NHT 2009: Tango's and Comebacks, an audience perspective

By Mireille Geurts
Photos © Mireille Geurts & Joy

Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf. Unbelievable but true, I had never been there, now I have and I am sure I will be back. Had a great time, it was an awesome event, in a great environment. This time I wasn't there to work, not really, but just to enjoy. Of course I ended up taking pictures the entire time anyway, just as Joy who was with me. She had an excuse though testing her new camera equipment, I not really.. can we call it habit? Anyway, as anyone who has ever tried this knows, taking photos at a skating competition is not as easy as it seems and is actually a pretty tiresome job. Not that I am complaining, being exhausted but happy is always good.

Aside the taking photos bit, you might wonder why I am so tired?? Well, just take a look at the competition schedule. If I had to name a negative thing about this whole event, it would have been that. The competition parts started at 8-9 in the morning, and mostly ended after 11 PM in the evening. Add to that the training times and I really do feel bad for the skaters. You can read for example in Kiira Korpi's interview that she had to get up at 4.30 AM at least one time. I am sure that is not the best time of the day to be as fit as you can.

That is also the only negative thing I could come up with. I was told that Oberstdorf area was great and well worth paying a visit, and that person (yes Daphne), couldn't have been more right. Oberstdorf is a real picturesque village, in which almost every house is worth a picture. It is as you well know a wintersport area and it looks a little like Tirol in a sense. A lot of people walk in "Lederhosen and Folk costumes" which the first day actually worked a little on my laugh muscles but you get used to it soon enough, and honestly, it fits the environment.

So, aside the competition itself, it is already very nice. The arena, as most of you readers will know, is pretty well accommodated, with 3 ice rinks and all facilities being right there. It helps that there is a whole skating school there, I guess. That combined with a helpful and relaxed staff and enough food and drinks available - and nobody giving you a pain about bringing it into the ice rink - it was a complete thumbs up for environment and organization. (schedule not included :P)

Then to the best part, ahh, the skaters and the skating, as always, the reason I am there, after all. The event started with Ice Dance, but for us with the Men. It was very fun that there were 3 AS-skaters in this discipline. Of course, there were the much talked about Stephane Lambiel and Stefan Lindemann, skaters we at AS have been following for years, ever since they were still starting out as boys. It was an awesome experience, just not to see both of them again, but also in the same competition.

As everyone is well aware of, Stephane decided only recently to come back to competitions and had a very successful comeback, winning the competition. Aside that on paper great looking come back, it was also a pleasure and an honor to see the Stephane we've come to know and love so many years ago, his fire and spirit being back completely. After the short program, I remember turning to Joy and saying "Stephane just is the music", and during the long program we both couldn't stop taking photos, every move he makes is just picture worthy.

The anticipation for Stefan Lindemann was great. He was nervous and you could tell the audience was as well. During his short and long program, he got loud applause after the jumps, but right before it was almost erringly quiet. If he hadn't used music, one could have heard a needle drop at those moments. Accordingly, both programs brought chills to my spine. To come back in this way, after the past troubled years is an accomplishment on it's own and I don't think many athletes could have done the same. It will be an extreme pleasure to see him at the Olympics and hopefully other big competitions again.

Then the third AS-skater only joined last year, Ryan Bradley. Personally, I had never seen him skating live, only on TV. I already liked him there, but as always live is, oh so much better. He has such enjoyment in skating, performing, that his programs are over before you even realize it.

There weren't only AS-skaters, naturally…, then the comp would have been over much quicker. As there were so many competitors, I will only take out some of my personal highlights.
There was Kutay Eryoldas from Turkey, who I enjoyed very much and he proved to me that using Carmen can be great after all, if you do it right. Boris Martinec from Croatia was also very fun to watch with Grease and in his LP the Blues Brothers. His SP costume was very fitting with T-birds written on his back.

Akio Sasaki from Japan we already liked a lot during the SP because of the joy he displayed while skating, transformed himself in a complete fireball in the LP, and no, I do not just mean the costume, which with its flames on is very fitting, but also his attack to skating. It was something one really should see and I was tired for him, after he was done. Amazing!

Men I will for sure be following in the future are Song Choi Ri, Jialiang Wu, Kevin Alves, of course the ones already mentioned and of course not to forget the biggest surprise of the event Ivan Tretiaklov from Russia, very deservingly running home with the silver medal.

It wasn't just the first event of the season, for me it was also the event of the Tangos. I don't even mean the Compulsory Dance, which by draw was the Tango Romantica, but also all Tangos in the other disciplines, in particular Tango de Roxanne.

As for Ice Dance, the win of Meryl Davis and Charlie White was not really that surprising but very deserved. I particularly enjoyed their sparkling Original Dance, which brought a lot of excitement to the audience, as did their Free Dance on Phantom of the Opera. There were no AS skaters present, although there was Nora Hoffmann with her "new" partner Maxim Zavozin who got her fair share of publications around here. She is also one we have been watching from a very early stage. The pairing up with Maxim seems to work out well, height wise the problems have disappeared and all. Their free dance was for me very surprising, with their more contemporary music choice (So Excited by Janet Jackson, Hush Hush by Pussycat Dolls, Rock This Party) it doesn't seem Nora's usual style, but she appeared to enjoy it very much (of course so does he) and that made the whole spirit very light. I hope her bad luck will finally have run out.

A pair I've been watching from the very start too, are the Zaretski's. It is amazing how often a woman's hair colour can change, but we can only assume that they want to be in style of their programs as much as they can, and the short black hair of Alexandra couldn't be more fitting to their spellbinding Free Dance to Shindler´s List.

I was told many times, yes again by Daphne, that I would like the young Czech couple Lucie Mysliveckova and Matej Novak a lot, and of course she again was right. I loved that their Original Dance was truly original, being so different from the rest in the bunch, with their Finnish folk dance in beautiful blue costumes. Their expression is exceptional, not just in the Original Dance but also in their Free Dance to Blues.

Christina Chitwood and Mark Hanretty from Great Britain skated on the aforementioned Tango de Roxanne. I am wondering if they won't get all tango-ed out this season, but must say despite it's overuse, it was very well done and I enjoyed it a lot.

The ladies had the bad fortune to have to start both days extremely early. Luckily, both our AS-skaters had late start times for both days, so they weren't asked to perform as ridiculously early as Kiira Korpi. Julia Sebestyen, connected to AS for years now, has had several up and down years now, but didn't make a too bad start finishing in 4th, unfortunately just not on the podium. Especially considering that, she was 3th in the SP and even 2nd in the LP! Her short program consisted of a tango again, did I say too much about those?? Her long program to Raul di Blasio's music was "very Julia" and was very energetic and light. I suppose this could become a really strong program later in the season, when skated in. Also, this is the first time I've seen her new look live - longer hair and ponytail - at first I hardly recognized her!!

New AS-lady Tamar Katz accomplished one of her goals and secured an Olympic spot for her country. Now she has to qualify herself as well by coming in 10th at Europeans!! The date of Europeans clashes with her SATs, so she will have to choose. Being a top athlete really isn't all that easy. She was not very happy with her performances, saying she skated well in practice and warm up and then not at the competition, but being out of real competitions and sporting a pretty fresh back injury, I feel she can be very proud of what she accomplished. Hope to see you at Olympics Tamar!

Isabelle Pieman from Belgium has also qualified her country for an Olympic spot and hopes to be the one going also, of course. She recently moved to train in Oberstdorf and it appears to have done her well, ending 12th in the SP with her program on Take Five in the cool black and pink jumpsuit and even 9th with the LP, landing her in 11th total.

Megan Williams Stewart from Puerto Rico ( 25th) had a very lyrical program on the love theme from Romeo and Juliet and an interesting costume. It wasn't that it didn't suit the program or anything, but it shows a huge flower on the chest, a pretty cute one at that.., but the placement.., well, is a little weird. Enough said. It shows very nice on pictures though, and I really liked her expression, technical maybe not a top skater, but her program is fine-tuned. Just look at the fingers.

That leaves the pairs competition, or should I just say, Ingo Steuers? Having 3 pairs there, he came across being pretty satisfied, happy and proud during the entire event. He should be. He of course had the winners Aliona Savchenky and Robin Szolkowy (link to interview if that's up yet) but also the silver medalists Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov and the young Swiss pair Anais Morand & Antoine Dorsaz. The Swissies were fighting for an Olympic spot, and did that successfully. They were a fresh breeze in between all pairs, a big surprise, skating with such apparent ease, but very light and joyful. All 3 short programs were little masterpieces and each in their own way. For some of the long programs I had the feeling they still have to develop some and with Robin and Aliona as well that the music has to grow on me. Which in a way is very funny since it is a well-known song arranged by one of my own countryman (André Rieu).

As usual, I liked Stacy Kemp and David King a lot, because they have so much fun while skating and they did great, coming in 8th. They didn't have to contend for an Olympic spot.

I very much enjoyed Brooke Castile and Benjamin Okolski from the USA in as well their sensual short program Samba as their nice lyrical Clair de Lune for the long, the last one simple but effective. They reached a 4th place, always one of the most annoying ones to get, just off the podium.

A competition ends with a gala. A perfect ending, though I do not always enjoy it equally. It is weird, I never want to miss it, but in a way sometimes, it just feels "off". You have been in the ice rink the entire week (competition), with sometimes not that many people and now it is suddenly all filled up.., as if it isn't "your place" anymore. Yes, I am aware that sounds strange. Then you get programs you often have seen many times already, from watching other competitions or galas on TV earlier the season. Yet there is always someone funny or suddenly amazing and you always have a good time, leaving on a happy and a sad note at the same time… Mixed emotions as they say.

Well, didn't happen this time. Almost all programs were new, aside the ones that used their competition programs for the galas (mostly the ice dance couples that used their OD's). There were many fun programs, and the audience, even though as usual much more, didn't "feel" different. So yay for that.

We didn't get a music sheet, nor a real program, so it is hard to really tell much in retrospect (notes anyone?) so I will just stick to my highlights again. As is common some young locals opened the gala, in this case Amani Fancy and Sarah Hecken and both girls seemed to have quite some talent and skills, despite their young age.

The third local, funnily enough, was Stefan Lindemann, because he didn't end up in top 5. He got a warm welcome of course and seemed to drink in the enthusiasm.

Julia Sebestyen started her program of with a typical female ballad for galas but luckily changed into something funky during and that style suits her very well too.

Ryan Bradley skating in his jeans on Kanye West's Heartless was fun to watch, a style that suits him and it differs quite some of the other programs, and of course that back flip was spectacular!

The locals after the break were Jessica FĂĽssinger and ice dance couple Carolina & Daniel Hermann. Carolina later made another appearance, when the unthinkable happened. Roman Zaretsky, normally skating with his sister Alexandra decided he'd like to try it with another sister and momentarily pried Carolina away from Daniel. A little while she seemed charmed by him but he had a change of heart and went back to Alexandra, who first wouldn't have none of it, making that very clear on Hit the road Jack. In the end he won her over again, and both sister&brother couples could happily leave the event together in their old set-up.
I hope for Alexandra he is not going to try a new lady on for size at every gala they are in from now on?

Meryl Davis and Charlie White skated on a cover of MJ's Billie Jean. Beautiful program really and I understand that this version being a rock ballad suits much better what they are doing, but give me Michael Jackson's version any day.

Very impressive was "Ne me quitte pas" from Stephane Lambiel, in which he silenced the entire crowd during and got them on their feet after. That's a real amazing quality. He also provided one of the most hilarious moments, pairing up momentarily with Alissa Czissny for a spin-off at the closing of the gala, when all skaters present themselves one last time. (See a short video of that here with thanks to kentandjane's channel)
With a last lapse around the rink, the skaters said their goodbye to the Nebelhorn and their audience.

So did we, the day after, with a last lapse around Oberstdorf, but it won't be a farewell, just an Auf Wiedersehen!

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