The 19th Ondrej Nepela Memorial will take place from September 29 to October 1 in Bratislava, Slovakia. Named for the 1972 Olympic gold medalist and held annually since 1993, the event has included ice dancing in all but two years. Previous winners of Ondrej Nepela Memorial include 2002 Olympic gold medalists Marina Anissina & Gwendal Peizerat and 2008 World Champions Isabelle Delobel & Olivier Schoenfelder.
Nelli Zhiganshina & Alexander Gazsi are the reigning bronze medalists from the 2010 event and are the only returning medalists from last year’s field. The German duo had a busy fall competition schedule in 2010 and seems to be following the same competitive preparation blueprint this season. They are scheduled for back-to-back events after winning the silver medal at Nebelhorn Trophy just a few days ago. Zhiganshina & Gazsi won the gold medal at the 2008 Ondrej Nepela Memorial and will look to regain the stop spot this week.
Great Britain’s Louise Walden & Owen Edwards are coming off their best season to-date. 2010 saw the duo win their first international medals – both gold – and finish 20th in their first World Championships. They competed last week at Nebelhorn Trophy, where they finished eighth and will look to improve on last week’s score while grabbing a medal in the process.
The lone U.S. entry, Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus, are making their senior international debut in Bratislava. As juniors, Cannuscio & McManus won the bronze medal at 2011 U.S Nationals, earning them the opportunity to compete at the 2011 World Junior Championships where they finished 7th. Their short dance to “Mas Que Nada” and “Magalenha” by Sergio Mendes is fast and intricate, and if performed to their capability, it could start them off strong and in the mix for the medals.
After sitting out last season due to the ISU’s one year requirement for a skater changing county, Yuliya Zlobina & Alexei Sitnikov, who previously represented Russia, are making their international debut representing Azerbaijan. Due to the depth of ice dancing in Russia, Zlobina & Sitnikov were mired in 5th-9th place finishes at the Russian National Championships and last competed internationally in 2008 at Nebelhorn Trophy where they finished fifth. They are an enigma due to being absent from international competition for several years, so their placement in Slovakia is anyone’s best guess.
Italians Lorenza Alessandrini & Simone Vaturi made their senior debut last season, winning a silver medal at the Coupe de Nice, but were unable to compete on the Grand Prix series due to injury. Alessandrini & Vaturi recovered to finish third at their national championships and 16th at the 2011 European Championships; however they were not chosen for the World Championship team.
Though at one point the roster boasted 17, there are now only 11 teams representing 9 countries will face off with the short dance being contested on Friday, September 30 and the free dance concluding on Saturday. In addition to medals, teams who are not listed currently on the ISU’s substitute list can be added to it by winning this event.