by Alexandra Stevenson in Oberstdorf, Germany
(28 September 2013)
An unprecedented number of journalists and TV personal have descended on this rural, old-fashioned, pretty, small town to report on an also unprecedented number of skaters (151) from a record number of (49) nations. Some important Japanese media were denied credentials, and have bought tickets while striking deals with other more fortunate journalists to “piggy-back,” by taking their colleagues’ tape-recorders into press conferences.
The problem arose mainly because Miki Ando did not enter the event until ten days ago when the deadline was long past. The organizers were not about to deny entry to the charismatic 2007 & 2011 world champion. She has competed in her national Japanese championship ten times, winning the title in 2004, 2005 & 2010.
When Ando was very young, she was acknowledged by the International Skating Union as the first woman to execute a quad Salchow in competition, which she accomplished in the Junior Grand Prix Final in The Hague in December 2002. But, as she grew, she lost that jump. She will turn 26 on December 18, and has not competed in any top international event for the past two seasons, taking the time off to have a baby, a daughter, born in April and named Himawari, which is Japanese for Sunflower. She has chosen not to name the father.
In practice on Wednesday (25th), Ando, dressed into an elaborate black practice outfit including tights which covered most of her tan boots, with elbow-length sleeves and cut-outs in an elaborate design just below the chest, executed triple Lutz combinations and double Axels, but, when her Free Skate music was played (from Stravinski’s “The Firebird”), she merely “walked through” the routine, not attempting any jumps.
Ashley Cain is an 18-year-old who lives in Coppell and is trained in Euless, Texas, by her parents, former Australian pair skaters, Darla and Peter Cain. She will be skating to “Flamenko” by Flamenko Fire for her Short Program and “Ave Maria” for her Free Skate. She is the 2011 national Junior and 2012 national novice pairs champion. She was 12th in in the last U.S. (singles) nationals at senior level. She has supporters who believe she is a real contender for an Olympic place.
Representing Canada is Veronik Mallet, a 19-year-old from Sept Iles, Quebec, is the fifth ranked Canadian. She is making her international debut.
Elene Gedevanishvili, who represents Georgia, the country of her birth, but whose hometown is in New Jersey and who now trains in Canada, became the first from her country to win an ISU championship medal, when she gained bronze at the 2010 European championships, a feat she repeated in 2012. But the 23-year-old, who hopes to earn a place in her third Olympic Games, is inconsistent.
The reason for the record entry is that there are two integrated competitions taking place. In addition to the regular annual Nebelhorn Trophy event, in which 8 men, 6 Ladies, 6 ice dance couples and 6 pairs are NOT seeking Olympic qualification, there are 26 men, 29 Ladies, 13 pairs and sixteen ice dancers who are desperately chasing the possibility of earning an Olympic spot for their country.
The six countries who do best in singles, five in ice dance and four in pairs, will qualify to enter one competitor.
Though the United States, Canada & Russia have entries here, their countries have already qualified for Olympic entry, which was determined on the results of the World Championships in London, Ontario in March. This secondary procedure was instigated to recognize that some countries may have skaters who have developed enormously over the summer.
Only two countries sent more than one competitor. That was Israel and Finland in the mens event for each category. However, Peter Krick, the Chair of the ISU Sports Directorate, sternly explained that, although they did not wish to “throw out” one of the two Israeli and one of the two Finnish boys, the country had to determine, before the competition got underway, which of the two were trying for the Olympic berth. He stressed that a country is NOT allowed to use this competition as an indication of which skater would do better in Sochi.
This Oberstdorf facility normally has three ice good ice surfaces, but the “curling rink”, on which Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean choreographed in great secrecy their famous Olympic-gold-winning “Bolero” routine, has been temporarily turned into a press center, and other areas for organization back up.
The town is best known for its three-stage Aerial Gondola, built right next to the ice facility, which transports the willing up to the top of the snow covered Nebelhorn Mountain, after which this competition is named. Where else can skaters come off the ice, perhaps disappointed with how they performed, and be cheered up by such pure air, magnificent scenery and the sun beaming down on hang gliders happily landing on the adjacent grass-ey field?
The pairs undoubtedly will be won by the current World Pairs champions, Tatiana Volosozhar & Max Trankov from Russia, who have won this event for the past two years. They use it as an opportunity for an early season run-through of their possibly controversial new programmes. In the Free, he’s playing Jesus Christ and she’s Mary Magdalene, and they aren’t quite sure how this will be received.
The Russians admit this is the most important season of their long careers, and probably their last as competitive skaters. In practice late Wednesday night, he wore a two tones of blue shirt with a wide head band. She was in black. But their practice was near flawless.
Representing the U.S. in pairs are Lindsay Davis, 21, & Rocky Brubaker. The 27-year-old Brubaker, who has had previous partners while based in Colorado Springs, just teamed up with Davis at the beginning of this season. They are training in Canton, a rink best known more for producing the world’s best ice dance couple, Meryl Davis & Charlie White from the U.S. and Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir from Canada.
They are trained by ice dance coach Marina Zoueva and former top U.S. pair skater, Johnny Johns. Brubaker explained, “We’ve been doing double run-through to prepare for Oberstdorf, so we feel very well trained. We are we're pretty tired, but we're really happy with where we are at right now."
Many in the sport thought Brubaker had a pretty clear path to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, after he and then partner Keauna McLaughlin won the U.S. pairs titles in 2008 and 2009. But they placed fifth at the 2010 U.S. Championships and did not make the U.S. team in Vancouver.
He said, “The pairs competition in the United States is strong, but I think we're very capable of making the Olympic team.”
The Canadian pair consists of the very famous Mervin Tran, who won the world bronze medal for Japan with Narumi Takahashi, and his new partner, Canadian, Natasha Purich. Takahashi is also here with her new Japanese partner, Ryuichi Ku.
Takahashi pulled out of the relationship with Tran because she wanted to compete in the Olympic Games and there was no way the Japanese government was going to provide Tran with a passport. Fate has brought the two new partnerships together, with the Canadians drawing to skate immediately before the Japanese pair.
Out of the 23 Ice Dance couples, 18 are fighting for five spot at the Olympic Winter Games.
But the favorites are not in that side of the event. They are the 2011 World Junior Champions Ksenia Monko & Kirill Khaliavin of Russia and the 2011 Nebelhorn Trophy Champions Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue, USA.
The Canadians, Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam, skate last of the 22 ice dance couples, immediately following Hubbell & Donohue, while the Russians skate 12th right before the third ice resurface, an hour and a half earlier.
A total of 34 Men have been entered, with 26 Men competing for an Olympic berth. The top contender is 26-year-old Nobunari Oda from Japan, who is the father of two children, Shintaro, who will turn 3 on October 1, and Shinnosuke, who was born on January 5 of this year. He is battling youth and takes risks. Sometimes he succeeds; more often he fails.
Oda’s best place in the world championships came in 2006 when he was fourth and hadn’t begun to worry about placements. After the 2010 Olympic Games, in which he placed 7th, he was a disastrous 28th in the world championship only a few weeks later. In the last Japanese championship, he was only 4th
His top rival could be the 2013 World Junior silver medalist, 18-year-old Jason Brown, who trains in Monument and Colorado Springs. He has been coached by Kori Ade since he was five. Although neither has the pressure of an Olympic slot depending on this result, it would be a blow to Oda if the youngster could get ahead of the veteran.
Oda was Japanese champion in the 2009 season, but he was only fourth nationally last season. Brown, an 18-year-old who won the 2010 U.S. Junior Championship and the Jr GP two years ago in Quebec City, will perform his Short Program to “The Question of U” and his Free Skate to “Reel Around the Sun” for his Free Skate.
Canada has entered Jeremy Ten, the 2009 & 2012 national bronze medalist who has been off the ice for three months with a bone problem (impingement) who is 24, and Russia, Artur Dmitriev the son of Olympic pairs gold medalist.
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