The European figure skating championships begin tomorrow in Tallinn, Estonia. Here is a preview of what we'll be watching for.
Thank goodness for the European Championships, for giving us the chance to see the state of some of the year's major comebacks. Russia's reigning Olympic gold medalist, Evgeny Plushenko, will be trying to make one last statement before the Olympics start next month in Vancouver. Switzerland's two-time world champion, Stephane Lambiel, will also get a chance to show he is healthy and ready to challenge the top in the world. And France's former world champ, Brian Joubert, will be competing for the first time since he suffered a foot injury late last year that caused him to miss the Grand Prix Final and the French national championships. We'll see if he's competition-ready as well. I'd expect those three to be the major contenders, but other potential medalists are Czech Republic's Tomas Verner, who is always dangerous because of his quads, his countrymate Michal Brezina, who made a splash on the Grand Prix scene by skating a great, clean free skate at the NHK Trophy, as well as Italy's charismatic Samuel Contesti and Belgium's Kevin Van der Perren.
Two-time world champions and reigning European champs Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany are here, despite Savchenko's recently battling mononucleosis. They had a disappointing bronze medal in the Grand Prix Final in December and did not put up that much of a fight, despite being the Olympic gold-medal favorites until China's Shen and Zhao announced their comeback last year. We'll see how much stamina Savchenko has and if this team can recapture the magic they displayed at Skate Canada, where they were dominant and won the gold.
Some more pairs to watch are Russia's Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov and Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov. Mukhortova and Trankov started the season by winning Trophee Eric Bompard with two of the best performances I've seen them put together. But they have been downhill from there, and lost the recent Russian nationals to Kavaguti and Smirnov, who had been having a disappointing season until then. Both teams will be trying to affirm that they are Olympic medal contenders. Another medal threat is Ukraine's pair of Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov.
Well, this category became a lot less interesting since France's former world champs Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder decided not to compete so they could keep their choreography close to the vest. I have a feeling this will be an easy win for Olympic gold medal contenders and reigning world champs from Russia, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin - the big question is whether they've changed the offensive costumes from their original dance. The other question is who will they be sharing the podium with? Russians Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski have been disappointing this season, but they are debuting a new free skate at Europeans, so perhaps that will shake things up. France's Natalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat recently won the bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final, so they are definite contenders. Additionally, the Italian teams of Faiella and Scali and Cappellini and Lanotte should be in the mix, as well as the Great Britain team of Kerr and Kerr.
I don't personally find this ladies field to be very strong, but there some Olympic medal dark horse contenders to watch out for. Reigning champ Laura Lepisto of Finland may very well repeat, although she will be challenged by her country-women Kiira Korpi and perhaps Susanna Poykio. I'm particularly interested in the new Russian champion, Ksenia Marakova, and Alena Leonova. Leonova started the season off with a bang, collecting two Grand Prix medals, but did not do well at the Grand Prix final and lost the Russian nationals to Marakova, who did not score particularly high there. Switzerland's Sarah Meier has medaled here before and is always in the mix. And don't forget Italy's Carolina Kostner - has she worked out the issues she's been dealing with since last season's world championships? Also not to be overlooked is Julia Sebestyen of Hungary. And hometown girl Elena Glebova will surely be looking to make an impact here.
Schedule (times are in Tallinn time, which is seven hours ahead of eastern time)
Tuesday, January 19
1:30 pm: Ice Dance – Compulsory Dance
7:20 pm: Pairs - Short Program
Wednesday, January 20
11:00 am: Men – 1st Part Short Program
2:30 pm: Men - 2nd Part Short Program
7:00 pm: Pairs – Free Skating 1-4
20:30 Pairs - Free Skating 5-16
Thursday, January 21
1:00 pm: Ice Dance – Original Dance
6:45 pm: Men – Free Skating
Friday, January 22
10:00 am: Ladies – 1st Part Short Program
1:45 pm: Ladies – 2nd Part Short Program
6:40 pm: Ice Dance – Free Dance
Saturday, January 23
1:30 pm: Ladies – Free Skating
Sunday, January 24
3:30 pm: Exhibition