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Finlandia Trophy filled with top Europeans

Kostner tries to end Finnish ladies run on Saturday

Kiira Korpi won the Finlandia Trophy in 2006, the fourth time in a row it was won by a Finnish woman.
Kiira Korpi won the Finlandia Trophy in 2006, the fourth time in a row it was won by a Finnish woman. (Getty Images)

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By Jyrki Pirkkalainen / Special to icenetwork.com
(10/12/2007) - Prophetic or not, the first snow fell on southern Finland on Thursday night, as if to mark the beginning of the winter sports season. For most skaters at the Finlandia Trophy this weekend, this is indeed the first competition of the season and an opportunity to test new programs and elements in front of judges before the Grand Prix series. This is the second time that the event takes place in the small but cozy rink in Tikkurila, a suburb of Helsinki. The house is expected to be packed, especially on Sunday for the ladies free skate. There are five strong contenders from the host country in the ladies competition, making it exciting as they try to establish their roles on the Finnish team.

Ladies

The ladies event is practically a re-run of this year's European Championships, as five out of the six top ladies from Warsaw are competing here.

The defending European champion, Carolina Kostner of Italy, won the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany convincingly two weeks ago and is the heavy favorite to repeat the trick in Tikkurila. The 20-year-old finished fourth at the 2003 Finlandia Trophy when the current winning streak of Finnish ladies began. Susanna Pöykiö won the event three times in a row (2003-2005) and Kiira Korpi won in 2006, but this time they will play the challenger role. Pöykiö plans to debut her triple-triple combination in the short program on Saturday, whereas Korpi has kept a somewhat low profile in training lately because of her matriculation exams in September.

Other notable contenders in the ladies field include Laura Lepistö of Finland, who was third at the Nebelhorn Trophy, and Valentina Marchei of Italy, who finished fifth at the 2007 Europeans. The only U.S. entry in the ladies field is Taylor Firth from Jameston, N.Y. The 16-year-old earned her international assignment by placing 14th at the U.S. nationals in January, and she is the first female figure skater from western New York to earn a berth at a senior international event.

Men

The men's event is headed by two medalists from the 2007 European Championships. Silver medalist Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic skated a brilliant short program at the Nebelhorn Trophy, but he had a meltdown in the free skate and dropped to third. If he can manage two clean programs in Tikkurila, he will be hard to beat this weekend. Defending European bronze medalist Kevin van der Perren from Belgium is another contender, but there is a gap now behind those two after three Russian men withdrew from the competitition.

U.S. skater Parker Pennington returns to the Finlandia Trophy for the second time. He placed eighth in 2004. The 23-year-old skater recently moved from Colorado Springs, Colo., to Fairfax, Va., to train with coach Audrey Weisiger.

Pairs

The pairs competition shrunk from five to three entries, giving the Detroit-based Andrea Best and Trevor Young a free course to the podium at their first senior competition. The favorites to win are Russians Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov. The couple finished just outside the Top 10 at the world championships in Tokyo, but they could establish themselves as the top Russian pair this year.

The event starts with the pairs and men's short programs on Friday. Check back for a recap of the event on icenetwork.com on Sunday!