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Countries fight for Olympic quota spots at Nebelhorn

Return of Lambiel and Lindemann highlights competition

Stéphane Lambiel won the Swiss national championship despite some injury woes.
Stéphane Lambiel won the Swiss national championship despite some injury woes. (Getty Images)

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By J. Barry Mittan, special to icenetwork.com
(09/23/2009) - More than 75 percent of the quota spots for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games were determined based on the results of the 2009 World Figure Skating Championships. The remaining spots will be determined at this week's Olympic qualifying competition, the 41st Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany.

Vienna has traditionally been the site for the Olympic qualifying competition, but economic concerns forced the Austrian Skating Federation to forgo the opportunity this season.

The figure skating competition at the 2010 Olympics will include 30 men, 30 ladies, 24 ice dance couples and 20 pairs. Quota spots for 24 men, 24 ladies, 19 ice dancers and 16 pairs have already been determined.

Countries have a 50-percent chance of winning a quota spot in both pairs and dance. Seven dance teams are competing for the five remaining quota spots and nine pairs are competing for four spots.

For the men and ladies, the odds are only half as good. Unless a country gives up some of the quota spots it has already earned, there are only six places left in both the men and ladies events.

Assuming all the preliminary entries are qualified at the time the event begins, there will be 23 men and 28 ladies fighting for a spot.

Several 2006 Olympians will be battling for a chance to compete at another Olympic Winter Games.

Stéphane Lambiel, the silver medalist in 2006, will return from a professional career to try to regain a spot for Switzerland, which had two places in 2006.

Germany's Stefan Lindemann, who retired after placing 21st at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, is also making a comeback attempt.

Viktor Pfeifer, who finished 22nd at the 2006 Olympics while competing for Austria, tried competing in the U.S. for a few seasons before returning to compete for Austria last season. He will try to make it to the Olympics through the qualifying competition for a second time.

In ladies, Hungary's Julia Sebestyen will try to qualify for her fourth Olympics. Her best finish was 8th in 2002.

Luxembourg's Fleur Maxwell, who placed 24th at the Olympics in 2006, but then retired to concentrate on school, will attempt to qualify again at the Nebelhorn Trophy.

In ice dancing, only Hungary's Nora Hoffman, who placed 17th with Attila Elek in 2006 is competing for a chance at a second Olympics. She will be competing with a new partner, Maxim Zavozin.

None of the pairs competing for quota spots at the Nebelhorn Trophy have been to the Olympics. This gives several countries including Estonia, Greece and Chinese Taipei a chance to have their first Olympians in figure skating.

In addition to the skaters trying to win a spot for the Olympics, there are many skaters from countries that have already qualified who are trying to get a head start on the season by competing at the Nebelhorn Trophy.

Germany's two-time world champions, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, who have won the Nebelhorn Trophy three times, are heavy favorites in pairs.

They will be challenged by Ukraine's Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov, who were 12th at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, 2008 U.S. pairs champions Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski, the 2006 Nebelhorn pairs champions, and 2008 Canadian champions Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay, who missed most of last season due to injury.

Russia's Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternikh, the 2007 world junior pairs champions, will also be trying for the podium.

The overwhelming favorites in ice dancing are the 2009 U.S. ice dance champions, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who were fourth at the 2009 World Figure Skating Championships. They will try to make it five wins in six years for American ice dancers at the Nebelhorn Trophy.

Fighting for podium spots will be Israel's Alexandra Zaretski and Roman Zaretski and Lithuania's Katherine Copely and Deividas Stagniunias, who finished 13th and 14th at the World Figure Skating Championships in 2009.

Back to defend her title will be 2008 Nebelhorn Trophy gold medalist Alissa Czisny, the 2009 U.S. ladies champion. Her stiffest competition is expected to come from 2007 European bronze medalist Kiira Korpi of Finland, Estonia's Elena Glebova and Hungary's Sebestyen.

Czech Michal Brezina, the 2007 Nebelhorn Trophy men's champion, will have the most difficult task in repeating. In addition to Lambiel and Lindemann, Brezina, who trains in Oberstdorf, will be challenged by France's Yannick Ponsero.