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Star-studded field for Nebelhorn Trophy

Lineup contains a slew of world and European medalists

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are looking for new challenges this season after winning gold at the 2008 World Championships.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are looking for new challenges this season after winning gold at the 2008 World Championships. (Getty Images)

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(09/23/2008) - The international season for senior skaters gets off to a star-studded beginning this week at the 2008 Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany. The lineup contains a slew of world and European medalists, including the reigning world pairs champions and the European men's champion.

The competition will be held Sept. 25-27 at the Eissportzentrum Oberstdorf, with official practice taking place Wednesday, Sept. 24. The compulsory and original dances and the men's and pairs short programs will be skated Thursday, followed by the ladies short program and men's and pairs free skates on Friday. The event wraps up Saturday with the ladies free skate and free dance.

Ladies

Italy's Carolina Kostner is the defending ladies champion of this event, but she dropped out of the competition suddenly this week.

The lady most likely to benefit from Kostner's withdrawl is Finland's Laura Lepisto. She won the bronze medal at the 2008 European Championships as well as at the 2007 Nebelhorn Trophy.

Other skaters contending for a spot on the podium are Na-Young Kim of Korea (fourth at the 2008 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships ), Brit Jenna McCorkell (eighth at the 2008 European Championships), German Annette Dytrt (career-best 12th at the 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships), Japan's Akiko Suzuki (gold medalist at the 2007 World University Games, Golden Spin of Zagreb and AEGON Challenge Cup), Alissa Czisny (2007 U.S. bronze medalist), competing in her first international event of the season, and Chrissy Hughes making her international senior debut. Hughes won gold last fall at both the JGP Romania and JGP Bulgaria, and finished eighth at the JGP Final.

Men

The men's competition in Oberstdorf promises to be fierce. Reigning European champion Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic should bring home a medal of some color. The wild card in the field, and the skater whose performance will likely be most scrutinized, is Japan's Nobunari Oda, who sat out all of last season because of suspension and personal problems. As Oda showed in winning the 2006 Four Continents Championships and earning the bronze at the 2006 Grand Prix Final, he can compete with anyone in the world when he wants to.

The hottest skater coming into the competition is Verner's countryman, Michal Brezina, who won both of his Junior Grand Prix assignments this fall by substantial margins. He is also the reigning Nebelhorn Trophy champ. Also capable of landing on the podium are 2005 world junior silver medalist Yannick Ponsero of France.

Team USA's Dennis Phan returns to international competition for the first time since 2006, when he placed sixth at the Karl Schafer Memorial. Phan, the 2004 JGP Final champion, finished 10th at the 2008 U.S. Championships. Scott Smith will be making his second appearance at the Nebelhorn Trophy; he won the silver in Oberstdorf in 2003. Smith finished fifth at the 2007 U.S. Championships and sixth at the 2008 U.S. Championships.

Pairs

Thirteen of the pairs teams in Oberstdorf are likely skating for second place. That's because Germans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy will take the ice in a tune-up for what should be another banner Grand Prix Series. Savchenko and Szolkowy went 6-for-7 last season, winning every event they entered except the Cup of Russia, where they placed second.

Taking aim at the reigning world, European and Grand Prix Final champions are Russia's Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov, the 2008 European silver medalists; Ukranians Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov, the fourth-place finishers at the 2007 World Championships; and Russians Ekaterina Sheremetieva and Mikhail Kuznetsov, the 2007 JGP Final silver medalists.

Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin will be making their international debut in Oberstdorf. The pair finished sixth at the 2008 U.S. Championships. While skating with former partner Bridget Namiotka, Coughlin placed fourth at both the 2006 and 2007 World Junior Championships. This will also be the first international competition for Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett who made their debut at the 2008 Indy Pairs Challenge.

Ice Dancing

The ice dancing field in Oberstdorf lacks star power and, thus, should be fairly wide open. Israelis Alexandra Zaretski and Roman Zaretski are the most accomplished team on the roster, with a ninth-place finish at last year's world championships to their credit. Americans Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates are the reigning world junior champs. Russians Julia Zlobina and Alexei Zitnikov qualified for the JGP Final two seasons ago. Czech skaters Kamila Hajkova and David Vincour have two seasons of Grand Prix Series experience under their belts. Jane Summersett and Todd Gilles cleaned up at this summer's Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships and may be ready to make a name for themselves on the international scene.