BUDAPEST – Spain’s Javier Fernandez boosted his Olympic medal hopes as he defended his men’s crown at the European Championships in Budapest on Saturday as Russia faced a dilemma over who to choose for their men’s team at the Sochi Games.
The 22-year-old from Madrid landed three quadruple jumps in the free skate to take the gold by a 14.56-point margin on Russian Sergei Voronov, with another Russian veteran, Konstantin Menshov, taking bronze.
Fernandez’s free skate to the “Peter Gunn” soundtrack and “Harlem Nocturne” was not without error but in a weak field it was enough to hold his title as he scored 175.55 points for an overall total of 267.11.
He becomes the first man to defend his European title since seven-time winner Evgeni Plushenko of Russia in 2006.
Veteran Plushenko’s bid to return to compete in a fourth Olympics has been boosted as national champion Maxim Kovtun, 18, slumped to fifth after an error-strewn free skate.
Russia has just one men’s berth for Sochi and three-time world champion Plushenko, the Olympic gold medalist in 2006 and two-time silver medalist, is due to have a test skate before federation officials.
Plushenko, 31, is not competing in the Europeans with the Russian skating federation due to make a final decision next week.
“I had a couple of mistakes that I have to fix for the Olympics. I think with a little bit more I will have a chance (of gold),” said Fernandez, who trains in Toronto with Canadian coach Brian Orser.
Fernandez went for three quads, but stepped out of the quad toe loop and the second quad salchow.
He nailed another quad salchow, but under-rotated the triple toe loop in this combination jump, and also included a triple axel and four more triple jumps.
Despite his overall score being over 28 points off world champion Patrick Chan’s world record, Fernandez believes he can close the gap on the Canadian in the weeks until the Olympic skating gets under way on Feb. 6.
“My quad-triple combination was under-rotated, that was a big mistake, and the step sequence I have to try to make it level 4,” he explained.
“These mistakes you lose points and points and points and in a competition like the Olympics, every single point matters.”
It is the first podium place for both 26-year-old Voronov and Menshov, 30, who moved up from 11th after the short program, as former winner Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic fell to seventh.
Verner had been sitting third after the short program.
Voronov scored 167.04 for his Tango-themed program for 252.55 overall, with Menshov achieving 165.12 and 237.24 overall.
Voronov, who trains with newly crowned women’s champion Julia Lipnitskaia, credited the 15-year-old with his improved form.
“When I was training with her I saw the way she works and I learned from that,” said Voronov, whose previous best was a European fourth in 2008.
Lipnitskaia on Friday became the youngest woman to win the European title.
“I continue to skate because I still feel strong. I don’t feel like I’m a 30-year-old,” added Menshov, the oldest man in the field who hit two quads, two axels and three more triples as well as two level-four spins in his routine to music by Rene Aubry.
Leading up to the Europeans, Voronov and Menshov were mentioned behind Kovtun as contenders for the title and the position of Plushenko’s main challenger.
But after his result here Kovtun seemed resigned to his fate.
“After the third quad attempt, I understood this wasn’t going to happen,” Kovtun said. “I don’t really know what happened because it was all fine in the warmup and I had a great practice on (Friday).”
Voronov’s silver was his best result in international competition. Though he won the Russian nationals twice, in 2008 and 2009, his career had stagnated. He refused to speculate about Plushenko’s tryout, but made it clear that if he were to be selected by Russia, he was ready for the Olympic challenge.
“Of course I want to go, who doesn’t want to go to the Olympics?” Voronov said. “Plushenko is an authority in figure skating but we all want to go and there is only one spot. It’s not us who decides.”
Adding to the intrigue, International Skating Union president Ottavio Cinquanta was showered with questions by reporters in Budapest and had to explain at length the ISU’s policy allowing countries to replace injured or ill skaters at the Olympics between the team event and the individual events.