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2013 Nebelhorn Trophy: Americans Triumph over their Canadian Training Mates and their Russian Adversaries

by Alexandra Stevenson

The 45th annual Nebelhorn Trophy concluded late Saturday with the Ice Dance Free and the evening’s popular Exhibition programme. It’s a timetable which has been established for many years, but it is certainly tough on the ice dancers.

The competition overall was fraught with nerves, because some of the couples were desperately fighting for one of the remaining five available dance slots for the Olympic Games. The hours of competition expanded outside the usual ISU parameters which restricts how early international championships begin and end. The event really should have been extended by a day to four, in order to ease matters a little, but, presumably that would have involved considerable additional expenditure. There was a limit put on the number of entries, but some snuck in after the deadline to replace those who dropped out. For the first time ever, the number of press was strictly limited. This happened primarily because Miki Ando did not enter until after the deadline, and she is such a big star in Japan, that she is always followed by a flood of media.

During the Exhibition, a very important meeting took place backstage. The nationalities of the Olympic judges were picked. This was complicated by the need to also determine the panel for the team event, which is a totally new Olympic happening for our sport.

The Dance event overall was one of the most competitive in recent memory with skaters taking risks and plunging in one part of the event and doing far better in the other. It was a far cry from the days when ice dance results were set in concrete and you could bet on the overall placing on the basis of the standing after the first compulsory dance!

The Canadians, Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam, and Americans, Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue , did their SD 21st and 22nd, well after 11 PM at night, while the Russians performed an hour and a half earlier. Both Hubbell and Monko had twizzle problems and the Russians, Ksenia Monko, who is 21, & Kirill Khaliavin, 22, also got a point deduction because their lift went over its six second limit.

Hubbell & Donahue used three pieces of music for their energetic short dance, Mr. Pinstripe Suit; Maddest Kind of Love; and Diga Diga Doo by Big Bad Voodoo Daddies. They began their routine with the two sections of the Finnstep, earning Level 2 with +0.21 GoE, and Level 3 with +0.29.

Their Level 3 twizzles caused some disagreement from the judges, two of whom disapproved to the extent of slamming them with -2. One other punched in -1. However, the rest of the panel didn’t see anything wrong. Four gave 0 which means satisfactory in every aspect, and two others thought the element was better than that and punched in +1.

There was less disagreement with the next element, their straight line lift, which earned the maximum Level 4 with one judge thinking the move was extremely good and punched in +2, two believing it was superior and worth of +1; four deciding it was perfectly satisfactory, but one saw some fault still saw some fault the others didn’t, and gave -1.

Their last move, their non-touching circular steps, gained a full point over its base value of 6.5, with one judge awarded the maximum +3, two others giving +2, three punching in +1 and three giving only the basic 0.

Hubbell & Donahue presented a clearly superior Free Dance to win this section by 4.34 over who were second in this portion. That gave the Americans, who had been second after the initial round, the gold medals by 4.97 points over their Russian rivals, who took silver despite a disappointing third in the Short Dance.

Though the Americans were in second place, 2.53 behind the Canadians with whom they train at the Detroit SC, they were clearly superior in the FD. They soared ahead of their rivals. Their winning routine was set to “Nocture into Bohemian Rhapsody” by Lucia Micarelli. It opened spectacularly with a Level 4 Rotational lift which earned straight +2s apart from one +3, the maximum Grade of Execution. Their Level 3 steps came next followed by their curve lift, combination spin, and straight line lift, all of which received Level 4 with substantial GoEs. Their Level 2 steps gained a full point over the base value. They then concluded with Level 4 twizzles, a second Level 4 curve lift and the choreographed section. Their components ranged from one 6.75 up to ten 8.0s and one 8.25.

Overall, the Americans won by a substantial 4.97. They earned all Level 4s for their FD except for the two step sequences, circular and diagonal. They even gained a +3 (the maximum Grade of Execution) for their initial move, a rotational lift, for which the other judges gave straight 2s.

Asked why the step sequences always get lower levels, all three medalists groaned. “They are so hard,” Maddy said, making a sad face. But, apart from that, they were happy with their performance.

“Zach and I have a large presence on the ice. This is partly because of our height dominance over most of the dancers, but I believe that it is also about the connection that we have. Zach and I are two skaters who always knew each other, and even competed against each other, but were never friends. Once we started skating together, we found out why. We are both very passionate, emotional, dramatic people, who love to be the center of attention on the ice.

“These similarities have given us a different off-ice relationship than the other U.S. teams, and this translates to an honest performance and connection. I think that there are several very strong teams with the Olympic goal this year, and each one of them has attributes. I think that creating a moment and a feeling for the audience is our strong point, and it is a pretty powerful thing to have on our side.”

The Russians also choose also to do a Quickstep by Big Bad Voodoo Daddies along with a Foxtrot by Nat King Cole. But they received no Level 4, and their twizzles were level 2. Their Free was set to a selection of music by Rene Aubry and Gaetano Donizetti. They received five +4s, their diagonal steps were Level 3 and the circular steps Level 2. When this correspondent asked the three medalists why step sequences were also given Levels lower than the other elements, they all groaned. “Footwork is SO hard,” was their reply. Hubbell said, “We work so hard on it, and it’s a long element so there’s more time for it to go slightly wrong.”

Hubbell & Donohue’s training rinkmates, at the Detroit SC in Bloomfield Hills, the Canadians, Alexandra Paul, who is 22, & Mitchell Islam , 23, who both hail from Ontario, initially established a clear lead of 2.53 points in the Short Dance, having received Level 4 for their opening element, the Twizzles, and their closing move, the rotational lift, which was set to Gershwin’s “Crazy for You”. The lift also earned unanimous +2 Grades of Execution. Their non-touching steps and the second part of the Finnstep received Level 3, but the first part got only Level 2.

But their Free Dance was not in the same class. The duo began with Level 2 Diagonal steps which the panel of nine judged decided were good enough for four +2s and the rest +1s. But then they messed up their twizzles and got no marks at all for this move. However, they pulled themselves together and were the only could to get the maximum “+3GoE”. They earned one of these accolades for their Straight Line lift, and the other, from a different judge, for their finishing “choreographed” lift. They used four pieces of music by Abel Korzeniowski, “Dance For Me, Wallis”, “Satin Birds”, “I Will Follow You” and “Going Somewhere”.

Islam admitted that moving from Ontario to train at the Detroit SC has meant quite a change and that this Free was hard. “It was a tough ending to a really great competition for us,” said Islam, who joined forces with Paul in 2009. “There were some technical issues today that hurt us. (They got no marks at all for their twizzles, although they also got two +3 GoEs, one for their straight line lift, and the other for their choreographed short lift at the end, each from a different judge). Still, it's a building block for the rest of the season and we have lots of positives to take forward.”

“This year we've been really working on our performance,” said Paul. “We also got all new lifts which are more impressive and should bring us better technical scores. Today we gained a lot of confidence knowing that we can make a mistake, but still pull through.”

A strange thing about twizzles is that some of the lower couples were able to meet the requirements for Level 4, although they execute them far slower. Although the lifts always seem the most dangerous move, twizzles are definitely risky. Siobhan Heekin-Canedy &Dmitri Dun, who live in the United States but represent Ukraine, were able to earn Level 4 for their twizzles in the Free, but got no marks at all for this move in the Short Dance, for which they were judged 16th best. Although they were ninth in the Free, they advanced only one place to 15th overall.

Another usual aspect of the Short Dance, was that the Russians received only Level 3 for their lift in the Short Dance while 19 of the 22 couples received Level 4 for theirs! So, this was a major point of grief for the former world junior champions from Moscow. But, they were certainly still in contention for gold.

In fact, the Americans and Russians were so close in the initial round that, without the Russians’ being saddled with the one point penalty, which was noted by the referee, Ingrid Charlotte Walter, and not initially picked up by the computer, they would have reversed positions, with the Russians taking second instead of third, and the Americans third going into the Free. (The Russians got 0.08 more for their elements and 0.29 more for their components.)

Xintong Huang & Xun Zheng , from China, were fifth initially but overtook Alisa Agafonova & Alper Ucar from Turkey to take fourth place, 8.09 points behind the bronze medalists. The Turks, who were only seventh in the FD, only dropped to fifth, just 0.33 ahead of Danielle O’Brien & Gregory Merriman from Australia, who were straight sixth; Cathy & Chris Reed, Japan, were eighth after the SD and fifth in the Free but were only able to pull up to seventh; and Sara Hurtado & Adria Diaz, Spain, were only tenth in the SD and eleventh in the Free but ended up eighth overall.

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