13TEB-DFD-1614-IK-RR 595by Katie Tetzloff | Photos by Robin Ritoss

This week ice dancers from throughout Europe will be competing against each other as the Olympic Games draw near. The European Championships will be held in Budapest, Hungary this season and will feature teams from 22 different countries. Each European country is allotted between one and three spots at this event, based on the countries results from the previous year. The individual teams that we will see, however, are chosen by their respective skating unions. For many of the couples, this will be their last chance to present their programs before heading off to Sochi for the Winter Games.

Both two-time European champions Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat of France and the reigning European champions, Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitry Soloviev of Russia will not be competing in Budapest. 

The only countries that were allowed three teams each are Italy and Russia, both of whom are expecting medals this week. 

Russia’s Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov (pictured, right) posted a season’s best combined score, 171.89, which is the highest of all of the competitors this week. In addition, they are the reigning silver medalists, so they definitely have the potential to win Europeans this year. 

Also representing Russia are Ekaterina Riazanova & Ilia Tkachenko, and Victoria Sintsina & Rusian Zhiganshin.  After winning Junior Worlds in 2012, Sintsina & Zhiganshin are now the Russian bronze medalists, a spot that in the past few years has belonged to Riazanova & Tkachenko.  Riazanova & Tkachenko, on the other hand, just missed the podium at last year’s European Championships, placing fourth. Their placement above or behind their new rivals could determine who Russia will choose as their third team to represent them in February’s Olympics.

Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte from Italy are also contenders for the gold. They placed third at Europeans last year and have had a very successful season, taking home the silver medal at both of their Grand Prixs, making on to the Grand Prix Final, and placing first at their national championships.  Accompanying them are their teammates, Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri and Lorenza Alessandrini & Simone Vaturi. Alessandrini & Vaturi were not able to compete at this event last year, but Guignard & Fabbri placed ninth.

Representing France are Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron and Pernelle Carron & Lloyd Jones. Even though this is Papadakis & Cizeron’s first season on the senior international circuit, they should not be underestimated.  This French team stole the gold at Cup of Nice, placed fifth and seventh at Trophee Eric Bompard and Rostelecom Cup, respectively, and took home the silver medal at the French National Championships. Though they have had an extremely successful season, they were not awarded France’s second spot in the upcoming Olympics. Carron & Jones, on the other hand, placed sixth and fourth at their Grand Prixs and had a top ten finish at last season’s European Championships. Since they have more extensive experience at the senior international level, they will be the second team France sends to the Olympics. 

Germany has two teams competing in Budapest as well: Nelli Zhigashina & Alexander Gazsi and Tania Kolbe & Stefano Caruso, both of whom finished in the top eight at last season’s Europeans. Both of these teams will represent Germany in Sochi.

The three time national champions of Great Britain, Penny Coomes & Nicholas Buckland, will also compete this week. They ended with a fifth place finish and a personal best at this competition last year. Each season they jump up a few places in their international events and hope to continue on this upward trend.

Isabella Tobias & Devidas Stagniunas of Lithuania are also competing.  After snatching an Olympic spot based on their results at the 2013 World Championships, Tobias struggled to gain Lithuanian citizenship, but it came through at the last minute. This puts more pressure on the team because for them too it will also be a precursor that sets the stage for the Olympics.

Since most of these European teams have significant international experience, the competition should be close, and these championships will act as a preview to how many of these teams will perform in the Sochi Olympics. The short dance takes place on Wednesday, January 15th, and the free dance will be held on the following day.