Scots skaters set for European Championships in Minsk

Scottish figure skaters have told of their hopes for this week's European championships in Belarus.

Natasha McKay from Dundee will compete in the ladies' singles category in the European Figure Skating Championships this week.

Lewis Gibson, from Prestwick, who skates with ice dance partner Lilah Fear, said the pair had made changes to the music of their rhythm dance programme ahead of the championships in a bid to create more impact with the judges.

Meanwhile, Natasha McKay, from Dundee, who will represent Britain in the ladies solo category, said her aim was to qualify for the second stage of the competition - the free programme - which sees only the top 24 skaters go through.

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The Scots, along with Irish men's champion Conor Stakelum, who also trains in Dundee but will compete for his home nation, will join five other British competitors at the championships: Graham Newberry from London, who will compete in the men's category, Zoe Jones and Christopher Boyadji from Swindon, who will take part in the pairs competition and Robynne Tweedale and Joseph Buckland, who will also compete in ice dance.

Ice dancer Lewis Gibson from Prestiwck will compete with partner Lilah Fear.

This year's European Figure Skating Championships - which will see Gibson and Fear up against French Olympic silver medallists Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron - will take place from today at Minsk Ice Arena in the Belarusian capital.

Gibson said: "We are really looking forward to the competition. We had a positive experience at our national championships in the beginning of December and have made adjustments to our programmes leading into the Europeans. We’re excited to show these changes and try to perform the best we can."

Gibson and Fear's free dance routine, which draws on music from the 1970s disco era, meshing songs by Donna Summers, has been particularlywell-received by both judges and audiences since they debuted it internationally at the Ondrej Nepala Trophy in Slovakia in September.

They achieved their personal best - smashing their previous record by seven points - at the British Championships.

Gibson added: "We altered the first part of the music in the rhythm dance and changed a few elements around, as well as making some small choreography tweaks in the free dance."

Gibson and Fear have this season competed in the prestigious Grand Prix series competitions, where they ranked fourth and fifth respectively in the NHK Trophy in Japan and Skate America, rocketing them onto the international stage. The pair previously ranked 15th in the European championships in 2017 and last year also competed in the World Figure Skating Championships after British champions Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland pulled out due to injury. Coomes and Buckland, who came 7th in last year's European championships, have now retired.

Three-times British champion McKay, who ranked 27th in the European Figure Skating Championships last year, said she hoped to qualify for the free programme in this year's competition. McKay, who is trained at Dundee Ice Arena by elite coaching team Simon and Debi Briggs and pipped rinkmate Karly Robertson to the top spot at the British Championships in Sheffield in December, said: "I feel really good going into Europeans. My training has been going really well leading up to the championships.

"My main goal is to go out and skate my best in the short programme and hopefully that will qualify me into the top 24 for the free programme and put down a solid performance in the free also." Briggs said: "We are confident that with a strong skate, Natasha will qualify for the free, which will put her in a good position to be selected for the Worlds and keep her right on track, not only for Olympic qualification in 2022, but a very strong showing in Beijing.”

Gibson and Fear have previously said that they hope to increase their international rankings over the coming years to be in line to compete for a medal at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Stakelum, who moved from Ireland to train in Dundee, sad he was "confident" going into the championships.