MINSK, Belarus (AP) -- Russian figure skater Mikhail Kolyada is on track for his first European title after beating six-time defending champion Javier Fernandez in the short program on Thursday, while France claimed its first European pairs gold in 87 years.
Kolyada, the bronze medalist in 2017 and 2018, landed a quadruple toeloop-triple toeloop combination in a clean skate for 100.49 points. That continues a strong recovery from a bout of sinusitis which almost kept him out of last month's Russian nationals, the key qualifying event for the European championships.
"It's important not to get carried away with emotions before the free skate," Kolyada said. "I can say that it's much better to be skating healthy."
After a messy landing on a triple axel, Fernandez had to settle for third place with 91.84 points, 0.13 behind Russian rival Alexander Samarin.
Fernandez won the title in each of the last six seasons but the Spaniard has barely competed this season as he prepares to retire and focus on commercial ice shows.
Winning the title after Saturday's free skate would rank him third in the all-time standings, matching Evgeni Plushenko's seven titles over 2000-12.
France's Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres held on to their short-program lead to win the pairs gold, defeating two-time defending champions Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia.
James and Cipres scored 149.11 with a near-flawless free skate for a total of 225.66 as they stayed unbeaten in a breakout season for the experienced pair, who also won last month's Grand Prix Final. The last French pair to win the European Championships was Andree and Pierre Brunet in 1932.
Tarasova and Morozov won the gold the past two seasons but had to settle for silver, scoring a total 218.82 after a costly mistake on a jump combination.
The French pair skated before their Russian rivals and, when news came through that Tarasova and Morozov hadn't scored enough for gold, Cipres collapsed onto the floor while James shook with emotion.
In their first season at senior level, the Russian pair of Alexandra Boikova and Dmitry Kozlovsky overtook Italy's Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise in the free skate to take bronze by just 0.14 on 205.28.