The 2012 ISU European Figure Skating Championships will open in Sheffield, Great Britain, on January 23. Sheffield hosts the ISU European Championships for the first time. 174 skaters from 37 ISU members will compete at the Championships. The entry quota system with Direct entries and Preliminary Round entries that was introduced in 2011 will be used. Skaters from countries with competitors that placed in the top 18 for Singles/top 12 for Pairs and Ice Dance in the 2011 championships are entered directly in the Short Program or Short Dance. Member countries that are unable to fill their quota through Direct entries may enter the remainder of their competitors in the Preliminary Round. The Preliminary Round takes place before the official competition starts. The top 10 Men and Ladies/the top 6 Pair Skating couples/the top 8 Ice Dance couples are then qualified to compete in the Short Program/Short Dance with the skaters entered through the Direct entries. In total 28 Men and Ladies (18 Direct entries and 10 Preliminary Round entries), 18 Pair Skating couples (12 Direct entries and 6 Preliminary Round entries) and 20 Ice Dance couples (12 Direct entries and 8 Preliminary Round entries) compete in the Short Program/Short Dance. As there are 19 entries in the Pairs event in total, there will be no Preliminary Round for Pairs. Competitors placed in the top 24 in Single Skating, in the top 16 in Pair Skating and in the top 20 in Ice Dance in the Short Program/Short Dance qualify for Free Skating/Free Dance.

Overview of the top contenders

The Men’s event is highlighted by the battle of the veterans against the youngsters. 2006 Olympic Champion and six-time European Champion Evgeni Plushenko (RUS), 29, once more returns to competition. He will go through the Preliminary Round as he is the Russian entry with the lowest world ranking after not competing internationally since the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Plushenko will face his long-time rival Brian Joubert (FRA), 27, who has won ten consecutive medals at the European Championships since his debut in 2002. The Frenchman had to skip the Grand Prix series due to injury but recaptured his National title in December. There is a strong group of young challengers, led by Grand Prix Final bronze medalist Javier Fernandez (ESP), who became the first Spanish skater in history to win medals in the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating (seasons best 250.33 points). Grand Prix finalist Michal Brezina (CZE/seasons best 226.35 points), reigning World bronze medalist Artur Gachinski (RUS/seasons best 222.54 points) and defending European Champion Florent Amodio (FRA/seasons best 201.34) are ready to challenge the veterans as well. 2008 European Champion Tomas Verner (CZE) and two-time European bronze medalist Kevin van der Perren (BEL) shouldn’t be counted out either.

In the Ladies event, three-time European Champion Carolina Kostner (ITA) is aiming for her fourth European title. The reigning ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final Champion comes with a seasons best of 187.48 points to Sheffield. Competition should come from ISU Grand Prix Final bronze medalist Alena Leonova (RUS/seasons best 180.45 points) who wants to take her first medal at the European Championships, but also from two-time European bronze medalist Kiira Korpi (FIN/seasons best 160.92 points). Other contenders include 2010 European bronze medalist Elene Gedevanishvili (GEO), Skate America bronze medalist Viktoria Helgesson (SWE), Junior Grand Prix Final bronze medalist Polina Korobeinikova (RUS) and Ksenia Makarova (RUS).

Three-time World Pairs Champions Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy (GER) are looking for their fifth European title in Sheffield. The Germans posted a seasons best of 212.26 points when they won the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final last month. Their strongest competitors are World silver medalists Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov (RUS), who finished a very close second to them at the Grand Prix Final with 212.08 points. Volosozhar/Trankov will compete in their first European Championships as a team. Reigning European bronze medalists Vera Bazarova/Yuri Larionov (RUS/seasons best 184.91 points) want to be on the podium again. Other contenders are Stefania Berton/Ondrej Hotarek (ITA), 2011 World Junior silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (RUS) and Maylin Hausch/Daniel Wende (GER).

In the Ice Dance competition, Nathalie Pechalat/Fabian Bourzat (FRA) are seeking to defend their title but will have to expect competition from a group of young teams. Pechalat/Bourzat claimed the bronze medal at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final with a seasons best of 169.69 points. 2011 European silver medalists Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev (RUS/seasons best 163.53) want to challenge the French. Also aiming at a podium finish are Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA/seasons best 154.87 points) and Elena Ilinykh/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS/seasons best 149.98 points). Other couples to watch include

Nelli Zhiganshina/Alexander Gazsi (GER), Ekaterina Riazanova/Ilia Tkachenko (RUS), Isabella Tobias/Deividas Stagniunas (LTU) and Pernelle Carron/Lloyd Jones (FRA).

Please note that for the seasonal best total scores only the ISU Grand Prix competitions (senior and junior) have been taken into consideration, not other international competitions or National Championships.

Prize money

The ISU awards a global prize money of US$ 350,000 at the ISU European Figure Skating Championships to skaters/couples placed 1st to 12th. The prize money is awarded as follows:

Men and Ladies                   Pairs and Dance (per couple)

1st place US$ 20,000                         1st place US$ 30,000

2nd place US$ 13,000                       2nd place US$ 19,500

3rd place US$ 8,000                           3rd place US$ 12,000

4th place US$ 6,500                           4th place US$ 9,750

5th place US$ 5,000                           5th place US$ 7,500

6th place US$ 4,000                           6th place US$ 6,000

7th place US$ 3,500                           7th place US$ 5,250

8th place US$ 3,000                           8th place US$ 4,500

9th place US$ 2,500                           9th place US$ 3,750

10th place US$ 2,000                         10th place US$ 3,000

11th place US$ 1,500                         11th place US$ 2,250

12th place US$ 1,000                         12th place US$ 1,500

The schedule of the ISU European Figure Skating Championships 2012 is as follows:

Monday, January 23: Preliminary Round Ice Dance, Preliminary Round Men

Tuesday, January 24: Preliminary Round Ladies

Wednesday, January 25: Pairs Short Program, Short Dance

Thursday, January 26: Men Short Program, Pairs Free Skating

Friday, January 27: Ladies Short Program, Free Dance

Saturday, January 28: Men Free Skating, Ladies Free Skating

Sunday, January 29: Exhibition Gala