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Kostner, Plushenko hunt for repeat titles at Euros

Germans, Russians set for pairs showdown; Dance wide open after French duo withdraws

According to 30-year-old Evgeni Plushenko, his main rival is himself.
According to 30-year-old Evgeni Plushenko, his main rival is himself. (Getty Images)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(01/22/2013) - The 2013 European Figure Skating Championships, which begin on Wednesday in the old Dom Sportova Arena in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, have already had a rocky start.

With heavy snowfall and freezing rain at several Western European airports, plus thick fog over Zagreb, some major airports were closed. Many skaters -- and their skates -- arrived in Zagreb later than planned.

This season, there are no qualification rounds. Instead, the International Skating Union (ISU) set minimum technical element scores (TES) all skaters must have earned at an international event within the last two seasons. These minimums are lower than those the ISU set for the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships and are the same minimum standards that will apply for the Four Continents Championships in February.

LADIES

Carolina Kostner of Italy is the favorite in the ladies event. The reigning world and European champion didn't compete in last fall's Grand Prix Series, but returned in December for the Golden Spin of Zagreb, which was also held in the Dom Sportova Arena. She had excellent programs at her national championships in December, where she performed the triple Lutz, a jump that has been out of her repertoire the past few seasons.

Her toughest competition will be Russia's Elizaveta Tuktamisheva, who won the Russian championships three weeks ago, and Russian bronze medalist Adelina Sotnikova. Both teenagers are old enough to compete at an ISU senior championships for the first time.

Other medal candidates include 2012 European bronze medalist Elene Gedevanishvili of Georgia -- who trains in Toronto under Brian Orser -- Viktoria Helgesson of Sweden and Valentina Marchei of Italy, who trains in Detroit under Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen. Finland's Kiira Korpi, the 2012 European silver medalist, will not compete in Zagreb due to severe Achilles tendon problems.

MEN'S

The highlight of the men's competition is the face-off between 30-year-old Russian Evgeni Plushenko, making his third comeback, and Spain's Javier Fernández, who was the only European to qualify for December's Grand Prix Final. Plushenko easily won his 10th Russian title, but has not competed internationally since his victory at Europeans one year ago.

At a press conference in Zagreb, he said, "I have a little back problem, but I will try my best. My main rival is myself."

Other medal challengers include Czech skaters Michal Březina and Tomas Verner, French champion Florent Amodio and his older countryman Brian Joubert (who placed fourth at the 2012 World Championships) and Russian Sergei Voronov.

There was a controversy in Russia about the third spot for Europeans. Konstantin Menshov, 29, was third at the Russian championships, but the Russian skating federation decided to nominate junior skater Maxim Kovtun, just 17 years of age.

PAIRS

The pairs event will be a fierce battle between reigning world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany, and world silver medalists Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia.

The Germans did not compete at their nationals because they preferred to do a show with their local sponsor, which was scheduled for the same day. In addition, Savchenko was still recovering from a severe sinus infection. In Zagreb, they were the only pair not present at the draw ceremony, because their flights had been cancelled twice. They arrived on Tuesday afternoon and, therefore, had no practice in the main rink.

After disappointing performances at their Grand Prix events, including an error-filled free skate at the Grand Prix Final, the Russians performed very well at their nationals. They will defend their European title despite the death of Trankov's father the day before their departure to Zagreb. Trankov will return to Moscow for his father's funeral the morning after the pairs free skate.

Russian silver medalists Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov withdrew because Larionov injured his hand in practice and cannot execute lifts. They were replaced by 2012 European bronze medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, who are candidates to repeat for the bronze medal.

Other hopefuls include Russians Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, Italian champions Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek and French champions Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès.

ICE DANCING

In ice dancing, heavy favorites Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat, who train in Detroit in Pasquale Camerlengo's group, will not be able to defend their title after Bourzat tore his right groin muscle in practice two weeks ago. That makes the title relatively open between three couples.

Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, who split their training between Paola Mezzadri in Milan and Igor Shpilband in Novi, Mich., placed fourth at the Grand Prix Final. Two Russian couples, Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, and Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, placed fifth and sixth, respectively, at the Final.