Golden Skate

Zagitova edges out Medvedeva for European title in debut

Figure Skating News

Alina Zagitova

Russia’s Alina Zagitova was the youngest competitor at the 2018 European Figure Skating Championships where she won the title in her debut.

Alina Zagitova of Russia won the first European Championship title of her career (238.24), edging out fellow countrywoman Evgenia Medvedeva, who had to settle for silver (232.86). Italy’s Carolina Kostner was able to maintain third place overall to finish with the bronze (204.25).

Zagitova, who trains on the same ice as her main rival, continued her impressive winning streak. Since the start of her senior career this autumn, the student of Eteri Tutberidze did not put a foot wrong, winning every event she entered. The 2018 European Figure Skating Championships in Moscow was no exception.

The 2017 World Junior Champion started the event with a strong short program set to Swan Lake music and nailed three jumping passes in the second half of the routine, including an impressive triple Lutz – triple loop combination. The audience fully got behind her performance and the support was very loud, even compared to the generally great reception all skaters were enjoying throughout the entire week. The judges were similarly impressed: one of them awarded her two perfect 10.0 scores for performance and interpretation.

“Everything worked,” she said about her performance in the short. “There were little imperfections, but in principle, I’m very happy with how I am skating this season.”

The long program was equally strong. With all jumping passes moved to the second half of the program to benefit from the 10% increase in their value and very difficult triple Lutz – triple loop combination, she had more than a three-point advantage in the base value alone.

“I was nervous today,” admitted the 15-year-old from Izhevsk. “There was a long break between training this morning and the competition, but today I wanted to skate a clean program and to enjoy it. I think today there was even more support than in the short program. I could hear kids shouting and people shouting, ‘Go on Alina!'”

The teen claims that the victory was unexpected for her.

“I haven’t really realized,” she said immediately afterwards. “To skate at home is on the one hand harder, because you don’t want to let down your home and your fans. On the other hand, it is easier, because you get so much support.”

“I would like to thank my coaches for their patience,” she added modestly. “Personally, I would award myself 4 out 5 for the performance; there were some issues and I will try to correct them. I am happy that I skated two clean programs. Of course, I am also happy that I won the European championships, but there is still a long road ahead and I need to move on.”

Medvedeva, who was undefeated for the past two seasons, claims that she is not disappointed with her silver medal. The skater who missed the 2017-18 ISU Grand Prix Final and Russian National Championships due to a foot injury prefers to focus on the positive things.

“My main victory is that I am standing here,” she explained. “For all athletes, but for me too, their performances improve from competition to competition. The bigger the break in competing, the worse it is. But I am happy, and when the whole audience is shouting your name, it is simply incredible.”

“I did not feel the injury, everything has healed,” she added. “I was in a cast for three weeks. It was a removable cast. I want to say thank you to everyone who has been with me throughout this difficult period. Everyone has put in effort for me to be here today. I want to thank my fans and coach for their help. It’s almost a miracle that I’ve recovered so quickly. I’m happy that I’m back.”

The two-time World champion two-footed the landing of her double Axel in the short program and was unable to execute her planned opening triple-triple combination in the long program, settling for a solo triple flip after a shaky landing. She also picked up a warning for an unclear take-off edge on her Lutz.

“The solo triple flip in the beginning was just a mistake,” she explained. “It was a technical issue caused by something in my head.”

She recovered to produce a triple flip – triple toe loop combination in the second half of her “Anna Karenina” routine and picked up the highest presentation score of the entire field, but it was not enough to compensate for the lower technical score.

“A silver is a silver,” said the 18-year-old. “You cannot change the color of the medal, but after the injury and the two-month break, it is important for me to be back and it’s not too bad for a result overall.”

“From early in the morning, I wake with an idea that I simply do what I can do right now, to live in the present moment. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are,” she elaborated when asked to describe her feelings throughout the performance. “Practice was good, warm up was good, no issues at all. There were some moments then I could feel how the two-month break affected my performance. I really wanted to show the real Anna Karenina and I think I did.”

The skater has been shown on TV closing her eyes while waiting for the marks to come. She denies she was anxious waiting for the score.

“The reason I closed my eyes was because I wanted to record this moment to my memory,” she explained. “I got the standing ovation and the crowd welcomed me back and I wanted to stay in the moment.”

The two-time national champion, who steadfastly refused to answer any questions about the Olympics before, finally explained that she is not planning to change anything in her preparations.

“There’s not a lot of time left before the Olympics,” said Medvedeva. “I am grateful there is still that time and I will carry on training in the same vein. Like I said before, I will try to live in the moment.”

Kostner, who was a close third after a flawless performance to “Ne me quitte pas” in the short program, struggled with her jumps in the long, but was able to capture her 11th medal of the European championships.

“It was not at all my best performances,” she admitted. “It’s a pity because my body’s ready and the practices were easy-going and mostly flawless. But then you get into the competition and it just slips away.”

“The good part is that other than the performance tonight, the whole week was magnificent,” added the Italian, who will turn 31 next month. “To sum up, I can go home with much more positives than negatives and I know what I need to work on for the Olympics.”

The skater, who had not been including the triple Lutz in her programs, went for it in Moscow as the opening jumping pass, but fell.

“My goal is to find the best version of myself,” she explained. “I envision the program with the triple Lutz, but I can’t think I will just put it in the program and it will just work. I want to keep it in the program in the future. We’ll see.”

“When I did my first European championships, I remember I skated two pretty clean programs with two triple-triple combinations in my free,” she recalled. “I didn’t end up on the podium because they told me that only jumps are not enough, and that the artistic part is very important. That put the spark in me that I wanted to improve, not just my technique, but also artistically. Going through the different ages and stages of the body and becoming a woman, training has not always been easy.”

“You have to fight through and find new ways and new motivation,” said the veteran skater. “It needs patience, determination and love for what you do. I have that. I have all of that. I know I can do it. It’s not so easy to bring it back, to find your confidence and to find your inner peace with what you’re doing. If I think back to two years ago, I really started from scratch. I started from single and double jumps, and now it is really starting to come along, maybe not today, but practices are going great. I am improving every day and it’s fantastic for me to go through that whole process.”

The five-time European champion didn’t lose her interest in the artistic side of figure skating. For this event, she changed her costume to a rather bold green unitard.

“We’ve changed the costume because we have been thinking of how we can underline the music, the exotic part of Debussy,” she explained. “That’s how we came up with the color and the design. It has the cut-out pattern on it which was inspired by the poster of the first ballet of L’après-midi d’un faune danced by Nijinsky as part of Ballet Russes.”

The Italian is unsure if the costume is here to stay, however.

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen the video yet,” she said at the press conference. “It’s the first time I used it at a competition in full lighting, so I need to see it on the screen to make the final decision.”

“It looked great,” chimed in Medvedeva. “It shines like a diamond.”

Maria Sotskova ran into trouble with the triple Lutz in both of her programs to finish fourth overall with 200.81 points in total. In the short program she was unable to execute a planned triple – triple combination due to the shaky landing of the Lutz and had to attach a triple toe loop to a triple flip later in the program. In the free program, her second attempt to execute the jump ended up in a fall.

When asked by media if she is happy that it was over, she was quick to correct them.

“The fight is never over,” said the 17-year-old. “We all keep going on and on. However, I am relieved that the event is done. I expected more of myself, but I have no one else to blame.”

The student of Elena Vodorezova said that the thoughts about the Olympics did not affect her at all.

“I usually don’t think so far ahead,” said the 2018 Russian silver medalist. “I usually focus on the upcoming competitions and don’t worry about anything long-term. Every competition is important for me and the European championships is one of the most important events.”

“Maria’s issue, well maybe not an issue, but a feature of her character, is that she takes everything very seriously,” said Vodorezova. “She really focused on every event and gives it [her] all every time. It makes things a bit more difficult for her.”

The skater agreed: “I have to conserve the energy in between competitions. It gives me enough resources to spend at competitions, to give my best. This may be the reason why my coach thinks that I am too serious.”

“I am not sure what happened on the Lutz,” she said. “I am not even sure if I was too fast or too slow going into it. I will have to analyze what happened and maybe change something in the training process so it will not happen again.”

“The audience helped me to recover, though,” she added. “They were so upset by my mistake that it helped to get over the fall. I was really happy skating here, because I saw judges were sitting and watching with soft faces, and of course the support of the audience was incredible. It was the first time in my life when I experienced that support. It was like in an Olympic Games in Sochi when I watched on TV how the audience supported our Russian skaters. It really pushed me going forward.”

Below the top four, there was a significant gap in scores. Loena Hendrickx from Belgium rose up from the eighth place in the short to finish fifth overall with 176.91 points in total. The Belgian skater did not attempt any triple – triple combinations or a triple loop and she made a couple of mistakes. Overall, however, the 18-year-old who was seventh a year before, was happy with her performances and the progress she achieved since her injury early in the season.

“At the beginning of the season I had a knee injury and had to withdraw from three competitions,” she said. “I did my first Junior Grand Prix, but had a lot of pain and the competition didn’t go well, but now it’s fine.”

“The beginning of my short program was good, but then the concentration was just gone and I’m a bit disappointed about the single flip,” she added. “Perhaps I was a bit overwhelmed. Of course, I am more satisfied with my free skating, I am very happy. I really enjoyed performing in Moscow. Now we will spend two to three weeks at home training, and in the beginning of February, we will go to Korea.”

Nicole Rajicova from Slovakia slipped from fifth place in the short to sixth place overall (171.90) after four jumps in her free program were rated as under-rotated by the technical panel.

“That was definitely a fight,” said the US-born skater. “I know I’m capable of much better, but it was not too bad. It wasn’t my absolute worst. I’m definitely tired, so that’s something to work on. I’m going to keep doing run-throughs, especially when I’m really tired, so that I’m prepared for the Olympics. This season, I’ve been working much harder and drilling those run-throughs. That’s given me increased confidence, so I know if I rotate all my jumps, I’ll stay standing up.”

France’s Maé-Bérénice Méité finished in eighth place, followed by Emmi Peltonen of Finland.