MOSCOW: Russian ice skating queen Evgenia Medvedeva leads an all-star cast at this week’s European championships which carry special significance with the Olympics barely more than a triple axel away.
The Pyeongchang Games start in just over three weeks and two-time world champion Medvedeva will be out to press home her claims on the women’s Olympic title that has been left vacant after the season-ending injury that ruled out 2014 champion Adelina Sotnikova.Spaniard Javier Fernandez goes for his sixth straight men’s European title in Moscow ahead of his last shot at Olympic glory after he narrowly missed the podium four years ago at the Sochi Games.
In pairs, local hopes Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov aim to defend their title while record-breaking French duo Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are set to dazzle in the ice dance.
Medvedeva is unbeaten since 2015 but is recovering from a broken foot which ruled her out of the Grand Prix finals and Russian nationals.“Evgenia is training at full strength,” Russian figure skating chief Alexander Gorshkov told TASS.
“She is fully focused on her preparation for the European Championships and other forthcoming competitions. She has almost recovered from the injury. Taking into account her character and tenacity, we hope she will come back to the ice in excellent shape.”
With Russia under an Olympic ban for state-sponsored doping, Medvedeva is expected to be among a group of Russians approved to compete in Pyeongchang as independents under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia”.
The 18-year-old Muscovite will have to be near her best this week to see off the threat posed by her compatriot, Alina Zagitova.A mere 15 years old, Zagitova has swept all before her in this, her debut senior season.
The world junior champion is unbeaten, culminating in titles at the Grand Prix Finals and Russian nationals. “I’m set to show my best at the Europeans on my home ice,” the teenager said. The two Russians will be keeping an eye on Carolina Kostner, Italy’s five-time former European champion who claimed her first European podium in 2006 when Zagitova was only four years old.
Fernandez, although only 26, is another awarded veteran status. The two-time former world champion has danced off with the men’s European title every year since Zagreb in 2013.
He is hungry to finish his competitive career on a high, both in Moscow and at Pyeongchang, even if the years are taking their toll.
“My energy is kind of going away already,” he told the website of the sport’s ruling body ISU recently.“I’ve been here, it seems like forever.”
Of a potential sixth title he added: “To keep making history, also in figure skating history, I think is really important and special for me. So, I am definitely going to try to make it happen.”
With the likes of American Nathan Chen and Japan’s defending Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu lying in wait, Europe’s men appear up against it in South Korea.
But Russian champion Mikhail Kolyada will be putting his best quadruple lutz forward after his bronze behind Fernandez in Ostrava 12 months ago.
“Now I feel myself as the leader in Russia’s men’s skating,” said the Saint Petersburg native.
“Success at the nationals boosted my self-confidence and presence of mind.”The ice dance title looks gift-wrapped for French duo Papadakis and Cizeron for the fourth successive year after the two-time former world champions became the first ice-dancing pair to ever break 200 points this season.
While in pairs Germany’s world silver medallists Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot were late defectors, preferring to keep their powder dry for Pyeongchang, leaving the way clear for home favourites Tarasova and Morozov to defend their European crown.