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Favorites cruise to gold in Bratislava

No surprises as seniors start season at Ondrej Nepela Memorial

Men's gold medalist Kevin van der Perren (right) smiles with his fiancee, ladies bronze medalist Jenna McCorkell in Bratislava.
Men's gold medalist Kevin van der Perren (right) smiles with his fiancee, ladies bronze medalist Jenna McCorkell in Bratislava. (Klaus-Reinhold Kany)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany / Special to icenetwork.com
(09/22/2007) - For the 15th time, the Ondrej Nepela Memorial Trophy was held in Slovakia's capital, Bratislava. It was this season's first international senior competition.

Ice Dancing

This competition was never in doubt, as Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France led throughout. The European champions of 2007, who came in fourth at last season's world championships, said they came to this competition to test their new programs before the internal French competition, which will be televised next week. They won all three parts of the competition by wide margins. They performed the required compulsory dance, which was the relatively difficult Austrian Waltz, exactly to the beat of the music. Their edges were deep and their turns very precise. All elements in their original dance -- a country folk dance from Brittany in western France with a celtic sound -- were very good. Their new free dance, skated to a piano piece by Michael Nyman, was excellent as well. Technically, they are perhaps the best ice dance couple in the world, but their emotional contact to the public could be improved. It was a clever idea, therefore, of coach Muriel Zazoui and the Finnish choreographer Yorma Uotinen to choose a music with relatively little emotion. Overall, they won with a distance of 42 points.

Barbora Silna and Dmitro Matsyuk of Austria got the silver medal with three error-free performances. They skated an original dance to Austrian folk music sung by mountain farmers, called "Jodler". The couple kept their "Saturday Night Fever" free dance from last season and, therefore, performed it with more routine and safety. The Armenian couple Anastasia Grebenkina and Vazgen Azroyan won bronze. They had fallen on the compulsory dance but moved up from fifth to third place, thanks to two other performances with good elements, including a second-place result in the free dance.

Ladies

The favorite in the ladies competition was the 2004 European champion, Julia Sebestyen of Hungary. She won with a comfortable margin of 28 points, because she was in better shape than in most of her competition in the last two years. For her world class short program to classical music by Franz Schubert, she got 61.82 points. Her triple Lutz and triple flip were higher than most men's. And her style was quite mature. She started her long program in impressive fashion, with two Lutzes and one flip. Later, she reduced planned triples to doubles but still kept her good style.

The silver-medal winner, Michelle Boulos from Boston, started her short program with the combination of a triple Lutz and double toe loop. Her toe loop out of steps was a bit shaky, though. The other elements were good; the spins even excellent. In the free program to "Swan Lake", a triple loop and a triple toe loop were clean, but two other jumps were not correctly landed, and she fell on the Lutz. Afterwards, she said, "My goal was to skate well. I did little mistakes, but I am still happy with my overall performances."

Jenna McCorkell of Great Britain won the bronze medal. In the short program, she had singled her planned triple Lutz, but the other elements were good. She had one triple Lutz and triple toe loop in her long program -- skated to the soundtrack of "Frida" -- but all other jumps were double.

Men

Kevin van der Perren of Belgium took home the gold medal in the men's competition. In the short program to music of the "Safri Duo," he performed the strong combination of a triple flip and triple toe loop, but doubled the Lutz and the Axel. So he was second after the first discipline. But in his stylish new free program where he plays the role of Lawrence of Arabia, he succeeded to show five clean triple jumps, including one Axel. He fell on the triple toe loop in a combination after the triple flip, and he doubled the loop but skated well otherwise. His co-coach Juri Bureiko, who was with him here, said, "We all suffered from the low temperature in the ice rink. Therefore, he did not try a quad in competition today."

Nicholas LaRoche from Torrance, Calif., was first in a flawlessly-skated short program with a triple Axel and triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination. But he could not hold his place, because he fell during the step sequence and the second triple Lutz during the free skate. He also doubled two more jumps which were planned triples. Later he said, "The ice was very hard; it was hockey ice, therefore it was very difficult to jump. I would say my short program was good. In the free, there is some room for improvement."

Gregor Urbas from Slovenia won the bronze medal with only three tenths of a point less than LaRoche, mainly due to eight triple jumps in his free program. At home, he is used to training in cold rinks, therefore he did not struggle here because of the temperature.

Pairs

Two teams from Canada were the only skaters in the pairs competition. With a distance of ten points, Mylène Brodeur and John Mattatall of St.Léonard near Montreal won clearly. The pupils of Richard Gauthier were already five points ahead after the short program. Seven of their eight elements were good, including a triple throw Salchow. But Brodeur fell on the side-by-side triple toe loop. In the free skate, they missed their two triple throws, and this time, Mattatall fell on the triple toe loop. But the other elements were safe, including a side-by-side double Axel. They collected many points with strong and difficult lifts, all level fours.

Becky Cosford (21) and Brian Shales (22) from Kitchener-Waterloo took second place. Their level of difficulty was a bit lower, because they had no triple jumps in their program. In the short program, Cosford missed the double Axel; in the free program to the soundtrack of "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," both skaters landed that jump, but not cleanly. Cosford also landed a triple throw Salchow, but missed the triple throw loop.