Obertsdorf, Germany

Traditionally, Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, marks the beginning of the skating season on the senior level. Most federations in North American and Europe send their skaters, frequently some high-level entries hoping to earn valuable points toward their ISU ranking. However, this year’s competition takes on special significance: countries that have not yet qualified spots for the Olympics are sending their top entries to fight for the remaining berths to Vancouver. In dance, five spots remain, and teams from Australia, Austria, China, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Greece, and Hungary will fight to earn the privilege of joining the world’s best athletes at the Olympic Games this coming February. 

One of the most likely teams to earn a ticket to Vancouver is Hungary’s Nora Hoffmann & Maxim Zavozin. Both dancers had plenty of international experience with their former partners, winning multiple medals at the World Junior Championships between 2002-2005. Hoffman & Zavozin teamed up in September of 2007, but it has been a rough couple of years. Last season, illnesses and injuries plagued them; they were not able to compete until the Hungarian Championships. They were forced to withdraw from the European Championships after the original dance due to injuries sustained there. While practicing for the World Championships, Hoffman suffered a severe head injury and was unable to recover in time for Los Angeles. This makes Nebelhorn is their first and only chance to secure an Olympic berth. 

After finishing less than four points from Olympic qualification at last year’s World Championships, Estonians Caitlin Mallory & Kristian Rand also have a great shot at this event. They are also entering their second season together. After a strong debut season that included a 14th-place showing in a strong field at the European Championships, Mallory & Rand are on the rise and looking to add the Olympics to this year’s competitive schedule. 

Lucie Mysliveckova & Matej Novak of the Czech Republic finished less than a point behind Mallory & Rand in Los Angeles. Mysliveckova & Novak have plenty of international experience at both the junior and senior levels. Last year, they also competed at the World Junior Championships, where they placed eighth. 

China did not qualify a team to compete at the Torino Olympics four years ago, but Xintong Huang & Xun Zheng have a shot at securing a place in Vancouver. They finished seventh at the Four Continents Championships in the Olympic venue at this past February’s test event and then 22nd at the World Championships. Even if they earn a spot for China at Nebelhorn, Huang & Zheng would still have to fight for the Olympic team membership with countrymen Xiaoyang Yu & Chen Wang, who consistently battle with them in both national and international competitions. 

Neither Danielle O’Brien & Gregory Merriman of Australia nor Nikki Georgiadis & Graham Hockley of Greece made the cut for the free dance at the World Championships last year, so Nebelhorn marks their final chance at qualifying for the Olympic Games. Both teams would love the chance to skate in Vancouver, particularly; O’Brien & Merriman train part-time in Vancouver with Victor & Maikki Kraatz, and Georgiadis & Hockley are both from Canada.

Several new teams will also attempt to qualify for Olympic spots. Allison Reed & Otar Japaridze are a new team skating for Georgia who skated well in the compulsory events in Lake Placid last month. Kira Geil & Dmitri Matsjuk are a new pairing for Austria, and while Henna Lindholm & Ossi Kanervo competed in last year’s Finnish Championships, this will be their international debut. 

Since the Nebelhorn Trophy is awarded to the team with the highest set of combined finishes, the German federation has allowed already-qualified countries to enter the competition. Teams from Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Russia, and the United States already have ice dance spots slotted for the Olympic Games, but are sending teams to begin their seasons and gain some additional international exposure. 

Perhaps the favorites for gold in Oberstdorf are Americans Meryl Davis & Charlie White. Flying high off of last year’s dream season that included wins at Skate Canada, the U.S. Championships, and the Four Continents Championships, as well as finishing in one of the closest fourth places ever at the World Championships, Davis & White are facing high expectations in this Olympic season. Nebelhorn is an excellent opportunity for them to test out their programs and get some feedback when the stakes are not quite as high. Their much-anticipated Bollywood-themed original dance might be one of the high moments of the entire competition. 

With last year’s 13th-place result at the World Championships, Alexandra Zaretski & Roman Zaretski of Israel already are guaranteed that, barring injury, they will attend their second Olympic Games. The brother-sister duo had been hyped in the past to follow countrymen Chait & Sakhnovski as one of the top teams in the world, but faltered last season when they failed to stay in the top ten at the World Championships. Perhaps this year, the Zaretskis will be able to match past results. 

Katherine Copely & Deividas Stagniunas of Lithuania finished just behind the Zaretskis at the World Championships last year, matching 2008’s 14th-place finish. It was enough to earn Lithuania a place in the 2010 Olympic Games. Since Copely & Stagniunas are Lithuania’s only senior dance team, they are already assured of the trip to Vancouver, assuming American-born Copely’s Lithuanian citizenship is confirmed. 

Nebelhorn will mark the debut of the new Russian team of Ekaterina Riazanova & Ilia Tkachenko. Riazanova was last year’s bronze medalist at the World Junior Championships with Jonathan Guerreiro, and Tkachenko finished fourth at the 2008 World Junior Championships with Maria Monko. Their partnership has received a lot of attention among the skating community, so the pressure is on for them to live up to their hype. 

Siblings Carolina Hermann & Daniel Hermann will lead the German home team, and since they are the host nation, they were permitted to enter one additional team: Tanja Kolbe & Sascha Rabe. The Hermanns were the final team to earn an Olympic berth at last year’s World Championships, where they finished 17th. They are the reigning German champions and have spent time training in Vancouver with the Kraatzes. Kolbe & Rabe are the current German bronze medalists. 

Christina Chitwood & Mark Hanretty of Great Britain placed 10th at Nebelhorn last year and look to improve upon that in their fourth season as partners. It has been an eventful summer for Chitwood, especially, as she became Mrs. Tom Parkin last month. 

Italians Isabella Pajardi & Stefano Caruso round out the field of 17 teams. Pajardi & Caruso have not yet been assigned to the Grand Prix, so Nebelhorn provides a valuable opportunity for them to try and earn ISU ranking points. They were 16th at last year’s European Championships. 

The race for the final Olympic berths begins on Thursday with the Tango Romantica, and the dancers will skate again Thursday evening in the original dance. They will close out the competition on Saturday with the free dance.