Jan 18, 2014, 10:54 AM EDT
In the corner of the arena in Budapest, Brian Orser jumped for joy as another one of his pupils soared to first place at a major competition.
Saturday it was Spain’s Javier Fernandez at the European Championships, the defending champion winning for the second straight year, this time just weeks ahead of the Sochi Olympic Games.
Fernandez, skating to “Peter Gunn” and “Harlem Nocturne,” held on to his first quadruple toeloop and then landed a quad Salchow later in his program, delivering a nearly clean free skate in a final group that was riddled with errors.
Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist who helped coach Yuna Kim to her gold medal in Vancouver, also works with Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, who won both the Grand Prix Final and the Japan National Championships last month to add his name to a growing list of gold medal contenders at the Olympics.
Fernandez, who struggled through the Grand Prix season, penciled his name back onto that list with two solid skates in Budapest. The 22-year-old trains alongside Hanyu in Toronto with Orser, oftentimes riding his bike to and from the rink for practice.
Fernandez built on the lead that he had gained in the short program, where he scored a 91.56. His 267.11 overall score was a safe 15 points ahead of Russia’s Sergei Voronov who was second (252.55). Konstantin Menshov, also of Russia, was third with a 237.24.
Russia’s top skater coming into the European Championships, 18-year-old Maksim Kovtun, could not deliver in his free skate, dropping from fourth to fifth with a series of errors on jumps. The performance will likely impact his chance of being selected for the Russian Olympic team over veteran Yevgeny Plushenko, who sat out the Euros.
Russia is allotted just one spot for the Sochi Games after no man finished in the top 15 at the World Championships in 2013 (Kovtun was 17th). Neither Voronov nor Menshov were considered in the race to take the spot, which was seen as a back and forth between Kovtun and the veteran Plushenko, a three-time Olympic medalist and 2006 champion.
Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic, coached by Viktor Petrenko, finished fourth while 29-year-old Frenchman Brian Joubert, who has three European Championships to his name, finished eighth in a valiant comeback effort after not skating for most of the season.
But it was a second Euros win for Fernandez, who has plenty of momentum leading into Sochi.
“It was a great year for me last year,” Fernandez told the crowd after his win. “I was so scared because to get the title here again was not easy. It was a great day for me to skate well and give a reason for all these people with Spanish flags to be here.”
Fernandez, who won the Spanish National Championships for the third consecutive year last month, joins Hanyu, reigning and three-time world champion Canada’s Patrick Chan, Vancouver bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi and American Jeremy Abbott – after his Nationals win last week – as contenders for the top spot in Sochi.
“I don’t want to expect anything,” said the Madrid native. “I want to go there and try my best and I hope that I can fight to be on the podium. I don’t know if [how I skated here] will be enough. I had a couple of mistakes that I have to fix before the Olympics. I think if I give a little bit more I have the chance to be on the podium.”
Russia is expected to announce its Olympic team by January 27th.
NBC will air a package show of the European Championships on Sunday from 4-6pm. It will also be livestreamed on NBCOlympics.com.
1. Javier Fernandez (ESP) – 267.11
2. Sergei Voronov (RUS) – 252.55
3. Konstantin Menshov (RUS) – 237.54
4. Michal Brezina (CZE) – 236.98
5. Maksim Kovtun (RUS) – 232.37
8. Brian Joubert (FRA) 221.95
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