Event: Ondrej Nepela Trophy
Dates: 1 - 3 October
Location: Bratislava, Slovakia
Category: ISU Challenger Series
On the face of it, the winner was as predicted, with Jason Brown of the USA taking out the gold here. But Brown's victory was not as easy at it seemed. The addition of several more pieces of challenging choreography to his already-intricate short program saw him have problems on two of the three jumping passes, and he was in second, nearly ten points back. He then benefited from a rough men's free skate event and a strong second half of his long program to claw back the deficit.
Mikhail Kolyada of Russia was the challenger, turning in a near-perfect short program to take the lead and remind everyone of how dangerous he has the potential to be. He showed no ill-effects from the year off and his delightfully quirky Jack Skellington long program kept him in second place. His compatriot Gordei Gorshkov surprised with two excellent performances to take out the bronze ahead of his more fancied teammate Aidan Pitkeev, who finished fourth.
Jordan Dodds returned after his week of non-competition (I don't think such weeks could ever be described as "week off"), hoping to make a better impression than at Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, Jordan came away from Slovakia disappointed in himself, and wrote on Twitter that he would ditch the triple Lutz in favour of his much-more-stable triple loop in a bid to skate cleanly. But there were many positive moments to take away from his performances including a new level of fierce interpretation in the short program.
Andrew Dodds completed his ambitious start to the season by adding another top-ten finish to his repertoire, finishing 8th here. Once again his triple Lutz was a thing of beauty, earning positive grades of execution from nearly every judge in both programs, and both programs were well-performed and very strong overall. The three competitions in three weeks began to show towards the end of his long program, but overall he can take plenty of positives from this trip into Nationals.
Incidentally, Andrew is the top-ranked man and Jordan is eighth in the Challenger Series standings after three of ten events!
It was an all-Russian podium in the ladies' event, with reigning Junior World Champion Evgenia Medvedeva scoring first blood in the titanic battle that the Russian ladies face this season. Medvedeva led after a near-perfect short program and was never headed, giving her enough of a cushion to cover off the mistakes in her free skate.
Compatriot Anna Pogorilaya pulled off a stunning comeback to take the silver. She placed only ninth after a disastrous short program involving two falls and a missed combination jump, but came back strongly to record the highest free skate score of the night and pull herself up onto the podium. After a difficult last season, this fightback could be considered the perfect message to send.
Maria Artimieva finished only a point behind Pogorilaya, posting the third highest score in both segments of the competition after making small errors in both programs. However, she posted all level-4s for her spins and steps in the long program, effectively firing a warning shot that she is capable of maxing out her points in areas other than jumps. It will be a long and intriguing season for the Russian ladies, and we will not really know until early January where any of them truly stand.
It was another all-Russian sweep in the pairs event, with the reigning National champions, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov turning in two solid performances to take out the victory here and re-establish their footing heading into the new season. After withdrawing from Worlds earlier this year, and with the return of Olympic champions Volosozhar and Trankov, getting off to a good start was crucial for them.
Kristina Astakhova and Alexei Rogonov took out second after turning in the highest-scoring free skate of the night, which included five level four elements (out of a possible six) and throw triple jumps that scored positive grades of execution with most of the judges. They wound up only five points behind Stolbova and Klimov, which will provide the Russian federation with plenty of food for thought.
Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov were only another eight tenths of a point back in third, and will have been disappointed to lose hold on the win after leading the short program. Unfortunately, their free skate was marred by some errors on side-by-side jumps and a lift problem, but they can still take many positives away from this event and are by no means down and out.
Paris Stephens and Matthew Dodds had a shaky start to their third event in three weeks, with a fall on the double Axels, a pop on the throw triple loop and several smaller errors hurting their short program. The long program started spectacularly, with Paris hanging on to the landing of the throw triple loop and side by side double Axels that were so flawless I confess to having to watch them twice to be sure of what I saw. Unfortunately it was not Matthew's day, and two major lift errors and a miss on the death spiral was not the way he would have wanted to finish their trip. Nevertheless, the team has reason to be upbeat going into Nationals, with the inclusion of the throw triple loop now a boost to their score.
They are currently ranked 11th in the Challenger Series standings.
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier from Canada took out the ice dance competition, bouncing back from a third-placed short dance to take out the free dance and the overall title. The top three teams were covered by just a single point after the short dance, but Gilles and Poirier pulled away to take the overall win by three points.
Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland of Great Britain were second, turning in two very solid performances to start their comeback year strongly. After the illness that disappointingly cut short their last season, it was a delight to see them dancing strongly and back on the podium.
Maia and Alex Shibutani from the USA will be disappointed with their third place here, after leading the short dance. Low levels on their step sequences in the free dance - including a level 2 on their circular steps and a level 1 on their diagonal steps - dropped their score and saw them finish five points behind Gilles and Poirier.
AN APOLOGY FROM THE AUTHOR
I'm afraid there will not be a preview article for the Finlandia Trophy this week. Sadly, life outside of skating has intervened (how dare it) and I simply will not have the time to adequately preview the competition. There are no Team Australia representatives at this event, however, I will be doing a limited information post later in the week with event times converted to AEDT and streaming links. My apologies for this let-down in service and I will be back the following week with Finlandia recap and Mordorvian Ornament previews.