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Fernández' woes take holiday in masterful short

Voronov, Verner land second, third, respectively, after throwback showings
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With his easy win in the short, Javier Fernández is partway to cementing his status as Europe's top men's skater. The Spaniard landed everything cleanly in his "Satan Takes a Holiday" program, including his opening quad Salchow, en route to 91.56 points and a first-place finish. -Getty Images

Spaniard Javier Fernández won more than the short program Thursday afternoon at the 2014 European Figure Skating Championships. He proved that he was back to his best after a rather disappointing first half of the season. Plus, he will start the free skate with a solid six-point lead over the second- and third-ranked skaters, veterans Sergei Voronov of Russia and Tomáš Verner of Czech Republic (91.58 for Fernández, 85.51 for Voronov and 83.51 for Verner). Russia's Maxim Kovtun sits fourth with 83.15 points.

Fernández became No. 1 on the ice and in the hearts of the Hungarian audience right after he started his program, which flew perfectly from start to end. Fernández could have said in his usual humble and candid way that "this was like a run-through." That's what is terrible with such a brilliant skater: He can be so perfect, and it seems to be so easy!

What Fernández did confirm, though, was that he "really enjoyed [his] program, especially since so many people supported [him]."

Fernández racked up 12.5 points for his opening quad Salchow, 9.93 for his subsequent triple Axel and 10.7 points for his triple Lutz-triple toe combination. His spins were credited a Level 3 and two Level 4's, and his component scores averaged 8.5 points and were the best of the event.

"I'm not sad about the first half of this season," Fernández said. "This is going to be a long season. Not going to the ISU [Grand Prix] Final provided me with an extra day of training, and we had so many things to work on at the time, like my skates and a few things in my mind, too."

Fernández was clear about his expectations.

"An Olympic podium finish!" he answered enthusiastically. "But it's not going to be easy because there are so many great skaters in the world!"

The Spaniard may, however, be peaking at the very right time.

Fernández's most original costume was one of the hits of the day in Budapest, as it was so consistent to Fernández's music and theme.

"We did not know what to play with on this theme," Fernández explained. "So, it was Brian [Orser]'s idea to use Spanish-typical colors, and the costume designer made it from all our ideas. As for my music, 'Satan Takes a Holiday' was used by Robin Cousins in one of his exhibitions, and we asked him permission to use it. He is so happy each time he sees me skate to it!"

If Satan took a holiday Thursday night, then the angels could take its place after Fernández' win in the short program.

It was a great pleasure to see Voronov skate to a European small medal again so many years after his early successes. His opening quad-triple combination was perfect, as were all his other elements.

Once he finished his program, he gave a huge smile to his fans in the stands.

"Yes, I was happy about that performance," Voronov said. "Of course, I love figure skating," he explained, "But, I should also credit my coach and all the people around me for being here. This is the first time I have been in this position, actually!"

Verner also showed that he should be counted on for the weeks to come. The landing of his opening quad toe was shaky, but his triple Axel was crystal clear.

"I'm really happy to be here," Verner said, "Not only to be in Budapest but also to still be in competition after the short program, as last year I really disqualified myself." (He laughed.)

Verner could also come back from the ordeal he went through these last two seasons.

"These last two years, I had to go beyond my back injury," he said. "I learned one thing: In sport, you should never look behind you. If I had, I would not be here.

"I also put a lot of emphasis on mental coaching," Verner added, "And that helps me tremendously every day. Now I can feel the confidence when I step on the ice. I can feel that I am the only one on the ice and that I am able to jump again. These last two years, I did not know that I could."

Kovtun was rather disappointed after his skate. His program was brilliant, with a quad Salchow-triple toe to start with (that single element earned him 15.60 points!). His major mistake was, in fact, to miss his second planned quad, a toe loop. He went for a double instead, which brought him only 0.7 points.

Michal Březina of Czech Republic seems to have recovered after his own disappointing first half of the season. He opened a quad Salchow-double toe, and his triple flip and Axel were perfect. He amassed 82.81 points, and although they were below Florent Amodio's, his components were around 8.0.

2013 European silver medalist Amodio did show a much-improved program after the disastrous showings of his early season. He garnered 78.80 points, more than 10 points ahead of his season's best!

"It's not too bad," Amodio said afterward. "I did two mistakes, but they were small mistakes, overall." (The biggest mistake was missing final change foot sit spin, which brought him zero points.) "The start of this season was very hard, so this performance is quite promising for the future."

Amodio may be right: His skate was light and clear, as if everything was becoming slowly clearer and clearer in his newly acquired technique.

"The real competition will be tomorrow!" Amodio concluded with laughter.

He sits in seventh place, behind Alexander Majorov of Sweden.

One word needs to be said about French star Brian Joubert, although his performance was far from stellar (73.29 points and two major mistakes: a fall after his opening quad and a hand on his subsequent triple Axel). About 50 French flags rose in the stands as Joubert took the ice. He has remained a star in Budapest, 10 years after his first European gold medal.

"I am, of, course disappointed by my mistakes," Joubert said, "But still, I enjoyed my program and the audience was great. Finally, this is a brand new program, and the score is not so bad. This competition is a very important practice for me before the Olympics."

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