The men's and ladies' events at the 2016 European Figure Skating Championships have clear favorites, but the pairs are a very different story. Even with Grand Prix Final champions Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov out with injury, the battle for gold is still going to be intense. And it involves the reigning Olympic champions and one half of the two-time Olympic bronze medalists. Who's going to take the title? I'm going out on the limb for this one.
GOLD Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot GER - Yup, you read it right - I've got the new pair winning the whole thing. Make no mistake, in Savchenko/Massot, we've got half a pair who has won this title four times and Worlds five times and the Olympic bronze twice. The one wildcard is likely Massot, who has never been a favorite in a competition this huge before. But we've seen them three times this season - and they've won all three with the big tricks that make them competitive with the best in the world, and with component marks like nothing else you've ever seen with a first-season pair ... well, except for when Volosozhar/Trankov made their debut five years ago.
SILVER Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov RUS - Speaking of ... the Olympic champions have had a decent comeback season. Like Savchenko/Massot, they have won everything. But Volosozhar/Trankov have not been consistent, particularly with the throw triple flip, which they debuted this season in anticipation of the showdowns with the big technical showdown that will no doubt happen at Worlds. If both of the top pairs are clean, Volosozhar/Trankov have the edge, but I'd say Savchenko/Massot have a stronger chance of skating cleaner.
BRONZE Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov RUS - It was a heartbreaking Russian Nationals for them - they were behind silver medalists Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov by 0.12. But as luck (good to Tarasova/Morozov and bad for Kavaguti/Smirnov) would have it, Kavaguti/Smirnov are out of the season with an injury that Kavaguti suffered in practice, and Tarasova/Morozov got a second chance at closing out the season. They are certainly favored to be on the podium this week, and should be on their way to a second consecutive bronze.
4. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres FRA - Now the four-time French champions, James/Cipres grabbed a personal best at Trophee Eric Bompard in the short program before the competition was cancelled due to the terrorist attacks. But their NHK Trophy showing was disappointing. That said, they are capable of the big tricks and also of getting bigger scores this season.
5. Valentina Marchei/Ondrej Hotarek ITA - Fourth here last year, Marchei/Hotarek have not had a fantastic season, especially with Hotarek getting a concussion earlier in the season. They lost their Italian title to Della Monica/Guarise in December, but they are always a threat, especially because of their repertoire of elements, which includes a side-by-side triple lutz.
Outsiders: Italian champions Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise are having their best season ever, with some strong skating that has also come with some strong component scores. Russia's third team, Kristina Astakhova/Alexei Rogonov are making their Europeans debut. They have had a decent season and will certainly have the goods to challenge for a top five finish.