As the Grand Prix series marches on, so too does the Challenger series, with the Ice Challenge being held in Graz, Austria, from October 27-31. While the field size was reduced due to the clash with the Grand Prix, several "name" skaters still made the trip for varying reasons, not all of which were to medal.
Russia’s Artur Dmitriev Jr sprung a surprise on everybody here, capitalising on his talent and technique to take home the gold. Dmitriev showed the value on consistency across both programs, finishing second in both the short and the long but posting the highest total score. His huge quadruple toes – one in a gorgeous combination with a triple toe – were in the best Mishin tradition and showed why Dmitriev is still considered in the mix.
American Jason Brown was a surprise entry here, showing up to compete just four days after his bronze-medal winning performance at Skate America. His short program was much-improved here, giving him an early lead, but the proximity of the competitions, with travel in between, took its toll in the free skate, which was riddled with uncharacteristic errors. But the purpose of the competition was obvious, and paid off when Brown stood up on a quad toe in the long program that was only called under-rotated, a clear improvement from his initial attempts, and the silver medal was a bonus.
Russian Mikhail Kolyada continued his strong return from injury with a bronze medal here. An early fall on the quad toe in the short program – which was also called under-rotated – set him back, but his free skate was the best of the event, earning the highest score in that segment of the competition and cementing his third-place finish overall.
Ostensibly, the USA’s Mirai Nagasu will be thrilled with her gold-medal performance here. Nagasu was second after the short program and pulled up to win in the free skate. But looking at her protocols will have Nagasu worried: her chronic under-rotation issue has not gone away, with an astonishing five jumps called short in the long program. Nagasu can get away with it at a small Challenger event, but she will not get away with it at Nationals, and she and her coaching team know it.
Maria Artemieva of Russia was second here, after two solid performances. Her fall on the double Axel in the short program dropped her to third after that segment of the event, but her free skate earned the second-highest score of that segment and brought her up to the silver medal, marred only by more strange double Axel problems, including a bad stumble on the first and a fall on the second.
The USA’s Tyler Pierce started out this competition as well as she could wish, leading after the short program segment of the event. Unfortunately, two falls and two jumps called short of rotation killed her free skate score, and she dropped down to third overall. Pierce is still young, however, and has plenty of time to improve.
Kailani Craine had a superb outing here, with an eighth-placed short program and a sixth-placed long program bringing her to seventh overall. Removing the problematic triple Lutz from her short program helped significantly, ensuring that she got full credit for all three jumping passes, and positive grades of execution for two of them. Her Romeo and Juliet free skate was exquisite and performed with a lot of fire.
There was an additional bonus at this competition for Australian fans: US National Champion and all-round nice guy Jason Brown commentated on the ladies’ free skate, and was particularly warm to Kailani and the Australian ladies in general. You can hear his commentary and see Kailani’s free skate here.
As expected, Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim from the USA won this event in a canter. Also on a short turnaround from Skate America, they turned in two very good performances, marred only by continual problems on their side-by-side triple jumps. This continues to be a theme for them and one they are clearly working hard on as their season continues.
Promising German pair Mari Vartmann and Ruben Blommaert were second here. Their short program was marred by a problem with their group four lift, which was then called an invalid element, dropping them to third after the short program. Their free skate was much stronger, with only a slight error on the twist, and pulled them up to win the silver medal.
Italian up-and-coming pair Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise took home the bronze medal. Their short program, marred only by a pop to a double Salchow on the side by side jumps, was otherwise well done and had them in second after that segment. Unfortunately, they were unable to hold position after the free, with several minor errors and a fall dropping them to third overall.
Newly-formed USA pair Danielle Thomas and Daniel Eaton took home their first gold medal together with a sterling performance. Their short dance was solid, with level threes on two elements and a level four on one lift. Their free dance was well-executed, and secured the win by six points.
Italian couple Misato Komatsubara and Andrea Fabbri were second, hitting three of the six keypoints in their Ravensberger Waltz pattern and getting level 4s on two other elements in their short dance. They did slip a little in the free dance, placing third in that segment, but held on for the silver medal.
Olesia Karmi and Max Lindholm of Finland took home the bronze medal. Fourth after a short dance in which their compulsory pattern went a little haywire, they blitzed their free dance with the second-highest score of that segment, earning positive grades of execution on every element to lift themselves to third.