by Melanie Heaney | Photos by Robin Ritoss

A triumphant comeback, last-minute qualifications, and high ice dance drama—2017 Nebelhorn Trophy had it all. Last week, 18 teams, 16 of which were seeking Olympic spots for their countries, took the ice in the alpine village of Oberstdorf, Germany at the 49th annual Nebelhorn Trophy.

Taking top honors and an Olympic spot were British dancers Penny Coomes & Nicholas Buckland. Sidelined by injury for over a year, Coomes & Buckland were back in fine form and easily won the event with a score of 177.13 and set new ISU personal bests in both segments of the competition. They were perhaps a bit tentative, which is understandable given that Coomes’s knee had to be reconstructed last summer, but they did not hold back in terms of innovative choreography. Their free dance to “Battle Remembered” by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, was unique and fresh, without feeling like cultural appropriation. The subtle nature of the music will require extreme precision for the program to make the desired impact, but this is a program that can certainly grow into something special over the course of the season. Although Coomes & Buckland will have to be formally named by the British National Ice Skating Association, it is safe to assume that this team is on their way to their third Olympic Games.

Kana Muramoto & Chris Reed scored an overall personal best of 159.30 to earn the silver medal and an Olympic berth for Japan. Their free dance, set to music by renowned Japanese film scorer Ryuichi Sakamoto, has a subtle costume to change to reveal cherry blossoms on Muramoto’s dress. Overall, the program feels like a quiet nod to their home country, which is always nice in an Olympic year. The duo has always been quite expressive, but they have improved their precision this season, earning level 3 on all footwork sequences across both dances. Like Coomes & Buckland, Muramoto & Reed are the assumed choice to attend the Olympic Games for their country.

Germany’s Kavita Lorenz & Joti Polizoakis picked up a bronze medal for the host, one of two medals that Germany won at the event. They did not quite reach their personal best, but they were within just a few points, earning a total of 152.50 with third-place finishes in both dances, despite missing a few key levels. Lorenz & Polizoakis only earned level 3 on their twizzle sequence in both dances, something they will need to address before their next event. Their short dance still felt a little new, with some segments better expressed than others, but their “Pride and Prejudice” free dance was lyrical and quite effective. The German skating federation has outlined a series of events and a specific process that will count for Olympic qualification. The bronze medal here was a great start, but they will need to continue to skate well if they want to be sent to Pyeongchang.

Although South Korea probably would have ended up with a host spot, Yura Min & Alexander Gamelin were determined to qualify outright at Nebelhorn and they did just that with a fourth-place finish. Their seventh-place short dance had a few shaky moments, including a stumble in the middle of the pattern-type step sequence, meant that they needed a lights-out effort in the free dance. They were able to present their “Arirang” free dance with freedom and ease, with a level 3 twizzle sequence being the only minor error. Gamelin earned South Korean citizenship over the summer and this duo is the only senior dance team in South Korea after a couple of splits over the past year, so Min & Gamelin will be the Olympic entry in Pyeongchang. Their qualification to the dance event, as well as a qualification in men, also kept South Korea’s hopes for the team event alive.

Cortney Mansour & Michal Ceska of the Czech Republic leapt up from a ninth-place short dance to take fifth place and grab a place for the Czech Republic at the Olympics. They missed half of last season due to injury, so they retained their “Godfather” free dance and performed it beautifully in Oberstdorf, earning close to their personal best and the fourth best free dance score. The duo will likely face off against new seniors Nicole Kuzmichova & Alexandr Sinicyn to determine which team would be the Czech Republic’s entry, but only if Mansour can acquire Czech citizenship in time. As of Nebelhorn, her application had been in process for over a year, with no good news yet. Both Mansour and Kuzmichova were born in Canada, but Kuzmichova has Czechoslovakian ancestry and was able to acquire her Czech passport late last year.

Lucie Mysliveckova & Lukas Csolley had to wait for four more teams to skate after them before they knew that they had done enough to move up to sixth place. With that ranking, they picked up the final available Olympic berth for Slovakia. Csolley was first alternate for the 2014 Olympic Games and Mysliveckova was entered into the 2010 Olympic Games (for the Czech Republic) but had to withdraw due to injury, so they were truly relieved to earn a spot this time around. Mysliveckova does not yet have a Slovak passport, but she was born before Czechoslovakia split into two countries, and the team is hopeful that the process will be quick. Mysliveckova & Csolley earned personal best scores for their “Cabaret” free dance as well as for their overall total of 143.22 points.

Allison Reed & Saulius Ambrulevicius dropped from fourth place in the short dance to eighth place in the free dance and seventh overall. Lithuania will be first alternates to the Olympic Games. Their free dance looked strong to the naked eye, but they lost several levels, including only receiving level 1 for their rotational lift. Without that mistake, they could have placed fourth, as they were less than a point from Min & Gamelin in fourth place.

The second Olympic alternates and eighth-place finishers are Tina Garabedian & Simon Proulx-Senecal. Much improved over the past year, Garabedian & Proulx-Senecal skated their “Romeo & Juliet” free dance very well and had moments of unique choreography, but it was not quite enough to move into the top six. As both partners have Armenian citizenship, they still have an outside chance at a ticket to Pyeongchang as second alternates.

Cecilia Törn & Jussiville Partanen of Finland dropped from fifth in the short to ninth in the free dance, finishing ninth overall. Finland will be the third alternate for the Olympic Games. Their short dance was highlighted by the only level 4 rhumba sequence in the competition, but their technical mark was not as strong in the free dance. Törn & Partanen only earned level 1 for their opening twizzle sequence in the free, which dropped their base value by 3.5 points. With 138.45 points overall, though, they were 4.77 points out of qualification.