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For the top women contenders, the competition is tougher than ever. Who will bring home a medal in the upcoming 2009 ISU European Figure Skating Championship, to be held in Helsinki this January? Going for gold TEXT BY SATU JUSSILA PHOTOS BY RAMI LAPPALAINEN ehind the sparkle and glamour that is the trademark of women's figure skating lies tough competition and nailbiting expectations. For the first time in Finnish figure skating history, any one of the three women on team Finland has the possibility of taking home a medal. "In the past Finland has had one or two figure skaters at world class levels ­ but now there are several who are equally strong," says Mila Kajas, communication officer for the Finnish Figure Skating Association and former competitive figure skater. "Look for skaters hailing from Italy and Switzerland to give the Finnish women the greatest challenge," she adds, when asked about the 2009 ISU European Figure Skating Championship competition, which will be held in late January at Helsinki's Hartwall Arena. In fact, the Finnish Figure Skating Association of Finland is so sure of its potential in this event, that a goal of two medals for Finland at the European championship has been set. "While anything is possible, it's generally understood that these medals are almost expected from the women figure skaters," says Kajas. 40 BLUE WINGS JANUARY 2009 B A lot is riding on the top Finnish women contenders. While figure skating may have an air of gentility, it's also a sport that can be particularly heart wrenching, as the slightest misstep during competition can ruin months of practice. The fact that things went swimmingly during training doesn't matter one bit if a stumble takes place in front of the crowd. Moreover, the injuries the women often suffer ­ from fractured ankles to herniated discs ­ easily rival those suffered by any other hardcore athlete. How these women pull it off ­ and make it look easy ­ is a testament to their athletic capabilities and personal endurance. Each, too, has her own trademark style of skating, which makes viewing the performances all the more enlivening. STEPPING INTO THE SPOTLIGHT Laura Lepistö, 20, has lived in the shadow of other more known skaters, thanks to ankle injuries during the 2006 and 2007 seasons. But her moment in the sun has arrived. Lepistö won gold in last year's Finnish figure skating championship and took home the bronze at the 2008 European championship. "Laura is one of the few women in European circles who can pull off a triple-triple jump combination. She also has great pirouettes, good speed, presentation and footwork," explains Kajas. Lepistö says that she loves the jumps: "Figure skating is so multidimensional, in that it involves elements from both dance

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