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Fantasy skating preview: Euro Championships

Plushenko still tops European field, Kostner heavy favorite

Despite his long absence, Evgeni Plushenko is still capable of winning Euros.
Despite his long absence, Evgeni Plushenko is still capable of winning Euros. (Getty Images)

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By Tara Wellman, special to icenetwork.com
(01/20/2012) - It's a busy week in the skating world! Both the American and Canadian championships are this week. And meanwhile, half a world away, the 2012 European Championships is set to kick off on Sunday. And, of course, that means another round of fantasy skating!

Here's how I see it.

Men looking for season's bests

Pool A
The battle for gold will likely come down to Spain's Javier Fernandez (the season's most pleasant surprise thus far) and Evgeni Plushenko, competing for the first time internationally since taking silver at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

Fernandez has been more than impressive this year, placing third at his first Grand Prix. He posted a 250.33 season's best at Skate Canada.

But, it's Plushenko. Even without competing for two years, he scored a 259.67 at Russian nationals. Granted, those scores are generally inflated compared to international marks, but the fact remains -- he's back, and I'm not willing to bet against him. He's my "A" pick.

Pool B
Kevin van der Perren is the veteran of this group. He started the season strong with a bronze medal at Skate America. But then, the troubles began. He went from a 212 at Skate America to a 179 at Skate Canada.

Samuel Contesti, on the other hand, started the year with great expectations, but fell short of his Grand Prix hopes. Still, he posted a 209.69 to finish fourth at NHK Trophy. Then, at the end of November, he took gold at NRW Trophy with a 204.53 score. His season is headed in a better direction, so I'm picking Contesti this week.

Pool C
This is where it gets especially tricky. There are several young skaters in this group who are unproven on the senior international stage.

Jorik Hendrickx skated the free skate of his life at last year's worlds. This year, he bested that mark at the Cup of Nice in October, and tallied a 185.25. However, he was bested by another Pool C candidate, Chafik Besseghier, who scored 199.35 points on his way to a silver medal. Besseghier also competed at Trophée Eric Bompard where he tallied 160.39 points.

Still, I give the nod to Besseghier, based on his head-to-head record with Hendrickx this season.

Ladies looking for consistency

Pool A
It's no secret that this has been Carolina Kostner's year. She's back from a year filled with injuries and self-doubt, and she's better than ever. While Alena Leonova has had a strong year of her own, this is Kostner's event to lose. That may just be the most decisive pick of the event!

Pool B
My initial reaction in this group was to go with Viktoria Helgesson. She did, after all, earn a bronze medal at Skate America, and finish fifth at Trophée Eric Bompard. She has solid programs and charming choreography. Plus, her basic technique is shining this year more than ever.

But then there's Kiira Korpi. By her standards, this was a down year. She finished sixth and fifth respectively at her Grand Prix events. However, she posted scores 12 and six points higher than Helgesson's two Grand Prix scores. In a tight field, considering Korpi was far less than at her best, that's significant. Keeping that in mind, I'm going with Korpi in Pool B.

Pool C
Yretha Silete of France made her Senior Grand Prix debut at Trophée Eric Bompard where she finished eighth. However, she matched up twice with Ukrainian Natalia Popova (at Cup of Nice and NRW Trophy). Both won the head-to-head once, both by significant margins.

Silete has the higher total score of the two, posting a 148.74 score at NRW. But, she also has the lowest with her 118.81 total at Cup of Nice.

Throw in Francesca Rio, who also has a 140 and a 118 to her name, and this group becomes about consistency. That is where Popova's 134 and 137 stand out. Add a 149+ at the Ice Challenge in Graz and she earns my "C" pick.

Pairs heating up the ice

Pool A
We have another classic battle on our hands. Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy bested Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov by 0.18 points at the Grand Prix Final. Can't get much closer than that!

However, Savchenko and Szolkowy have the experience together that Volosozhar and Trankov do not. I've had a hard time predicting the top pairs all season, but I'm going with the Germans in this event.

Pool B
Maylin Hausch and Daniel Wende have, of course, skated in the shadow of Savchenko and Szolkowy as the other German team. However, in this group they have to contend with Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek.

The Italians finished fourth in their first Grand Prix, then followed that up with a bronze medal in Moscow. With scores of 163.83 and 168.02 -- more than 20 points better than Hausch and Wende's Skate America score. I'm going with the Italians here.

Pool C
This group will be a Cup of Nice rematch between Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, and Mari Vartmann and Aaron Van Cleave. James and Cipres finished fifth at the event (143.87), while Vartmann and Van Cleave finished sixth (130.98).

However, the French team competed at Trophée Eric Bompard where they earned a 133.31 score. Likewise, the German team dominated at the NRW Trophy, scoring 151.20 points. Their other scores are in the 139 range, so that was quite the improvement.

Here, though, I'm going with James and Cipres, based on experience this season.

Dancers preparing for close contest

Pool A
Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat haven't been able to catch Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and Meryl Davis and Charlie White, yet they're by far the favorite in this group. I expect them to win and set themselves up for a podium run at worlds.

Pool B
This group will be a battle of Russian teams, plus one from Lithuania that is making a name for themselves.

Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov are likely the favorites in the group. They have the strongest scores and finishes from the Grand Prix season (140+ and a bronze medal).

Country mates Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko have such a classic look on the ice, but they tend to not finish every move, and thus, not present themselves as polished. They sit pretty evenly with Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas with scores in the 132 range.

However, I don't expect an upset in this group. I'm going with Ilinykh and Katsalapov.

Pool C
This pool is chock full of inexperience. Guessing which team will pull off the best event is tough. However, the team with the most stand-out scores is a team barely making the switch to competing as seniors.

Tiffany Zahorski and Alexis Miart won the International Trophy of Lyon with a 140.91, after missing most of the season while Miart was recovering from an injury. They placed fourth at junior worlds last season.

Tanja Kolbe and Stefano Caruso, on the other hand, won the NRW Trophy with a 131.51 score.

It's hard to come back from injury, but Zahorski and Miart are skating strong. They were on the climb through the junior ranks before the injury as well. They are my "C" pick.

For skating fans, this week can't get much better. Competition everywhere you look, and plenty of chances to make a move with your fantasy team! Good luck, and enjoy!