by Daphne Backman
Seven teams from six countries will travel to Bergamo, Italy, for Lombardia Trophy, which serves as the starting point to the 2016-17 ISU Challenger Series.
Created by the ISU in 2014-15, the Challenger Series consists of ten international events that take place in the Autumn months. While some events are included annually on the series, others like Lombardia Trophy, are included on occasion. Lombardia Trophy was included in the inaugural Challenger Series during the 2014-15 season and has taken place every year since 2013, although ice dance was not included until 2015.
When the entries list was published on August 11, it contained 10 teams, including 2014 World Champions Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte of Italy. Lombardia Trophy would have also marked the international debut of Finland’s singles skaters turned ice dance duo, Juulia Turkkila & Matthias Versluis. The names of both teams as well as France’s Kate Bagnall & Benjamin Allain have all been removed.
Italy’s Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri broke through last season, winning two Challenger Series events (Warsaw Cup, Golden Spin of Zagreb) as well as finishing just off the podium at both of their Grand Prix’s (Skate Canada, Rostelecom Cup). They capped their season by cracking the top 10 at the 2016 World Championships. Placing second at this event in 2015, they should move up to the top step this time.
Cecilia Törn & Jussiville Partanen of Finland are also coming off their best season to-date. The team won two bronze medals at their Challenger Series events (Tallinn Trophy, Warsaw Cup) and qualified for the free dance at the World Championships, finishing 18th. Although this marks the fourth season for the team, they did not compete internationally in 2013-14.
Julia Biechler & Damian Dodge (pictured), the lone U.S. entry, are making their Challenger Series debut. Biechler & Dodge finished fifth in their senior international debut in late July at the Lake Placid Ice Dance International and could contend for their first senior medal in Italy.
Italy’s Jasmine Tessari & Francesco Fioretti are in their second season as a team. They are coached by Barbara FusarPoli and Stefano Caruso in Milan and finished ninth at Lombardia Trophy in 2015 and seventh at their Challenger Series debut (Ice Challenge).
Of the seven couples competing, two teams are new and competing in their first ISU Challenger Series event.
Fans got a glimpse of Great Britain’s Lilah Fear & Lewis Gibson at the Lake Placid Ice Dance International where they finished 11th. Gibson is a former singles skater who teamed up with Fear earlier this year. The team trains in Montreal with Romain Haguenauer and company.
Justyna Plutowska retired after the 2014-15 season, but has returned to the ice with Jeremie Flemin representing Poland. They are training mates of both Guignard & Fabbri and Tessari & Fioretti.
Also competing are Mina Zdravkova & Christopher Davis of Bulgaria, who are making their senior international debut.
The short dance will be contested on Saturday, September 10th, with the free dance taking place on Sunday. Live streaming will be available.