- Associated Press - Saturday, January 18, 2014

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) - Javier Fernandez of Spain successfully defended his European figure skating title ahead of two Russian rivals despite several small mistakes in the free skate on Saturday.

Fernandez, coached in Toronto by former two-time Olympic silver medallist Brian Orser, scored 267.11 points and is the first champion to successfully defend since Russia’s Evgeny Plushenko in 2005 and 2006.

Sergei Voronov was second with 252.55 points and Konstantin Menshov had 237.24 in third as neither could challenge the Spaniard’s lead from the short program.

Coming two weeks before the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, the championships offered competitors a chance to assess their preparation. Fernandez, who had an awkward landing after a quad salchow and managed only a double lutz when a triple was planned, said it was essential to eliminate errors to be able to contend for a first Olympic medal.

“There are mistakes where you lose points and points and points,” said Fernandez, who skated to Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn” and “Harlem Nocture,” a jazz standard. “In a competition like the Olympics, every single point matters.”

At last year’s Europeans, Fernandez became the first Spaniard to win a major figure skating title.

Plushenko, the Olympic champ in 2006 and a two-time silver medallist, skipped the Europeans but his absence nearly overshadowed the Russian men’s trio.

One of the biggest figure skating stars of the past 15 years, Plushenko is scheduled to perform a short and a free program behind closed doors for Russian skating officials on Tuesday for a chance to claim the country’s only men’s slot at Sochi.

Leading up to the Europeans, Voronov and Menshov were mentioned behind Russian champion Maxim Kovtun as contenders for the title and the position of Plushenko’s main challenger.

But Kovtun finished fifth here and afterward seemed resigned to his fate.

“After the third quad attempt, I understood this wasn’t going to happen,” Kovtun said. “I don’t really know what happened because it was all fine in the warmup and I had a great practice on (Friday).”

Voronov’s silver was his best result in international competition. Though he won the Russian nationals twice, in 2008 and 2009, his career had stagnated. He refused to speculate about Plushenko’s tryout, but made it clear that if he were to be selected by Russia, he was ready for the Olympic challenge.

“Of course I want to go, who doesn’t want to go to the Olympics?” Voronov said. “Plushenko is an authority in figure skating but we all want to go and there is only one spot. It’s not us who decides.”

Adding to the intrigue, International Skating Union President Ottavio Cinquanta was showered with questions by reporters in Budapest and had to explain at length the ISU’s policy allowing countries to replace injured or ill skaters at the Olympics between the team event and the individual events.

The team event makes its Olympic debut on Feb. 6, a day before the opening ceremony.

With a solid free skate which included two quad jumps, Menshov managed to climb to third overall after finishing 11th place in the short program.

“It seems like I always have to overcome some difficulties,” Menshov said.

The risk of a second quadruple jump in the short program, which he failed to complete both here and at the Russian nationals, made him fall so far behind. “I’m not confident on it yet,” he said.

The Europeans end on Sunday with the pairs’ free skate.

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