s free program.

Kovtun acknowledged that this was a true comeback for him, and that the past two years were not easy.

“This is a long story,” he explained after his short program was over. He thought a little and then stopped talking in English: “See? My brain can’t work anymore: I can’t speak English after a short program!” He said with a laugh.

His explanations then came through an interpreter.

“In my first life [with his first coaches], I had that feeling that I didn’t realize myself fully. This was eating me from the inside.

“Then I started working with my current coach [Elena Buianova], and I could do my best to reach my real goals. She encourages me and during training I feel I want to go further. We worked very hard and devised specific routines for training.”

For the first time maybe on the ice, Kovtun seemed calm Thursday afternoon. In his former days he would spend his programs rushing after his next elements, forgetting the moment as if future had to be caught.

“But future has come already,” he said. “I have been working with a sports psychologist, and I suppose I grew up, too. I have to say also that my brain understands better what I have to do, because every day we are doing the same. Each time I smile, breathe, move in the program, everything is trained and ready because it has been repeated many times. We are working hard, and the results will speak for themselves.

“As for the next steps of my career, we have a strategy. It’s ‘do what we can do right now.’ I’ve lost my technical level for a short time. I needed a lot of work to reach a high level again, at least in practice. Now we have to do the same at competitions, and skate two clean programs. The decision was made in all consciousness not to jump over one’s head,” Kovtun concluded.

Kovtun appeared back to his usual technical standard, and also to his humorous usual style.

Polina Lakhtsutko, from Belarus, assisted with Maxim Kovtun’s interview and his comments.

MORE: Three Russian men in top five at Europeans after short program

End of practice routine

A routine has started to build up in Minsk: at the end of each group of practice, a few dozens of fans gather at the very end of the huge covered stadium, at the bottom of the stairs: they are waiting for their preferred skaters to pass by after their practice. A “mixed zone” has been organized for journalists, but it could be called “the selfie zone”!

Charming Italian dancer Marco Fabbri has several followers. Each apparition of Latvia’s Deniss Vasiljevs gathers gasps and whispers. Michal Brezina has clearly a strong fan base as well. But Javier Fernandez is certainly the most popular. In 13 European Championships, he has attracted nearly two generations of followers! No doubt why he has so many fans around the globe.

Coaches, too…

Two coaches are much sought after as well, at least as much as their skaters: Brian Joubert, who coaches Adam Siao Him Fa, the French competitor, and Stephane Lambiel, who coaches Vasiljevs. In the mixed zone, each one is asked for a selfie, a kiss or a photo (or all three!) with or without their protégés.

Who is she?

Lady fans are running after Marco, Michal, Deniss and Javi, but not only. In the pack-crowded stands of the Minsk Arena, several were focusing on a commanding lady walking up the steps, as Dame Tatiana Tarasova was going back to her TV booth.

“She is a famous TV commentator in Russia!” one fan offered. Of course, “this lady” coached her skating stars to win 68 medals at the Olympics, Worlds, Europeans and Four Continents through her care – which must certainly be the highest number in the world.

Chicken?

Vasiljevs’ costumes are quite noticeable. During the short program, he was wearing flashy bright yellow pants with a shining black jacket. One of Vasiljevs’ fans, an English teacher from Minsk who volunteers at the official hotel, tries to come to every outing, practice or competition, of her favorite skater.

Asked how she liked his costume, she quickly answered: “Oh! The chicken pants? That’s how we call it in Russian… At least he can’t remain unnoticed. We know instantaneously where Deniss is!”

But why chicken?

“Because that’s the color of a chick,” she explained.

Vasiljevs stayed focused on his mission in Friday’s morning practice, as he worked on landing his quad extensively. His fans can rest reassured.

MORE: Behind the scenes at day 2 of Europeans

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!