Saturday, January 09, 2010

European Championships Preview (Men)

The oldest skating event on the books, the European Championships will be happening concurrently with U.S. Nationals. Like the men's field in Spokane, the men's field in Tallinn is equally impressive. An Olympic Champ, two Olympic medalists, three World Champions, three European Champions, two Junior World Champs, and too many national champions to mention will all battle to become Europe's best. As I see it, ten men (seriously...ten!) have a shot at taking this title (or at least medaling). Who are the ten I'm watching?

Kevin van der Perren - Poor KVDP has had a really rough go this season. At HomeSense Skate Canada he looked absolutely disgusted with figure skating. Hopefully a bit of break from competitive skating and the Olympics just around the corner can put him back on track. European's offer Kevin a chance to reintroduce himself as a serious contender prior to the Olympics. Kevin finished 5th at Rostelecom Cup and a devastating 11th at HomeSense Skate Canada.

Michal Brezina and Tomas Verner - Both of these Czech skaters have had quite different seasons thus far. Tomas, who was the 2008 Champ of this event, has struggled here and there this season. He made the Grand Prix Final (after Joubert withdrew with injury) only to finish last. Brezina, on the other hand, has made steady improvements and nearly made the Grand Prix Final himself. He went on to defeat Verner for the Czech National Title. Verner needs to turn his season around and Brezina needs to continue his upswing.

Brian Joubert, Yannick Ponsero, and Alban Preaubert - Team France is easily the strongest in the field. Europeans offers Joubert the chance to do two things: test his skating after coming off of mid season foot surgery and also test himself for the first time since Torino against both Lambiel and Plushenko. Joubert is without question one of the leading men heading towards Vancouver, a status he'll hope to keep coming out of this event. For Ponsero and Preaubert, this is likely the end of their season as neither is slated to compete in Vancouver or Torino (one may go to Torino but it's too early know). Both were bested by young upstart Florent Amodio at French Nationals and failed to gain an Olympic berth (Amodio isn't competing in Tallinn). Both, however, are solid competitors and may surprise here.

Samuel Contesti - Last season's surprise European silver medalist is hoping to continue his emergence into the top ranks of men's figure skating. He kept it together at last World's in L.A. to place in the top five and while not perfect has skated fairly consistently on the Grand Prix. He'll need to bump it up a notch to compete with the heavy hitters here in Tallinn. His programs are unique crowd pleasers but he'll need to hit all his jumps and improve his levels to make a run at the title.

Evgeny Plushenko and Sergei Voronov - Plushenko is no stranger to this event. Ten years removed from his first European Title (2000) he's going after win number six. He made his comeback at Rostelecom Cup earlier this season with great ease but has since struggled with some knee problems. Even still, he enters this event as the Russian National Champ and skating fairly well. One thing many people will be looking at is the score Plushenko receives for his programs. At Russian Nationals his (and teammate Voronov) scores were very (very!)'ll be interesting to see what his actual international scores look like and if that knee continues to hold up. Voronov is still looking to crack into the top echelon of European men, he's been knocking at the door for several seasons now.

Stéphane Lambiel - It's a complete mystery to me that he has never won the European Title. Like Plushenko, he has made a rather impressive comeback this season, albeit he was only gone for one season to Plushenko's three. Lambiel, as a result of Jamal Othman's dismal performance in L.A. hasn't been afforded the chance to really pit himself against any of the world's best skaters this season. This competition will be the first time to see how Lambiel fits into this complex mix of skaters. Lambiel has a knack at being seemingly unprepared but looking rather prepared when you least expect it. He's also a very organic skater that likes new challenges and competes well given those challenges. He's planning a new free skate, we may (or may not) see it in Tallinn (We will! La Traviata). I look at Lambiel as the wildcard here.

Interesting, the top three big names are all entering this event nursing some sort of injury. Joubert has his foot, Plushenko his knee, and Lambiel his hip. This may throw a wrench into things...then again it may not affect things at all.

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