Ice Network

Tarasova, Morozov claim second European title

Pair earns repeat victory on home ice, helps Russia complete pairs sweep
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Looking to rebound from their poor short program, Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov delivered an electric performance Thursday in front of the home crowd. Skating to selections from Christina Aguilera and Elvis Presley, the reigning European champions achieved a new personal-best free skate score of 151.23 points, and that effort enabled the duo to depart Moscow with a total score of 221.60 points and their second straight gold medal. -Getty Images

Here's something to keep in mind: never underestimate the ability of Russian skaters, particularly when they're performing in the capital city of Moscow, but especially when it comes to pairs skating, the sport that ignited the country's worldwide comeback.

Following Wednesday's short program at the 2018 European Figure Skating Championships, the three Russian pairs teams were scattered throughout the top five in the standings, but they rallied during Thursday's free skate to complete a podium sweep in front of the home crowd, some six years after capturing all three medals at the 2012 European championships in Sheffield, England.

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, the reigning European champions, managed to retain their title after rallying from fifth place after the short program. The duo showcased their unmatched power and mastery to place ahead of their teammates, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, who won silver, and Natalja Zabijako and Alexander Enbert, who took home the bronze medal. Overnight leaders Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès of France failed to maintain their place at the top, but even worse, the 2017 European bronze medalists would go on to miss the podium by one-tenth of a point.

Tarasova and Morozov endured somewhat of a shock after their performance in the short program, with Morozov declaring, "We won't make a tragedy out of it, but we will draw conclusions." On Thursday, the pair didn't let opportunity slip by again, as they delivered a flawless program to Christina Aguilera's "Candyman." Tarasova, dressed in a bright yellow dress (with black spots), and Morozov, a black costume (with a bright yellow tie), needed a bit of time to feel the right mood, but it didn't take them long to find their groove, as they landed their opening quad twist and side-by-side triple salchow.

Each one of their subsequent elements grasped more than a 1.0 Grade of Execution (GOE). They landed a throw triple salchow followed by a triple toe-double toe-double toe, which they landed in perfect sync. Their throw triple loop was picture perfect, as were their three lifts, two spins and spiral, which all received Level 4's.

"It was much tougher for us to win our second European title after the errors I made yesterday," Tarasova said.

"Everything just worked fine for us," added Morozov, who hinted at the upcoming Olympic team selection process. "The decision of which couples will compete in the Olympic Team Event should be decided at the end of this week. These European Championships will act like a qualification event to support the decision."

Carmen? Again? Indeed this was the program choice for the silver medalists, but skating to Carmen as a male-female pair does have its advantages. Stolbova and Klimov finished third in the short program Wednesday, but only because of their superior components scores. On Thursday night, they partially redeemed themselves. Their program was highlighted by a triple twist, throw triple flip, side-by-side triple toe-double toe combination (though they had planned for a triple-triple) and a final throw triple salchow. Stolbova fell on their side-by-side triple salchow, however, in the middle of the program.

The team received 138.96 points for their free program, and 211.01 points overall, a distant 10.59 points behind the leaders.

"Jumps didn't work fine, and the rest was just normal," a disappointed Klimov explained.

Stolbova, who is usually shy despite burning with internal passion, had to take somewhat of the leading role for this program, as Carmen wouldn't have it any other way. She's handled her acting with poise and mastery right from the start.

"Our coaches gave us some useful links on the web to better learn the role of Carmen in various musicals," she said. "So I had no other choice. Every week I had to learn something new."

Zabijako and Enbert carried the same frame of mind they arrived in Moscow with. Placing second after the short program, the pair landed a triple twist, throw triple lutz and a throw triple loop. They didn't fare as well in their side-by-side jumps, however, as they singled the final jump of the triple toe-double toe-double toe, and doubled their planned triple salchow.

Their opening triple twist, three lifts and two spins were rated a Level 4, with their spiral earning a Level 3. The bronze medalists amassed 137.23 points for their free program, topping their season's best by 3.07 points, and finished with 210.08 overall.

"We're happy with the results," Enbert commented. "When we discovered that we were third, we were so excited. We didn't find out that the margin was so narrow before the awards ceremony was over. By then, we had calmed down!"

James and Ciprès were the last team of the evening to take the ice. The overnight leaders entered the rink visibly tense and their nervousness was palpable right from the start. Their triple twist was not as high as it normally is, and James nearly popped their subsequent combination, going from a side-by-side triple-double-double to a double toe-double toe-single toe.

Many wondered, at that moment, how the team would manage to land their foremost element, the throw quad salchow.

They did land it, however, and it was warmly applauded. It was also the only quad of the evening other than that of the winners' quad twist. The French tandem landed their side-by-side triple salchow and a throw triple lutz, but they lost a level on two of their lifts, which eventually cost them medal position.

As soon as the scores for James and Ciprès were posted, the audience erupted in cheers because their hometown teams had completed a sweep of the podium. The French wound up with 134.65 points in the segment, and finished just 0.01 points shy of capturing another European medal. And, as they discovered Thursday, every tenth of a point can make a difference, or as the Russian saying goes, "one kopek saves the ruble."

Italy's top pairs, Valentina Marchei and Ondřej Hotárek, and Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise, finished fifth and sixth, respectively.

Marchei and Hotárek delighted the audience with their routine, which was set to Nino Rota's "Amarcord." They landed a triple twist lift, side-by-side double toe (instead of a planned triple), side-by-side triple salchow-double toe-double toe, throw triple loop and a throw triple lutz.

When it was all over, the pair departed the ice with looks of immense pride. Not only were their jumps of high caliber, but their three lifts and spins were rated Level 4. They amassed 132.31 points for their free program -- a new season's best -- and 204.20 points overall.

The top five teams surpassed the 200-point mark in the final standings, which is always a landmark accomplishment in pairs skating.