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With Kostner absent, Marchei takes fifth Italian title

Cappellini, Lanotte win second national crown; Controversy surrounds men
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Valentina Marchei has had a busy last few weeks, joining the Italian Air Force, competing at the Winter Universiade, being named to the Italian Olympic team (during which she met the president of Italy) and, finally, winning her fifth national title. -Getty Images

The Italian Figure Skating Championships, held in the beautiful spa town of Merano in northern Italy, was missing the country's biggest star as world silver medalist Carolina Kostner withdrew from the event citing a bad back.

In her absence, ice dancers Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte took center stage, easily winning their second Italian title with sparkling performances that gained Level 4's for almost all elements, and mainly +2 and +3 grades of execution (GOEs) from the judges.

In the relaxed atmosphere of Merano, in front of just a few hundred spectators, the team breezed through a fresh and lively short dance to music from 42nd Street, earning 74.25 points. They followed up with a speedy rendition of their free dance to Rossini's Barber of Seville, looking far more secure and confident than they did earlier in the season and gaining 183.35 points.

Cappellini and Lanotte share their training time between Igor Shpilband's school in Novi, Mich., and Paola Mezzadri in Milan. Last season, they were fourth in the world, just a point away from the bronze medal. This season, they won silver medals at Skate America and NHK Trophy, and placed sixth the Grand Prix Final.

"It was one of our best competitions, although we did not practice here because we arrived in the last minute," Lanotte said. "We got all our levels and are well prepared for the big events."

Milan's Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri won second place and a trip to Sochi. The students of Barbara Fusar Poli showed off quick and technically demanding steps in their short dance to Cabaret and free dance to two versions of Romeo and Juliet. Lorenza Alessandrini and Simone Vaturi, also coached by Fusar Poli, were third.

Just the top two teams will go to Sochi.

Berton, Hotarek win fourth Italian pairs title

Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek, who train with Franca Bianconi in Milan and Jason Dungjen in Detroit, had an up-and-down fall season, placing just fifth at Skate America before winning Skate Canada a week later. They did not qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

They were on top of their game in Merano, skating two strong programs and winning their fourth Italian championship with 203.43 points. Their short program to The Mask included perfectly synchronized side-by-side triple toe loops and a difficult loop lift. Four of their elements gained Level 4.

They started their free program to the soundtrack of Dracula with excellent triple toe-double toe combinations, followed by good triple Salchows. The lifts and other elements were solid, although Berton's landing of the triple throw loop was a bit shaky.

"We gave two clean performances," Hotarek said. "We are not in top shape at the moment but will start more intense training after Christmas and hope to improve for Europeans and Olympics. Our next goal is to reach 200 points at Europeans."

Nicole della Monica and Matteo Guarise won the silver medal with 155.85 points. He is a former roller skater and has worked as a model in Milan. They train in St. Petersburg under Oleg Vasiliev, coach of 2006 Olympic champions Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin. They made several mistakes in the free skate.

"It was not our day today, but we hope to do better at Europeans and the Olympics," Guarise said.

The new pair of Giulia Foresti and Luca Demattè, together just two months after splitting from their previous partners, took third. They look promising, but Foresti is too young for Europeans and Demattè is too old for junior worlds. A junior pair to be named later will be sent to Europeans, along with the top two teams.

Berton and Hotarek, and Della Monica and Guarise will compete at the Olympics.

Marchei joins Italian air force, then wins fifth title

Valentina Marchei didn't skate her best, but in Kostner's absence, she won her fifth title with 162.49 points.

The skater, who trains at the Detroit Skating Club with Yuka Sato and Dungjen, tried a triple-triple combination in her short for the first time. Although the Salchow was over-rotated, she managed to add a triple toe. Later, she missed the triple Lutz. In her free skate, she did just two clean triples, a Lutz and Salchow.   

"I am tired and could not train very much in the last few days because of two happy weeks of travel," Marchei said. "First, I became a member of the Italian Air Force and had to go to Rome. Then I won silver at the University Games. A few days later, I hurried to Rome again for the presentation of the Italian Olympic team and met the president of Italy. After Christmas, I will prepare for Europeans."

Marchei and Kostner will compete in Sochi.

Confusion, controversy marks men's event

Former Russian competitor Ivan Righini, who had competed for Russia as Ivan Bariev until the fall of 2012, won the men's event with 199.49 points.

Righini has an Italian father and a Russian mother, and when his parents split, he grew up in Russia with his mother, taking her family's name. Recently, he adopted his Italian father's name. In Merano, he said the Figure Skating Federation of Russia had released him and he has all of the papers, including an Italian passport, to compete for Italy.

His "Bolero" short program, especially his presentation, was very good and gained 74.68 points for a triple Axel; a "Rippon" triple flip (two arms above the head); and a combination of 'Tano triple Lutz (one arm overhead) plus a triple toe loop (he touched a hand on the ice). In his free, he missed the Axel and the Lutz and had only four clean triples.

Paul Bonifacio Parkinson, who trains in Colorado Springs, was second with 194.82 points. He missed all of his jumps in the short program but still gained 7.70 points for his quad Salchow, which was landed with a step out. In the free, Bonifacio stepped out again on the quad Salchow but landed six clean triples, including two Axels. Former champion Paolo Bacchini was third with 178.05 points.  

There is controversy about which man Italy will send to Europeans and Olympics, having only one spot for each of these events. The federation had earlier announced that only the free program points of the two best international competitions and of Italian nationals will count. Having won 15 more points at nationals than Righini, Parkinson is first on this ranking list.

Bonifacio's coach, Tom Zakrajsek, accompanied him to Italy and said the federation will stick with the qualification system it announced, and Bonifacio will be sent to Sochi.

"Remember, he is the one who earned Italy's Olympic spot at Nebelhorn Trophy in September," Zakrajsek said.

However, Righini said he thought that total competition points, which include the short program, would count, and according to these points, he is first and should be nominated. The Italian federation plans to decide which man to send to Europeans and Olympics in January.

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