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Kostner, Savchenko and Szolkowy easily win gold

Nebelhorn Trophy witnesses some surprises though

Jennifer Wester and Daniil Barantsev won the Americans' only gold medal in Germany.
Jennifer Wester and Daniil Barantsev won the Americans' only gold medal in Germany. (David Carmichael)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany / Special to icenetwork.com
(09/29/2007) - The Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, has a 39-year history and is the most important non-Grand Prix senior competition of the early season. Many famous skaters from all over the world have started their international careers there. Before 1995, U.S. Figure Skating, for example, often sent the winners of the junior section of nationals to Germany for their first senior competition. The event is named after the mountain which dominates the idyllic town.

Ice Dancing

At the moment, ice dancing is the most successful category in U.S. figure skating. This week, Jennifer Wester and Daniil Barantsev carried the American team, winning the only gold medal for the Red, White and Blue. The Nebelhorn Trophy was the first international competition for Wester and Barantsev together, and they held the lead from compulsory dance on through the end. According to the starting order, each couple had to perform a different dance, and the Americans drew for the Argentine Tango, the easiest of the three dances. This new form of compulsory competition was tested for the first time in order to make the event more interesting for the public. Wester and Barantsev also won the original dance, in which they interpreted a Western dance. They got two level fours for their twizzle sequence during the non-touch midline step sequence and their curve lift. Their free dance to a medley of Broadway melodies, including "Singing in the Rain", got many points as well. Five of the nine elements received level fours, their speed was high and the judges gave them plenty of plus points. For Barantsev, Oberstdorf seems to be a lucky place. In 2000, he became junior world champion there with former partner Natalia Romaniuta for Russia, though, not for the U.S.

The German siblings Christina and William Beier came in second in front of a home crowd. They had been 13th at the 2006 senior worlds, but Christina was injured for all of last season. Their Austrian Waltz was well-danced but just more difficult than the Argentine Tango that the Americans were assigned by the draw. In the Beiers' Bavarian folk dance, four elements had a level four. Their free dance to a medley of East Asian fight dances was errorless and had a high speed, but they performed two rotational lifts, whereas only one is allowed.

Coming in third were the Ukrainians Alla Beknazarova and Vladimir Zuev with a gypsy original dance and a modern version of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" in the free dance. The second U.S. team, Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, came in eighth place with some good elements and no major mistakes, but they lacked a bit of expression.

Ladies

The big favorite in the ladies competition was 2007 European champion Carolina Kostner of Italy, who lives and trains in Oberstdorf. She backed up the hype by winning with a huge distance of 31 points in her home rink. She started her short program with a brilliant combination of a triple flip and triple toe loop, making her the only woman to try a triple-triple in this competition. She doubled the planned triple Lutz, but everything else was excellent. Four triples in the long program to music of Antonin Dvorak were very good, but she struggled on her Lutz. The extremely high speed and a mature style helped her maintain her large lead.

American Megan Williams-Stewart from Newark, Del., came in second, despite falling on her triple Lutz in the short program. But her triple loop-double toe loop combination was strong. An errorless free program with four different triples (Lutz, loop, flip and Salchow) helped her move up from fourth place to the silver medal.

Laura Lepisto from Finland won the bronze medal with a faultless short program and two triple jumps (both loops) in her free program. Annette Dytrt, former German champion, was second after a flawless short program, but she missed some jumps in the free skate to fall back to fourth place. The second American, Danielle Kahle, seemed to have bad nerves all weekend, doubling half of her jumps and finishing 13th out of 23 ladies.

Men

The big surprise of the weekend came in the men's competition. The event favorite, Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic, who came in second at the 2007 Europeans and fourth at worlds, faltered during a free program set to Japanese drum music. He had been first after an excellent short program with a huge distance of nearly 12 points, in which he performed four very good triple jumps and two difficult step sequences. But the ISU judging system is fair and merciless if you don't do your elements. Verner doubled his planned quad toe loop at the beginning of the free program, fell on the Lutz, singled two planned triple Axels and stepped out of the loop. Only three triple jumps were clean. He was as stunned as anyone to finish in only ninth place in the free skate.

His countryman Michal Brezina, who is a 17-year-old junior and also often trains in Oberstdorf, came in third in a short program with four triples, not all of them clean, however. He landed two very good triple Axels, four more triple jumps, plus difficult spins and steps good speed. He got 21 more points, therefore, for his elements than Verner, but three points less for his components. This was enough to take the gold medal by a small margin.

Finishing just behind Brezina was American Shaun Rogers from Newark, Del., who came in second in both programs. He had started his short program spectacularly with the combination of a quad and triple toe loop. His triple Axel and triple flip were good, but he fell when entering into his camel combination spin. In the free program, he missed the attempted quad toe loop at the beginning and stepped out of the triple toe loop in combination with a good triple Axel. Five of his later triple jumps were safe. The second American, Derrick Delmore, ended up fifth overall. After struggling in his short program, he skated a strong free program to the music of "Harlem Nocturne" with seven triples.

Pairs

Winners of the pairs competition were the heavy favorites Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany, the 2007 European champions and bronze medalists at the world championships. They started with a brilliant short program to Bollywood music from India. The highlights included an excellent throw triple flip, for which six of the ten judges gave a plus two, a very good triple twist, a good side-by-side triple toe loop, and new lifts and spins. Their free program to the music of "L'oiseau", taken from the "Cirque du Soleil", however, had some errors in the main elements. But their choreography, with some innovative steps, spins and lifts, showed this pair's high potential.

"We see that we have to train much more to get in shape for our two Grand Prix in Canada and Russia", their coach Ingo Steuer said. Steuer has only recently been allowed to teach again after having some legal troubles after working for the Stasi, the secret police of former East Germany.

The competition had a high level, with the other two medalists also performing very good programs. The new Canadian team of Meagan Duhamel and Craig Buntin won the silver after a faultless short program with a side-by-side triple Salchow and a triple throw Lutz. Their free program, set to the music of Tosca, was at times very strong, but you could also tell that they have only been working together for three months.

The bronze-medal winners Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig of Florida missed their side-by-side triple Salchow in the short program, but they had only one other minor error. But with the second best free program they were able to move up from fourth to third place. They even had more points for their elements than Savchenko and Szolkowy, because of spectacular lifts with level fours. Their style, however, was not equal to the gold medalists. The second U.S. pair -- Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent of Scottsdale, Ariz. -- ended up in fifth place overall.