Zagreb, Croatia – January 21-27, 2008
While the United States is deciding its national champions, across the Atlantic Ocean skaters will be competing in Zagreb, Croatia for the title of 2008 European Champion. The dance competition begins on Tuesday, January 22 with the Yankee Polka.
This year’s Grand Prix Final champions, Oksana Domnina & Maxim Shabalin, had to miss Russian Nationals due to injury but expect to be healthy enough to compete at the European Championships this week. Domnina & Shabalin battled closely with Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto and Isabelle Delobel & Olivier Schoenfelder at the recent Grand Prix Final in Torino, Italy, where they captured their first Grand Prix Final victory. Domnina & Shabalin had an uninspiring skate to their Ukrainian folk original dance in Torino, which means they are likely to skate a strong original dance in Zagreb. Aside from a few mistakes in the free dance at Cup of China, Domnina & Shabalin have performed their “Masquerade Waltz” free dance with energy all season. Skating in the traditional Russian style of power and grace, Domnina & Shabalin have an excellent chance to capture their first European title this week in Zagreb.
Defending European Champions Isabelle Delobel & Olivier Schoenfelder had a successful Grand Prix season, winning both Trophee Eric Bompard and NHK Trophy. They delivered strong programs at the Grand Prix Final, finishing third behind Domnina & Shabalin and Belbin & Agosto. Delobel & Schoenfelder are always strong in the compulsories, a testament to their long and experienced partnership. Their original dance, to the music of a French country dance, has been warmly received by judges and fans this season. Their free dance to music from “The Piano” has shown potential to be a masterpiece. Delobel & Schoenfelder have had problems achieving level 4’s in their free dance throughout the Grand Prix series, so improving their technical content will be their main focus going into the European and World Championships.
Finishing fifth at the recent Grand Prix Final, Russia’s Jana Khokhlova & Sergei Novitski have burst onto the scene this year with an energetic and innovative free dance to “A Night on Bald Mountain” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” With Domnina & Shabalin out of the recent Russian National Championships, Khokhlova & Novitski were able to capture their first Russian national title. With a recent victory under their belt, Khokhlova & Novitski have the momentum going into the European Championships, and could very well challenge for the title.
Another team enjoying a breakout season is Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat from France. They finished second in Moscow at Cup of Russia, achieving a new personal best score of 184.38. They also scored new personal best scores in every portion of the competition in Moscow. Like Khokhlova & Novitski, Pechalat & Bourzat have a very daring and athletic free dance this season. They have chosen a very modern – almost sci-fi – program, skating to “Organ Donor” and “Space Monkeys.” If they can put three inspiring performances together in Zagreb, Pechalat & Bourzat have an excellent chance of making the podium, providing his wonky knee cooperates.
At the head of Italian ice dancing is the team of Frederica Faiella & Massimo Scali. Training in Detroit, Mich. with Pasquale Camerlengo and Anjelika Krilova, Faiella & Scali have enjoyed two podium finishes this season on the Grand Prix Series. Faiella & Scali captured the bronze at both Skate America and Cup of China and will be looking to move up from their sixth place finish at the European Championships last year. Their best finish at the European Championships was 2005, where they finished fifth.
Sinead & John Kerr, the brother and sister team from Great Britain, achieved a personal best score on this year’s Grand Prix circuit, scoring 172.37 at NHK Trophy. Sinead & John were fifth at the 2007 European Championships, and would love to move up a few spots and onto the podium in Zagreb. Their Scottish original dance has been a highlight of the season for the Scottish siblings. With authentic costumes (John sports a kilt) and traditional Scottish dance steps, Sinead & John melted into the character of the Scottish folk dance, making it one not to miss. Their free dance has also been a highlight on the Grand Prix circuit this season. Skating a space-themed program to music by Enigma, Sinead & John have shown their range as performers, which could payoff this week in Zagreb and catapult them up the standings.
The Belorussian-born team of Alexandra & Roman Zaretski compete for Israel and train under legendary coach Nikolai Morozov and former Israeli dance champion Galit Chait. They started off the Grand Prix season this year finishing in seventh at Skate America. They skated better at their next assignment, finishing just off the podium at Cup of China. Alexandra & Roman have experience on their side, skating together since the early 90’s. They are performing to the music of Middle Eastern folk in the original dance and to a jazz medley in the free dance.
Another team that may challenge for the podium in Zagreb is Italy’s Anna Cappellini & Luca LaNotte. They finished second at Skate Canada this year, but were soundly beaten by their teammates Faiella & Scali at the recent Italian Championships. Ukraine’s Anna Zadorozhniuk & Sergei Verbillo achieved a personal best score of 161.64 at Cup of Russia this year, where they placed third, and could be surprise performers at this year’s European Championships. Anastasia Grebenkina & Vazgen Azrojan from Armenia had two sixth place finishes on the Grand Prix circuit this season and could also be a surprise in Zagreb.