2009 Rostelecom Cup preview

Good luck in Moscow, Meryl and Charlie!

Article from Goldenskate.com by Elvin Walker

The ice dance competition could have been the scene of one of the most intriguing match ups of the Grand Prix this season, but it was not meant to be. Originally, current World Champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin from Russia were to face off against the young American team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White who placed fourth at the same championships last season.

The Russians have not competed in a full season of international events since their 2006-07 campaign, mostly because of Shabalin's chronic knee problems, and last week the duo withdrew from the Grand Prix circuit this season for the same reason. With the announcement, Davis and White become the clear favorites to claim the title in Moscow.

The American champions have planned an interesting Original Dance for this season, and look forward to presenting a different side of themselves with the program.

"Marina Zoueva brought the idea of skating to an Indian folk dance," White explained. "After doing a bit of research, we realized how different and fun this program could be. We worked with a traditional Indian dance specialist and immediately fell in love with our choice. I think our enjoyment of the program really shines through when we perform it."

Davis added: "Charlie and I began working with an Indian Folk dancer in Ann Arbor, where we attend school at the University of Michigan. We explained to the direction that we wanted to do with our OD and she brought in some pieces of music for us to listen to. We worked on and off the ice with her all summer, learning different types of Indian dance, and developing the unique feel that is so characteristic of Indian dance. With what we learned, Marina and Igor (Shpilband) were able to put together a program that we're very excited about and really enjoy performing."

The duo settled on a childhood favorite for their Free Dance.

"Meryl and I have been fans of the Phantom of the Opera since we were both very young," White admitted. "The music really speaks to both of us. It's been a really great fit, and we have a great feeling about how it has come together."

Even though the World Champions will not be present, the ambitious skaters' goals have not changed.

"We (were) prepared to go up against the World champs, but do not plan on changing our plan according to who our fellow competitors may be," said a confident Davis. "We always go into competition with the focus on ourselves, and Cup of Russia won't be any different."

Chasing the Americans is a crop of up and comers who are hungry for international success, and could make for a very interesting competition for the silver medals.

Leading the way is the Italian team of Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte who placed 10th at the World Championships in Los Angeles last season. The duo has been on the cusp of a break through on the Grand Prix for several seasons, and even won a silver medal at Skate Canada in 2007.

Cappellini and Lanotte have a selected an Italian-themed Original Dance, choosing to skate to Rossini's lively patter song La Danza and De Curtis's romantic Torna a Surriento. In stark contrast, Cappellini and Lanotte will skate an addiction-themed Free Dance to music from the soundtrack of Requiem for a Dream.

With Domnina and Shabalin's withdrawal, the Italians are essentially the number two seed in the event. Winning the silver medal could set the duo up for a potential trip to the Grand Prix Final, but the Italians will have to hold off a charge from the Canadian silver medalists Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier, who have been climbing the international ranks quite rapidly.

The 2008 Junior World silver medalists burst on to the senior international scene last season by winning the silver medal in their first Grand Prix event in Canada. Crone and Poirier followed that up with an impressive fourth place finish in Paris before earning their first trip to the World Championships where the placed 12th. This season, Crone and Poirier are motivated to do even better.

"We have been working on improving everything we learned from last season," Crone said. "We just hope to be able to do three clean performances and skate to our best ability. We know that we can accomplish that, and hope for our season's best to be higher than last year's."

Crone and Poirier will skate a flamenco-themed Original Dance, and have selected an instrumental version of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody for their Free Dance.

The Lithuanian tandem of Katherine Copely and Deividas Stagniunas will be returning to Moscow for the third consecutive season, which the team sees as an advantage.

"With each visit to Moscow we have become more familiar with the city, the rink and restaurants," Copely noted. "It almost feels like home - a very comfortable competition atmosphere."

Copely and Stagniunas have finished as high as fifth at this event, and could improve upon that this season with two new programs that they feel will stand out in the competition.

"Our costumes and music for our Original Dance are traditional Lithuanian," said the American-born Copely. "The upbeat polka tempos make this dance fun to perform. Not many people are familiar with Lithuanian culture and we are honored to introduce it to the skating world."

Copely continued: "In our Free Dance we are portraying Tony and Maria from West Side Story. This music has always been a favorite of mine and I think it is well suited to our skating style."

A trio of Russian teams could find success on home ice, but will have a difficult time challenging the favorites for medals. However, a trip to the Olympics might be on the line as each of these teams has an equal opportunity to get a head start in claiming Russia's third Olympic berth.

The new team of Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko seem to be the most poised to place well in Moscow. Riazanova won the Junior Worlds bronze medal last season, while her partner won the same medal in 2005. In their international debut, Riazanova and Tkachenko narrowly lost out to the Lithuanians for the bronze medal, but looked impressive nevertheless.

The duo will skate a traditional Russian Original Dance that will likely be received well by the home crowd, and could push them ahead of Copely and Stagniunas. Their Free Dance is to the soundtrack to the film Master and Magarita, based on the Mikhail Bulgakov novel.

World Championship competitors Ekaterina Rubleva and Ivan Shefer have slowly improved on the Grand Prix over the past two seasons, but only placed as high as sixth at Skate America last season. The Russian silver medalists have the upper hand in experience, but it seems that Riazanova and Tkachenko have more potential for success in the long run.

The third Russian team, Anastasia Platonova and Alexander Grachev were just added to the roster replacing the World Champions. Last week in Finland, Platonova and Grachev won the silver medal with a competition score that is higher than either of their teammates' personal best, and they could be the Russian team to watch in Moscow.

Lucie Mysliveckova and Matej Novak of the Czech Republic (21st, 2009 World Championships), the brother-and-sister team of Carolina Hermann and Daniel Hermann of Germany (17th, 2009 World Championships), and Alla Beknazarova and Vladimir Zuev of the Ukraine (13th, 2009 European Championships) round out the roster.


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