Swiss teenager Stéphane Lambiel has exceeded all expectations to finish fourth at the European figure skating championships in Lausanne.This content was published on January 18, 2002 - 01:33
Still aged just 16, Lambiel put in another incredibly confident performance, climbing from sixth place to fourth by the end of Thursday's free programme. Mixing seven flawless triple jumps with a series of fluid spins, the youngster from canton Valais earned himself a standing ovation - albeit from a highly partisan Swiss crowd.
"I think it wasn't me out there on the ice, it was the public," a grateful Lambiel told swissinfo shortly afterwards. "The public gave me all the strength I needed for my programme."
Eventually finishing behind tournament favourite Alexei Yagudin of Russia, Yagudin's compatriot Alexander Abt and French skater Brian Joubert, Lambiel struggled to express his emotion after improving five places on last year's European debut.
"It's more than I dreamed of," the teenager beamed. "I can't believe it. It's too much."
While Lambiel would have walked away with the gold medal, if his fans in the crowd had had their way, the young Swiss is well aware of the difference in ability that still separates him from the world's top skaters.
Competing in the final group on Thursday, as a result of his sixth-place finish in the short programme, Lambiel had the chance to watch close-up as his nearest rivals in Lausanne attempted quadruple jumps and triple axels - moves that are not yet in the Swiss skater's repertoire.
"Performing quads and the triple axel will be the next big step for me," Lambiel admitted, but I have to work very hard for that - just as hard as I've been working so far."
Olympic spot secured
All that previous hard labour has now earned Lambiel his first big taste of glory, with Thursday's performance in Lausanne guaranteeing him a place at next month's Winter Olympics. However, those much sought-after quads certainly won't be making it into his programme by then and Lambiel's coach Peter Grütter will be working hard to contain the excitement around his young star.
"I think now we have to turn a new page and start over again," a proud Grütter told swissinfo as the delighted Swiss fans left the arena. "We will go to the Olympics with the same goal as here, not thinking about placements but just concentrating on doing good programmes. But Stéphane will of course be going there to do his best but it depends a lot on how the other skaters do."
Hugentoblers on course
Almost certain to be joining Lambiel on the plane to Salt Lake City are Swiss brother-sister team Daniel and Eliane Hugentobler, who are currently ninth in the ice dance discipline following Thursday's original dance section.
Casting a critical eye over their tango-flamenco, the pair said they weren't overly pleased with how they'd performed but added that they were more than happy with the marks they had received.
"Everything was how it should have been, but we didn't feel like we were skating with complete freedom," Daniel Hugentobler insisted. "Personally, I wasn't totally satisfied with my performance because I missed the twist step during the step sequence in the flamenco."
"It's the first time ever that all our marks have been around 5.0 though," Eliane countered, "and we've never had a 5.5 for presentation at international level before."
With half of their events now completed, the Swiss siblings will be looking to consolidate their strong position in Friday's free dance. The fight for the gold medal is likely to be between current leaders Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat of France and Italian reigning champions Barbara Fusar Poli and Maurizio Margaglio.
By Mark Ledsom, Lausanne
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