Moscow (AFP) – Moscow is emerging from the darkest December on record but teen sensation Alina Zagitova and a clustre of other Russian skaters provided some welcome rays of sunshine at this week’s European Championships.
With Russian sport under its own dark cloud as it serves an Olympic ban for state-sponsored doping, new European champion Zagitova represents a critical source of light for the nation at next month’s Games.
As do deposed queen Evgenia Medvedeva, who will fancy her chances of gaining revenge in Pyeongchang, and Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who defended their pairs title.
The home team can look back on a hugely productive four days at Moscow’s Megasport Palace, with Russia bagging nine of the 12 medals on offer.
The two golds that got away were hardly a surprise: Spain’s Javier Fernandez proving he is still king of men and French duo Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron waltzing to their fourth ice dance title with a new world record.
Zagitova is the latest star skater to come off the remarkable Russian ice skating production line.
As the clock in Moscow edged towards 2230 on Saturday night, a time when most girls of 15 were being packed off to bed, Zagitova was standing proud as punch at the top of the podium, gold medal around her neck, eyes glistening as the Russian national anthem was played in her honour.
An astonishing new chapter in her sensational first senior season.
And this could be just a stepping stone to even greater glory with Zagitova now favourite with Medvedeva for the Olympic title in Pyeongchang next month.
“At the Olympics we will be competing under the white flag, but we are still ‘Athletes from Russia’. In our souls, we know,” said Zagitova, displaying a striking level of maturity beyond her years.
Although deprived of her third title by her training partner, Medvedeva nonetheless had the satisfaction of making a fight of it on this, her comeback after breaking her right foot.
“My main victory is that I am standing here (after the injury). For all athletes, but for me too, their performances improve from competition to competition. The bigger the break in competing, the worse it is,” said the 18-year-old Muscovite.
The crown slipped from her grasp after she fell less than six points shy of matching Zagitova’s personal best points tally of 238.24 after the girl in red’s flawless free skate routine.
Italian veteran Carolina Kostner, resplendent in a dazzling dayglo green costume, took bronze.
Zagitova is unusual in that she backloads her jumps to the second half of her routine, and so it was fully two minutes before her blades leapt off the ice for her opening triple lutz-triple loop combination.
Earlier, Papadakis and Cizeron broke their own world record score to claim a fourth straight European ice dance title.
The all-conquering French duo blitzed the Russian-led opposition with a perfect free dance routine.
That earned them a score of 121.87 points for a mammoth 203.16 total to cement their claims on next month’s Olympic title.
Papadakis, 22, and Cizeron, 23, who were the first to smash through the 200-point barrier earlier this season, clinched gold with a 16-point margin over home hopes Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev (187.13).
Another Russian couple, Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Burkin, took bronze on 184.86.
“The European Championships were an important step for us and a good opportunity to test the little adjustments we’ve made to our programs,” said Cizeron.
“The Olympic Games will come up very soon now and we’re really excited.”