The 2011 Ondrej Nepela Memorial: great winning performances and some pleasant surprises

October 19, 2011
By Titanilla Bőd
Photos © Ploana

The old Ondrej Nepela Stadium in Bratislava was known as one of the coldest ice rinks in Europe. The tough times are, however, over – the building was fully renovated for the ice hockey World Championships and now figure skaters can also enjoy its benefits. Maybe that was the reason why the 19th Ondrej Nepela Memorial offered a very impressive field compared to previous years. Although some big names withdrew (Tomás Verner, Maylin Hausch/Daniel Wende, Adelina Sotnikova), there were still World and European medallists on the entry lists.

Two competitions, two victories

Russian World silver medallists Tatiana Volosozhar / Maxim Trankov clearly won the pairs' competition. They dominated in the short program and also in the free skating, and the spectators loved their new programs. Their energetic short program to Evanescence's "Bring me to Life" created an electrifying atmosphere even in this almost empty rink, and it's not hard to imagine how large crowds at big competitions will go crazy watching it. The free program to the soundtrack of the movie "the Black Swan" tells a very captivating story. The performance wasn't clean (Tatiana had a bad fall on the triple loop), but so far this season this pair is invincible; after the Nebelhorn Trophy they also grabbed the gold in Bratislava.

The silver medal went to the Italian duo Stefania Berton / Ondrej Hotarek. They were third after the short program, but in the free skating they moved up. Skating to "Adagio", they started off with a triple toeloop - double toeloop - double toeloop combination, and despite some minor technical mistakes they didn't lose the rhythm. As Ondrej Hotarek originates from the Czech Republic, he had many friends to support him, which might have helped the pair to deliver a memorable free program performance.

Former Junior World champions Lubov Ilyushechkina / Nodary Maisuradze could have placed second, but in their free skate there was an invalid lift, which probably cost them the better placement. In the end they finished third, which was bad news for the announcer of the event, who had big problems pronouncing Ilyushechkina's name during the victory ceremony, making all the people smile.


French dominance

In the ladies' category there were two French competitors on the podium in Bratislava. Mae Berenice Meite won the competition (she rocked her short program!) and Lena Marrocco placed third (after winning the free skate). Shoko Ishikawa from Japan got the silver medal.

In the short program we saw two triple toeloop - triple toeloop combinations thanks to Meite and Ishikawa. In the free skating only Ishikawa attempted a triple - triple combination, but her second toeloop was downgraded. Lena Marrocco landed two triple Lutzes in the free skating.

Home hope Monika Simancíková was third after the short program but couldn't keep this place in the long program. She fell on the triple toeloop and the triple Salchow, but showed her fighting spirit by landing a double Lutz - double toe - double toe combination right after the failed Salchow. Another Slovak skater, Ivana Reitmayerová, who won the Ondrej Nepela Memorial back in 2008, withdrew, because she didn't feel prepared enough. It will be interesting to follow the battle between these two ladies in the qualifying competitions for Euros and Worlds.

Silver in Germany, gold in Slovakia

The German team Nelli Zhiganshina/ Alexander Gazsi won the ice dancing competition by a huge margin. A week after their silver medal in Oberstdorf, they now stepped onto the top of the podium. They were on a different level than the silver medallist, Italian couple Lorenza Alessandrini / Simone Vaturi. The bronze medal was grabbed by one of the most pleasant surprises of the competition: Julia Zlobina / Alexei Sitnikov simply stole the heart of the audience with their balanced programs, neat outfits and interesting elements. Zlobina/ Sitnikov represented Russia until 2010, when they switched to Azerbaijan. This will probably give them more opportunities to qualify for major competitions.

Hungarian couple (the only Hungarian competitors left as shortly before the event all of them withdrew for unknown reasons) Zsuzsanna Nagy/ Máté Fejes finished fourth. The free dance of the newly formed Austrian team Barbora Silna / Juri Kurakin was also very enjoyable.

When music is not necessary

The men's competition was a real high point. Daisuke Murakami of Japan dominated in the short program, and he was the only man who landed a quadruple jump: a quad Salchow - double toeloop combination, which earned him 12,80 points. It was the highest scored element in this dicipline. Grant Hochstein of the USA was second after the short, while Kevin van der Perren of Belgium came in third.

However, there were also other competitors worth mentioning. Samuel Contesti of Italy was, as usual, flirting with all the ladies present, while Russian Artem Grigoriev shocked the audience with a very bizarre catch-foot spin position.
Chafik Besseghier of France blew us away with his incredible speed on the ice. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to repeat his memorable performance from last year's Trophee Eric Bompard, so he had no real shot at a medal.
Patrik Myzyk of Poland had a somewhat rough but very likeable performance, both in the short and in the long program.In the free skating Samuel Contesti fought back after falling on the triple flip in the short and won the segment – he landed eight triples, including two Axels in his long program. His great performance earned him the bronze medal overall.

Kevin van der Perren skated to "the Man in the Iron Mask" soundtrack, and it was fascinating to watch his powerful skating. He landed a quad toeloop, and seven triples, including a triple Salchow - triple toeloop - triple toeloop combination, right in front of the judges. Kevin's performance was definitely worth the silver medal.

The overnight leader, Daisuke Murakami, was the last to skate – and despite some mistakes he coped well with the pressure. Skating to the "Gladiator" soundtrack, he singled his Axel, but landed a quad Salchow, and he wasn't disturbed even when, after 3 minutes and 50 seconds, his music suddenly died. Murakami kept on skating and the audience helped him by clapping as loudly as they could in the almost empty arena. Although Murakami's technical score didn't reach the one of Contesti or van der Perren, his component score and the advantage from the short program helped him to keep the gold. Besides the trophy and medal, he also got a special trophy for being the men's winner of the Ondrej Nepela Memorial. This was awarded by Mrs. Hilda Mudrá, former coach of Olympic champion Ondrej Nepela.


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