Laura Lepistö wins European title in front of ecstatic home audience
Susanna Pöykiö takes bronze medal after four-year gap
Laura Lepistö delivered the goods on Saturday, holding off the challenge of Italy's Carolina Kostner to take the ladies' figure skating European Championship in front of an ecstatic crowd in Helsinki's Hartwall Arena.
The performance by the trio of Finnish women was impressive to say the least: Susanna Pöykiö took the bronze medal and Kiira Korpi was fifth, despite a nasty fall in her free programme.
The 20-year-old Lepistö had led after the short programme, but it was clear that the 2007 and 2008 European Champion Kostner was eager to make amends for a sub-par showing on Friday that had left her in third, behind Lepistö and Susanna Pöykiö. Kostner duly produced an excellent free programme and laid down a tough score to beat, but the Finnish girl showed no nerves when she followed her onto the ice.
In spite of a couple of jumps that were marked down, she impressed the judges enough to squeeze past and win by 167.32 to 165.42.
Pöykkiö could not quite match the performance, but was eventually a very comfortable third, to produce an unprecedented situation of two Finns on the podium at the European Championships.
The only previous occasion on which a Finn has won a European figure skating title was thirteen years ago when Petri Kokko and Susanna Rahkamo (now the chairman of the Finnish Figure Skating Association) seized the ice dance crown in Dortmund.
Finland's third representative Kiira Korpi could also hold her head up high.
Right at the start of her free programme she slipped and fell, crashing into the side of the rink with considerable force. She continued her programme after a short pause and pulled herself together enough to actually improve her standing from the seventh place she had taken in the short programme.
The result means that Laura Lepistö and Susanna Pöykiö will be taking up Finland's allotted two places at the World Championships in Los Angeles in March. There the demands will be a lot higher: one conclusion widely drawn from the past week was that figure skating in Europe has a long way to go to match the present standard in Asia and North America.
Lepistö and Poykiö's success also means that the Finns achieved their stated objective of securing two medals from the championships they hosted.
The organisers further believe that they will just about come out ahead when the receipts and outgoings are totted up over the next month. The overall attendance during the week was around 52,000.
Friday also saw the completion of the ice dancing, with Russia's Jana Kokholova and Sergei Novitski winning by a large margin from Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali of Italy. The bronze medals went to the British pairing of Sinead and John Kerr.
The Finnish entrants Oksana Klimova and Sasha Palomäki, who are still really only of junior age, finished in 22nd place on their début at senior level.
The competitions went off without any real incident, although an Estonian coach seemed to have got the wrong end of the stick over the Finnish target of two medals, claiming that the results were determined beforehand.
Even in a "judging" sport such as ice skating, it is very hard to conceive these days (with a complex system of scoring now introduced that includes the random dropping of two of the judges' marks) that any advance fixing took place.
Aside from the usual reporting on the winners, the only other incident to grab headlines was an unfortunate "wardrobe malfunction" that happened to a Russian competitor in the compulsory dance section of the ice dancing.
The fact that the tabloids dined out on this probably requires no extra comment.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Joubert regains European title; Nurmenkari 14th (23.1.2009)
ISU European Figure Skating Championships 2009
Laura Lepistö (Wikipedia)