The following preview has been approved for appropriate audiences of figure skating fans by AbsoluteSkating.com.
Three weeks before the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouverâ€¦
The last battle between the best of the European continent beginsâ€¦
Three-time European champions Aljona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowyâ€¦
Two-time European champion Carolina Kostner and reigning champion Laura LepistĂ¶â€¦
European champions of 2008 Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin and reigning champions Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitskiâ€¦
Five-time European champion Evgeni Plushenko and three-time and reigning champion Brian Joubertâ€¦
What will be the outcome of the first confrontation of Turinâ€™s medalists and highly discussed returnees Stephane Lambiel and Evgeni Plushenko? Will the first succeed in impressing judges and the public with his new long program? Will the latter receive the scores similar to those he received earlier this season at his â€śhome baseâ€ť? Will it be a dĂ©jĂ vu of the pre-Turin European podium or will the new faces of this Olympic cycle, such as the European champion of 2008, Tomas Verner, and reigning vice-champion, Samuel Contesti, interfere into this combat? Maybe even younger skaters, Michal Brezina and Sergei Voronov, will influence the result.
With so many contenders and none a predefined leader, who will be the champion among the European ladies this year, and who will medal? Will Laura LepistĂ¶ defend her title? Or will it be her compatriot Kiira Korpi, who received higher scores during Grand Prix series (163.27 in China versus Lauraâ€™s 158.52 in Canada)? Rising Russian star Alena Leonova, the only European lady who qualified for the Grand Prix final, might be the one, or maybe it will be eight-time Swiss national champion Sarah Meier, who was the silver medalist twice and missed the last Europeans due to injury. Maybe Julia Sebestyen will repeat the skate of her life that she had at Skate America. Can it be one of Italian ladies, Carolina Kostner or Valentina Marchei? They would definitely try to do their best, as for them the score might also result in a ticket to Vancouver. Everything is open in this discipline, so stay tunedâ€¦
What will be the result of the enduring rivalry of the two Russian pairs, Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov and Maria Mukhortova & Maxim Trankov? While the first are the reigning national champions, the latter were more successful on the international stage. Will the Ukrainian pair Tatiana Volosozhar & Stanislav Morozov be able to reach the podium this time after finishing fourth the last two years? The German pair will almost certainly defend their title (knock on the wood), but the intrigue is how well they will do with recent Aljonaâ€™s illness and less than desirable results in Grand Prix final. Will they show the judges and the public convincing skates, assuring that they are going to Vancouver to gain the highest prize?
A few premieres are expected in ice dance (and one more, Isabelle Delobel & Olivier Schoenfelderâ€™s one, is unfortunately postponed till Vancouver). For Oksana Domnina & Maxim Shabalin this will be the first international competition and the first time international judges will meet their new â€ślookâ€ť in the original dance and innovative belts in their free dance. Will they be awarded for being courageous for trying an absolutely different style in the Olympic season or will they not? Will the judges prefer the new free dance of the second Russian pair, Jana Khokhlova/Sergei Novitski, choreographed to Stravinskyâ€™s â€śFirebirdâ€ť? This one wasnâ€™t shown anywhere at all, not even at Russian Nationals due to Sergeiâ€™s injury. The destiny of the other medals is not clear either. Will Italians, Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali, regain their silver medal? Will Sinead and John Kerr defend their bronze with French Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat winning all of the meetings they had with the Scots during this season? Who will place higher this time?
Finally, the most important question: Will skating fans still be interested in more figure skating after an exhausting weekend of two national championships in Canada and the US?
Answers to these questions and moreâ€¦
On the AbsoluteSkating.com worldwide, as of January 19th.
By Reut Golinsky
Photos © 2010 Absolute Skating, Tamriko