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Kostner, Joubert headline field in The Hague

France's James, Ciprès favorites in pairs

Carolina Kostner is using the Challenge Cup as a tune-up for the world championships.
Carolina Kostner is using the Challenge Cup as a tune-up for the world championships. (Getty Images)

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By Mimi Whetstone, special to icenetwork.com
(02/20/2013) - With eight European titles between them, Italy's Carolina Kostner and Brian Joubert of France headline the field at this week's Challenge Cup in The Hague, Netherlands.

Ladies

Kostner, the defending champion at this event, heads to The Hague just three weeks before she will put her title on the line at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships. After sitting out last fall's Grand Prix Series, Kostner returned to competition at the 2012 Golden Spin in Zagreb, Croatia, where she won the ladies title by more than 25 points. She went on to claim her seventh gold medal at the Italian championships as well as her fifth European crown.

Skating against Kostner will be Isabelle Olsson of Sweden, the silver medalist at both the Ice Challenge in Graz, Austria, and the Cup of Nice in France; and Maé Bérénice Méité of France, who placed fifth and sixth at her two Grand Prix assignments this season.

Men's

Joubert looks to top the podium at this event for the second straight season. After relocating to train in Champigny, France, last summer, Joubert withdrew from his first Grand Prix assignment of the season, Cup of China, citing abdominal pain and a fever. He went on to place fourth at both Trophée Eric Bompard and the 2013 European Championships last month in Zagreb.

Joining Joubert in the men's event are his countryman, Chafik Besseghier, the 2013 French silver medalist, and American Alex Johnson, who placed seventh at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Pairs

Heading up the pairs field are French champions Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès, the fourth-place finishers at last month's European championships. They took home bronze medals from the 2012 Nebelhorn Trophy and the 2012 NRW Trophy.

Challenging James and Ciprès are their teammates, Daria Popova and Bruno Massot, who finished fifth at Skate Canada earlier this season, and three-time German silver medalists Mari Vartmann and Aaron Van Cleave.