A long week in Helsinki


By Titanilla Bőd
Photos © Rita Szoboszlai

Rabbits in the snow

The first thing you notice in Helsinki is the amount of rabbits. They are everywhere, happily jumping around in the snow and they seem not to be bothered by the people. You start to search for your camera in your bag (which can take quite a long time…) and the rabbits are looking at you calmly. However, all at once you have your camera prepared to shoot, they run away and you have visual proof the rabbits actually being there… Luckily, skaters were easier to catch in the Finnish capital.

A fall that hurt

In pairs, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy won their third title in a row. However, it wasn’t won easily, as the reigning World Champions were only second after the short program, because during their routine to “Lost in Space” Szolkowy fell on his triple toeloop. “I don’t really know what happened, because I did two perfect clean ones in the warm up. I felt in the air that the jump would be a little off, but I didn’t expect to fall. The whole program I had the mistake in my head. It hurt, and I will be even more sore tomorrow”, Robin said.

If Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov, who took the lead by skating a flawless short, had skated clean in the long program as well, Szolkowy’s fall would have cost the German pair much more – maybe even the gold medal. But the young Russian pair didn’t manage to skate clean to “The Lady and the Hooligan” music – the lady had just too many falls…

Maybe after some time we can skate the long program clean, too. It was a big pressure because we were first after the short program”, Maria admitted. Mukhortova and Trankov got the bronze medal, and their compatriots, Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov got more points.

On the other hand, Aliona and Robin skated wonderfully to the “Schindler’s List” soundtrack. The crowd was so enchanted that it was perfect silence in the arena during their program, however, it exploded with ovation after their final pose. “We wanted to attack today and we did that. We are very happy with our performance”, Szolkowy said after earning his third European gold medal.

Practising the failure

Robin had an interesting comment also at the press conference about overcoming the failure. “You have to practice your mind to come back to your program after a mistake. That’s what I tried”, he said referring to his big mistake in the short program. At first we just thought: “What about practicing your mind to deliver a flawless program?”, but later on, for example when looking at the struggling Tomáš Verner we realized, it’s actually necessary to know how to overcome one mistake…


Less brain activity”

Verner came to Helsinki to defend his title. In the short program he listened to his coaches and didn’t risk the quad – instead of trying an element which is not secure he skated clean and was second after the short, 5 points behind the leading Joubert. “This is something like a triple toeloop”, Verner explained to the Czech press when they asked how he could describe this 5-point-difference. But in the end it was Verner who lost more points because of missing jumps. His free skating to emotional Tango music started with a quad – however, it was under-rotated and the landing was quite shaky. Anyway, he went on, landing a triple lutz, triple toe combination and then also a triple axel. Problems started with the salchow. It was single, then also the axel and the lutz were single. “I don’t know what happened. I was focused, I was calmed down after the warm-up. I knew I had to do the jumps. I screwed it”, Tomáš said shortly after his long program.

As it was already the second time he “screwed it” after a good short program (in Göteborg at worlds he was fourth after the short, but only 15th overall), the Czech press analyzed this failure for a long time. “Maybe I should have less brain activity and more stamina activity”, Tomáš tried to joke. His fans also say it lies in his head, as one of them noted: “It’s not only about wanting to win, but about believing, he really can win…

Boots from 2007, costume from 2008

I came here to win, I know that I can win and I want this third European title.” Guess who said it? Yes, you are right, Brian Joubert, just after his fantastic new short program which earned a new personal best for him. Although it seemed at the Cup of Russia that this routine to Safri Duo’s “Rise” couldn’t be skated better, Brian showed he still can improve. “This short program was better. In Russia I was very nervous, because of the Trophee Bompard, where I didn’t skate clean. Today I was confident and I had fun with the audience”, Joubert smiled after the short program. In the free skating he presented his brand new long program to “Matrix Reloaded” and “Requiem for a Dream” soundtracks which was created only two weeks prior the Europeans, in four days. “I decided to change the “Last of Mohicans” after the Grand Prix Final. It wasn’t natural, it wasn’t me. I felt it earlier, but I wanted to see how it works under competition pressure. It wasn’t good, so after the GPF I knew I had to change”, Brian explained.

Despite some mistakes in the free skating Joubert still got enough points to keep his first place and to earn his third European title after Budapest 2004 and Warsaw 2007. What does this title mean to him? “The first one in 2004 was easier because I didn’t have pressure, so it was easy to win. I’m very proud of this one because one week ago I still couldn’t do the quad in practice. We fixed it maybe two days before leaving for Helsinki. I’m proud of myself and my team. I won, and that’s the most important. So I prefer this title.”

Joubert had some boots and blades problem in the beginning of the season, so in Helsinki he wore boots he knows well: “I wore the boots that I won with in Tokyo in 2007. I knew these boots were good. We fixed this problem and my jumps were better every day and when I came to Helsinki, it was great”, he smiled. Boots weren’t the only “old” things he wore – in the free skating he wore the costume from the 2008 Worlds, in which he skated clean and despite being 6th after the short, in the end won a silver medal. “The costume, the boots… No, it’s not a superstition”, Brian laughed. Maybe it really isn’t, but the fact is, that just like in Tokyo, La Marseillaise was played at the end of the competition.

For Italy, not against France

The tunes of the French national anthem are very familiar also for Samuel Contesti, however after having troubles with the French federation and not being able to compete at the Olympics 2006, he decided to switch countries and he now represents Italy. After having the obligatory two year break he came back in fantastic shape and surprisingly won the silver medal. (Actually for us, who saw how he stole the show with his western routine at the Karl Schäfer Memorial in Vienna, it wasn’t such a big surprise.)

Right after his short program he refused to answer questions, his co-coach Peter Grutter explained, why: “It is part of his mental preparation not to give interviews during the competition. He is just happy to be here and he is someone who belongs here as you just have seen. It was not possible in France. He is very happy to be in Italy now and the federation is very supportive, but he is not skating against the French skaters.” Samuel emphasized it, too, at the press conference after the free skating: “I am very happy about my performance, and I am pleased to win a medal. It wasn’t about giving an answer to someone or about giving an answer to what happened in the past. I only want to think about the future now. I want to thank my team for the support and of course the Italian Federation, Courmayeur and the Aosta Valley.”


Skating despite the pain

When Kevin van der Perren finished his long program, he burst into tears. And when he saw his score (and that he is on the podium), he laughed and cried at the same time. Last March in Göteborg he said he wasn’t sure if he could skate ever again after having hip surgery, that’s why he had fun out there as if it was for the last time. Luckily, skating still had something to offer to the jumping star of Belgium – a bronze medal in Helsinki. “I didn’t skate a clean program since my surgery in April. They removed cartilage and a little piece that had broken off. I was off the ice for two and half months. Two days ago I fell on that spot in practice. I’m afraid to say this but I fell when I was skating forward. It was really stupid. During my long program I experienced a lot of pain. I was skating in the most horrible condition I ever had,” Kevin confessed. Despite the pain, he landed eight triples and four doubles in his free program, including a marvelous triple salchow-triple toeloop-triple loop combination!


Withdrawal of the champs

However, injury stopped another great skater – Maxim Shabalin. The reigning champions in ice dancing, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin had to withdraw after the compulsory dances, because Shabalin’s knee injury became more acute. We remember how Maxim said one year ago in Zagreb: “My knee didn’t hurt, doesn’t hurt and won’t hurt” – unfortunately, he was wrong…

Troubles with dresses

But it was another Russian ice dance couple who got the biggest media echo in Finland: Ekaterina Rubleva and Ivan Shefer. Finnish tabloids had their problems solved until the end of the week, they published one-page-photos on this couple. Were they so outstanding? Do they have a touching story? Oh, no! But during the compulsory dances Ekaterina’s dress got torn, and certain parts of body became visible… “I don’t know, how it happened, it just ripped off. It happened on the second pattern, so I can’t say much about our skating as all I was thinking of was my dress. I don’t remember anything, because all I was doing is trying to hold the slipping part of the costume… I heard how some people in the crowd whistled at me…”, Ekaterina said on this embarrassing moment.

The day when dancers stood still

The third Russian couple, Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski will remember Helsinki for much better reasons – they won their first European title in the Finnish capital. They took the lead after the compulsory dances, kept it after the original dance and also the free dance.

Our goal is always to achieve the maximum, and so we want to win,” Sergei said after the compulsories. “It’s very exciting for us, because this is the first time we’re fighting for the gold,” Jana added after the OD. They skated last in the free dance, and when they finished the routine to the music of Sergei Rachmaninov, they knew they won. “We haven’t skated last that often, usually we skate first. So it was an experience for us. It was hard to wait until all our main rivals had skated and more that 30 minutes had passed until we went out of the warm up area. But I think we dealt with it well,” Novitski said and he added: “When we finished, I think we both were speechless, we just hugged each other and stood still for ages.

Ireland for the first time

History isn’t made only in the first places. Sometimes even someone, who finishes 38th can make history. That was the case of Clara Peters, the first skater ever to represent Ireland in ISU competition. “It’s a great honour. Just to be able to represent your country is an honour, but to know I’m the one and I was the first, it’s something no one else will have. When I was a little girl, I was always dreaming to do this and that I was going to be the first, and here I am. It’s just brilliant”, Clara said with a big smile. Although she missed the bus from the hotel to the rink, this little inconvenience didn’t affect her skating. “I was nervous but excited. I’m sorry that it’s all over now. I want to go back in 20 minutes! It’s great out there. I love the nerves!

Judging controversy

Other skaters had other reasons to be nervous or upset. 2004 European champion Júlia Sebestyén couldn’t understand, why her Lutz was downgraded in the short program. “Why did they do this to me?” she kept asking over and over. She even considered withdrawing before the long program: “In the end I decided to skate, but just because I love this sport. The new judging system should be more objective but it was shown it isn’t always that objective. Before my free skating I almost started to cry when I went on the ice and heard how many people supported me. It wasn’t a bad free skate, but it definitely would have been different if I’d had the chance to fight for medals…” Being 14th in the short and 7th in the long program, Júlia finished 8th overall.

Carolina Kostner wasn’t satisfied with the judging either as one of her spins was not counted in the long program. If it received at least 1,91 points, she would have been the champion, but this way she got only the silver. Her team even made an official complaint to the ISU, and it was explained on her official site: “A spin in Carolina’s long program was not counted - not because she made a mistake but because of a debatable interpretation of the rules, therefore the sit spin was called a combination spin. Carolina lost gold not for something she has not done but because of a quarter of revolution over the maximum of revolutions allowed in upright position at the end of her sit spin.”

Stupid mistakes

Still, it wasn’t just the “zero-point-spin” that prevented Carolina winning her third title in a row. She made a big mistake in the short program, as she fell right before the Lutz. “I guess when you usually set your picking foot pretty close to the other one, I caught my blade and fell,” she tried to explain what happened.

In the free program, it was Kiira Korpi’s turn to make a silly mistake – she fell at the beginning of her program while doing crossovers! “Suddenly I was down and crashed into the boards. Somehow the blades must have clashed or something. Maybe I went too deep while doing crossovers. I had totally confused emotions. Luckily I was able to continue through. I didn’t know what I should think. I just had to focus on the performance. The rest of the program was a fight. There were some successful elements but I had to really fight, the rhythm was lost. The beginning was a shock, but at the end I feel good about being able to pull off a good performance”, Kiira said, who finished 5th in the end.

In front of the home crowd

Two other Finnish ladies, Susanna Pöykiö and Laura Lepistö were on the podium. Susanna got the bronze, while Laura won the gold. “I had said my goal is to medal, but that it would be gold, I can’t believe it. The crowd was amazing. I have never experienced a feeling like that. After my final spin the audience exploded and I myself had this feeling, too. Everything erupted at that moment, it was unbelievable. I will never forget this moment,” joyous Laura said.

Silver medallist Carolina Kostner agreed with her: “Each athlete comes here to win, but I couldn’t do it this time. I’m happy for Laura that she could win in front of her home crowd. This must be an amazing feeling. Next year the World Championships are in my home town, so I hope I can do the same.”

See you in Tallinn

When the competitions and the gala are over, exhausted figure skating fans realize they’ve seen nothing of the city yet. So they go on a short sightseeing trip in the night, in the empty city and they promise themselves next time they will come earlier to be able to explore the host city properly.

Next year the Europeans will be held in Tallinn.




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