Spain's figure skating star Fernandez wary of Chan and Japanese threat
Spain's Javier Fernandez performs in the men's short programme competition during the ISU European Figure Skating Championships, at 'SYMA' sports hall in Budapest, on January 16, 2014 - by Attila Kisbenedek
The 22-year-old from Madrid fired the first shot in his bid to hold his continental crown by scoring a personal best in the short programme on Thursday to open up a 6.05-point lead on Russian Sergei Voronov with Czech Tomas Verner in third going into Saturday's free skating final.
Fernandez was a surprise winner of the men's title last year in Zagreb becoming the first Spanish figure skater to medal at an ISU championship and he went on to take bronze at the worlds.
And he would like to continue the record by bringing home an Olympic medal, despite the threat of Canada's three-time world champion Chan and Japanese trio Yuzuru Hanyu, Tatsuki Machida and Daisuke Takahashi, the 2010 Vancouver bronze medallist.
"Personally I think noone can skate better than Chan and the Japanese," said Fernandez.
"For skater skills, Patrick is the world champion. I don't think anyone can skate better than him.
"I wouldn't like to be in the Japanese nationals. They are really tough. I've never seen so many good skaters in one country.
"They really train hard every day, just for international competitions, not even worlds.
"The Olympics are going to be really, really hard."
Fernandez, coached by Canadian Brian Orser, who lead South Korean Kim Yu-Na to the Olympic women's title four years ago and also coach of Grand Prix winner Hanyu, admitted retaining his European crown would be a big boost.
His short programme showed a man with a mission as he opened with a quadruple salchow to "Satan takes a holiday" by Larry Clinton and included a triple axel and triple lutz-triple toe-loop combination.
"I felt very nervous at the beginning, but when the music started it all went away, I calmed down and I just enjoyed the programme," he said.
"I believe I can win the gold medal again, but every skater behind me has a chance to steal it," said the Toronto-based skater, who scored 91.56 to better his personal best by 2.76 points.
"I hope that some day I can catch Yuzuru Hanyu and his world record (95.32)."
In Budapest he also faces a battle from his Russian rivals who are bidding for the Olympic hosts' sole men's berth in Sochi.
That was thrown open as national champion Maxim Kovtum, 18, who is hoping to take the berth ahead of veteran 2006 Olympic champion Yevgeny Plushenko, slumped to fourth.
Plushenko, 31, is not competing in Budapest with Russia's figure skating federation chiefs making their final selection after the Europeans.
Kovtum landed his opening quad-triple toe-loop combination, but popped his second quad jump in his Flamenco routine and is fourth with 83.15, nearly 10 points off his personal best.
"It's a big shame because everything else was good," said Kovtum. "For now we have to go forward, tomorrow and the day after are the important ones."
Voronov, 26, who was third at the Russian nationals but has never medalled at a major competition, is second with 85.51, with 2008 champion Verner on 83.51.