Ice Network

Fernández well within reach of fifth European title

Spaniard's new personal best provides sizable lead; Kovtun distant second
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Not much came easy to Javier Fernández on this day, as he had to fight for several landings during his "Malagueña" short, bit when the dust settled, the Spaniard was in his customary spot at this event -- atop the leaderboard. The four-time European champion amassed a personal-best score of 104.25 en route to taking a lead of almost 10 points over the field. -Getty Images

Javier Fernández is well on his way to earning his fifth European crown after delivering a stellar short program at the 2017 European Figure Skating Championships in Ostrava on Friday. The Spaniard outclassed each one of his competitors, including Russia's Maxim Kovtun and Israel's Alexei Bychenko, who stand second and third, respectively.

Fernández was the final skater to take the ice in a field of 36 competitors, and he displayed one of his strongest programs to date. His opening quad loop-triple toe combination added 15.46 points to his tally, and his subsequent quad salchow added an additional 12.79 points. His triple axel -- which yielded 10.35 points -- helped the four-time champion lock up a new personal-best total of 104.25 points and a sizable lead entering the free skate.

His "Malagueña" short undoubtedly appealed to the audience as well, which allowed Fernández to feed off their immense energy.

"This was my first clean short program of the season," Fernández said. "Half of the work is done. I just have to stay focused for tomorrow. It's a longer program, a very hard program with a lot more elements, and although I may be leading by 10 points tonight, I've seen skaters that were 10 points ahead who were not first after the free program. I need to deliver a good performance."

At 21, Kovtun skates like a seasoned veteran. Now coached by Inna Goncharenko -- who also coaches Elena Radionova -- Kovtun delivered a perfect program to Hazmat Modine's "Bahamut." For the first time in two seasons, the talented Russian landed every one of his elements. He racked up 16.51 points for his quad salchow-triple toe combination, which was scored as the highest element of the day. He followed with a quad toe loop and a triple axel, ending his short program with 94.53 points, 6.27 points higher than his previous personal best.

"Finally, everything worked out as I planned," Kovtun said after exiting the ice. "The recent changes paid off very well. I think it was worth putting the focus on the mental preparation as opposed to the physical operation. I am really pleased that I got the highest level on all the elements because I don't think I had ever gotten that before."

Bychenko, the reigning European silver medalist, elected to skate to Parov Stelar's "Chambermaid Swing."

"I'll need luck, for sure," he said at the end of his morning practice session. And, on this day, luck surely did not elude the entertaining skater.

Bychenko landed each one of his elements -- triple axel, quad toe and triple flip-triple toe -- en route to collecting 86.68 points.

"I felt great on the ice today," he said. "I did exactly what I expected. My goal is always to show the best I can, and we'll see the result in the end. The free skate will be a different challenge, as I have planned two quads. My goal with that performance will be to skate clean."

Mikhail Kolyada continues to develop the form that helped guide him to a fifth-place finish at the European championships last year. He landed his quad toe-triple toe combination with ease, earning the second-highest credit of the day for it at 16.31 points. A few moments later, however, Kolyada singled his subsequent triple axel. Though he received Level 4 for his spins and amassed 83.96 points for his short program, Kolyada wasn't entirely pleased with his performance.

"That hasn't happened to me in a long time, not in practice, not in competition," he said of his error on the triple axel. "It is a big shame and unforgivable at this level. I expected more from myself. The program was good emotionally, but the technical part needs to come through as well. I don't know what happened. When I watched the video replay in the kiss and cry, the jump looked right. I just didn't rotate."

Kolyada has retained his "Nightingale Tango" and "John Gray" short program from last year. He played with his tango, mimicking playfully and even caricaturing his own dance at times throughout his routine. His unique presence on the ice made him an instant hit with the audience, though he stands in fourth place and 2.72 points off the podium.

Belgium's Jorik Hendrickx delivered a perfect program en route to a season's best score of 82.50 and stands in fifth place before the free.

When asked to compare his performance with the way he trains at home, Hendrickx said there isn't anything that stands in his way because of the less-than-perfect conditions he deals with on a daily basis.

"You know, I train in an old factory where the ice is really horrible, so every rink I skate in all over the world is better than what I have for the trainings at home. If I can do something at home, I can do it everywhere."

Latvia's Deniss Vasiljevs created the biggest surprise in Ostrava, as he managed to place himself in the last warmup group for the free program. Now coached by Swiss star Stéphane Lambiel, Vasiljevs has acquired a new maturity on the ice.

He opened his routine to Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Voodoo Child" with a perfect triple axel and followed it with a triple lutz-triple toe combination and a triple flip. His step sequence, completely in sync with his music, grabbed the applause of the audience as well.

The Latvian's final flying sit spin -- where he rotates at high speed in the position of a sleeping bird -- seemed endless, and received thunderous applause. He garnered 79.87 points to set a new season's best.

Daniel Samohin was missing his usual pair of skates but nonetheless took the risk of skating with a new pair made for him on the spot. The late adjustment didn't work, however, as Samohin endured one of the roughest performances of his career.

"I was perfectly fit and ready -- I just missed my skates," he said disappointedly at the end of his routine. "I could have adapted to the change, but in a matter of just a few hours, that was just impossible. Things were out of my control, and there was nothing I could do."