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Italians claim Euro gold as Fernandez leads men Russia’s Ilinykh, Katsalapov fall

BUDAPEST, Jan 17, (AFP): Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte claimed ice dancing gold as Spaniard Javier Fernandez kept his men’s title defence on track by leading the short programme at the European figure skating championships on Thursday. The pair from Milan won their first major title after the free dance final by just 1.10 point ahead of Russia’s Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, who were deducted one point for a fall. Britain’s Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland also took their first international medal with a bronze. Cappellini, 26, said that they were now heading to the Winter Olympics in Sochi in three weeks’ time with more confidence. “We just want to go to Sochi now and skate as well in our second Olympics,” she said. Earlier Fernandez proved that he is a contender for the Olympic podium as the 22-year-old outshone his rivals to open up a 6.05-point lead on Russian Sergei Voronov with Czech Tomas Verner in third going into Saturday’s free skating final.

But the battle for Russia’s sole men’s berth at the Winter Olympics has been thrown open as national champion Maxim Kovtum is sitting fourth after errors in his routine. The 18-year-old Kovtum is battling 2006 Olympic champion Yevgeny Plushenko for the berth in Sochi after stunning the former three-time world champion to win the national title last month. Veteran Plushenko, 31, is not competing in Budapest with Russia’s figure skating federation chiefs making their final selection after the Europeans. Fernandez, who is coached by Canadian Brian Orser, opened with a quadruple salchow and gave a flawless performance to the music “Satan takes a holiday” by Larry Clinton which included a triple axel and triple lutz-triple toe-loop combination. “I believe I can win the gold medal again, but every skater behind me has a chance to steal it,” said the Toronto-based skater, who scored 91.56 to better his personal best by 2.76 points. Fernandez blamed his struggles early in the season on his skates.

“You can’t train well when the skates aren’t good. But I went back to my old skates and just kept training,” he explained. “I knew that Kovtum had two quads in his programme, but for me one quad was sufficient.
“It was all about the overall performance and I went out there and did exactly what I needed.” Voronov, 26, who was third at the Russian nationals but has never medalled at a major competition, is sitting second with 85.51 after a clean skate to “Two Guitars”, with 2008 champion Verner on 83.51 following his routine to the “Duelling Banjos” soundtrack. Voronov admitted that he had lost three kilos to help his bid for the Olympic spot. “I try not to think about it (Olympics). I don’t even think today was my best skate but I’m pleased I beat the nerves and the worries.” Kovtum landed his opening quad-triple toe-loop combination, but popped his second quad jump in his Flamenco routine and is fourth with 83.15, nearly 10 points off his personal best.

“It’s a big shame because everything else was good,” said Kovtum. “For now we have to go forward, tomorrow and the day after are the important ones.” Fernandez was a surprise winner of the men’s title last year in Zagreb becoming the first Spanish figure skater to medal at an ISU championship and he went on to take bronze at the worlds. Former champions Florent Amodio and Brian Joubert of France are sitting seventh and ninth respectively. Russian teenagers Adelina Sotnikova and Julia Lipnitskaia are 1-2 going into Friday’s women’s free skating final with five-time winner Carolina Kostner of Italy in third. In pairs, Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, four-time world champions and Olympic bronze medallists, will continue their duel with reigning world and European champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia starting on Friday.

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