Ice Network

Top skaters gather in Oberstdorf for Nebelhorn

Chock, Bates hope for gold; Savchenko, Massot get season underway
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Madison Chock and Evan Bates will debut their new "Under Pressure" free dance at the Nebelhorn Trophy this week. -Getty Images

The Nebelhorn Trophy, as prestigious an event as there is outside of the Grand Prix Series and now a part of the ISU Challenger Series, gets underway Thursday in Oberstdorf, Germany.

The ice dance field promises an interesting fight between world bronze medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the U.S. and Italy's Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, the 2014 world champions.

Chock and Bates, who train in Novi, Michigan, under Igor Shpilband, will debut their highly anticipated new free dance choreographed by Christopher Dean to "Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie.

"We knew that we wanted to change our look and try a new choreographer," Bates said. "Igor even suggested a year ago to work with Chris, but the scheduling didn't work out. This feels like the perfect time for us to come with a fresh look and different music. Hopefully, it will change the perspective of us as a team."

The favorites for bronze are Canadian silver medalists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who finished eighth at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships in Boston.

Elliana Pogrebinsky and Alex Benoit, winners of the Lake Placid International this summer, also hope for a medal. The two-time U.S. junior bronze medalists chose to compete in the senior ranks this season, although they had another year of junior international eligibility.

"We thought about where we wanted to go, what we wanted to accomplish and how we could push ourselves," Benoit said. "We felt we were at a level where we were prepared and ready. [Skating as seniors] is going to push us, make us stronger and force us to really up our game."

Their free dance, choreographed by Shpilband to an exotic medley of Sadko by Nikoli Rimsky-Korsakov and "The Feeling Begins" by Peter Gabriel, marks a change of pace for the couple.

"Our last two programs were really dramatic," Pogrebinsky said. "Swan Lake was balletic and dramatic, and Romeo and Juliet was all about drama. Igor wanted to show we have the skills to try something new."

In the ladies event, two Russian skaters -- 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamisheva and 2015 world junior silver medalist Serafima Sakhanovich -- will square off against Canada's Gabrielle Daleman, who was ninth at worlds last season.

U.S. Figure Skating sends Amber Glenn from Texas, the former U.S. junior champion who makes her Challenger Series debut. It is also her first international competition under new coaches Peter and Darlene Cain of Texas. Angela Wang of Colorado Springs, 10th in the U.S. last season, has withdrawn.

There is no clear favorite in the men's competition, giving the two American entrants a chance to medal. For Grant Hochstein, 10th in the world last season, Nebelhorn is already his second international event. Ten days ago, he finished fifth at the Lombardia Trophy in Italy, where he landed a quadruple toe-double toe combination in his short program but had difficulties in his free skate, choreographed by coach Peter Oppegard to music from Pagliacci.

"I'm a crazy clown that kills his cheating wife and her lover, and the program goes back and forth between memories of happy times and a performance, before it starts to go dark," Hochstein said. "At the end, I kind of realize what I've done, but the madness has already taken over. I have this big spread eagle that kind of marks the climax of my insanity. It's a different, darker role, and I'm really enjoying it."

Timothy Dolensky, seventh in the U.S. last season, had solid summer competitions at Skate Detroit and the Glacier Falls Summer Classic. The skater, who trains in Atlanta, Georgia, under Debbie Prachar, hopes to land a quadruple salchow in both of his programs and will unveil a new free skate set to "Sometimes I Dream" by Mario Frangoulis.

"I'm really trying to get the [quad salchow] out there," Dolensky said. "I still have to get comfortable with the pacing of having the quad in the short and the long. I have to start to do more and more of them, to really own them."

Other medal candidates are the two Russian men, Artur Dmitriev Jr. and Alexander Petrov. Liam Firus of Canada, Sei Kawahara of Japan and German champion Franz Streubel could also reach the podium.

The clear favorites in the pairs competition are Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, who won the bronze medal at worlds last year. Their main rivals should be Lubov Iliushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch of Canada, who were seventh in Boston. 

Erika Smith and AJ Reiss, who train in Boston under Bobby Martin and Carrie Wall, will make their international debut. They visited Oberstdorf six months ago for the Bavarian Open but could not compete due to Smith's illness.

The new U.S. pair of Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc also make their international debut in Oberstdorf. Cain, a former U.S. junior pairs champion, had not competed in the discipline for several seasons but decided to give pairs another try after LeDuc contacted her for a tryout.

"We're coming back into this, and both of us are so happy to be doing pairs again. It means the world to us," LeDuc said. "We wouldn't rather be doing anything else with our lives right now."

At the 2016 Middle Atlantic Figure Skating Championships earlier this month, the pair had a strong short program, including superb side-by-side triple salchows, but faltered on several elements in their free skate.

"We're taking it one step at a time, and each competition is a chance for us to improve and gain more experience and learn how to compete together," LeDuc said.

Germans Mari Vartmann and Ruben Blommaert are also medal candidates.

Lynn Rutherford contributed to this article.