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Savchenko, Szolkowy cruise at German nationals

Fourteen-year-old Hecken takes first ladies crown

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy cruised to their fifth German national title. They have not lost at German nationals since pairing together.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy cruised to their fifth German national title. They have not lost at German nationals since pairing together. (Getty Images)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(01/06/2008) - For many years, German nationals had been held in either Berlin or Oberstdorf, a city in the Bavarian Alps that hosts the Nebelhorn Trophy every year and where the junior worlds were held in 2000 and 2007. But last September two new rinks were opened in Dresden, the capital of Saxonia. So, for a change, that's where the 2008 national championships were held.

Pairs

Germany's top pair, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, the gold medalists at the ISU Grand Prix Final last month, had no problems in winning the pairs competition. In the short program, they were more than 30 points ahead allowing them to sail to victory, their fifth consecutive national title. They have not lost at German nationals since pairing up together.

Two of the seven judges gave them a plus-three for their throw triple flip (in both programs), five a plus-two, and their triple twist and side-by-side triple toe loop had mainly plus-twos. Their components in the short program went up to 9.0. In the long program, to music of "L'oiseau" from the Cirque du Soleil, most of their elements were excellent again. Five elements earned level fours, with only Savchenko stepping out of the pair combination spin. The pair is admired a lot in Germany, but their coach, Ingo Steuer, is not looked at so reverently, especially after criticizing the other two German pairs quite openly this week.

Coming in second in Dresden was Mari Vartmann and Florian Just, who had problems with their side-by-side jumps. They had good throws and lifts, though, and that carried them to their second straight national silver medal. The bronze medal went to a new pair, Ekaterina Vasilieva and Daniel Wende, who have been training together for only three months. This was their very first competition, and they missed several elements.

Rachel Kirkland and Eric Radford from Toronto were guest skaters in this competition because they train with Ingo Steuer in Germany. They earned 152 points, which would have easily placed them in second place. They have a good style and speed, and their triple twists were impressive. In the free program, both triple throws were safe, but Kirkland fell on the triple Salchow in both programs.

Ladies

There was a surprising winner in the ladies senior competition. Fourteen-year-old junior skater Sarah Hecken from Mannheim rose to the top, a spot that she might hold for some time now. She is the greatest talent in German single skating in years. She was the German junior champion in 2006 and 2007 and won at JGP Germany last October. But this was her first senior competition, and she flourished.

In the short program, she had planned a combination of two triple toe loops. She fell on the first one, though, because she did not land it backwards. That was just bad luck on a jump which she normally lands cleanly without problems. All other elements were good, including a triple Salchow.

Hecken was only seventh after that short program and had to skate her free program in the second best group. But she was faultless in her free skate and cleverly used the nuances of the ISU judging system. She showed two triple toe loops, two Salchows (each in combination) and three double Axels. In practice, she also landed triple loops but played it safe in the free program. She therefore skated without any fear of falling. She has a dynamic and mature style and looks more like a 17- or 18-year-old senior. Born in August 1993, she is two years too young to be nominated for senior Europeans and worlds, so her main goal is a top-ten result at junior worlds in Sofia, Bulgaria, in about two months.

Isabel Drescher came in second place. Only 13, she skated a clean short program with a combination of two triple toe loops. She also had a long program with four triples. Annette Dytrt, the pre-competition favorite, won the short program with a good triple flip combination, a triple Salchow, but only a shaky single Axel. She has the best style of all the German ladies and got high program components. In the free skate, however, she missed four of her triple jumps, finishing fifth in the program and falling to third overall. But as the best eligible skater for the international championships, she was nevertheless nominated for the Europeans, which are at the end of January in the Croatian capital of Zagreb.

Men

Longtime men's champion Stefan Lindemann had undergone a groin operation in November and had to sit out all season. Therefore a new men's champion was crowned in Dresden this week. The surprise winner was 21-year-old Clemens Brummer from Berlin, mostly thanks to a flawless short program which included a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, three level-three spins, but only a double Axel. He got high program components because of his excellent interpretation of the Charles Chaplin music. In the free program, he missed the Lutz and flip at the end but landed four other triple jumps safely and showed good spins.

Peter Liebers came in second place, after trying a triple Axel in both competitions in vain. He did, however, complete four other triple jumps and two double Axels. The 19-year-old student won the free skate, despite doubling his planned quad toe loop. He will still join Brummer at the European Championships in Zagreb.

Peter's older brother, Martin Liebers took the bronze. He had quite a good short program with a triple loop-triple loop combination, but the second one was downgraded. In the long program, four triples were clean, but he missed two and doubled a third. All three medal winners have the same coach, Viola Striegler, who also coaches Lindemann, who was the four-time defending champion.

Ice dancing

Christina and William Beier from Oberstdorf regained their national title in ice dancing, which they had won already in 2005 and 2006. Last season they could not train for almost a year because Christina had a long-lasting foot injury. In Dresden, the brother-and-sister team won all three parts of the competition, including a Bavarian folk dance and an Asian fight dance free program. Their goal for Europeans is a top-ten finish. Four of their elements had level fours, four more earned level threes, and their component scores were around 6.5.

The silver medal went to Nelli Shiganshina and Alexander Gazsi, who train in Moscow and performed at Skate Canada and the Cup of Russia this season, finishing seventh and eighth respectively. They excelled with an elegant style and executed difficult lifts on one foot, which they showed in their Ukrainian original dance and their free dance, which was set to the music of Frenchman Charles Aznavour.

Another brother-and-sister combo came in third place -- Caroline and Daniel Hermann, who are in their first senior year. They also appeared at Skate Canada, finishing eighth, in 2007, and placed 10th at world juniors almost a year ago. They had difficult and well-presented elements, especially in the free dance to the James Bond film, Diamonds are Forever. But their presentation is still not as mature.

Synchronized Skating

Synchronized skating has always been a part of German nationals. Team Berlin 1 won their 11th consecutive national title, and they showed by far the best elements in the competition. The Magic Diamonds from Munich came in second, just one point ahead of the third-place finishers, the United Angels from Stuttgart.