Friday, October 4, 2013

Nebelhorn 2013 Wrap-Up: So Many Active Competitors, and Melissa Bulanhagui Too

Holy bugle beads, Batman! So much skating coming up this weekend, and the Senior GP hasn’t even started yet! But I’ll get to all that in a minute. FIRST...


Miki Ando (who won silver) skates fantastic for a woman who just gave birth a handful of months ago and is essentially back to elite competitor shape. That’s the good news. The bad news is... she still skates like Miki Ando. Technically proficient, but just kind of there without generating much excitement.

Nobunari Oda, on the other hand, is back to skating his best—at least for the time being—and his best is pretty amazing. Quads, combos, soft-knee landings to die for, and no points left on the table for jumps that didn’t count. What more could we ask for? Only that his body and mind remember the season ends in March 2014... not December 2013.

Jason Brown has made waves on the junior international scene for several years... and with his senior international debut last weekend came a whole new ripple of interest (and the silver medal). Is it any wonder he was quickly chosen as the replacement for (the still ailing) Evan Lysacek at this month’s Skate America?

Canada’s Jeremy Ten may be in a tough battle for an Olympic bid, but at Nebelhorn, he made the best case for himself in years. “I won a medal?!” he said, bewildered, as his free skate stores came up. (Yes, Jeremy... a bronze one. Nice going!)

Volosohzar/Trankov of Russia look fairly world champion-like, as you might expect... so long as you overlook Maxim Trankov’s Jesus pants. That is to say, they are using Jesus Christ Superstar for their FS and Trankov’s costume—as Jesus, presumably—has pants that are either “banana yellow” or “harvest goldenrod”, depending on your level of kindness when describing them. Are they as jaw-droppingly atrocious as some of, say, his rival Robin Szolkowy’s ensembles? No! Of course not. But I’m still hoping for something more neutral-toned, perhaps, come GP time.

USA’s Hubbell/Donohue won the dance event with the help of an FD to the instrumental of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that has become as ubiquitous over the past few years for singles skaters as, say, any number of tangos. But H/D’s take on it is beautifully choreographed, setting the bar pretty high for other dance teams that want to take Queen’s epic tour-de-force ballad out for a spin. And watching them skate to this reminded me how much I’m going to wish the U.S. could send FOUR dance teams to Sochi rather than leave H/D, the Shib Sibs, or Chock/Bates behind.

Speaking of dance, the five available Olympic spots in this discipline went to: China (thanks to Huang/Zheng), Turkey (Agafonova/Ucar), Australia (O’Brien/Merriman), Japan (Reed/Reed), and Spain (Hurtado/Diaz). Australia and Spain have never before been represented at the Olympics in Ice Dance, so big congratulations to those teams in particular!

As for pairs, the four available Olympic berths went to: Great Britain (thanks to Kemp/King), Ukraine (Usmantseva/Talan), Estonia (Zabijako/Zaboev), and Israel (Davidovich/Krasnopolski).

The men earning Sochi spots at Nebelhorn include Alexei Bychenko (for Israel), Zoltan Kelemen, who was 29th in Vancouver (representing Romania), Michael Christian Martinez (Philippines—a first-ever berth in men’s for that country), Brendan Kerry (Australia), Yakov Godorozha (Ukraine), and Paul Bonifacio Parkinson (Italy). Martinez, only 16 years old and with Bielmann spins (or “MANbiels,” as I say when men do them) better than many a female version, will likely duke it out with Christopher Caluza to see who gets the Olympic honor.

And finally, for the ladies... six countries punched their ticket for the 2014 Winter Games. They are: Australia (courtesy of Brooklee Han), Georgia (Elene Gedevansihvili, now headed to her THIRD Olympics), Norway (Anne Line Gjersem), Austria (Kerstin Frank), Czech Republic (Elizaveta Ukolova, who at 15 is likely to be one of the Games’ youngest competitors), and Brazil (Isadora Williams, a U.S.-born skater with Brazilian citizenship through her mother).

Two countries you might have expected to see on this list have sad and/or perplexing stories on why they aren’t. Finland was a pretty sure bet— until Kiira Korpi damaged her left Achilles tendon in September and had to withdraw from competitions for the next several weeks. With sole Finnish rep Juulia Turkkila unable to finish any higher than 14th at Nebelhorn, Korpi’s Olympic shot is in serious, serious jeopardy.

Finishing several spots behind Turkkila was The Philippines’ Alisson Krystle Perticheto (in 18th), meaning there will also be no Filipino skaters represented in Sochi. Why did they send a relative unknown to this critical event rather than Melissa Bulanhagui, who won bronze there (for the U.S.) in 2010 and has represented the Philippines since 2011? God only knows. I read about the Bulanhagui snub a few weeks ago-- seems like a pretty raw deal to me; the kind usually made by countries that can afford to be more haphazard with their assignments.

Now 23, Bulanhagui appears to be out of Olympic options. What a crappy situation for a talented young woman, huh? I asked her (via Twitter) where she plans to go from here... she indicated she might try skating pairs with Taylor Toth. (Toth was most recently teamed up with Kiri Baga, finishing 8th at U.S. Nationals earlier this year.) In any case, her handle on Twitter is @melbulanhagui if you want to send any kind regards her way.

As for what’s in progress/starting this weekend (aside from the ongoing Junior GP series), we have...

n      The Nepala Memorial in Bratislava, featuring Ross Miner, Christina Gao, and several U.S. pairs/dance teams
n      Finlandia Trophy in Espoo, featuring Richard Dornbush, Douglas Razzano, Vanessa Lam, Mirai Nagasu... and the ice dance event includes Chock/Bates AND (as Canadian fans probably know by now) Virtue/Moir.

n      Finally, the Japan Open will be going on as well... a relatively small, singles-only, free skate-only event that traditionally features some pretty big names. This is where 2-time U.S. Champ Ashley Wagner plans to debut her Romeo & Juliet free skate, so keep your eyes peeled for that.


Anonymous said...

If the US can send all those ice dance teams, I SO wish Japan can send all six of their best men as well...

Kelli Lawrence said...

Yes! In my skating utopia, Japan's top six men would definitely be there too!