This weekend, the 2010-2011 senior international figure skating season kicks off with Nebelhorn Trophy. Oberstdorf, Germany, has hosted the event every year dating back to 1969. Last season, Nebelhorn served as the final chance for skaters to qualify a spot for their country at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, so rosters were packed and pressure was massive. This year, the only things at stake are “Senior-B” points towards the skaters’ ISU rank. Pre-ISU Grand Prix feedback plus that ever-important “first pancake” competition of the season make Nebelhorn an invaluable experience and something of a rite of passage for skaters moving up to seniors. The short dance has already led to some interesting results in international junior competition, so it will be fascinating to see how the seniors fare.
With a career-best fourth-place finish at the 2010 World Championships and a seventh-place showing at their second Olympic Games under their belts, France’s Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat are the favorites heading into the event. Known for their innovative choreography and careful attention to detail, their Chaplin-themed free dance is sure to be a treat. Although they have been competing on the senior level since 2002, the French, who train in Moscow with Alexander Zhulin, have never competed at Nebelhorn Trophy before. However, their coach — along with partner Maia Usova — won the event back in 1985.
Italy’s Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte have the technical ability to the challenge the French. Last season, they qualified for their first Grand Prix Final and finished fifth, but then fell to 12th place at the Olympic Games and 11th at the World Championships. Cappellini & Lanotte are also making their Nebelhorn debut this week. They train in Lyon, France with Muriel Zazoui, the former coach of Pechalat & Bourzat. Italy has won Nebelhorn Trophy only once: the gold was taken by Federica Faiella & Massimo Scali in 2002.
Four of the past five Nebelhorn Trophy dance titles have been won by Americans, so this year’s two couples have quite a standard to live up to. Team USA consists of Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani and Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt. The Shibutani siblings will make their senior international debut at Nebelhorn after two successful junior seasons that included a world junior silver medal. After a summer that saw Maia undergo a growth spurt, the team is ready to present a more grown-up look to match their always-high technical difficulty. The Shibutanis train in Canton, Michigan with Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva. Zoueva (with Andrei Vitman) was the Nebelhorn Trophy dance champion in 1976. Well-known U.S. pairs coach Johnny Johns (who also works out of Canton) happens to have been the 1972 *ice dance* champion with Mary-Karen Campbell.
Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt (pictured at right) also train in Michigan, but in Ann Arbor with Yasa Netchaeva and Yuri Tchesnitchenko. 2007 Nebelhorn Trophy was Kriengkrairut & Giulietti-Schmitt’s first senior international competition, and they finished eighth. With solid performances, their beautifully-choreographed Muse free dance should propel them to a higher finish in 2010. The team showed everyone at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships last month that they have never looked better, and they’ve had about six weeks to incorporate the feedback received in Lake Placid and be one of the few teams with competition from this season already under their belts. Kriengkrairut & Giulietti-Schmitt were recently awarded one of the final host dance spots at Skate America this fall.
Last year, Russia’s Ekaterina Riazanova & Ilia Tkachenko were fourth in Oberstdorf in their first international event as a team. They went on to a respectable sixth-place finish at the ISU Grand Prix Rosetelecom Cup and placed fourth at the 2010 Russian National Championships. They train in Odintsovo with Alexei Gorshkov.
Based on results from summer competitions, Skate Canada has awarded the Nebelhorn assignments to Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon and Sarah Arnold & Justin Trojek. Harvey & Gagnon were sixth at the 2010 Canadian Championships and have already kicked off their season with four medals in four dances at Minto Summer Skate and the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. Their 12-year partnership is the longest in the field, and this will be their first senior international competition. They train in Burnaby, British Columbia, under coaches Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe, who also made their senior international debut at Nebelhorn Trophy, when they finished fourth in 1995.
Arnold & Trojek are entering their second season as a team. After a tenth-place finish at the 2010 Canadian Championships, they began this season with a pair of second-place finishes (to Harvey & Gagnon) at Minto Summer Skate. This will be Arnold’s first international competition; Trojek competed on the JGP circuit in 2006 and 2007.
Veteran teams returning to Oberstdorf are Czechs Lucie Mysliveckova & Matej Novak (sixth in ’09, 11th in ’07) and Australians Danielle O´Brien & Gregory Merriman (withdrew after practice due to injury in ’09). Some ice dancers have made multiple visits with different partners. Deividas Stagniunas and now-retired partner Katie Copely won bronze last year and were eighth in ’06. Stagniunas is returning this year with new partner Isabella Tobias. Austrians Barbara Silna & Dmitri Matsuk placed sixth in ’07, 10th in ’06, and 13th in ’05. In 2010 she is competing with her new partner, Juri Kurakin.
Nebelhorn rookies include Katelyn Good & Nikolaj Sorensen from Denmark whose coach, Mathew Gates, won the silver in Oberstdorf in ’96 with Eve Chalom. The roster of the remaining rookies includes: Zoe Blanc & Pierre-Loup Bouquet from France; Brits Louise Walden & Owen Edwards; Gabriella Remport & Sandor Nagy from Hungary; last year’s Oberstdorf alternates for Israel, Brooke Frieling & Lionel Rumi; Siobhan Heekin-Canedy & and new parter Alexander Shakalov, who will be representing Ukraine; and host country Germany’s Nelli Zhiganshina & Alexander Gazsi.
The short dance will be contested on Thursday and competition will conclude with the free dance on Saturday afternoon. Check out the roster of former Nebelhorn Trophy winners for a wild walk down memory lane at http://www.deu-online.de/nht-Rckblick.History.html.
* SEPTEMBER 22 UPDATE: Both Blanc & Bouquet and Nagy & Fejes have withdrawn from Nebelhorn Trophy. No explanation given.