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Oda triumphantly returns to ice at Nebelhorn

Team USA scores two of the other three golds

Alissa Czisny won the ladies gold in dominating fashion.
Alissa Czisny won the ladies gold in dominating fashion. (Mitchell Shipwash)

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(09/27/2008) - The United States captured two of the four gold medals at this week's Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, as Alissa Czisny prevailed in the ladies competition and Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates captured the ice dancing title. Japan's Nobunari Oda made a triumphant return to the ice, besting a strong men's field, and reigning world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy took the pairs championship.

The U.S. won the team trophy with 50 points, followed by Canada in second (39 points) and Germany in third (38).

Ladies

Czisny skated in a small competition a couple weeks ago in Wyandotte, Mich., not with the purpose of winning but to experience the feel of competition. The strategy worked.

Skating to Camille Saint-Saens' "The Swan," she took a 1.5-point lead in the short program, landing a triple Lutz-double toe combination and characteristically receiving level fours on two of her spins.

She crushed the field in the free skate, winning the segment by more than 12 points. Opening her Dr. Zhivago program with a clean triple Lutz-double toe, she followed that combo with a triple flip, triple Lutz and triple toe-double toe, as well as three Level 4 spins and a Level 4 spiral sequence.

Historically, the knocks on Czisny have been her inconsistency on her jumps and her inability to put together two solid programs in a row, but she showed no signs of her old self in Oberstdorf.

"I've been working with Linda [Leaver] and Brian [Boitano] on my [jump] technique, and this year it's starting to click," Czisny said. "That's one of the things that's making me better -- plus I'm a little more relaxed in competition."

This is Czisny's first international medal since she won the gold at 2005 Skate Canada.

The silver went to reigning European bronze medalist Laura Lepistö of Finland, who finished second in both segments of the competition. Her free skate contained four cleanly landed triple jumps, but she singled both the second part of her planned triple toe-double toe combination and her Salchow.

Veteran Akiko Suzuki of Japan took the bronze. She began competing internationally in 1999, and last season won the Winter University Games, Golden Spin of Zagreb and AEGON Challenge Cup. She trailed Lepistö by just two-hundredths of a point after the short program, but her free skate lacked the firepower of that of the reigning Finnish champ, as she doubled her opening Lutz and was marked down on her triple loop.

American Chrissy Hughes finished 13th in her senior international debut.

Men

After sitting out all of last season because of a Japan Skating Federation-imposed suspension and the resulting mental and physical anguish, the uber-likeable Oda burst back onto the scene this week. He jumped out to a two-point lead in the short program and came away with a four-point victory over the Czech Republic's Michal Brezina, already the winner of two JGP events this fall. Frenchman Yannick Ponsero edged Czech Tomas Verner for the bronze.

Oda's "Masquerade Waltz" short program contained four triples (two in combination), a Level 4 spin, two Level 3 spins and two Level 3 step sequences, and he received positive Grades of Execution (GOE) on all his elements. Brezina's "Sing Sing Sing" program was almost as good, only he received a -0.3 GOE on his first spin. Verner sat third after the short program, with Ponsero way back in eighth.

Oda opened his ""Warsaw Concerto" free skate with one of the highest point totals ever earned for a single element. His triple Axel-triple toe-triple loop combination received a GOE of 1.25 and netted him 18.45 points. It only got better from there as he landed five more triples (three in combination) and was awarded either Level 3 or Level 4 for his three spins.

Brezina performed his Latin free skate the best he has all season, beating his previous high score for the program by almost 16 points. His protocol sheet shows he did not receive a negative GOE from a single judge. He landed a total of eight triples (five in combination), performed a dazzling straight line step sequence and finished with a Level 4 spin combination with change of position and change of foot.

Ponsero started his Brian Setzer Orchestra medley free skate with a clean quadruple toe and followed it up with a triple Axel and a triple Lutz. His only shaky moments came on his triple loop and double Axel. This is Ponsero's second senior-level international medal; he won the gold at last season's Coupe de Nice.

As is becoming custom, Verner fell apart in the free skate, falling on his opening quad and receiving negative GOEs for three other jump elements. He lost out on the bronze by .33 points.

The highest-placing American was Scott Smith who finished seventh. Smith won the silver at this event in 2003.

"When I first saw the [competitors] list online, I was like, 'Whoa!' It's different than when I did it in 2003," Smith said. "I was excited that it was going to be such a strong field."

Pairs

The pairs competition at Nebelhorn went as expected, with Savchenko and Szolkowy winning the gold, Russians Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov earning the silver and Ukrainians Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov claiming the bronze. Those teams represent three of the top four finishers at the 2008 European Championships .

The Germans took a five-point lead in the short program with a superb performance, one that included side-by-side triple toes and a throw triple flip. Their free skate was not nearly as good, as they received negative GOEs on six elements, but their components score was more than seven points higher than anyone else's.

Mukhortova and Trankov also landed clean side-by-side triple toes in their short program, as well as a throw triple loop. Their spins and spiral sequence in that phase all were graded Level 4s. They actually skated a cleaner, albeit safer, free skate than the Germans, landing two throw triples and their triple Salchows.

The Ukrainians missed the throw triple loop in their short program and had two big mistakes in the free skate, experiencing a fall on their double Salchows, which were supposed to be triples, and receiving no credit for their first spin because of a time violation.

Americans Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett, both making their international debuts, actually beat Volosozhar and Morozov in the free skate, landing two throw triples and earning Level 4s on two of their lifts and their spin combination. They finished fourth overall.

Denney and Barrett paired up in June and competed at the Liberty Open and the Indy Pairs Challenge this summer, but skating alongside some of the world's best was something neither had ever done.

"Being on the ice with them made you want to skate that much better," Barrett said. "It was a great experience for us."

Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin of the U.S. finished sixth.

Ice Dancing

After falling behind by a slim margin in the compulsory dance, Samuelson and Bates, making their senior-level international debut, grabbed hold of the competition in the original dance and coasted to an eight-point win. Israelis Alexandra Zaretski and Roman Zaretski copped the silver while Americans Jane Summersett and Todd Gilles took the bronze.

Samuelson and Bates, who will make their Grand Prix debut next month at Skate America, put distance between themselves and the competition in the OD, winning the segment by 4.37 points. Skating to Irving Berlin's "Let Yourself Go," they received Level 4s for their twizzle sequence, straight line lift and spin element, and their midline no touching step sequence received a GOE of 1.5. Their "Amazonic" free dance was even better, as they were awarded Level 4s for six of their eight elements and GOEs ranging from 0.5 to 1.33.

"We skated great," said Samuelson. "We're really happy with how we performed. It was a great senior international debut for us."

The Zaretskis were hurt by a subpar twizzle sequence in the original dance, a segment in which they finished third. They rebounded in the free dance, receiving six Level 4s and GOEs ranging from 0.42 to 1.0.

Summersett and Gilles won all three events they entered at the 2008 Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, earning them the third U.S. ice dancing spot at Skate America, and they justified that assignment in Oberstdorf. They rode a second-place finish in the original dance, skating to "I'd Rather Be Blue, Thinking of You" and music from the motion picture soundtrack Funny Girl, to a third-place finish overall and their first international medal.