Monday, September 19, 2011

2011 Nebelhorn Trophy Preview

After many entries and withdrawals to the field, we've finally reached the week of the Nebelhorn Trophy, an ISU Senior B competition held in Oberstdorf, Germany. Official practices start on Wednesday with the competition beginning on Thursday. This event usually contains a mixed bag of competitors, as some federations send top skaters who want early season experience and others send the skaters not assigned to the Grand Prix, and this year is no exception. The is no live-stream of the event, at least not that I know of, but the ISU has been great about posting videos to their youtube channel almost immediately after the event for the Junior Grand Prix events thus far, so I suspect they'll do the same for Nebelhorn. The competition schedule (Eastern Standard Time) is as follows:
Thursday                                   Friday                                  Saturday
8:00am Short Dance                  4:00am Ladies Short             4:00am Ladies Free
10:30am Men's Short                 7:35am Mens Free                8:00am Free Dance
2:00pm Pairs Short                    1:00pm Pairs Free                2:00pm Exhibition

After the withdrawal of former world champion Brian Joubert, this competition is clearly Michal Brezina's to lose. He was 4th at the 2011 Worlds, the ISU ranks him as 6th in the world, and this should be his event. Like always, the Japanese are knocking at the door, especially Yuzuru Hanyu who steadily improved throughout the 2010-2011 season and grabbed silver at the most recent Four Continents. His countryman Tatsuki Machida, last year's winner of the Nebelhorn Trophy, and Spain's Javier Fernandez, who placed a surprising 10th at the 2011 Worlds will likely battle for bronze. We know better than to forget the Russians and Konstantin Menshov could be one to watch after a 7th place finish at last year's Europeans. Max Aaron of the USA also makes his senior debut here after a 5th place finish at the 2011 Junior Worlds. He won't be in the medal hunt, but Belgium's Jorik Hendrickx was one of the only young, new skaters to make the free skate at senior Worlds last season so he'll be exciting to watch.

My podium predictions:
Gold-Michal Brezina (CZE)
Silver-Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
Bronze-Javier Fernandez (ESP)

Like Brezina on the men's side, Mirai Nagasu is far and away the favorite for gold in this event, but she'll have to keep her head about her. In the past she has had slow starts to her season, often falling apart under pressure in her first Grand Prix event of the season so starting off here before Skate Canada should be a great way for her to get her feet wet. Though I do think she'll win if she can avoid a major mistake, if she is going to have a meltdown this season I hope that it's here and nowhere else. This an ISU points-earning event so she'll also have a chance to improve her world ranking with a strong score. The only other lady even on her level is Russia's Ksenia Makarova, though her personal best is 20 points below that of Nagasu. She too has been known to have moments of greatness followed by disastrous performances. She is being overshadowed at home by the "Russian babies" who will make their senior Grand Prix debuts this season so this is her shot to show her federation that she will not fade away. Georgia's Elene Gedevanishvili (10th at 2011 Worlds) and Germany's Sarah Hecken (11th at 2011 Worlds) will challenge for bronze, as will the Swedish Sisters Viktoria Helgesson & Joshi Helgesson.

My podium predictions:
Gold-Mirai Nagasu (USA)
Silver-Ksenia Makarova (RUS)
Bronze-Viktoria Helgesson (SWE)

The pairs event also has a clear favorite for the title in the Russian team of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. In their first major event together, the 2011 Worlds, they won the silver medal with some incredibly impressive elements and proved to be the top team in Russia. Their countrymen Vera Bazarova & Yuri Larionov should easily take the silver. I love their lines and elegance, but Vera often struggles with her jumps and she'll need to keep them under control to fend off rising young Russian teams later in the year and secure berths at Europeans and Worlds. The bronze medal here will go to one of four teams. Paige Lawrence & Rudi Swiegers of Canada won bronze at the 2011 Four Continents and the Germany's Maylin Hausch & Daniel Wende won bronze at the 2010 Trophee Eric Bompard so both have major International medals. Then we have the newly formed American team of Caydee Denney & John Coughlin, both from previously successful teams, making their international debut with a lot of hype surrounding them, at least based on their summer competitions. Canada is also sending another new pair, Jessica Dube & Sebastien Wolfe, Jessica being a former World medalist with Bryce Davison. It is a toss up who will take bronze between these four teams, though knowing the probability of error in a pairs event, it will probably be the team that avoids the major mistake.

My podium predictions:
Gold: Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov (RUS)
Silver: Vera Bazarova & Yuri Larionov (RUS)
Bronze: Caydee Denney & John Coughlin (USA)

There is no clear favorite in the ice dance competition as there is in the other disciplines, though of all the teams competing, Germany's Nelli Zhiganshina & Alexander Gazsi ended the 2010-2011 season best with a 7th place finish at Europeans and 11th at Worlds. Cathy Reed & Chris Reed of Japan were close behind them at Worlds, finishing 13th, though they are technically ranked higher. Lithuania's Isabella Tobias & Deividas Stagniunas finished 12th at Europeans and 14th at Worlds in 2011, but if they are anything like the other Zoueva and Shpilband teams, they'll be on the upward swing this season. Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue are a newly formed US team, both having competed internationally with former partners, and have made a nice little splash at some summer competitions. This competition will give them a benchmark for Skate America next month.

My podium predictions:
Gold: Nelli Zhiganshina & Alexander Gazsi (GER)
Silver: Isabella Tobias & Deividas Stagniunas (LTU)
Bronze: Cathy Reed & Chris Reed (JPN)

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