by Daphne Backman
The 2012 Ice Challenge will be held in Graz, Austria, from November 5 to 10. Ice Challenge is an annual competition hosted by the Austrian Figure Skating Association and sanctioned by the International Skating Union. Skaters compete at the international senior, junior, and novice levels. Thirteen teams representing 12 countries are currently scheduled to compete in the senior dance event, although recent weeks have shown us that rosters often change at the last minute. In addition to medals, teams are also working to meet the short and free dance TES minimums for ISU championship events, a benchmark that has proven to be elusive for some teams so far this season.
The United States’ Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt (pictured, right) won this event in 2011 and will be in Graz to defend their title. Kriengkrairut & Giulietti-Schmitt have been competing since late July, making their season début at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. They followed a bronze medal at the inaugural U.S. International Figure Skating Classic with their highest Grand Prix event placement to date, finishing fourth at Skate America last month. Their free dance to music by Adele has been well received and they continue to develop the expression of the program with each outing.
Irina Shtork & Taavi Rand of Estonia are having their best season to date. The 2010 Olympians finished fifth at Finlandia Trophy and won their first senior international medal, a bronze, at Cup of Nice several weeks ago. If Shtork & Rand can skate two consistent performances in Graz, a second senior medal is possible.
Aussies Danielle O’Brien & Gregory Merriman burst into the top 20 at the 2012 World Championships and are attacking a busy schedule this autumn. After a seventh-place finish at the U.S. International Classic, O’Brien & Merriman finished just off the podium at Ondrej Nepela Memorial. Last weekend, they competed at NRW Trophy in Dortmund, Germany, and improved upon their score from Nepela, but finished eighth.
In the second year of their partnership, Lucie Mysliveckova & Neil Brown has shown improved unison and consistency. After missing out on a trip to the World Championships last year (to Gabriela Kubova & Dmitry Kiselev), the Czech duo came out strong this season, beating their countrymen at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial last month. Like the Aussies, Ice Challenge is their fourth event this season.
In September, Great Britain’s Louise Walden & Owen Edwards crossed the Atlantic to change their training location from Lyon, France, to Hackensack, N.J. Despite Hurricane Sandy, Walden & Edwards were able to compete last week at NRW Trophy, where they finished seventh. A spot on the podium could be within reach, but mileage on brand-new programs is also a consideration. The resilient Brits won this event in 2010.
Also representing the United States are Anastasia Olson & Keiffer Hubbell, who are making their international début as a team in Graz. Hubbell, who returns to the competitive scene after a one year absence, has a host of international medals earned while skating with his sister, Madison. Olson also has both junior and senior international experience with former partner Jordan Cowan; they finished sixth at 2011 Nebelhorn Trophy.