Brian Joubert, French National and European Champion
2007 EUROPEAN FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS
I finally got to see the 2007 European Figure Skating Championships over the weekend, and thus got a preview of what our U.S. skaters face in terms of competition at the World Figure Skating Championships in March in Tokyo.
Brian Joubert did not skate with the intensity he displayed at Cup of Russia, but he scarcely needed it as he was not faced with truly serious competition in the absence of reigning world champion Stéphane Lambiel of Switzerland. An interesting reason was given for Lambiel’s absence – not that he is ill or injured, but rather that Mr. Lambiel feels himself to be “lacking the sacred fire” necessary to compete – whatever THAT means! Lambiel is Swiss and thus, perhaps not operating to the same drummer that you and I are able to hear.
My prediction: If Stéphane Lambiel is still sacred-fire-deficient and doesn’t show up, Brian Joubert will be seriously challenged by both Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir, as well as Tomas Verner (CZE) and Sergei Davydov (BLR). The wild card is the always mercurial Emanuel Sandhu of Canada who should never be discounted, as well as his countryman Jeffrey Buttle who, if healthy, could pose a definite threat. However, in the end – and perhaps deservedly so – the matinee idol from France will win the World Championships, IF he brings his Cup of Russia “A” game to the world championships! I predict, in the absence of Lambiel, Joubert-gold, Lysacek-silver, Buttle-bronze. Buttle misses the podium if Lambiel is skating, but I don’t truly see him challenging Joubert’s “A” game.
Carolina Kostner of Italy, despite a somewhat flawed performance, won the ladies’ competition over the up-and-coming Swiss lady, Sarah Meier, whose skating I admire a great deal. What is it about the Swiss – they are the MOST amazing spinners!
If our skaters skate their best, we should have at least one lady on the podium (Meissner), perhaps two (Meissner and Czizny) but the Japanese women are an enormous threat, as is the lovely and enormously gifted young skater from South Korea who is coached by the extraordinary Brian Orser.
All in all, this category is a huge tossup!
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany won the Pairs title, but I don’t really see them as a threat to the best world team – Zhen and Zao. I know why Petrova and Tikonov are still competing (the Russian Federation needs them to “bookmark” the number of pairs permitted to compete in upcoming competitions), but they truly are the MOST boring pair team I’ve ever seen. The great pleasure was the joy of Mariusz Siudek and Dorota Siudek who won the bronze. They have been around for a long time and have always been underappreciated, despite their beautiful and consistent skating abilities and performances. It made the Polish audience pretty happy to see them on the podium too.
Inoue and Baldwin of the U.S. are mid-range skaters with one spectacular trick, but the new kids on the block – Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski, who just grabbed the Pairs championship away from them, are quite exciting to watch. However, they don’t yet possess the polish of some of the premiere pair teams and it’s my prediction that Zhen and Zao are going to walk away with their last World Championship easily! If they truly do retire after Worlds, they will be sorely missed. They are the class of the field whenever they compete.
Rumors seem to be flying that the Ice Dance judges are attempting to get up to their old tricks, pushing Russia’s Domnina and Shabalin (nowhere near the technical skaters of any of the other top pairs, with questionable stamina and sloppy elements within the program) to win the World Championship in March. Presumably they will be unable to maneuver this, given the fact that they are being closely watched and because of the quality of skating emanating from both Denkova and Staviski and Belbin and Agosto. In addition, Delobel and Schoenfelder of France – who won the European Championship – although far from my favorite ice dancers (a little too robotic and cold in their presentation) are quite thick in the mix. Quite honestly, Denkova and Staviski SHOULD HAVE won the European title, and if the ISU is paying attention – the resultant investigation should clip the judges’ wings for a while. A number of judges were recently reinstated after being suspended several years ago. A good argument for lifetime bans in my estimation!
All in all, in a world where so much is angst inducing, something as (relatively) uncomplicated as a figure skating competition is great to be appreciated.