Article by Daphne Backman | Photo by Robin Ritoss
This week, 15 teams representing 11 countries will head to Bratislava, Slovakia, for the 21st Ondrej Nepela Trophy. The event, named after 1972 Olympic gold medalist Ondrej Nepela, has been held annually since 1993. A dance event has been contested every year except 2003 and 2006. Past winners have included 2002 Olympic champions Marina Anissina & Gwendal Piezerat (1993) and 2008 world champions Isabelle Delobel & Olivier Schoenfelder (2007).
Two-time Ondrej Nepela Trophy champions Nelli Zhiganshina & Alexander Gazsi will open their season at this event. The charismatic Germans finished 10th at the World Championships last March, qualifying two spots for Germany at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Zhiganshina & Gazsi aim to solidify their position as the top team in Germany as they face not only international teams, but also their countrymen Tanja Kolbe & Stefano Caruso.
After splitting in February 2012, Kolbe & Caruso re-teamed five months later and finished their 2013 season by placing eighth at the European Championships. With Caruso receiving his German citizenship on September 2, the duo is now eligible to compete for a spot on the German Olympic team. They will look to start strong at this event and close the gap between them and their teammates.
Penny Coomes & Nick Buckland (pictured, right) of Great Britain started their season in September at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, where they finished fifth. Their free dance, to a medley of music by Michael Jackson, was rough in Salt Lake City. With extra mileage on it now, they could really light up the competition with their crowd-pleasing program.
Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton of the United States are making their senior international début in Bratislava. The 2013 world junior bronze medalists débuted their programs at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships back in August and received solid marks, winning both their short and free dance groups. Their Bollywood-themed free dance should entertain the audience and, hopefully, the judges.
Russia is represented by Ekaterina Pushkash & Jonathan Guerreiro. This season is the third at the senior level for the young Russians who won the silver medal at the 2011 World Junior Championships. The team has not been able to repeat the success they had at the junior level, so they switched things up this summer, relocating to Detroit to train with Pasquale Camerlengo and Anjelika Krylova.
Like Caruso, Charlene Guignard recently received a new citizenship. Her Italian citzenship, obtained in August, makes her and partner, Marco Fabbri, eligible to compete in Sochi, if they qualify. Guignard & Fabbri finished 17th at the 2013 World Championships.
Italians Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte were scheduled to open their Olympic season with this event, but Lanotte sustained a minor neck injury on Monday, and the duo has withdrawn.
The dancers will compete in the short dance on Friday, and the free dance will be held on Saturday afternoon.