Lepisto wins women's Euro crown

Updated: January 24, 2009, 1:49 PM ET
Associated Press

HELSINKI, Finland -- What a Finnish!

Laura Lepisto rewarded the enthusiastic home crowd Saturday, holding off Carolina Kostner to win Finland's first women's title at the European Figure Skating Championships. Teammate Susanna Poykio won the bronze, the first time two Finnish skaters reach the European podium.

"This feeling can't be described," said Lepisto, who covered her face when she saw her score. "I can't even start to tell what all is going through my mind now. I could never have expected this to happen. I had said my goal is to medal, but that it would be gold, I can't realize it."

Kostner won the free skate, but still fell short of winning her third straight European title. Lepisto finished with 167.32 points while Kostner had 165.42.

It's only the second European title for a Finnish skater, and the first by a singles skater. Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko won the ice dance crown in 1995. With Kiira Korpi finishing fifth, it was by far Finland's best showing ever at Europeans. Korpi won a bronze at the Euros two years ago.

Kostner was the heavy favorite coming into the competition. Not only was she the two-time defending champion, but main rival Sarah Meier of Switzerland was out with a back injury. But she struggled in the short program, falling on the takeoff of her triple lutz.

Kostner didn't look any more relaxed Saturday. Instead of her usual triple-triple combination, she did a triple flip-double toe loop combo and also did a triple lutz-double toe-double loop combination. But she doubled a planned second triple flip, and didn't get credit for one of her spins because judges decided it was the same as one she'd already done.

"At the flip, my concentration slipped for a moment," Kostner said. "I can't say this was my best program of the season. I made different errors each time."

But Kostner said she was happy that Lepisto won in front of a home crowd.

"Next year, the world championships are in my hometown, Turin," Kostner said, "and I hope I can do the same."

Lepisto, the bronze medalist at Euros last year, didn't have her greatest performance, either. The home crowd clapped, beating in time to her "Don Juan de Marco" music. But it fell quiet when she popped a triple lutz into a single.

"Yes, there was moment when I thought, 'Blast! Why is she holding back?' but then it was OK," said Virpi Horttana, Lepisto's coach. "I knew that Laura is fit, but figure skating is a very delicate sport and anything can happen."

Lepisto rebounded nicely, finishing her program with three more triples -- two in combination -- and a double axel. She also did two spins that earned the highest level.

"I simplified the combination in the beginning and singled the lutz but tried to keep my thoughts together and focus on the next elements," Lepisto said.

The crowd also spurred on Korpi, 20, who smashed into the boards and was left lying sprawled on her back. But she got up and started again.

"I guess this is figure skating drama at its best, or, in my case at its worst," Korpi said.

Earlier during the championships, the men's title went to Brian Joubert of France, who at age 24 took his 12th medal in world or European championships. Defending European champion Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic fell to sixth place.

In the pairs, defending champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy from Germany won by a wide margin. Russia's Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski claimed their first ice dance title in a watered-down field.

World champions Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France didn't compete because she's recovering from a shoulder injury and defending European champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin withdrew after compulsories because Shabalin fell and injured his knee.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press