Ice Network

Cappellini, Lanotte trim Russians for Euro title

Ilinykh takes tumble on twizzle; Coomes, Buckland thrill with bronze
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Although their victory may come with an asterisk--what with the continent's top two teams being absent from the competition--the gold medals around Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte's necks shined just as brightly as if the field were whole. -Getty Images

The expected battle on blades between Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte and the Russian team of Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov ended the moment Ilinykh fell, at the end of the duo's twizzles. Cappellini and Lanotte won their first European gold medal Thursday night in Budapest (the second Italian team to achieve such a feat), ahead of Ilinykh and Katsalapov (171.61 to 170.51 points). The British team of Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland confirmed the third place they won after the short dance and captured their first European medal, a bronze, with 158.69 points.

Cappellini and Lanotte skated to the overture from Rossini's The Barber of Seville. Pure music, clear edges that no one could hear as they skated: the result was a miniature masterpiece delivered to an audience, like in La Scala de Milan, their home city. Their opening twizzles covered half the rink's length. All their elements garnered Level 4's, except the two step sequences, which were rated Level 3.

"For this year, we really wanted something from the Italian repertoire," Cappellini explained. "We listened to the whole opera, and then we fell in love with this piece without lyrics."

Cappellini and Lanotte take the time to live their program as they skate. As Cappellini put it, "I wanted a story where I would not have to die at the end. My wish was granted!"

"We love telling stories," Cappellini added. "The free dance is usually very tiring, so it would seem easier to channel something dramatic than something fun and light. It's much more difficult to keep the lightness of skating when you're almost out of breath! But we've been working so hard. We are not there yet on the ending of our free dance, but it's coming. We can picture ourselves skating it as we want. It is super-Italian and fun!"

Ilinykh and Katsapalov's Swan Lake started like a tornado, with their opening "layback" lift (Ilinykh may have the best layback of the field) combined with their rotational lift setting the pace for their dance. They also got Level 4 for all their lifts but a Level 3 for their twizzles and circular step sequence. The duo entered into their synchronized twizzles full speed, and Ilinykh fell right at the end. Their following diagonal step sequence was rated at Level 2 -- probably due to the fall on the previous element. The team managed to recompose quickly for the end of their program, but the magic of their dance was somewhat destroyed.

"Ice dance is a sport," Ilinykh conceded afterward. "We were skating full speed ahead, with our soul, and everything was there. But sometimes this happens."

Ilinykh and Katsalapov appeared to be exhausted after they ended their program.

"This fall was completely unexpected," Ilinykh managed to add. "What I thought on the spot, I can certainly not say it publicly!"

Rather surprisingly, they received higher components scores than the Italians, and by a rather significant margin: 54.69 for Ilinykh and Katsalapov and 53.54 for Cappellini and Lanotte. That could certainly be argued, especially for the skating skills (9.14 for the Russians versus 8.86 for the Italians), which were obviously penalized by Ilinykh's fall.

Both teams hugged each other strongly after the results were known. Their brotherly friendship, added to sportsmanship, dignified the sport of ice dance.

"We posted two season's bests at this competition," a radiant Cappellini concluded. "The fact that the judges liked our programs -- especially the free dance -- should help us in Sochi."

"Watch that Michael Jackson program!" coach Evgeni Platov had advised. "This is going to be a big night!"

He was right. Coomes and Buckland gave an electric performance of their routine, which was an instant hit with the Hungarian audience. Even the volunteers at the event left their position to watch. Their energetic lifts, among which was their trademark three-times-around rotational lift, drove the audience wild.

"We work with acrobats," Coomes explained. "I'm ready to try everything. Also, I'm so tiny compared to Nick that we'd be silly not to take advantage of [our size difference]!"

Dressed in black costumes lined with bright stones, the team managed to remain classy and clean on its edges throughout its program.

"I have been waiting all season to give justice to this program," Coomes explained. "We're not at our peak yet, but finally we could skate it the way we wanted."

"That's Russian skating with a British spirit," Platov had suggested earlier.

With the help of their coach, the team may launch the revival of British skating.

"In 2010, we finished 16th in our first Europeans in Tallinn (Estonia)," Buckland recalled. "We feel extremely proud to be on the podium this year."

The Russian national team in Budapest could once more measure the depth of its ice dancing school. The two other Russian teams, Victoria Sinitsina and Ruslan Zhiganshin, and Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko, kept their fourth- and fifth-place finishes, with 153.73 (93.10 in the free dance) and 150.44 points (90.09 for the free), respectively.

On the musical podium, Rossini comes in first, Tchaikovsky second and Michael Jackson third.

"We love Michael Jackson," Buckland concluded, "And we love the Shibutanis' free dance. (U.S. ice dancers Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are also using a Michael Jackson free dance this season.) We're all celebrating Michael's music, which is the best of the world!"