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Olympic spots up for grabs at Nebelhorn Trophy

Ando returns to competition; Davis, Brubaker make international debut
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Georgian Elene Gedevanishvili will attempt to earn back an Olympic ladies spot for her country, the one she lost after her 29th-place finish at last season's world championships. -Getty Images

A lot is on the line at the 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy, held this week in the quaint Bavarian enclave of Oberstdorf, Germany.

Top skaters, like world pairs champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia and former Japanese champion Nobunari Oda, will test their programs in front of an international judging panel. World junior champion Elena Radionova of Russia and two-time world junior medalist Jason Brown of the U.S. make their senior international debuts.

Last week, organizers added another big name: two-time Japanese world champion Miki Ando, who last competed at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships, where she defeated Yu-Na Kim to win gold. Ando, who gave birth to a daughter in April, joined the lineup after Finland's Kiira Korpi withdrew with an Achilles tendon injury. The Japanese star must gain minimum technical scores at an international event this season to have any hope of qualifying for her third Olympic Games.

In addition to Brown, the U.S. sends Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, the Detroit-based ice dancers who won this event in 2011. Ashley Cain had some solid performances this summer and will make her international senior debut. New pair Lindsay Davis and Rockne Brubaker, impressive at Skate Detroit in late July, will test the international waters ahead of their first Grand Prix assignment, Skate Canada.

Icenetwork will stream the last two groups in each discipline live to Season Pass subscribers.

Last chance for Sochi

First and foremost, Nebelhorn is a last chance for many countries to qualify entries for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, to be held in Sochi, Russia, in February.

Six spots are open for ladies and men, five for ice dance and four for pairs. Only one skater or couple per country in each discipline can compete for a spot. Countries with a second entry must designate which skater's result will count as the Olympic qualifier. (Israel and Finland both have two men entered.)

If a skating federation qualified an Olympic entry at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario, and does not use that spot in Sochi, the next country from the Nebelhorn qualifying result gets it. (Most notably, if Isabella Tobias does not secure Lithuanian citizenship in time for the Olympics, she and partner Deividas Stagniunas' ice dance spot will likely be awarded to the country thats owns the sixth-best ice dance result in Nebelhorn qualification.)

The addition of an Olympic team event in Sochi adds more incentive to several countries' Nebelhorn entries. In order to compete in the team event, a country must qualify Olympic skaters in at least three disciplines. For Japan, that means either ice dance siblings Cathy Reed and Chris Reed or new pair Narumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara must qualify for the Games.

Gedevanishvili will stake claim for Georgia

Twenty-nine ladies will compete in Oberstdorf for the remaining six Olympic spots. Two-time European bronze medalist Elene Gedevanishvili of Georgia had a disastrous worlds, placing 29th and failing to qualify for the free skate. This spring, she left Toronto and coach Brian Orser to train in Massachusetts under Konstantin Kostin and Edouard Pliner. While she looked under-trained in the short program at the Liberty Summer Competition in July, she showed improvement in winning the Middle Atlantic Championships, held in New York earlier this month.

Other contenders include Australia's Brooklee Han, who placed 21st at worlds, missing an Olympic spot by just one placement. Han is a question mark, having withdrawn from the recent Skate Down Under event due to illness. Spain's Sonia Lafuente, 22nd at worlds, has a strong chance, as does Austria's Kerstin Frank, who will bank on her high jumps. Isadora Williams, who lives and trains in the U.S. but competes for Brazil, has several triple jumps and fine choreography.

With Korpi injured, Finland's chances hinge on two-time Finnish silver medalist Juulia Turkkila, who placed 31st at worlds. The Philippines enters Alisson Krystle Perticheto, who was 18th at the world junior championships last season and trains in Switzerland, instead of former U.S. competitor Melissa Bulanhagui, the 2010 Nebelhorn bronze medalist. This comes as a surprise, since Bulanhagui recently won a bronze medal at the Asian Open and has far more experience.

It's a toss-up for the men

Some 26 men, many close in ability and results, will compete for six Olympic spots.

Italy wants to qualify a man for Sochi to complete a team that already includes world silver medalist Carolina Kostner, European ice dance bronze medalists Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte and European pairs bronze medalists Stefania Berton and Ondřej Hotarek. Several weeks ago, four men competed at an internal monitoring event to decide which would get the Nebelhorn nod. The victor: Paul Bonifacio Parkinson, who trains with Tom Zakrajsek in Colorado Springs, Colo. Parkinson has a quad Salchow in his arsenal.

Former French competitor Kim Lucine now competes for Monaco and was allowed to enter late, since his federation had forgotten to register him on time. (Monaco's Prince Albert II is a longtime member of the International Olympic Committee.)

Brazil's Luiz Manella, who lives and trains in Florida, hit a triple Axel in winning Liberty, where he defeated 2013 Nebelhorn bronze medalist Keegan Messing. Korea's Jin-Seo Kim was 26th in London and hopes to join Kim in Sochi.

The Israeli federation must decide which of two men -- Alexei Bychenko or Stanislav Samohin -- it will nominate. The Philippines selected Michael Christian Martinez, fourth at the recent Junior Grand Prix in Riga, Latvia, over Christopher Caluza. Caluza skated to a fifth-place finish at the 2013 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City, while Martinez placed sixth.

With three triple Axels -- one in the short and two in the free -- Brendan Kerry of Australia won Skate Down Under with a score of 192.28. He trains under Tammy Gambill in California.

Other potential candidates for a spot include Denmark's Justus Strid, Romania's Zoltan Kelemen and Stéphane Walker from Switzerland. Ukraine's Yakov Godorozha, 23rd at 2013 worlds, just missed qualifying a spot last season.

Japan, Israel, Britain aim for Olympic pairs spots

Of the 19 pairs entered at Nebelhorn, 13 hope to gain one of the four available Olympic spots for their countries.

Japan's Narumi Takahashi has the most on the line. The 21-year-old from Chiba won the 2012 world bronze medal with former partner Mervin Tran but ended that partnership because Tran, a Canadian, could not gain the necessary Japanese citizenship that would allow him to compete with her in Sochi. Her new partner, Ryuichi Kihara, is a former singles competitor with no prior pairs experience. The team trains in Detroit under Jason Dungjen and recently gained 138.03 points at the Lombardia Trophy in Italy.

At Nebelhorn, Takahashi and Kihara will not try only to qualify a spot for themselves in Sochi but gain a minimum technical score and add themselves to Japan's powerful team.

The new Israeli pair of Andrea Davidovich and Evgeni Krasnopolski, who train in Hackensack, N.J., skated relatively well in finishing sixth in Salt Lake City. Davidovich, a former singles competitor on the Junior Grand Prix circuit, has solid jumps and has quickly learned two throw triples.

Eight-time British champions Stacey Kemp and David King, who aim to qualify for their second Olympics, had disappointing performances at Skate Detroit in July but earned far better scores at a recent event in Sheffield, England. Lyndon Johnston, who coaches the team in Ellenton, Fla., said they have stepped up their training in recent weeks and are in good shape for Nebelhorn.

There are a few wild cards. Nebelhorn is the first-ever international event for Austria's Miriam Ziegler and Severin Kiefer. Ziegler placed 26th at the 2010 Olympics as a singles competitor.

By far the most unusual entrants are experienced Slovakian pair skater Olga Beständigova and the 38-year-old Ilhan Mansiz, a famous former soccer player. Mansiz, who played in Germany and for the Turkish national soccer team, began skating at about the age of 30. The team has trained for two years with Doug Ladret in Arizona; Nebelhorn is their first major competition.    

Japanese team hopes ride on Reeds

Some 18 ice dance couples are fighting for at least five, or perhaps six, Olympic spots.

No one is under more pressure than the Reeds, who placed 20th in the world last season. The brother and sister, who train in Hackensack under Galit Chait, have many years of international experience and should be able to earn Japan an Olympic ice dance berth.

Another couple who should qualify is Spain's Sara Hurtado and Adria Diaz, who placed 19th at worlds. They train in Montreal under former world silver medalists Marie-France Dubrueil and Patrice Lauzon.

The powerhouse ice dance coaching team at Detroit Skating Club, headed by Pasquale Camerlengo and Anjelika Krylova, bring several teams to Nebelhorn. All must not only qualify for the Olympics but also earn an ISU minimum technical score. They include Danielle O'Brien und Gregory Merriman of Australia; Xintong Huang and Xun Xintong of China; and Ramona Elsener and Florian Roost of Switzerland, who spent much of the summer in Detroit.

Former Italian world champion Maurizio Margaglio, Finland's national ice dance coach, will try to qualify a spot with Henna Lindholm and Ossi Kanervo. Poland's Justyna Plutowska and Peter Gerber put out polished programs to place ninth in Salt Lake City, but their coach, Igor Shpilband, admitted that the field at Nebelhorn presents a stiff challenge.

"There are many teams that are very close in ability," Shpilband said. "But [the Poles] defeated a few teams in Salt Lake City, who will also be competing at Nebelhorn, so I have hopes."

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