Figure Skating

The Associated Press - Thursday Jan. 16, 2014 15:09 ET

Javier Fernandez takes commanding lead at European championships

Spaniard has 6-point advantage heading into long program

Spain's Javier Fernandez, left, shakes hands with his coach Brian Orser, after a strong performance in the men’s short program at the European figure skating championship in Budapest. (Darko Bandic/Associated Press)

Javier Fernandez of Spain began the defence of his European figure skating title with an impressive short program and a six-point lead on Thursday in Budapest.

Fernandez scored 91.56 points for hitting all of his jumps, and high marks for his spins and step sequence. Sergei Voronov of Russia was second with 85.51 and Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic was third with 83.51.

"It was a joy to skate," said Fernandez, who skated to the playful melody of "Satan Takes A Holiday." 

Last year, Fernandez was second after the short program but his free skate routine was so strong that he won the title by more than 24 points over Florent Amodio of France. 

Still, he said it was too soon to declare a victory in Budapest, too. 

"I feel I have a good chance to win the medal again but every skater coming behind me has a chance to steal it from me," he said. "I feel really strong and I believe in myself." 

Voronov, whose career stalled in recent years, also had a very clean performance highlighted by a quadruple toe loop and triple toe loop combination. 

"I don't think it was my best skate but I'm pleased I beat the nerves and worries I had before," said Voronov, a two-time Russian national champion. 

Verner was third despite touching the ice with both hands after his first jump, also a quadruple toe loop, which made him postpone the triple toe loop until later in the program when he was able to add it to a triple lutz. All skaters must perform a combination jump in the short program, along with other mandatory elements.

Maxim Kovtun, also of Russia, was the only skater to attempt two quadruple jumps in his program, but he had to cut his quad toe loop to a double, and goes into Saturday's free skate in fourth place.

"My practices and the warmup were all excellent," Kovtun said. "There was just the tiniest fraction of a second in the takeoff for the toe loop where something wasn't right." 

All three Russian men in Budapest are in an awkward position, as their best results may not be enough to secure the country's only slot in the men's competition at the Sochi Olympics. 

Evgeny Plushenko, the country's best male figure skater of the past decade, is expected to do a closed-door performance for a commission from the Russian skating federation on Jan. 21, and his star power may be enough to convince officials.

Plushenko has been critical of Kovtun, whose poor showing at the world championships last year limited the number of Russians allowed a place in Sochi, saying he lacked international experience. Still, Kovtun defeated Plushenko at the Russian champs last month. 

Kovtun dismissed the notion that the uncertainty about the Olympics affected his performance. 

"I should be prepared for any kind of provocations, stories and talk," Kovtun told the Russian agency R-Sport. "All this will take place, while I will skate, so for me it isn't important." 

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