Russian figure skating duo defend pairs, teen upstages queen

Nick REEVES
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Russia's Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov compete in the pairs' free skating at the ISU European Figure Skating Championships in Moscow on January 18, 2018

Russians Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov defended their pairs title and teen sensation Alina Zagitova overshadowed returning ice queen Evgenia Medvedeva at the European Championships in Moscow on Thursday.

The 2017 gold medallists headed an all-Russian podium in the pairs with Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov taking silver while Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert claimed bronze.

Tarasova's fall in Wednesday's short programme had left the duo -- a couple both on and off the ice -- languishing in fifth and seemingly with little hope of a podium, let alone a second successive title.

But they pulled a sweet success out of the bag in an immaculate free dance set to "Candyman" by Christina Aguilera which earned them a personal best 151.23 tally for a total score of 221.60.

They then had a nerve wracking time rink-side watching the six remaining pairs have a shot at them, with each missing the target.

Tarasova said: "Yesterday I made a big mistake, I got really mad at myself but today I was able to come out really strong."

Morozov said performing in front of the home fans at the Megasport Palace made the win even more special.

He then turned his thoughts to next month's Olympic Games.

"We were already confident (about Pyeongchang), and this will motivate us further to do our very best."

While the home team celebrated there was heartache for French duo Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres.

They led the pack after Wednesday's short programme to conjure up real hope of claiming the title for France for the first time in 86 years, but in the end had to settle for fourth.

James and Cipres were last to go with the judges not overly impressed, awarding them a score of 134.64, well below their personal best of 146.87.

"I had a lack of concentration on the first jump but also the lifts were off. I just don’t know what happened. It just sucks but it happens to the best. Now it’s back to work," shrugged James.

Earlier 15-year-old Zagitova upstaged two-time world and European champion Medvedeva to lead the women's short programme. Medvedeva produced a near-perfect routine to Chopin's Nocturne bar a stumble on a double axel.

- 'Still room for improvement' -

That put the 18-year-old Muscovite briefly into the lead on 78.57 points before Zagitova, making her European Championships debut in her sensational first year on the senior circuit, produced a flawless routine featuring a triple lutz-triple loop to Black Swan.

As the bouquets rained down on the rink the youngest skater in the competition beamed as her score of 80.27, a personal best, flashed up on the electronic screen.

And the girl from the Western Urals had bad news for her coaching partner Medvedeva when she suggested: "I think there is still room for improvement in me!"

The two Russians had to be at or near their best after 30-year-old Italian veteran Carolina Kostner had rolled back the years with a personal best 78.30 score to place third as she targets a sixth European title

But she has a herculean job on her hands to keep the Russian youngsters at bay in Saturday's free dance.

Medvedeva was making her comeback after a two-month time-out with a broken right foot.

"I did not feel the injury, everything has healed. I was in a cast for three weeks," she reported.

Both Medvedeva and Zagitova are among the favourites to win gold at next month's 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang.

With Russia serving an Olympic ban for state-sponsored doping, the pair are due to be among a group of Russians approved to compete in South Korea as independents under the name "Olympic Athlete from Russia".

"Like everybody else I don’t know much about what is happening, but I am really glad we have the chance to represent our country at the Olympic Games," said Medvedeva.