Nebelhorn Trophy 2015 Review Part 1: Pairs and Men

In the first part of our review of the Nebelhorn Trophy 2015, we take a look at the pairs and men’s events.

Volosozhar and Trankov Return To Competition

The sedate Alpine resort town of Oberstdorf has been good to Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov over the course of their career together. They won three consecutive Nebelhorn Trophy titles in a row between 2011 and 2013, so it was fitting that they chose this competition to make their comeback. Much has changed for them and the world of pairs skating since they won Olympic gold in Sochi in February 2014. With Trankov sustaining a shoulder injury that required surgery that put the pair out of action for the 2014/2015 season, the technical bar has been raised significantly with quadruple throws and twists not as rare as they used to be. The on-ice Russian couple has also cemented their relationship off-ice on 18 August this year when they got married so coming to Germany was in a way a sort of a honeymoon for them.

The short programme saw the Olympic champions explore new territory choreographically with their routine to Bollywood hit “Nagada Sang Dhol” which was quite a departure from the moodier and dramatic pieces they have traditionally skated. However, things didn’t quite go to plan with Trankov fumbling the catch on their normally solid triple twist and then almost falling over on the triple flip throw. All their other elements were top notch, but the judging panel were not enthusiastic about the execution and the Russians received a very paltry score (for them) of 64.87 only just over three points better than the second placed team.

A day later they were back out on the ice to perform their “Dracula” free skating programme, a theme much more in line to what they have skated in the past. After the nervy short, the free also harked back to how we are used to seeing Volosozhar and Trankov compete. Apart from a small wobble on the back end of a triple Salchow/double toe loop/double toe loop combination, the elements were sublime in their execution and quality and they received a very good score of 137.92 for the free giving them a total of 202.79. Whether they will have enough technical difficulty to contend with the quads from Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and Wenjing Sui and Cong Han remains to be seen. In any case, Trankov feels that these difficult tricks are not worth the risk physically to his partner.

“We competed before with Chinese couples who were doing quads and with Aliona (Savchenko) and Robin (Szolkowy) who were doing a triple Axel throw. Now we have to compete with couples again doing quads. Before we won without doing quads, so why now will we lose? And for me it’s too dangerous. I cannot throw my wife into a quad throw. A twist? Maybe because it’s all in my control, but quad is so difficult to land.”

Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim had a rocky start in more ways than one to their competition when Scimeca fell on a triple Salchow in their “Nothing Else Matters” short. This dropped them down to fourth going into the free. At the start of their programme to “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” soundtrack, the Americans unleashed a quadruple twist and, apart from a triple toe/triple toe sequence that went awry, they laid down an impressive set of elements that netted them 121.56 and lifted them up to second overall with a total of 179.56.

“We are pleased with long programme,” Scimeca said. “There are a few areas we can work on which is always good. It’s a great way to start the season and we’re going to take it from here.”

There were also an issue for Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres in their “I Put a Spell on You” short. The three-time French national champions opening element was a crashy triple twist, but they did recover to complete the rest of the elements in their routine cleanly and score 58.34 putting them in third. There were no problems with the twist in their “Romeo and Juliet” free, but James had a fall on a triple toe. It was still more than enough to put them in third on the free with 113.84 giving them the bronze with a total of 172.18. They were also third at Nebelhorn Trophy in 2012

“It’s a good feeling to be back on the podium again here in Oberstdorf,” Cipres commented at the post-free press conference. “It’s hard to start the season with new programmes and there are a lot of good skaters here this year.”

With Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot still struggling to obtain a release from the French Federation, German pairs skating had looked to be in the doldrums. However, there was a ray of light in Oberstdorf with the international debut of Mari Vartmann and Ruben Blommaert as a couple. The Germans were superb in the short which they completed without any obvious mistakes to place themselves in second on 61.10. Their “West Side Story” free did not go as well as they hoped with two falls on the jumping elements and a score of 105.40. Even with their poor showing in the free, this couple showed a great amount of potential for the future.

One couple for whom the future is still in doubt are Great Britain’s Amani Fancy and Christopher Boyadji who had been in seventh position after the short. The following day right before the free was due to start an announcement was posted to the media that they had ended their partnership with immediate effect. It is hard to recall any pairs or ice dance team who have split without finishing a competition so the situation was quite unprecedented with many people confused about what had happened. Sources who are familiar with the couple have described their relationship as volatile. Things may not be quite over for the British pair just yet as they have released a statement on their Facebook page in which they say they “intend to be back on ice shortly”, so stay tuned for further developments on this story.

Balde Bags Gold

Since he began skating on the international senior circuit in 2009, Elladj Balde had never before medalled at a competition. Despite this, his bold look and boisterous style of skating had won him fans in Germany and he was a frequent guest at the Nebelhorn Trophy exhibitions. The Canadian this year had moved back to train with Bruno Marcotte in Montreal and this would be the first test of his new regime. In the short, he had a blip on his opening quadruple toe loop, but then nailed the rest of his programme to “Echoes of Harlem” to earn a personal best score of 78.56 which put him in second place going into the free. Balde skated even better in the free and, aside from an under-rotated triple loop, smashed his personal best again with 163.80 for his flamenco routine which included a quadruple toe and two triple Axels. With a total of 242.36, the Canadian captured not only his first senior international medal ever, but also his first international title ever.

“It feels great. I’ve been working really hard and the right way for the last few months with my new coach Bruno. We just found a way to make things happen no matter how I feel – stressed, not stressed, tired, not tired. When it happens in practice every day, it’s a lot easier to come here. That has been the key for us. I think it’s the first time I’ve landed a quad in the short and the long at the same competition. Overall I couldn’t be happier.”

Max Aaron had been in pole position after the short where he received a personal best of 83.46 for his “Nessun Dorma” short where he had cleanly landed a quadruple Salchow/triple toe combination and a triple Axel. However, the following evening in his “Black Swan” free the quad Salchow had gone AWOL and he doubled it out on both attempts he made. There were two triple Axels and, although 139.48 was the third best free score of the night, he only dropped down to second place overall on 222.94.

“Today didn’t go as planned, but as always I’m going to learn from my mistakes. Missing the quads is very costly so I’ve learned a lot from that. I’m going to continue performing and putting my best foot forward. I’ve accomplished a lot at this competition with my personal best in the short and I’m looking forward to continuing on that path.”

There seems to be no stopping Konstantin Menshov who, at the age of 32, is showing no signs of hanging up his skates. The 2014 European bronze medallist had been languishing down in sixth place on 70.30 after the short where he had gone for a quadruple Salchow, but wound up with a bad triple. He picked himself up for the free where, despite a fall on a second quad toe and a bizarre mix of music, he reeled off a quad toe/triple toe combination and the quad Salchow that had eluded him in the short to post a score of 147.84 to finish second in the free. His combined total of 218.14 gave his second consecutive Nebelhorn Trophy bronze.

“For this season I decided to make my long programme more difficult, so that’s why there are three quads in it. I’m pleased that I landed the quad/triple and the triple Salchow. It was a difficult competition for me. The trip here was quite tough and we only arrived one day before the short programme so that was tiring. I’m pretty happy though that I was able to overcome these difficulties.”

While others rose up to the occasion, Michal Brezina dropped down. The two-time Czech champion, who was competing in his home rink, had placed third in the short where he had only fallen on a quad Salchow in an otherwise pleasing routine to “The Way You Look Tonight” for which he was awarded 74.12. His “Le Corsaire” free was an altogether less pleasant experience for Brezina as he slumped to the ice four times during the course of the four and a half minutes he performed. A score of 129.49 for the free and a total 203.61 saw him plummet down the ranking to wind up in sixth

“I went for everything and I rotated everything. We still need to work more on the conditioning because I can honestly say in the last combination I had no power. I just gave my all and I guess it wasn’t enough.”

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