The ice dancers of Europe will convene in Tallinn, Estonia, most for one final tune-up prior to the Olympic Winter Games. For those not making the journey to Vancouver, it gives them an opportunity to chart their progress en route to the World Championships in Torino, Italy. The roster lists 27 teams, with one notable omission – France’s Isabelle Delobel & Olivier Schoenfelder – who chose to stay home and continue their preparation for the Olympics. Although the feedback from international judges would be valuable, the lost training time proved to be too much to sacrifice. In a few weeks, we’ll see if the gamble pays off.
The European Championships marks the first international appearance this season for 2009 World Champions Oksana Domnina & Maxim Shabalin of Russia. Domnina & Shabalin withdrew from this event last year after the compulsory dance (where they were fifth) due to Maxim’s recurring knee injury. The team debuted this season’s original and free dances at Russian Nationals in December. Reviews were mixed, to put it kindly. The Russian judges showered them with Program Component scores in the high 9s and a 214+ point total, prompting much discussion regarding the generosity of points awarded to them (“Nationals inflation” aside), since the performances seemed a pale comparison of what — at their best — they could do. The choreography caused an uproar in the international skating community unlike any in recent memory. Domnina & Shabalin won the European title in 2008 and all eyes will be on them to see if they can do it again.
Domnina & Shabalin’s competition should come from several teams, including fellow Russians Jana Khokhlova & Sergei Novitski. Khokhlova & Novitski have had their own issues this season. After winning the silver medal at Cup of China, the team finished fourth at Skate America, and they were overtaken by two teams who had never previously beaten them. They promptly returned to Russia and scrapped their free dance, creating a new program to Stravinsky’s “Firebird.” Although alternates for the Grand Prix Final, when a spot became available, they declined. A training mishap forced them to withdraw from Russian Nationals. Europeans marks the debut of their new free dance and their title defense; Khokhlova & Novitski are the reigning European Champions.
The battle for the podium is wide open, given the unpredictability of this Olympic season.
Italy’s Federica Faiella & Massimo Scali missed their second Grand Prix event due to illness, but rebounded with a strong finish at Italian Nationals. They won the silver medal at Europeans last season.
Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat of France missed the podium at the 2009 European Championships but have had a strong international season thus far, winning the bronze at the Grand Prix Final after picking up a pair of silver medals at Trophee Eric Bompard and Skate Canada.
Sinead & John Kerr won the bronze medal at Europeans in 2009 and will fight once again to land on the podium in Tallinn. Though the Kerrs have not faced Faiella & Scali this season, they have competed against Pechalat & Bourzat twice, with the French being coming out ahead both times.
Wild cards include Israel’s Alexandra & Roman Zaretski and Italy’s Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte, both teams having their best seasons ever. The Zaretski siblings took bronze at Skate America ahead of Khokhlova & Novitski and the Italians won the silver. Cappellini & Lanotte also earned silver at Cup of Russia and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final, where they placed fifth.
The competition opens Tuesday morning in Estonia with the Tango Romantica compulsory dance. After a day off, the event continues with the original dance on Thursday and wraps up Friday with the free dance.