Finlandia could be ladies preview of Europeans
Strong ladies field includes three top Finns
|Laura Lepisto will try to extend the home country's streak at the Finlandia Trophy. (Getty Images)|
In addition, three of the top eight men from last season's Europeans will make their 2008-09 debut this week in Finland, as will the 2008 world junior ice dancing bronze medalists.
Three of the top four Finnish ladies will all compete this week, but the favorite is Switzerland's Sarah Meier, the reigning two-time European silver medalist. Leading the charge for the host country is rising star Laura Lepistö, the 2008 European bronze medalist. Lepistö finished just four points behind Meier at the 2008 European Championships, but that margin ballooned to nearly 25 points at the world championships.
The enigmatic Kiira Korpi was expected to compete in Vantaa but had to withdraw because a bout with the flu and a fever have kept her off the ice for a week and a half. Teammate Jenni Vähämaa, the defending champion here and the fourth-place finisher at each of the last two world junior championships, is shooting for a podium spot, as is five-time Finnish champion Susanna Pöykiö. She has won the silver at this event each of the last two years. Lepistö, Pöykiö and Vähämaa will try to extend the home country's winning streak in the ladies event here to six years.
Among the other medal contenders are Georgian Elene Gedevanishvili (seventh at the 2008 European Championships), Great Britain's Jenna McCorkell (eighth at 2008 Europeans) and Japan's Akiko Suzuki (2008 Nebelhorn Trophy bronze medalist).
Belgium's Kevin van der Perren will be in the medal mix in Finland, along with a couple Russians. The 2007 European bronze medalist withdrew a couple weeks ago from the Nebelhorn Trophy, but it looks like he'll give it a go this week. He will do battle with Russians Sergei Voronov and Andrei Lutai. Voronov came in fourth in Europe last season while Lutai was eighth.
Other notables are Italy's Karel Zelenka (seventh at 2007 Europeans), Japan's Takahito Mura (fifth at the 2006 World Junior Championships) and Germany's Peter Liebers (13th at 2008 Europeans). The United States will be represented by Shaun Rogers, whose most recent international showing was a silver-medal finish at the 2007 Nebelhorn Trophy.
The ice dancing crown will be a battle between Brits Sinead Kerr and John Kerr and Russians Kristina Gorshkova and Vitali Butikov. The popular Kerrs placed eighth at the 2008 World Championships, while Gorshkova and Butikov were third at both the 2007 Junior Grand Prix Final and 2008 World Junior Championships.
Duking it out for the other medal are Russia's Anastasia Platonova and Alexander Grachev, both of whom had international success as juniors with previous partners, the German brother-and-sister team of Carolina Hermann and Daniel Hermann and Polish champions Joanna Budner and Jan Moscicki.