For those two or three gentle souls who care to read my braggings: Greetings and thanks for coming back! After a sad edition of our continental championships last year (about which I won’t even comment), finally we had a proper event… well, sort of. Following yet another miserable failure from the Spanish Federation (will they ever cash the chips and go away for good?), fortunately Hungary stepped up and saved the day, organizing a decent event in a nice town. Some people were complaining about the track, but hey… back in my day we used to race in places suitable for coffee crop growing, so until we have homologated venues and efficient federations everywhere, please cut the whining and go skate!
That being said, once again –as hundreds of other people around the world- technology solved one of the major problems pestering our sport, as I was able to witness almost every race on this event from a computer screen in real time… But on this occasion the quality of the live stream was excellent! Almost as a real live tv sports coverage, something never seen before even at Worlds (whenever there was video streaming). To be honest, watching races like this allows for taking better notes and observations, as most of the action can be followed from a near plane, unlike the fixed point of view of a bystander.
Ok, enough foreplay. Let’s get on with my usual report, and probably piss off a few punters in the process...But I’m always open to debates! Please note that –as usual- I won’t take into consideration the cadets ranks in my countries analysis, as I don’t feel a European Championship is essential for such age group.
Alas a few countries were missing in Szeged, but in spite of the recession and economical crisis hitting harder than ever this year, all in all this was a true European championship, the way it should be. I can happily report that the general technical level has definitely increased from the 2010 edition in Italy. Nowadays the gap between traditionally strong and developing nations is less noticeable, although the main players still remain the same (for the usual reasons, I should add).
Being in contact with some people that were actually there, I can safely assume that there were no big organizational issues, aside from delays due to horrible weather now and then. Not surprisingly, there were many mess-ups and mix-ups from the judges, nevertheless nothing as scandalous as can be seen at Worlds, for the simple fact that whenever Barbara Fisher is in charge, those few idiots feeling more important than athletes are kept at bay. Sure, Barbara can make mistakes too as any human being, but she’s a decent one (as opposed as too many of her peers).
Italy: Apparently, pizza lovers are back from one of those cyclic crisis periods. Their technical prowess is barely matched by the French only, particularly in the ladies rank. Sure, they will always be a bit too much on the slap-bang side of things, but hey, everybody else and their sister are getting along the same lines now. Clear and utter domination at continental level for the Azzurri… but will it be the same at Worlds in their own backyard? We’ll see soon enough.
Germany: this team is showing a consolidation in every aspect, firmly establishing their country among the leading nations. But I’m afraid that’s mostly originated from the athletic maturity reached by their foremost individual talents. In any case, they do have a few young stars and a serious growth plan, so German skating seems to have a bright future ahead.
France: personally, I believe this is the best team by far, after Italy. The medal count and statistics don’t do justice to their effort in this championship, spattered with falls and misfortune. Their Federation merits praise, as being actually one of those few really working towards growth and development, and Monsieur Briand is evidently doing a good job with the younger generation: they deserved a better standing in the general classification.
Belgium: it’s not only Bart, you know? But this country puzzles me… They surely have resources (wonderful tracks plus contracting Hildebrand and then Botero shoulnd’t come cheap), they certainly have young talents (Sandrine Tas and Mathias Vosté especially glow), but somehow they never get past a few individual medals. Is it lack of ambition? Because the “small country” theory does not apply here: this was a colonial power, parbleu!
Netherlands: I guess the Oranges hate to see their country figuring below their underprivileged cousins in the medal table… And it should come as a surprise, because in spite of a lot of falls and adversity, considering the quality of athletes they deploy, their medal tally ought to be doubled at least. And what was that ridiculous scene of two teammates pushing each other in a race? Lately, it looks like the Dutch are not getting dividends in proportion to their investment.
Austria: if next year they show up with such a strong team (I bet they will), nobody will argue that this is one of the new leading countries. The job done by Maurizio Lollobrigida is evident, but it remains to be seen if they get rid of him too early. Time will tell.
Portugal: although this season it was not as solid a team as in 2010, step by step the Lusitanians are affirming themselves as much more than outsiders, by now regularly outperforming their Iberic cousins. I’m ready to bet that in the next years their anthem will sound at world champs, but only if certain people there get their heads off their arse.
Spain: its national economical calamity has nothing to do with its deep sporting and institutional crisis. Years of awful management and political corruption is paying its toll, as the skaters seen at this year’s event were more or less all they can display, and there are less and less season after season. Sadly, our sport is dying in Spain: some bastards are killing it.
Switzerland: a couple of years ago they looked like doomed, but fortunately Mr Wenger’s work has been productive. Livio has burst forth into a superstar, plus there are a couple of promising youngsters: Kalon has the opportunity to make history there. Hopefully their effort is not ruined by some arsehole unable to run a federation…
Poland: no medal this time, but they are getting closer and closer. Most of their athletes now are on a par with the best, technically speaking. Good to see relatively small and new countries get this far!
Hungary & Czech Republic: the local team was, to me, the grateful surprise of these championships. Solid performances were diminished by lack of international experience, but all in all they provided a genuinely worthy representation for their country at home. As for the Czechs, yet another country investing in their youngsters, so if they follow this path I’m sure they’ll have a European champion pretty soon.
Denmark: if I was a rich man and I could choose two European countries in which to start a development plan financed by me, one would be DK (or Norway; the other would be Russia, for obvious reasons). Skatingwise this might be like the Italy of Scandinavia, but as much as I love Denmark (especially its female inhabitants and beer), I’m sorry to see they are going nowhere at Euro level. Pity, because their athletes have huge potential.
Rest of countries: it is a perpetual sorrow to me verifying UK’s current low state of affairs, the shadow of a once powerful skating nation. Will they ever reborn? As for the other countries, I said it before and I’ll say it again: it is pleasant to see that more and more new nations are appearing at Euro Champs, but previous to showing up, their own coaches and skaters should honestly assess their skillfulness levels in relevant international tournaments like Gross Gerau, Trois Pistes, Geisingen or a couple of Italian events. Because ridicule should be nothing to be scared of… while in a comedy show or in a national federation! Certainly not inside a skating track during a supposedly elite race. These are not the Olympic Games, mind (thank the Greek gods). Nor do I get the same kick from any other sports event, granted.
Thanks for reading; I promise I will do a better job for Worlds 2012, as I’ll be in attendance. Behold, crooks: while there, avoid my sight or you’ll suffer the wrath of a very annoyed titan. You know who you are.